Keeping bird feeders filled over the winter provides an easy resource for your flighted visitors, and it can encourage more birds to visit your backyard.
During the coldest months, birds — like many wild animals — need extra fat and calories to keep their body temperatures up and survive the bitter cold. Providing habitats is also a great way to help your feathered and furry friends.
But that cold weather also makes it harder for them to find food to sustain themselves through the winter.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “backyard birders can be a great help to birds when these rich foods are available at feeders. The foods that will be most appreciated in your yard will depend on which birds are common winter guests, but these 10 options are popular with many species that stay in our yards year-round.”
Top 10 Winter Bird Foods suggested by the almanac:
- Suet: Whether you offer this rich, fat-filled option in cakes, balls, shreds, nuggets, or chunks, suet will always be popular with woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, chickadees, jays, cardinals, and nutcrackers.
- Bark Butter: A softer, spreadable form of suet, bark butter can be smeared directly on a tree for an instant feeding station for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and creepers, and other clinging birds like chickadees will also visit for a quick bite.
- Hulled Sunflower Seed: Shelled sunflower hearts and chips are ideal for all winter birds. Not only is sunflower seed high in fat and calories, but without shells, it is easier for birds to eat, and there won’t be messy hulls underneath feeders. Wrens, finches, siskins, cardinals, nuthatches, jays, and plenty of other winter visitors will enjoy this seed.
- Black Oil Sunflower Seed: The go-to staple of bird feeding. Birds will have to work to open each seed and those hulls can build up under feeders, but the hulls will also protect seeds from snow and ice so they don’t clump together or spoil as quickly. All sorts of birds will gorge on this seed, including cardinals, chickadees, titmice, finches, wrens, jays, and more.
- Peanuts: Larger birds or those with more industrious attitudes will appreciate high-calorie, fat-rich peanuts at winter feeders. Whole, in-shell nuts are a great option for jays, nutcrackers, and woodpeckers, while smaller birds such as titmice, chickadees, and wrens are more likely to feast on shelled nuts and nut hearts.
- Nyjer: Also called “thistle” seed, nyjer is a tiny, oil-rich seed. Offer nyjer in mesh or sock feeders so it doesn’t blow away on a windy day. Pine siskins, goldfinches, redpolls, purple finches, and other small, clinging seed-eaters all prefer nyjer.
- Fruit: While many fruit-loving birds migrate south for the winter, some birds — including thrushes, jays, finches, and waxwings — still appreciate the sweet treat of apple chunks, orange wedges, raisins, or fresh cranberries.
- Millet: High in carbs and calories, millet offers fast energy for hungry birds. Millet can be used in feeders or sprinkled directly on the ground for juncos, sparrows, finches, wrens, doves, and quail to enjoy.
- Cracked Corn: Though not the most nutritious food, cracked corn is a rich source of carbohydrates that can give birds good energy. Spread on the ground or in low feeders for birds with big appetites, such as quail, grouse, wild turkeys, doves, and ducks.
- Mealworms: There aren’t many insects around in winter, and insect-eating birds — bluebirds, thrushes, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice — will flock to your feeder when you offer either dried or live mealworms. Only offer mealworms as a small treat.
For more information about feeding and providing winter habitats for birds and other wildlife, visit the Farmers Almanac website.