How To: Feed Wild Birds in the Winter

It’s slightly cold outside… and we aren’t the only ones who have noticed.

As the weather around here continues to go from warm to freezing cold, we humans aren’t the only ones who are feeling the pain. The wild birds who fly around our backyards are struggling to stay prepared too. First we all thought winter wasn’t going to happen (the daffodils in my yard were even blooming in December). Then it hit us and the birds.

As wild birds get prepared for the winter, some of the birds who normally eat insects find less and less insects to eat (those insects like to disappear in the winter as much as I do…). With little to no insects to eat, many switch their diets to nuts and berries. But even these can be hard to find in the winter.

Additionally, birds stay warm by preening. This is a process that entails cleaning their feathers with water so that they can create air pockets beneath their feathers. These air pockets are easy to heat up with their body heat, creating a nice insulation between the bird and the outside world. However, in the winter many of the birds reliable sources of water freeze over and they are unable to find water to drink or to use to preen.

The good news though is it’s easy for us to help them.

If you’re going to provide food for the birds this winter (and I highly recommended it), here are the four simple things you need to know:

1) Have the correct feeder.

The best advice I was given when I started feeding my backyard birds was “Get a big feeder”. This allows me to not have to fill it up so often. Even if you have a good size capacity feeder, you will still need to keep it as full as possible. Wild birds get used to coming to one source for their feed, and they will continue to check on your feeder rather than find a new one, especially in cold weather.

2) Put your feeder in the correct location

You’ll want your feeder to be out of the wind so all the feed you spend good money on doesn’t end up spilled on the ground for the squirrels. Ideally, the feeder should have some cover to protect it from rain, but still out in the open so the birds can watch for predators (even if that predator is your cat).

3) Fill the feeder with the best possible feed

Especially in the winter it’s important to have energy rich foods. Birds have a naturally high metabollic rate, and in the winter it’s even more important that they are able to maintain that. In the summer insects are great sources of energy rich foods. However, in the winter the best sources you can provide for the birds include black oil sunflower seed, suet and peanuts. Black oil sunflower seeds have twice the calories than the regular striped sunflowers (extra bonus – black oil makes less of a mess too!). Suet also has more fat per gram than it has carbohydrates or protein. Any of these options help maintain the birds energy with their high metabloic rate.

4) Don’t forget the water

I know we live in the South (and it doesn’t drop below freezing for weeks at a time), but the birds still have a hard time finding good quality liquid water in the winter. Many birds even become dehydrated in the winter. The easiest avenue is to provide a heated bird bath. Not only does this option never freeze, but the water stays a nice temperature that makes preening and drinking an easier process for the birds.