How to Help Birds in Cold Winter Weather

Don't worry about your backyard birds during frigid winter weather. Learn how to help them by providing food, water and shelter.

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Whether it’s hot or cold, raining or snowing, birds have to adapt and survive the weather conditions. Here are a few things you can do on cold days to help birds in winter.

Where do birds go during a storm?

Put Food Out Early to Help Winter Birds

Bnbbyc19 Jerrty TaylorCourtesy Jerrty Taylor
Grey crowned rosy finches on a platform feeder

On cold winter days, birds need to eat immediately in the morning as they have used energy reserves to stay warm overnight. It’s helpful to provide easy access to food in the morning.

Check out the top tips for feeding birds in winter.

Provide Fresh Water

robin on heated bird bathCourtesy Judy Aughey
American robin on a heated bird bath

Once lakes and rivers freeze over, birds have a difficult time finding water. A heated bird bath just might be the most important item you can put out in extremely cold weather. By offering a heated bird bath for your birds to drink from, you will not only help them survive but will also attract many more birds than you would with feeders alone.

Check out the best bird baths and fountains for attracting birds.

Offer Birds Shelter from Wind

how to help birds in winterCourtesy Jessica Bisko
Tufted titmouse

Give birds a way to escape the cold wind in winter. You can do anything from building a simple stick pile in the corner of your yard to putting up roosting boxes for birds to use.

Leave your bird houses up. There are several species that will use bird houses as roosting sites during the winter. Bluebirds do this most commonly. Be sure to clean out the old nesting material and block any of the ventilation holes so they can retain their warmth. If you can, flip the orientation of the front of the house so that the hole is on the bottom.

Long term, you should plant native trees and evergreen trees for cover and shrubs with berries for a food source.

Here’s more ways to create winter shelter for birds.

Serve High Energy Foods

pine siskin in snowCourtesy Betsy Brooker
Pine siskin eating bird seed in the snow

The more energy birds can gather quickly, the more likely they are to thrive in winter. Peanuts, sunflower chips, and suet are all great options. Not only are they high energy foods, they are also quick and easy for the birds to eat allowing them to feed more efficiently on cold days.

Suet is a great source of protein for the birds. This will help them stay warm and survive those extremely cold nights. Remember that the larger woodpeckers much prefer a suet feeder with a tail prop!

Peanuts, like suet, are another good source of protein for your birds. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are just a few of the many species that will frequent a peanut feeder.

Check out the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

Refill Feeders Late in the Day

how to store bird seedCourtesy William Woodard
Red bellied woodpecker on an icy tube feeder

Keep feeders filled with birdseed to help birds in winter. Giving your birds access to full feeders just before sunset will provide them with an extra energy boost.

Psst—these are the 4 foods you should feed birds in winter.

Use a Ground Feeder

How to Help Bird Species During Extremely Cold WeatherRob Ripma
Dark-eyed juncos like to feed on the ground

There are quite a few species that are not comfortable coming to traditional bird feeders. Most of our native sparrows such as song, white-throated, and white-crowned, prefer to feed on the ground. By offering seed using a ground feeder, you will ensure that these species have easy access to food even when the ground is covered with snow.

Psst—learn about winter bird myths and facts.

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Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.