5 Things to Know About Feeding Birds in Winter
Keep your feathered friends well fed in cold weather with these tips.
Backyard bird watching in the winter is a popular pastime, allowing you a lovely dose of nature during the harshest time of the year. While there are different theories on whether it is in wild birds’ best long-term interest to feed them during winter, the majority of research indicates that putting food out for backyard birds improves their chance of survival when cold conditions can make their natural diet scarce. It also puts birds in a better position for success once the weather warms and breeding begins. So if you’ll be setting out food for birds on your property this season, keep these five tips in mind—you’ll feel confident that your efforts will ultimately benefit your feathered friends.
1. Use high-quality birdseed.
If feeding birds in winter, give them the best, freshest food you can afford. Cheaper brands contain fillers, and seed on the clearance rack may be past its prime—neither case being healthy for birds. You’ll know if the seed is inferior or spoiled if you find an abundance left uneaten on the ground under your feeders. If so, empty the feeder, clean it thoroughly, and fill with new, high-quality seed.
2. Provide for a variety of species that may visit to feed this winter.
Different birds have different requirements and preferences when it comes to food and feeding habits. To attract a variety of bird species in wintertime, use a variety of foods, as well as several types of feeders hung at varying levels—different birds eat at different heights. Providing several areas to feed will prevent overcrowding, reducing negative interactions between competing species and lessening the likelihood of them spreading a disease to one another.
3. Place bird feeders in a safe area.
While placing bird feeders, make sure you’re not unintentionally creating a bird buffet for such hawks, raccoons, snakes, and foxes. Put feeders several feet from the natural cover of trees and bushes so birds can hide in the event of an ambush, yet far enough away so that predators can’t lie in wait for them there. You might also provide some mesh or temporary fencing around the feeder area to help to keep predators at bay. Also, avoid offering birdseed on the ground, as that makes birds easier to prey upon.
4. Tidy up around the bird feeder.
Keep bird feeders scrupulously clean by scrubbing thoroughly with dish soap and a 10 percent non-chlorine bleach solution at least twice during the winter feeding season, or if you notice the birds have been turned off to the food (it may have spoiled). Also, clear up any debris and uneaten seed from the ground around and below the feeders; uneaten birdseed can go rancid or get moldy, which could be harmful to birds that eat it. Remove snow from feeders after storms to keep seed dry and to ensure birds have access to it. Shovel the snow on the ground around the feeders so birds also have access to any spilled seed.
5. Store birdseed correctly to keep it safe and fresh.
Birdseed must be stored properly in winter to keep it fresh and safe from bugs, rodents, and other wildlife who may also be looking for a meal. Store all seed in a cool dry place, like a garage, shed, or covered porch. Use a sealed container, like a large plastic tub or metal garbage can with a lid. Refilling your feeders will be easier in winter if you choose a container that’s easy to access while wearing bulky gloves and gear; keep a large scoop handy for the task.