10 Top Tips for Feeding Birds in Winter

Cold weather and lots of snow can be very tough on birds. But you can help your feathered friends by following these winter bird feeding tips.

As you likely already know, the winter months can be very difficult for our birds. The cold weather requires them to eat much more to stay warm and the snow makes it more difficult for them to actually find the food they need. By following these tips, you’ll be helping your backyard birds survive and thrive this winter.

1. Offer Suet and Other High Energy Foods

When feeding your birds in winter, some foods are better than others. It’s very important for the birds to be able to quickly refuel in the morning after a cold night. With this in mind, I suggest offering foods like peanut pieces and sunflower chips. These foods are high in the fats the birds need and are very easy for a bird to quickly eat with little effort.

Offer suet to birds all winter long. This is probably the best way for birds to get a quick energy boost and build fat reserves for long, cold nights. Say so long to the store-bought stuff and whip up a fresh batch of your own suet. Here’s how to make suet for birds.

“I’ve fed suet blocks to birds for many years. But a less expensive way to satisfy their suet appetite is to simply spread lard on the bark of trees. They love it, and it’s a fun way to watch them,” says Bruce Schaffner of Cochrane, Wisconsin.

“Excluding bacon, which can harm birds, I try to save grease from meats in a refrigerated container. When winter comes, I place the hardened fat at my feeders for my feathered friends,” says Jill Hersch of Ayr, North Dakota.

2. Birds Love Fruit in Winter

“I offer apples, grapes, cherries and oranges—whatever is on sale at the grocery store. Cut round fruits, like apples and oranges, into 1/2-inch disks to make it easier for birds to eat,” says Ron Adler of St. Peters, Missouri. Check out 7 backyard birds that eat berries.

3. Feed Birds Even If You Can’t Get to Feeders

Just because the snow and ice is keeping you from getting to the feeders in your yard doesn’t mean you have to stop feeding. Consider just tossing some seed out on your deck, patio, or in your yard. The birds don’t mind and some species like cardinals and juncos will be very appreciate of being able to feed on the ground.

Top Tips for Winter Bird Feeding©Rob Ripma
Sparrows, like this American tree sparrow, will love feeding on the ground.

4. Provide Fresh Water

As important as food is to birds, water is even more important. Once lakes, ponds, and rivers freeze, it becomes very difficult for birds to find water. By putting a heater in your current birdbath or buying a heated one, you can help birds find water more easily. This is a great addition to your bird feeding no matter what time of year it is! Learn how to attract birds to use a birdbath.

5. Feed Birds Items from Your Kitchen

Offer cooked pasta and rice for jays, woodpeckers and titmice. Peanut butter attracts chickadees and woodpeckers. And put out some raisins for a few surprise cold-weather visitors,” says Ellie Martin Cliffe of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Check out 10 foods you aren’t feeding birds yet.

6. Make a DIY Birdseed Wreath

Make grapevine wreaths and then decorate them with suet balls, popcorn, cranberry garland and dried fruit for winter bird feeding. They’re a hit with birds and squirrels,” say Jay and Paula Johnson of Duluth, Minnesota. Learn the truth about winter birds myths.

7. Fill Feeders Daily

Make sure you fill your backyard bird feeders daily if you can, preferably in late afternoon, to give the birds a boost before they roost for the night. A few days of empty feeders and birds will quickly disappear for better foraging areas. (They have to go where the food is, after all!)

8. Spread Feeders Around

To get the most winter bird traffic in your backyard, place your feeders at varying heights and locations, including in or near trees and shrubs, where birds won’t be as vulnerable to predators. Free up your backyard feeders for your favorite songbirds by learning how to discourage bully birds.

9. Offer More Than One Type of Food

Provide a variety of foods to attract the greatest number of species. Check out the 3 types of seeds and feeders birds love best.

10. Clean Off Snow and Ice

Brush snow and ice off feeders during and after storms to keep the food accessible to hungry birds. Here’s how to attract birds and wildlife in extreme weather.

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Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.
Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.