Attract More Birds to Your Garden This Winter by Following These Expert-Approved Tips

Jays, cardinals, finches, sparrows, and other birds tend to stay put year round. By providing them with food, water, and heat during the cold-weather season, your yard will easily become their new favorite spot.

A blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) eating winter berries.

Although it's customary to see birds flock to warmer climates during winter, some winged creatures opt to stick around even as temperatures begin to drop. And while some avians can naturally find food during colder months, it can be difficult for them to obtain proper nutrients, like protein and fat.

One way you can help? Make your yard a safe haven for birds during the cold-weather season by hanging feeders and leaving out fresh water. Not only will you provide the animals with a reliable food source, but you'll also fill your landscape with the beautiful creatures during a time when many flowers and other plants that provide seasonal interest lay dormant.

Birds You'll See During Winter

If birds can find a food source in your area during winter, they'll tend to stay year round. "Jays, cardinals, finches, sparrows, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches—all of which eat seeds and nuts—are common visitors to feeders," says Tod Winston, associate director of content, birding guide, and research associate at New York City Audubon. "Many kinds of woodpeckers also stay year round in colder climates, as they can't find food under tree bark—and will also visit bird feeders."

How to Use Feeders to Attract Birds During Winter

In spring, birds typically feed on invertebrates, like insects and spiders, which are inactive in cold conditions. Additionally, many plant foods, like seeds sand fruits, are dormant in winter and not as accessible to birds. With a depleted supply and higher competition, many birds struggle to find food during this time of year—and that's where hanging feeders, which provide them with essential nutrients, come in.

"During the winter and even early spring, both food and water are more difficult to find," affirms Nikki Belmonte, executive director of the American Birding Association. "In particular, fat and protein are hard to come by, so supplementing your yard with seed and suet [a hard, raw fat] is a great way to help and enjoy birds during the cooler months."

Hang Feeders in a Safe Place

There are two important things to consider when hanging your feeders. First, keep them in a safe space away from predators and windows. And second, place them in an area where you can enjoy watching the birds. "Bird feeders should be installed on their own pole that is easy for you to reach and placed near an area where there is some cover for birds to take refuge," Belmonte says.

Keep your feeders nearby shrubbery and trees—which birds use as shelter—but not so close that squirrels raid the feeder. You also want to be mindful of how close your feeders are to windows. "Place feeders within 3 feet of windows to minimize collisions; this gives the birds a chance to detect the glass and slow down before hitting it," Belmonte says.

Hang Multiple Feeders

While the number of feeders you offer is up to you, adding a mix will attract different types of birds. "Offering a variety of heights between 5 to 8 feet off the ground should attract a variety of songbirds and woodpeckers," says Belmonte.

In addition to hanging feeders at different heights, opting for different sized iterations also helps attract a multitude of winged creatures. "Sometimes, a larger feeder can be monopolized by larger birds like jays or grackles—and hanging a second, smaller seed feeder that doesn't allow larger birds to perch may give smaller birds like chickadees a chance to grab a snack," Winston says.

Choose the Right Type of Feeders

Attract a robust variety of species by hanging a high quality tube feeder and basic suet feeder. "If you live in an area where squirrels and chipmunks are active year round, choosing a rodent-proof tube feeder and a baffle for the pole are important to eliminate the competition," Belmonte says. "Suet cages come in many designs, but a basic square cage to hold a block of suet will attract the birds just as well."

Fill Feeders With Nourishing Food

Foods high in fats and oils are optimal options for bird feed during winter. "For your main seed mixture, choose a high-quality bird-seed mix that includes sunflower or safflower seeds along with smaller seeds like millet," Winston says. "A mixture with peanuts will be particularly popular with woodpeckers and jays."

Another high-calorie option is a mixture of beef suet and peanut butter, which can be smeared directly on a tree trunk or dabbed on a pine cone. "Suet is your best bet for high fat bird-feeding," Belmonte says. "The main ingredient, animal lard, provides an excellent meal during the colder months."

Keep Feeders Clean

No matter the type, placement, or number of feeders you hang, you must keep the food source clean to prevent the spread of disease. "Make sure to clean all your feeders regularly—every two weeks with a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach—and make sure your seed mixture remains dry, to avoid mold growth that can harm your birds," Winston says.

Add Roosting Boxes

Beyond food, birds also need protection from the elements during winter. "Roosting boxes are bird house-like shelters made specifically for smaller birds like chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, which may cluster together to conserve heat in very cold weather," says Winston. The boxes provide protection from freezing temperatures, high winds, and precipitation.

Provide a Heated Water Bath

During winter, many water sources for birds freeze over, so setting them up with fresh H2O is key to maintaining a bird-friendly yard. "Providing water when the temperatures dip below freezing may make your yard the most popular spot in the neighborhood," says Winston. "Various kinds of safe heating elements are available for bird baths." It's important to clean this fixture, too: Scrub your bird bath regularly with a stiff brush and replace the water every few days.

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