How to Feed Birds During Winter

When Winter hits, our wild bird population can find it hard getting enough food to survive, especially when a winter storm cuts off natural resources. Backyard feeding can play a big factor in their survival and even help them thrive. Whether you are an avid birder or new to helping your backyard friends, here are some tips on how to feed birds during winter.

Understanding Winter Bird Species and What to Feed them

Depending on the climate, geography, and landscape, dozens of different birds could visit your yard or garden throughout the winter. Understanding which birds you may see in your backyard is useful in determining what type of feed to buy. The most common winter birds in our area include Nuthatches, Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Sparrows, Wrens, the Northern Cardinal, and the American Robin among others.

Here’s a more extensive list of common feeder birds in Maryland.

To see the most variety, make sure you are using different types of feed, including seed and suet. Winter birds tend to prefer seed high in fat or oil as they deliver a good source of energy. Suet is especially good for this. When selecting your seed mix, it is best to choose a mix that is aimed at feeding a wide variety of birds. We recommend that you try Supreme Mix or Wild Bird Mix from Lyric®. If you know you have a greater population of a specific type of bird, like Woodpeckers or Cardinals, feel free to also put out seed specific to them.

Best Types of Feeders and Where to Place Them

Winter Birds feeding from a covered feeder in snow

The most popular feeders will work well for your backyard. Hopper and Tube styles are good, but make sure you have a variety of feeders to attract the greatest amount of birds. Another option is to buy fewer feeders that are a larger capacity. The most useful feeders for the winter will be ones that have a cover over their perches, dispensing trays, and feeding ports or holes. This will help ensure the seed is not buried by snow.

Ideally, the feeder should be placed in an area where there is some protection for the birds. Porches or outdoor coverings help protect from severe weather while brush piles and hedges give the birds somewhere to hide from predators. Position feeders several feet from these natural covers but not so close as to allow predators a place for an ambush. If you choose to place your feeder near your house for indoor bird watching, you do not want to place it more than 5 feet from a window. This will help to minimize window collisions.

Protecting Your Bird Feeders from Pests and Predators

Squirrel looking to get into bird feeder

Feeding birds can bring joy as well as frustration dealing with other animals that can become pests or even predators. To help ease this frustration, choose feeders that are built with pest repellents such as squirrel baffles and caged perches. You can also offer other food for pest animals, such as corn cobs, and place them in an area away from the feeders. You might also want to consider putting up temporary fencing or mesh around the feeding areas

Helpful Tips

  • Don’t forget to clean the feeders periodically. Feeders can get grimey and wet seed can clump together becoming hard to impossible for birds to feed on.
  • Stamp down snow to make it easier for ground feeding birds to graze on fallen seed.
  • Remember water– put out bowls on a hot day or even invest in a heated birdbath. Along with food, water can also be hard to find in cold Winter months. Provide water on days when it won’t freeze.
  • Be consistent in your feeding. Birds can become accustomed to your snacks, especially when it could be their only source of food.
  • Keep your feeders full. Birds like to stock up on calories to survive Winter nights.

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