Feeding Birds in Winter


If you enjoy birding as much as I do, you must also enjoy feeding and watching birds in the winter. Birds stand out in the landscape of leafless trees and white snow, making them easier to watch. They’re likely spending a lot more time at your feeders trying to stay fat to keep warm all winter.

There are a few extra things we can do in the winter when feeding birds. Come winter, there’s little food as insects are hibernating and seeds from flowers have already been eaten or blown away in the wind. Providing food with protein and fat gives the birds energy to keep warm in cold temperatures.

#1. Never feed birds bread, popcorn, cereals, cookies, or dairy, etc. at anytime

One thing you do not ever want to feed birds, including water fowl, is any type of processed wheat. This human food has no value to them nutritionally (nor for humans!). However, feeding birds these bad starches in winter can kill them. With these foods, they aren’t getting the protein, fat, or proper carbs they need for the energy they need to stay warm. Just like for humans, these no-no, nutritionally lacking starches fill them up quickly on ’empty carbs’, leaving them no room to eat other things.

Feeding them these starches can also make them terminally ill with a disease called ‘angel wing’. This disease is caused by a lack of nutrition, which makes their wings deform to a point where they can no longer fly.

If you enjoy feeding ducks, geese, and swans, instead feed them: finely chopped vegetables such as lettuce, greens, shredded carrots, tomatoes, oats, cut up grapes, berries, cracked corn. Just don’t feed them anything they couldn’t easily swallow. If you don’t compost, what a great way to reduce throwing all these scraps in the trash!

#2. Feed them regular bird seed, fruits, and high fat/protein treats

When it comes to feeding birds in the winter, stick with birdseed. If you use sunflower, the oil sunflower variety provides more benefit than striped sunflower.

Suet cakes are excellent too. At least at my house, they seem to last a good amount of time. The suet cakes have fat (typically beef fat) that makes up the cake and then all different types of seed, nuts, and possibly dried fruit are mixed in.

If you can, place bird feeders out of wind. This will attract more birds even during bad weather.

#3. Specialty Foods

Birds also enjoy fresh and dried fruits, chopped up nuts, and cracked corn. This food can be put in special feeders, or simply placed in a cup or bowl somehow tied into a tree. Or if you don’t have outdoor cats, in a tray slightly elevated off the ground is great too. Squirrels also enjoy food like this; it’s okay to feed them too! Did you know January 21st is squirrel appreciation day?

There are special feeders out there that house different types of these foods.

You can also spread all-natural peanut butter (that has only peanuts as the ingredient) on a tree for them. Do not use cheap peanut butter with hydrogenated oil or other added oils, like palm oil. If you don’t want to spread it on your live tree, find a sizable dead stem and hang it from a tree like a little swing perch with the peanut butter smeared on it. I’ve also heard of people spreading bacon fat too.

My favorite place to get bird food is Wild Birds Unlimited (this is not a paid post, just simply sharing where to get quality bird food!). They have a product called Bark Butter that birds love and is a great thing to have for them in winter. It basically is a tub of nut butter, which actually looks delicious!

#4. Provide Water

Providing water in winter is also a really good thing to do, especially when it’s below freezing and water turns to ice. I just have a plastic hanging bird bath that is easy to empty and refill when the water freezes. In really cold weather I can’t keep it totally unfrozen all the time, but I do what I can. You can also purchase a heating element that keeps bird baths unfrozen.


#5. Provide Places to Roost at Night

When temperatures get even colder at night, or especially during bad weather, birds need some good comfy places to sleep. Providing little roosting houses is a nice way to make the elements better to withstand.

If you have bird houses, remove any debris inside before winter hits. Even though they won’t be raising young in winter, birds may sleep in them at night. Some special made bird houses can be converted into roosts during winter.

Provide habitat with trees and dense shrubs, especially evergreens. They are great roosting places to get out of wind, rain and snow.

You can purchase little wicker huts or special wood roosts for birds to stay in at night.

Just place the opening away from wind and out of harms way from predators. Cats or raccoons could possibly get them at the tops of fences, railings, or near the ground. I have a straw one that I hung in my weeping cherry tree.