Wintertime is a very challenging time for birds. They need a lot more energy to keep warm and thrive, but there is less food naturally available and there are fewer hours in the day to hunt for it. That’s why it is so important to know what to feed birds in winter.
Whether you have a large garden, a small balcony or just a window where you can hang a feeder, you can do a lot to help the birds survive the winter. In this article, we share important Do’s and Don’ts on feeding birds in winter. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- A Natural Garden Provides Important Wildlife Habitat
Get To Know The Birds In Your Area
Different types of birds eat different types of food. Get a little guidebook to help you identify the birds in your neighborhood so that you can get them the right kinds of food.
Feed Appropriate Food
In general, finches and sparrows are fond of very small seed. Robins and thrushes tend to like dried worms and fruit. Woodpeckers and several other types of birds enjoy suet. Starlings are not picky at all and will eat anything you put out.
To a limited extent, you can share some foods with your avian friends. Some good examples include:
- Fruit cake
- Mince pies
- Dried fruit
- Unsalted nuts
If you have fruit that has gone soft (e.g. pears, apples, grapes) birds may enjoy it as long as it doesn’t have moldy spots.
Some ground feeding birds, such as dunnocks and wrens may enjoy a bit of ground cheese scattered about on the ground. Place it under shrubbery to provide some cover to these shy birds.
Keep Bird Feed Out of Reach of Pets
Naturally, you want to put your bird feeders up high enough that local cats cannot access them, but there’s another very good reason for keeping bird feed away from your pets.
Dogs can be harmed by eating vine fruits, so if you are feeding sultanas, currants, raisins or grapes be sure to place them out of the reach of your dog.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard in Winter – PART I
Provide Water Even In Winter
Even if your pond or birdbath freezes over during the winter, you can still provide your birds a drink and an opportunity to bathe during cold weather. Put out a plant saucer or bin lid filled with warm water in the morning. Replace it when it freezes or at least once a day. Your birds will appreciate it.
Alternately, you may wish to put a layer of polythene sheeting in your birdbath so that you can lift the ice out, replace the sheeting and refill the bath.
If you don’t want to be bothered with completely replacing the water daily there are ways you can keep your pond or birdbath free of ice. Here are a few popular methods:
- Take a hot kettle out and pour it over your birdbath or pond to melt a patch of ice.
- Float a lightweight ball in the water. As it is blown to and fro by the breeze, it may keep a small area free of ice.
- Use bricks to build a small “chimney” and place a lit night-light candle inside. Place the bath on top of this support.
- Alternately, use a tilling pipe to support the bath and place a light bulb inside the pipe to warm the water.
- Purchase an immersion heater with a thermostat to keep your birdbath at a constant temperature.
- Purchase a solar birdbath, such as the “Solar Sipper”, which uses energy from the sun to warm water in the bath.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard in Winter – PART II
Keep Bird Baths And All Feeding Equipment Clean!
Disease is quickly spread by dirty birdbaths and feeders. Be sure to clean your birdbath daily when you add more water. Clean seed feeders weekly, and clean hummingbird feeders thoroughly with hot water every time you refill. After handling bird feeding equipment, be sure to wash your hands.
Don’t use chemicals to keep birdbath water from freezing. It goes without saying that salt, anti-freeze or glycerin can only be harmful to birds.
Don’t overdo it! Observe the amount your birds eat in a day, and don’t provide more than they will consume during the daylight hours. Having excess food out overnight attracts unwanted visitors, such as rats, mice, raccoons and even larger wildlife like deer. Furthermore, food left exposed to the elements is likely to go bad and develop a mold problem.
Don’t feed any salted foods or foods with patches of mold. Mold is toxic to all living things, and salt can be toxic to birds.
Don’t feed soft fats. Only use suet, peanut butter or specialty pastes made just for birds. Don’t give them soft kitchen fats (e.g. turkey fat) because this can adhere to their feathers. This interferes with their ability to stay warm and dry.
How and What to Feed Birds in Winter
A Natural Garden Provides Important Wildlife Habitat
Many people clear out faded flowers right away at the end of the growing season, but this is not a bird-friendly habit. When summer is over, consider leaving spent flowers in place to provide natural seeds as food for birds. This also provides birds with the opportunity to find and enjoy any insects, larvae and/or eggs that may be overwintering in spent flower heads.
Leaving vegetation in place through the winter is also good for the soil in your garden. It helps protect it against the elements, and as dead vegetation decays, it enriches the soil naturally.
You may be surprised to see that standing vegetation provides unusual winter interest to your garden. Of course, you needn’t leave your garden in a mess for the winter. You can tidy up paths and prune back shrubs as needed, but there’s no need to scalp the entire garden. Leave something for the birds and other wildlife.
Even if you only have a small outdoor space, you can do a great deal to help the birds survive and thrive throughout the winter months. In the United Kingdom, nature faces many challenges these days. Garden species that have traditionally been abundant are now in quick decline. Providing even a small bit of habitat is a great way to help with this problem.