What To Feed Birds In Winter

If you’re a savvy birder like I am, you know that the cold, dark days of winter are a good time to spot a variety of species snacking from feeders. You also know it’s one of the most critical times to feed birds; well-fed birds can withstand the harsh weather of winter by staying warmer than those who are unable to find reliable sources of food.

Some of the hardships that birds face today come from changes in habitat brought about by the removal of trees and shrubs where they used to find food and shelter. Providing supplements to their natural, wild diet – especially during severe and extreme weather – can help birds survive the winter months.

If you’re just getting started out feeding birds, the first thing you should know is the types of foods that backyard birds like. The following six foods are popular with a wide variety of birds across the US.


 Goldfinch and Downy Woodpecker (Photo: Thinkstock)

1. Black-Oil or Striped Sunflower Seeds

These seeds are beloved by almost any bird visiting a feeder. Black-oil sunflower seeds have a higher fat content than the striped variety, but either type will attract visitors.

The outer shells of the sunflower seed are easy to crack open, but even smaller birds who can’t open them benefit from the larger birds who can. Birds who can’t break the seeds on their own are content to scour the ground under feeders to pick up the bits and pieces.

For a no-mess option, choose hulled sunflower seeds — sunflower hearts — over the shelled ones.


Arizona Woodpecker (Photo: Thinkstock)

2. Suet

Fat is an excellent source of energy for birds in the winter and particularly attractive to woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. You might even be lucky and catch a Carolina wren snacking on some.

Generally speaking, suet is a rendered fat with seeds and dried fruits to form dense cakes, balls or other shapes. The type of fat, birdseed and other ingredients can vary widely among store-bought and homemade suet cakes. Try different methods to determine which fat/seed combination is most popular with the birds in your backyard.


Crested Tit (Photo: Thinkstock)

3. Peanuts

Peanuts provide protein and fat, which makes them a good fuel source choice for wintering birds. Shelled peanuts should be dry-roasted, unsalted and offered as kernels or peanut hearts, but you can also leave them whole and in the shell. Woodpeckers, bluejays, nuthatches, chickadees and tufted titmice love peanuts and will visit feeders often.


Redpoll (Photo: Thinkstock)

4. Nyjer (Thistle)

Nyjer, also known as Thistle, is eagerly eaten by goldfinches, house finches and purple finches, pine siskins and redpolls too. You’ll need a particular feeder for this seed, most commonly a tube-style feeder or fine-mesh sock that the birds can cling to while feeding.

Thistle seed can go rancid or moldy in a short time during wet weather. If you notice that the birds have stopped visiting the feeder, check to see if the seed is bad. If so, empty the feeder and give it a good clean before putting fresh seed back in.


Northern Cardinal (Photo: Thinkstock)

5. Safflower

This white, thin-shelled seed is a favorite of the northern cardinal, but many birds enjoy snacking on it at feeders. Like Nyjer seed, Safflower seed can become rancid in wet conditions so check feeders regularly and discard as necessary. Save money; buy safflower in bulk at feed stores.


6. DIY Bird Treats

My favorite suggestion on this list is making treats for birds because not only is it incredibly easy, it’s fun, and it helps the birds! Try inventing recipes for winter bird treats using a combination of fat, seeds and fruits like apples or raisins to form a cake that you can hang from branches or put inside a suet feeder. The options are limitless.

Do you feed the birds in winter like I do? Do you have a favorite seed or DIY bird treat recipe? Share it in the comments!

Related at Care2:


kathy bonard
kathy bonard3 months ago

Feed birds all year round.In winter they get more suet,fat and seeds.Hate to say it but in warmer weather I feed brown bread,they love it !

Olga Nycz-Shirely
Olga Nycz-Shirley3 months ago


Frances G
Carla G3 months ago

Thank you

Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago


Shae L
Shae Lee3 months ago

thank you for sharing

Vincent T
Vincent T3 months ago


JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris3 months ago


Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

Water in a birdbath and a seed block are in my garden, but better still are all the Australian natives that I have planted to bring in the birds... To give them shelter, food and somewhere to play.

Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

Thank you for sharing