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Feeding Garden Birds in Winter | Almanac.com

Feeding Garden Birds in Winter

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How to Encourage Birds to Visit Your Garden

The Editors

Birds are an essential part of the garden, helping with pest control as they snap up aphids, caterpillars, grubs, and other insect pests. But winter can be tough for our feathered friends. Give birds a tasty, nutritious treat and discover other ways to encourage birds to keep returning to your garden.

Nutritious Food for Garden Birds

Birds often enjoy proprietary birdseed mixtures, unsalted peanuts, and dried mealworms. They’ll also eat leftover cooked rice or potatoes, unsalted bacon rind, cooked or raw pastry, and stale or hard mild cheese.

Hang feeders or position bird tables where birds can get a good view of their surroundings so they won’t be ambushed by predators. Only put out small amounts of food at a time, and replenish often to insure a continuous supply. See the best types of bird feeders for different types of birds.

Some birds will eat tree fruits such as apples and pears—a great way to use up blemished fruits. Hang them from a tree or chop them up and scatter them on the ground for ground-feeding birds.

More Tasty Treats for Feathered Friends

Bird cakes are very easy to make. Mix dried ingredients such as crushed, unsalted peanuts, sunflower seeds, grains, mealworms, and dried fruit together in a bowl. Melt some animal fat, or coconut oil for a vegetarian alternative, then pour the fat into the bowl. Mix one part fat to two parts dried ingredients.

The fat mixture can then be used to fill a variety of molds. For instance, spike a hole into the base of an old yogurt pot then thread a piece of string through. Make a knot to secure the string to the bottom of the pot, then tie on a stick to serve as a perch below the pot. Pour the pot with the fat mixture and leave it to set.

Pinecones also make good bird feeders. Tie string to the base then smear the cone with the part-set mixture. Or pour the bird food mixture into a flexible container to make a loaf of bird cake. Once it has set, remove the bird cake and put it into a wire cage bird feeder to hang up.

→ See our recipe for suet cake.

Offer Fresh, Warm Water

Water is essential for both drinking and washing for birds. You can purchase a birdbath or use a dog bowl or upturned dustbin lid, with a rock in the middle so the birds can get in and out easily. Make your first job of the day to put out fresh, warm water so that birds can bathe and preen their feathers (clean feathers provide better insulation from the cold). Keep the water topped up and clean out the bird bath regularly.

Plants and Natural Food for Birds

Avoid tidying up ornamental borders until early spring. This will provide shelter for insects, which the birds will hunt for and eat. Grow plants that birds love. They enjoy the winter berries from shrubs like hawthorn and yew, and the seed heads of plants such as globe artichoke, sunflowers, and coneflowers.

Turning over the soil in winter can help to expose slug eggs and overwintering grubs to make it easier for birds to find them.

Learn more about creating a bird-friendly habitat.

2023 Almanac Club

Dawn (not verified)

5 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you so much !! You are very informative- love watching the birds!

Danny Holdren (not verified)

1 year 5 months ago

Shooting at a rock is never a good idea. The bullet can ricochet and injure yourself or someone a mile away. If you need noise, use a tin can but be sure you have a back stop to stop the bullet.

Peter Woodyer (not verified)

1 year 5 months ago

The birds in my garden have attracted a cat which has killed at least two Blue jays to my knowledge. I have placed a rock about six feet beyond my feeders and when I see the cat lying in wait, I aim carefully and fire my .22 at the rock. The crack of the rifle from one direction followed by the crack of the bullet hitting the rock from the other seems to work for a while but "the cat comes back". Help.

John (not verified)

4 years 5 months ago

I put out black-oil sunflower seed, suet, and a heated birdbath for the birds here in snowy Western New York. I had a redwing today!!

Lisa Glawinski (not verified)

4 years 5 months ago

Thanks for the tips and ideas to help feed our feather friends during the winter.
**On a side note, I have spotted many Robins near our feeders in southwest Pennsylvania, (usually the first sighting is in mid March). I was concerned because we have had many days when temperatures stayed in the single digits.
Will they continue south soon ,and what can I offer them to sustain them in their journey?
Thank you in advance for any information that you can offer.