Winter is a crucial time for birds. As temperatures drop, there are no insects to eat and the natural seeds are covered with snow, and as the season lengthens, the berries and crab apples are long gone. Birds need enough food to maintain their body temperatures and must search for food from sun up to dusk. If you provide nutritious options at feeders, birds will flock to your yard all winter long.
Best Foods for Winter Birds
Fatty, high-calorie foods are important for winter birds. Fat is metabolized into energy much quicker and more efficiently than seeds to help them maintain their high body temperature necessary for survival.
A number of backyard foods are excellent sources of quick energy and protein to nourish winter birds, including…
Suet cakes provide an excellent energy source for birds and are often mixed with seeds, berries, fruit and peanut butter to appeal to a wider range of species. These fatty cakes are easy to add to cage or mesh feeders, or suet balls, plugs, shreds and nuggets are also available.
- Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter is also very popular with a large number of birds. To reduce the cost of feeding peanut butter, you can melt it down and mix it with suet or mix in cornmeal so it is not quite so sticky. Smear peanut butter on pine cones and hang them for fast, easy feeders.
When native seeds may all be eaten or hidden under snow, seeds at feeders are very important. Seeds contain high levels of carbohydrates that are turned into glucose to help with the bird’s high energy demands. They also are a good source for vitamins and some protein. Make sure the seed you purchase does not have a lot of fillers (milo and wheat seeds) that are not eaten. Mixes with sunflower seeds and millet are preferred.
- Sunflower Seeds
If you want to offer just one seed to birds, you can’t beat sunflower seed. Black oil sunflower seeds have a softer shell than the striped seeds and can be eaten by sparrows and juncos, as well as cardinals, finches, jays and many other birds. These seeds have a number of advantages: they are not overly expensive, they appeal to a wider variety of species, and they contain a larger amount of vegetable oil to help supply the energy birds need to maintain their body heat in the winter. They are also a good source of protein.
- Cracked Corn
Cracked Corn is a good, inexpensive food that appeals to a large number of birds, including doves, sparrows, juncos, quail and cardinals, as well as starlings and grackles. Sprinkle the corn liberally right on the ground for larger ground-feeding birds to enjoy.
Nyjer (thistle) seeds are small, oil-rich black seeds typically offered in tube feeders or fine mesh feeders small birds can cling to as they feed. These seeds are tiny but they pack a huge punch for oil and calories, ideal for winter feeding. Nyjer is a favorite of goldfinches, pine siskins and redpolls.
Nut meats are highly nutritious and provide necessary amino acids and protein a bird’s body cannot produce. They also have oil and are high in energy. Peanuts are the most popular nuts to offer to backyard birds, but walnuts are also a good option. Avoid using any nuts that are salted or seasoned, however, as they are not healthy for birds.
Other Winter Feeding Tips
Just providing food for winter birds isn’t enough to help your feathered friends stay well-nourished during the coldest months of the year. For the best feeding…
- Position feeders 5-10 feet away from bushes and shrubs that may conceal hungry predators.
- Use broad baffles to keep squirrels off feeders and to shelter the feeders from snow and freezing rain.
- Refill feeders frequently so birds do not need to search for a more reliable food source, especially right before and after storms.
- Use multiple feeders so you can offer a wider variety of different foods and more aggressive birds cannot monopolize the feeder.
- Provide water in a heated bird bath so thirsty birds do not have to use critical energy to melt ice and snow to drink.
Feeding birds in the backyard can be a wonderful winter activity, and if you offer the best, calorie-rich foods birds need, you’ll be amazed at how many birds come visit the buffet.