Feeding the birds in winter can be a rewarding way to enjoy birding in your own backyard when the weather outside is less than ideal, and if you offer the best winter bird foods you will find a greater variety of birds visiting your feeders. While you want to be sure to offer the foods that your backyard birds like best, these top foods are excellent choices for many common winter birds because they offer great nutrition and their high caloric content will give birds plenty of energy to build fat reserves for frigid winter nights.
Black oil sunflower seeds are by far the best food to offer birds in any season. These seeds have slightly thinner shells and a higher oil content than other types of sunflower seeds, making them a more efficient and nutritious food. They will attract a wide range of hungry birds, and can be offered in platform, tube or hopper feeders.
TIP: Offer sunflower hearts or chips to avoid a buildup of discarded shells that will get buried under snowfall and can damage new grass in the spring.
For high calories, suet is one of the best foods to offer birds. While many birders prefer to avoid suet because it will melt in warmer weather, it is a superb winter food. It is also available in many blends with different ingredients to tempt different species of birds, and it is easy to make your own custom suet blends specialized for your backyard flock.
TIP: In addition to suet cakes, chop suet into chunks or shred it so more birds will sample it.
Peanuts are a high calorie, fat-rich nut that appeals to many backyard birds, including jays, titmice, nuthatches and chickadees. Because the nuts don’t freeze, they are perfect for winter feeding, whether you offer whole or shelled peanuts. Peanuts are also popular to mix in suet for winter feed.
TIP: Peanut butter is a great feeding option as well, and can be smeared on bark or offered in small dishes.
Nyjer (sometimes spelled nyger) or thistle seed is a favorite food of winter finches such as pine siskins and common redpolls. This is a another oily seed that offers a lot of calories, helping birds store the fat they need to keep warm though the season. Though expensive, nyjer is readily available and is typically treated so as not to germinate if spilled on the ground.
TIP: Offer nyjer in a mesh or sock feeder that can accommodate many birds, but keep it covered with a wide upper baffle to keep the seed dry and minimize mildew.
While a lot of songbirds that prefer fruit will migrate in the winter, many other birds that stay in snowy areas year round will enjoy the treat. Offer chopped apples, orange wedges, banana slices, halved grapes and melon rinds on platform feeders, spikes or nailed to trees. Chopped or dried fruit can also be added to suet mixtures.
TIP: Plant fruit trees and leave the fruit on the bare branches to give birds a natural food source they can rely on in the winter.
White proso millet is a favorite food of many small ground-feeding birds, particularly dark-eyed juncos. This starchy grain is inexpensive and can be easily offered in hopper, tube or platform feeders, and sprinkling it on the ground will attract even more small birds.
TIP: To make the millet more attractive, mix it with black oil sunflower seeds until birds are used to straight millet.
Many birds crave salt as an essential mineral, particularly in the winter when roads are regularly salted. Unfortunately, feeding on the side of the road can be deadly for birds, and offering salt crystals at your feeders will help keep them safe. Create a strong saltwater solution and let it evaporate in a shallow dish to make larger crystals, or pour it over a log or stump if there is no danger of freezing.
TIP: Salt can kill grass and make it difficult to grow plants, so keep the salt you’re offering the birds well away from gardens and other plantings.
For convenient and economical winter feeding, nothing beats a good quality birdseed mix. Choose a mix that features large proportions of sunflower seeds and millet, but avoid mixes with large proportions of unappetizing fillers such as wheat, milo and corn.
TIP: Buy individual types of birdseed in bulk and mix your own blends to customize them for your backyard flocks, and keep a supply of the blend on hand for conveniently refilling birdfeeders.