Birds need more seed in late winter than other times of year, so check our tips for choice winter bird food.
Depending on where you live, you’ll see fewer, and certainly different, birds in winter. When your area has patches of bad weather, especially with snow-covered ground and plants, your birds need a little extra help finding food. Most backyard gardeners keep ample supplies of seed out in summer, when we’re outside and doing yard work. But birds need food the most in late winter, when natural seed supplies dwindle. Try these suggestions for feeding winter birds in your area, along with migrating birds ready to make their way back through in spring. Your offer of seed won’t change the pattern of migrating birds, but will supplement their natural diets during tough winter months.
Give birds what they need
In winter, birds need fat. The best food is black-oil sunflower seed because of its fat content. Black-shelled sunflower seeds also have large kernels and are easier to crack than whiter or striped shells. Any birds that can’t crack the shells will forage off the droppings below your feeder. Suet also contains plenty of fat, and if you’re really ambitious, you can melt it down and add your own goodies to small bits, then freeze it to make bird treats specific to your winter visitors.
White priso millet is high in protein and a favorite of birds. Thistle seed, also called Nijer, attracts smaller birds in the area, such as finches, sparrows and blackbirds. Bigger birds, such as jays and doves love dried corn, and some birds love dried fruit. Robins, thrushes, waxwings and bluebirds will eat dried raisins soaked in water. Birds also love peanuts and peanut butter.
Birds only come to feeders that feel safe from cats and other predators. That usually means about a dozen feet from piles of brush, sizable bushes or evergreen trees, where critters can hide in winter. Some birds prefer ground feeders, but you can surround them with chicken wire or thorny branches to discourage intruders.
Keep the crowds in check by using multiple feeders placed several feet apart. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll want the feeder where you can see it from inside. It actually helps to place your feeder close to a window, because birds don’t have as much speed flying off the feeder as they do in free flight.
The more you do, the more birds you attract
Of course, scattering seed on the ground attracts some birds, but using several different types of feeders and seeds can bring the most variety to your backyard in winter. It helps to learn about birds that thrive in your area in winter, and where they like to feed. For example, quail feed on the ground, but finches like hanging feeders and nuthatches and woodpeckers like feeders placed on tree trunks.
Mix up your feeder locations and heights to attract a variety of winter birds. Buying seeds from a bird store yields better mixes and quality and likely will attract more birds and more varieties than grocery or big-box store mixes. Now, sit back with your camera, bird-watching book, journal or app and enjoy the show!