Even though we are only a few weeks away from Spring, if you live in the Northeast, winter may last into April. I especially love feeding birds in winter, though feeding them is not necessary for their survival except in extreme weather conditions. That’s when feeders can help them get through a tough winter.
When setting up your feeder, keep in mind that birds are more likely to come to feeders if there is some cover nearby, so that they can feed and dodge back to the safety of shrubbery.
Refresh your feeders every few days and clean them frequently by soaking in a solution of 10 percent bleach.
The 5 best bird foods during the winter:
All of these foods offer great nutrition, and their high caloric content will give birds plenty of energy to build fat reserves for frigid winter nights. I prefer to buy them separately and in bulk, as many seed mixes have filer added.
Black oil sunflower seeds: Black oil sunflower seeds are by far the best food to offer birds in any season. These seeds have slightly thinner shells and higher oil content than other types of sunflower seeds, making them more efficient and nutritious food. They will attract a wide range of hungry birds and can be offered in platform, tube or hopper feeders as well as sprinkled on the ground or a table or railing.
Suet: For high calories, suetis one of the best foods to offer birds. While many birders prefer to avoid suet because it will melt in warmer weather, it is superb winter food. It is also available in many blends with different ingredients to tempt different species of birds. It is even easy to make your custom suet flavors specialized for your backyard flock. I make my own suet with ½ cup of vegetable shortening + 1 cup of rolled oats + 1 cup of black oil sunflower seeds + 1 cup of nyjer.
I stuff mesh socks (saved from packaged lemons) with the suet and hang several from branches in a tree.
Peanuts: This high calorie, fat-rich nut, appeals to many backyard birds, and because the nuts don’t freeze, they are perfect for winter feeding, whether you offer whole or shelled peanuts. Peanuts are also popular to mix in suet.
Peanut butter is also a great feeding optionand can be smeared on bark or offered in small dishes or open trays. Both crunchy and smooth butter will be hit with birds.
Nyjer:Nyjer (sometimes spelled nyger or niger) or thistle seed is another oily seed that offers a lot of calories, helping birds store the fat they need to keep warm through the season. Though expensive, Nyjer is readily available and is typically treated so as not to germinate if spilled on the ground.
Offer nyjer in a mesh or sock feeder that can accommodate many birds, but keep it covered with a wide upper baffle to keep the seed dry and minimize mildew.
Fruit: Birds that stay in snowy areas year-round enjoy chopped apples, orange wedges, halved grapes and melon rinds on platform feeders, spikes or nailed to trees.
Top 40 Winter Backyard Birds (U.S. and Canada)
American crows, American goldfinches, American robins, American tree sparrows, Anna’s hummingbirds, Black-capped chicadees, Bohemian waxwings, Carolina chicadees, Cedar waxwings, Common redpolls, Cooper’s hawks, Dark-eyed juncos, Downy woodpeckers, European starlings, Evening grosbeaks, Golden-crowned kinglets, Hairy woodpeckers, Hoary redpolls, Housefinches, House sparrows, Mourning doves, Northern cardinals, Northern mockingbirds, Pine grosbeaks, Pine siskins, Purple finches, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-breasted nuthatches, Red crossbills, Rock pigeons, Sharp-shinned hawks, Snow buntings, Song sparrows, Tufted titmice, White-breasted nuthatches, White-crowned sparrows, White-throated sparrows, White-winged crossbills, Wild turkeys and Yellow-rumped warblers.
Where Other Birds Go
For many birders, their favorite species – such as tanagers, hummingbirds, warblers or orioles – are conspicuously absent in winter. These and many other birds are migratory, and in winter they travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to milder climates or rich tropical regions that can support many birds with ease. While the journey can be difficult and migrating birds face many threats along the way, these birds will return in the spring to revisit their breeding grounds and raise their next generation.