12 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 winter bird feeding tips, you’ll be helping your backyard birds survive and thrive this winter.

1. Offer Suet and Other High Energy Foods

Downy woodpecker at suet feederCourtesy Susi Stroud
Downy woodpecker

When feeding 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, offer 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. Serve store-bought suet cakes or make your own suet.

“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.

Check out 7 types of finch birds to look for in winter.

2. Birds Love Fruit in Winter

baltimore oriole migration in winter, do orioles migrateCourtesy Sherry Conger
Male Baltimore oriole eating oranges during a spring snow storm.

“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 in Winter Even if You Can’t Get to Feeders

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

Just because the snow and ice is keeping you from getting to the feeders doesn’t mean you have to stop feeding birds in winter. 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.

“I fill an old birdbath with seed. It attracts a lot of ground-feeding birds that typically stay away from feeders. Plus it keeps the sparrows from hogging your feeder,” says Liza Peniston of Augusta, Kansas.

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4. Provide Fresh Water

As important as food is to birds in winter, water is even more important. Once natural water sources freeze, it becomes very difficult for birds to find water. By putting a heater in your current bird bath or buying a heated bird bath, you can help birds find water more easily. A bird bath is great addition to your backyard no matter what time of year it is!

Your birds will love these whimsical winter bird feeders.

5. Feed Birds Items From Your Kitchen

278088725 1 Penny Rice Bnb Byc 2021Courtesy Penny Rice
Cardinals, sparrows, juncos, pine warblers, and house finches on a homemade log feeder

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

winter bird feeding, Bnbbyc16 Susan Wilson 001Courtesy Susan Wilson
Red-headed woodpeckers

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!)

“Hang feeders in a place you can easily access. It’s so easy to refill them often when you don’t have to walk through snow or ice,” says Joann Sklarsky of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Discover 20 birds to look for in the snowy season.

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.

Learn how to create winter shelter for birds.

9. Offer More Than One Type of Food

Provide a variety of foods to attract more species. To save money, buy birdseed in bulk.

“For winter bird feeding, I buy a 50-pound bag of chicken scratch feed and a 25-pound bag of black oil sunflower seed from the local co-op. I mix them together in a large container with a tight lid. It creates a quality mix for less than $25!” says Tom Baldwin of Hatfield, Arkansas.

Check out the best suet feeders for winter birds.

10. Clean Off Snow and Ice

Brush snow and ice off feeders during and after storms to keep the food accessible to hungry birds.

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11. Don’t Cut Back Flowers

Feed birds from your garden in winter. Attracting birds in winter is easy to do by leaving the spent flowers of summer and fall-flowering perennials alone after the flowers fade, allowing them to form seed. “Leave seed-bearing flowers in the garden instead of cutting them back in fall,” says Judy Roberts of Graytown, Ohio. As a bonus, these plants also add texture to an otherwise barren landscape.

12. Some Hummingbirds Stick Around in Winter

winter bird feedingCourtesy LYNNETTE MAMMINO
Anna’s hummingbird

“Hummingbirds visit us year-round, so when the temps are below freezing I hang a cluster of Christmas tree lights under my feeders. It provides enough heat to keep the sugar-water from freezing,” says Sharon Mayhew of Vancouver, Washington.

How do hummingbirds survive snow and cold weather?

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.