3 Easy Ways to Help Wintering Birds

The cold, overcast days of winter can be a tough time for backyard animals. Like us, they’re looking for ways to stay warm and fed while they wait for the warmer months of spring to come. Luckily for birds and other backyard wildlife, there are some easy things we can do to help them survive harsh winter months.

Let’s take a look at the top three ways to help wintering birds.

Homemade Birdseed Suet - Care2

1. Food

Cold winter months are a critical time to feed birds; birds with access to feeders tend to have more substantial survival rates than birds who don’t. Food is turned into energy, which they need to stay warm. And if you’re worried that they’ll become dependent on feeding on feeders, don’t. Studies show that, on average, only 15 to 25 percent of their diet comes from feeders. The rest comes from foraging.

So, what types of foods do backyard birds enjoy? While preferences can vary widely from species to species, the following seeds and nuts are favorites among many common backyard birds.

  • Black Oil or Striped Sunflower Seeds - These seeds are a favorite of many. The black oil variety of seeds have a higher fat content than the striped one, but either will attract lots of visitors. Choose hulled sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, over their shelled counterparts for a no-mess option.
  • Suet - Generally speaking, suet is a rendered fat with seeds and dried fruits to form a dense cake. The type of fat, birdseed, and other ingredients vary among store-bought brands and homemade versions. The versatility and high-energy fat content make suet a natural choice for feeding wintering birds.
  • Safflower - This high-fat seed is a favorite among the northern cardinal and many other birds. Safflower can become rancid in wet conditions, check feeders often and empty as needed.
  • Nyjer (aka Thistle) - Beloved by finches, this seed requires a particular tube-style feeder that birds can cling to while feeding. Like safflower, Nyjer seed can go moldy quickly in wet weather so check feeders regularly.
  • Peanuts - An excellent choice for fuel, peanuts provide ample amounts of protein and fat. Choose either shelled peanuts, which should be dry-roasted and unsalted, or peanut hearts (shelled kernels).

Another option that can be fun as well as help the birds is making homemade bird treats or suet. Try using a combination of fat, birdseed, and fruits to form a cake (or any shape), and then tie them to tree branches or put inside a suet feeder.

If you do decide to feed the birds, be aware, there are foods that you should never offer. Check out this helpful list of the seven most common food items not suitable for backyard birds. Spoiler alert, bread is number one.

It might be tempting to skip cleaning feeders in colder months but don’t. Dirty feeders, especially during warmer days when the snow melts, are a breeding ground for disease. So, clean those feeders regularly! Here’s how.

Animal Behavior : Blue jay & common Starling (sturnus vulgaris)

2. Water

Water is a vital addition to any garden, particularly in winter. It’s obvious but bears reminding, birds and other backyard animals can’t drink frozen water any more than we can.

A simple solution is a birdbath. Without a doubt, my winter bird bath gets twice the visitors as the feeders do. The key in cold months is to keep the water from freezing over. There are several ways to accomplish this.

  • Move the bath to a sunnier location. A birdbath in a bright area stays unfrozen longer.
  • Line the bottom of the bath with a dark liner, like a trash bag, and weigh it down with rocks. The darkness will help absorb more solar energy, keeping the water more liquid.
  • Add a tennis ball, ping pong ball, or another floating object to the bath. The movement from the wind will prevent the water from icing, and the bright color will attract more birds.
  • Install a heater element or new heated birdbath.

Much like feeders, birdbaths require regular cleaning. Use a stiff scrubbing brush to clean bird droppings, algae, and debris from the inside of the birdbath. Be sure to clean perches and landing areas too. Once the interior of the bath is clean, refill with fresh water.

Birdbaths are a simple way to add a reliable water source to your backyard. You can purchase one pre-made, or you can make your own. Don’t forget the smaller animals, place baths at varying heights so everyone can get a sip.

Birdhouse with snow in a winter cold forest and a pigeon bird

3. Shelter

Believe it or not, animals like to cozy up somewhere warm for the winter just like we do. And much like our own homes, outdoor winter shelters need a bit of winterizing.

  1. Furnish nesting or roosting boxes. Add three to four inches of dried grass or dry wood shavings to the bottom of houses for birds to snuggle in. Avoid sawdust as it retains moisture when wet.
  2. Seal vents in birdhouses with removable weather stripping (that you’ll remove in spring). While proper ventilation is vital in hot summer days, it’s a drafty liability for those looking for warm shelter.
  3. Make a brush pile for ground-dwelling animals. Use fallen branches and leaves to create a place for small animals to burrow in to stay warm. This brush pile is as easy as leaving a corner of the yard untouched.
  4. Be ready for weather changes. Have spare feeders to use when the weather is nasty. Be prepared and stock up on seed, suet, and other bird treats when you know a storm is coming

No yard? No problem. Check out these these different ways you can help local wildlife this winter.

Okay Care2 birders, it’s your turn to share! Tell me all about your winter feeders (and who comes to feed at them) or share tips and tricks for cold-weather birding in the comments!

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Photos: Getty Images


Barbara S
Barbara S16 days ago

thank you

Helen C
Helen C25 days ago

Lets make things a little easier for them.....

Yvonne T
Yvonne T28 days ago

the birds give us sooooo much back. i recommend to everybody to help the birds because they are pure joy and hapiness. i helped them but the truce is they helped me. that s what animals are doing...

Carl R
Carl R1 months ago


Melanie St. Germaine

Thank you for sharing

Carl R
Carl R1 months ago


Shae Lee
Shae Lee1 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Marija M
Marija M1 months ago


Catherine Z
Catherine Z1 months ago


Leo C
Leo C1 months ago

Thank you for posting!