Feeding Birds in Winter – Tips and Tricks

Provide High-Energy Foods

Birds need more calories in the winter to maintain their body heat and energy levels. Offer foods that are high in fat and protein:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of many birds. The thin shells make them easy to open.
  • Suet is pure fat and nutritious for winter birds. Offer suet feeders or suet cages.
  • Peanuts are packed with fat and protein. Consider shelled, chopped, or peanut butter.
  • Nyjer seed has a high oil content loved by finches. Use specialty nyjer feeders.

Supply Fresh Water

Birds need to drink water year-round. Use a birdbath heater or de-icer to prevent freezing. Place it near vegetation for shelter. Change the water every few days to prevent disease.

Choose Feeder and Seed Types

Different feeders accommodate different birds and seeds:

  • Platform feeders work for larger birds that prefer sunflower seeds, peanuts, and corn.
  • Tube feeders with small perches are best for small birds that prefer nyjer or thistle seed.
  • Ground feeders or platform feeders help ground-feeding birds like juncos and doves.

Use Quality Seed and Discard Old Seed

Look for seeds without cracks that are not damp or moldy. Discard seed that smells musty or looks old. Always provide fresh food.

Find Sheltered Feeder Locations

Place feeders near trees, shrubs, or a brush pile to provide escape cover from predators. Choose spots that avoid prevailing winds.

Supply Grit

Grit helps birds digest food. Offer crushed eggshells, sand, gravel, oyster shell, or commercial grit in a small dish.

Clean Feeders Regularly

Clean feeders with a weak bleach solution every few weeks to prevent disease. Rinse thoroughly before refilling. Consider using more than one feeder to allow for rotation.

Consider Specialty Foods

Mealworms, fruit, berries, and nectar provide variety. Orioles love halved oranges and grape jelly. Hummingbirds need sugar-water nectar.

Discourage Squirrels

Use feeders with weight mechanisms to close when heavy squirrels jump on. Place feeders on a pole away from buildings and trees. Use metal baffles to block climbing.

Start Early, End Late

Begin feeding in early fall before most birds migrate. Supply food through early spring until insects and new plant growth become plentiful.

Be Patient

It may take a few weeks for birds to discover your feeders. Once they become accustomed to a feeding routine, they will return.

Key Takeaways for Winter Bird Feeding:

  • Offer high fat/protein foods like sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, and nyjer seed.
  • Supply fresh, unfrozen water. Consider heaters and de-icers.
  • Use feeders suited to different birds and seeds (platform, tube, ground feeding).
  • Give high quality, fresh seeds. Discard old, damp, moldy seeds.
  • Place feeders near vegetation for escape cover from predators.
  • Provide grit like crushed eggshell and oyster shell to aid digestion.
  • Clean feeders regularly with bleach solution to prevent disease.
  • Consider specialty foods like mealworms, fruit, berries, and nectar.
  • Use weight feeders, poles, and baffles to discourage squirrels.
  • Start feeding in early fall and continue into spring.
  • Be patient for birds to establish a routine. They will return!

With some planning and the right foods and feeders, you can make your yard an oasis for birds during harsh winter months. The bird activity will provide enjoyment while helping our feathered friends survive.

Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Birds in Winter

How often should I clean my bird feeders in winter?

It is recommended to clean bird feeders every 2-4 weeks with a mild bleach solution during winter. Scrub away any built up debris, rinse thoroughly, allow to fully dry, and refill with fresh seed. Cleaning discourages disease.

What food do birds prefer in winter?

Birds particularly enjoy foods high in fat and protein during winter such as black oil sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, and nyjer seed. They provide the extra calories birds need.

When should I start and end winter bird feeding?

Begin feeding in early fall before winter migration starts, and continue into early spring when natural food sources become more available. October through April are typical winter feeding months.

Should I provide birds with grit in the winter?

Yes, providing grit such as crushed eggshell, oyster shell, sand, or gravel helps birds digest food in the winter. Place grit in a small dish near feeders.

How often should I change bird bath water in winter?

During freezing weather, bird bath water should be changed every 2-3 days at minimum if a heater is not used. With heaters, weekly water changes are recommended.

What kind of shelter should I provide near feeders?

Having brush piles, evergreen trees, shrubs, and other natural vegetation near feeders gives birds a place to take cover from predators and wind.

When do hummingbirds need nectar in winter?

In regions with wintering hummingbird populations, nectar should be provided consistently through the winter. Use a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

How can I prevent squirrels from stealing all the bird food?

Try specialized squirrel-proof feeders with weight mechanisms, placing feeders on poles away from trees and buildings, and using metal baffles to obstruct climbing squirrels.

What birds tend to visit feeders in winter?

Chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, finches, doves, woodpeckers and sparrows are some of the common birds attracted to feeders in winter. Specific birds depend on your region.


Attracting birds to your yard in winter benefits both their survival and your enjoyment. With preparation and knowledge of birds’ needs, you can easily supplement their natural food supplies during harsh weather. Use quality foods, clean feeders, squirrel deterrents, clean water, and natural shelters so birds can fuel up on the energy-rich nutrition they require. With a little effort, you’ll have happy birds animating your winter garden for many years to come. Enjoy making a difference for your local ecosystem!