Many species of birds have a hard time finding food in the cold seasons, which is why it’s important to provide them with bird feeders in the winter. In cold weather, they also need to eat much more to keep warm. In addition, the snow makes it difficult for them to find such nutritious food. However, if you have a garden, you can take some simple steps to help garden birds survive during the winter season. Follow these handy winter feeding tips to keep your feathered friends healthy during the cold season.
Table of Contents
- Before you provide winter bird feeders in your yard
- Getting ready for winter feeding in the garden
- Which feeders are suitable for winter bird feeding
- Tips for keeping a bird feeder clean and protected
- Provide winter food suitable for birds
- Which plants to grow for bird feeding in winter?
- Tips for storing bird food
Before you provide in your garden bird feeders in winter
Feeding birds in the winter can be rewarding and enjoyable in the midst of cool weather. By understanding which native birds visit you in winter and what they need to eat, both novice and experienced backyard birders make the most of their feeders during the coldest months of the year. Depending on the climate, geography and landscape of your backyard and region of the country, you could be visited by dozens of different species of backyard birds during the winter months. Some of the most common winter birds include finches, sparrows, tits, jays and woodpeckers.
While there are various theories as to whether feeding birds in the winter is of interest to wild birds, research shows that it improves their chances of survival. This is especially true when cold conditions can make their natural food scarce. In addition, winter feeding also puts birds in a better position once the weather warms and breeding begins. So, if you choose to feed garden birds on your property during the winter season, be confident that your efforts will ultimately benefit your feathered friends. For this reason, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind to avoid potential mistakes.
Prepare for winter feeding in the garden.
First, take note of which birds are already visiting your garden. Different bird species have different preferences and favorite foods. Therefore, it can be a good start to feed those that you know are already frequenting your garden. This can encourage them to keep coming back. Robins, for example, love to eat fruit, while blue jays prefer peanuts. Most birds love black sunflower seeds.
Once you feed your regulars, you can branch out with other types of food and attract even more bird species to your garden. In addition, birds rely on feeders as an essential food source during inclement weather. Easy-to-find and nutritious seeds and fats help them conserve energy. They use this energy to stay warm instead of hunting scarce berries and insects.
What feeders are suitable for feeding birds in winter
To attract as many species as possible during the winter, it is important to have a variety of bird feeders available. While simple birdhouses like hoppers and platforms are always popular, the feeders you use in the winter should have several features in common. These are most useful if they have a wide cover over feeders, perches, and dispensing trays so that seed is not buried during snowfalls or storms. The cover should extend several inches beyond the edge of the feeder to provide protection from all but the heaviest storms. If a bird feeder does not have a built-in cover, you can add wide baffles to keep snow and ice off it.
Ideally, you should place bird feeders in sheltered locations during the winter. This way, you ensure that they are not exposed to the strongest winds. In addition, placing feeders closer to the house is more effective. This also helps keep the birds visible for indoor birdwatching. At the same time, position feeders near protective cover such as hedges or a brush pile to provide birds with protection from predators. To prevent collisions at windows, keep feeders no more than 5 feet away from a wall or window.
Tips for cleanliness and protection of a bird feeder
Feeders with large capacity are more advantageous for winter feeding, because you do not need to refill them so often. However, this is only possible if you can also protect the seed from moisture. Otherwise, mold or fungus may develop before consumption. Covered feed troughs with large capacity are suitable, while you should empty and refill open feeders daily to avoid mold and spoilage.
Since natural food sources are scarcer in winter, more birds may be attracted to your feeders. Therefore, you should also clean and disinfect them regularly. Proper cleaning minimizes mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could promote disease in backyard bird populations. When cleaning, dispose of soggy seeds or birdseed trapped in ice. Also, if possible, allow the feeder to dry before refilling it with winter bird feeders. Also, still make sure to wipe down perches and other parts of the feeder.
Provide suitable winter food for birds
When feeding birds in the winter, there are many options for high-quality food. Of course, it helps if it is as high in calories as possible and preferably consists of seeds, nuts and fat. Most birds that visit backyards or gardens in snowy weather feed on seeds, as insects and fruits are harder to find naturally in winter. Accordingly, the best food for birds in colder weather has a high fat or oil content that provides ample energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include black sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts or peanut hearts, negro seeds, suet and mixtures of seeds or fruits, peanut butter and white millet seeds.
When selecting bird feeders and other foods for winter feeding, consider which bird species are present in winter and which foods they prefer to avoid excessive seed waste. Many birders also prefer to use waste-free or clean seed mixes such as hulled sunflower seeds in the winter to avoid several months of hulls accumulating under feeders in the spring. You will know when seeds are low quality or spoiled when you find an overabundance. This usually remains on the ground under your feeders.
What plants to grow for bird feeding in the winter?
You can also add plants for birds to your garden to provide them with even more winter food. Pick garden plants that bear seeds and berries during the winter period and are native to your state or region, as these are the ones that birds recognize as safe to eat. Not only are such winter plants good food for your feathered friends, but they also add some color and life to your garden during the winter months. Some examples include beautyberry, holly, winterberry, black chokeberry, hackberry, crab apple, chokeberry, self-climbing maidenhair vine and snowball. These plants not only provide garden birds with delicious seeds and berries, but also valuable winter shelter.
Tips for storing bird food
It’s a good idea to stock up on birdseed in the fall, when many garden markets discount seeds to make room for winter goods. If stored properly, seeds can easily last for several months, which is especially true for seed mixes and sunflower seeds. To store seeds properly, keep them in a cool, dry place that is protected from bugs and rodents. It is also best to choose a storage container that is easily accessible throughout the winter. You should be able to manipulate this easily even when wearing gloves and thick coats. If you have a large shovel handy to easily refill the feeders, you will use more seed to satisfy the birds’ appetite during the winter. This way, you will always have an extra supply available during the winter season.
Keeping pests and predators away when feeding birds in winter
Just as food is scarce for birds in winter, squirrels, mice and other wildlife are also keen on it. In this regard, you can take some steps to secure bird feeders and give them the confidence to return to your yard throughout the winter.
- Choose specialized feeders with pest control devices such as cages or baffles. Feeders made of thick plastic or metal resist chewing best.
- Position feeders several feet away from natural cover where birds can hide if needed. However, these should not be too close so that predators have no place to ambush.
- Also consider placing temporary fencing or mesh around feeders to keep predators and pests out.
- Put out other types of food for pests, such as corn on the cob for squirrels, in a different location. That way, they will be less tempted to raid bird feeders.
Other winter feeding tips
To make the most of bird feeding in the winter and streamline the process, you can take some smart steps:
- Clean out feeders, platforms and perches after each storm so seed is easily accessible to birds.
- Leave fruit and berries on trees, hedges and shrubs to provide wild birds with a natural food source during the winter season.
- Add a heated bird bath and water source to your garden or place a safe heating element in bird baths in the garden . This will keep birds warm while you provide them with fresh water.
- Tamp or shovel snow around feeders so ground-feeding birds can have easier access to spilled seed.
- Leave nest boxes and birdhouses in place throughout the year to provide birds with even more winter roosts.