Feeding birds in winter is vital to their wellbeing throughout the colder months, as food is scarce and energy is precious. It is fairly easy to do but makes a huge difference to the well-being of wild birds. Food is scarce in winter and the food that you put out in your garden could be the difference between surviving winter and starvation.
Start by noting which birds already visit your garden. Different birds have different tastes and favorite foods, so feeding the birds you know already frequent your garden is a good start, plus it will encourage them to keep returning.
American robins, for example, love to eat fruits while blue jays love to eat peanuts and northern cardinals love black oil sunflower seeds. Once you’re feeding your regular guests, you can then branch out with other types of feed and attract even more species of bird into your garden.
During periods of bad weather, birds will come to rely on your feeders as an essential source of food. Easy to find and nutritious seed and fats will help your feathered friends to conserve their energy – using it to keep warm rather than hunting down scarce berries and insects.
The best thing to feed birds
When feeding birds in winter there are lots of options for good foodstuffs. Here are some of the best things to put on your bird table, hang in a tree or scatter on the ground. Make sure to place food in an area safe from predators.
- HIGH FAT options such as nuts, lard and suet are good choices for winter as birds will benefit from the additional energy they provide.
- SUNFLOWER SEEDS are one of the most popular seeds among a wide range of birds. If you are only putting one type of food on your feeder, this is the one to go for. It is loved by lots of birds including Northern Cardinals, Tufted titmice, House finches, nuthatches and jays.
- BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER SEEDS are also popular. The difference between sunflower seeds and black oil sunflower seeds is that black oil sunflower seeds are larger and have more calories per seed, making them a highly nutritious meal for your feathered-friends.
- CHEESE is a great choice for the same reason as above and is popular with a wide range of birds. Opt for a grated mild cheddar.
- MIXED SEEDS are a great overall option and an easy way to start feeding birds in winter. However, avoid mixes that contain grain.
- FRUIT like apples and pears are a great addition to the bird feeder. Even badly bruised fruit will go down well. Chop into small chunks so it’s easier for smaller birds to enjoy.
- PEANUT BUTTER is a high calorie food that is loved by lots of different birds. It must be unsalted as the salt can harm the birds. There are specific peanut butter feeders available, or you can spread it into the crevices of a large pinecone and then hang it from a tree.
- MEALWORMS are not the most attractive type of bird feeder, however, they are undoubtedly a favorite for backyard birds, especially chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals and the American Robin. Live meal worms are preferred and have a higher nutritional content, however, dried mealworms are easier to store and won’t crawl off the bird feeder.
- CRACKED CORN is a versatile item for feeding birds in winter and is often found in bird seed mixes.
- WHITE PROSO MILLET can come as seeds or as sprays. Hanging sprays from a bird table or on a branch of a tree gives your birds even more variety. Alternatively, you can fill a tubular feeder with the seeds. These are a particular favorite of sparrows.
- BIRD SEED COOKIES are easy to make at home and hold up well in the cold weather.
Are eggshells good for birds?
Yes, eggshells are high in calcium, a mineral in which many birds are deficient. Calcium is particularly important for female birds who need the calcium to create the shells for their eggs. However, it can be difficult to find enough in nature.
To prepare eggshells for birds, simply rinse them and then bake in the oven at 450F for 10 minutes. Once they are cool, crush them up and add them to your bird table. Alternatively you can scatter them on the grass or over your borders – this might even have the added benefit of deterring slugs who don’t like the gritty feeling – it’s a win-win.
What should you not feed birds
There are several things you should never put on your bird feeder, whether you are feeding birds in winter or at any other time of year.
- NO CHOCOLATE – it is toxic to birds.
- NO TABLE SCRAPS – these are unappealing to birds and are more likely to encourage rats to your bird feeder. They may also have been cooked with oil, garlic or spices that are harmful to birds.
- NO ROTTEN FOOD – this can lead to harmful bacteria and mold which can cause illnesses in birds.
- NO SPOILED BIRDSEED – be sure to only put dry and fresh seed, if it is spoiled, clumped, sprouting or wet to the touch it should be discarded.
- NO SALT – if eaten in high quantities salt is toxic and will affect the bird’s nervous system. Therefore, avoid heavily salted foods like meats or salted nuts. Also don’t add salt to bird baths as a method to stop them freezing, placing a ping-pong ball on the surface is a much safer option.
- NO MEAT – this will attract unwanted guests such as rats, cats and foxes to your bird feeder. Raw meat also spoils very quickly and grows bacteria that can ultimately kill birds.
- NO BREAD – since this has very little nutritional value for birds and will fill up their stomachs. This means that they won’t eat enough seeds, grains and fats to keep them healthy throughout the winter months.
- NO MILK – because this will cause sickness and diarrhea which will cause dehydration. This is especially dangerous for birds in winter when water is scarce.
What plants to grow to feed birds in the winter
You can also add plants for birds to your garden to help with feeding birds in winter. Pick plants that have seeds and berries throughout the winter period and that are native to your state or region as these are the ones that birds will recognize as safe to eat. As well as providing delicious seeds and berries for your feathered friends, the plants will also provide them with valuable shelter during the winter.
These winter plants will not only be good food for your feathered-friends but will also add some color and life to your garden throughout the winter months:
- Black chokeberry
- Common hackberry
- Crab apples
- Viriginia creeper
Should birds be fed in winter?
Yes, birds’ natural food sources, like insects, seeds and berries, will become more scarce in winter. At the same time, birds require much more food during this period in order to have enough energy and fat to keep themselves warm. By feeding birds in winter you are providing them with a constant source of food so they don’t have to waste energy seeking out insects under layers of snow. This will help your feathered friends to survive the winter, and as such do wonders for the bird population.
Another benefit of feeding birds in winter is that you will encourage more wildlife into your garden. Come spring and summer when you’re gardening, these feathered friends will also snack on slugs, snails and other garden pests – helping to keep your garden healthier.
How to attract birds
The easiest way to attract birds is feeding them. Birds are attracted to sources of food and if it is always available to them they will soon be frequenting your feeders. However, it may take some time for your feathered friends to spot a new feeder. Be patient and ensure there is always food available for them.
To increase the number of birds to your garden, consider also adding a bird bath or bird houses that will provide birds with a warm and safe space to nest.
Information courtesy of HomesAndGardens.com