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Wintertime for Birds

This month marks the beginning of winter, and while we gather by our fires for warmth and light, the birds are dealing with dark days and long frigid nights. Many backyard birds are used to the winter weather; however, there are still several things you can do to help!

  1. Keep bird feeders full at all times. This will ensure that the birds know your yard is a reliable food source, and keep them coming back for more.
  2. Offer foods that are high in protein, fat, and energy. Birds need extra fat stores to keep warm, so they’re always drawn to foods that will help them bulk up in winter. Think hearty seeds, suet, and peanut butter (the no sugar added variety please!). Be sure to keep seed dry so it stays fresher longer. Place feeders in a location that’s sheltered from the rain and snow, or place a dome above your feeders to keep the seed dry.
  3. If you’re able to, stock up when you can. Then, if an unexpected blizzard hits, you’ll still be ready to feed the birds! Store birdseed in a cool, dry place in a container with a tight-fitting lid. It’s worth investing in a special bin and scoop, so there is less spillage as you fill feeders. Consider the practical things, such as how heavy a container you can lift, how much food goes into the feeder, and what size bag of seed the birds go through in a couple of weeks — and buy accordingly. Keep the birdseed storage area clean and tidy so you don’t attract rodents.
  4. Provide shelter in your yard so birds have a place to escape the wind, rain and snow. Trees and shrubs offer great natural protection, but if you don’t have any, you could always get creative by placing your Christmas tree in the backyard for the birds to use once you’re finished with it.
  5. Clean out the birdhouse that birds used the previous summer. Plug the air vents for the winter and put it back out — it might make the perfect night roost for a bird or two. Or go all out, and build a roosting box that could accommodate several birds. You’ll find directions at Cornell’s All About Birds. Whichever sort of box you provide, add some fresh wood shavings or dry meadow grass to add warmth.
  6. Water is always important for birds. They need it for both drinking and bathing. While they can eat snow for water, it takes valuable energy for them to thaw it. Heated birdbaths are one solution, albeit a bit more expensive. Depending on your climate, a cheaper route would be to put a lightbulb in a flower pot and place a shallow basin filled with water on top of it. You can have two sets of saucers and switch them out each morning or when the water freezes. Setting the birdbath in the sun will help too, even in the coldest climates. Your birdbath doesn’t have to be fancy, but it must be kept clean to avoid making birds sick and spreading disease.

These are just a few simple steps you can take to ensure our backyard birds have everything they need to make it through the long winter months. Birds have many wonderful adaptations that help them stay warm and fed in winter, but your help can make it a lot easier for them to survive. Happy Holidays to our feathered friends! May they stay warm through the coming harsh weather!


Thanks to Cornell and the National Wildlife Federation