What Do Birds Eat in Winter? Essential Feeding Tips

As winter approaches, many bird enthusiasts wonder how their feathered friends adapt to the colder months and what they consume for sustenance. During this time, food sources become scarce and energy conservation is crucial for birds. Understanding the diets of various bird species in winter and how they find nourishment can help birdwatchers and nature lovers provide suitable food sources to support local bird populations.

Many species of birds, including birds of prey, find it slightly more challenging to locate their favorite food sources in winter. These birds might opt for smaller animals such as mice, voles, and even fish when available. Other birds may seek out plant-based nutrition, turning to seeds, fruits, and nuts for sustenance. Providing the appropriate feed in your backyard or garden can help attract and support a variety of bird species during this season.

Key Takeaways

  • Winter brings challenges for birds finding food, making it crucial for them to conserve energy.
  • Birds in winter may consume small animals, seeds, fruits, and nuts depending on their preferences.
  • Providing suitable food sources in your backyard or garden supports local bird populations during the colder months.

Fundamentals of Bird Feeding in Winter

Winter can be a challenging time for birds as they face colder temperatures, harsher weather conditions, and dwindling food sources. Providing additional aid to our feathered friends during this time is essential, and understanding the fundamentals of winter bird feeding will ensure that they obtain the necessary energy and nutrients to thrive.

Feeding birds in the winter is all about providing high-energy, easily accessible food sources. One of the top choices for a variety of species is black oil sunflower seeds. These seeds are nutritious, high in energy, and have a thin shell that is easy for small birds to crack open. Other options for winter bird feed include:

  • Peanuts: A high-protein, high-energy option that attracts woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice.
  • Suet: A high-fat, high-energy food that serves a wide variety of birds, especially those that need a boost to keep warm during winter.
  • Nuts: Acorns, beechnuts, and pine nuts can attract birds with sturdy bills like jays and titmice.
  • Insects: While many insects aren’t available in the cold months, dormant insects and larvae are crucial food sources for some birds.

Apart from offering a diverse array of food options, maintaining a clean feeding area is imperative. Regularly cleaning feeders and platforms with soap and a disinfectant will help keep birds healthy and prevent the spread of disease. Also, limit the amount of seed provided daily to minimize waste and prevent attracting unwanted rodents or pests.

Water is just as important as food during winter, as birds need access to a clean source of water for hydration and maintaining their feathers. Offering a birdbath or other water source ensures they can easily find this resource and conserve energy for essential activities like staying warm.

By adhering to these fundamentals of winter bird feeding, you’ll create a welcoming environment for birds to find the necessary sustenance and face the challenges that cold weather brings.

Read Next: What Can Birds Eat Besides Bird Food?

Common Winter Bird Diets

Seeds and Grains

Birds commonly consume seeds and grains for their high-energy content and easy availability during winter months. While many plants have shed their seeds, some fall to the ground or stay on the plants, providing foraging opportunities for birds. Many birds such as sparrows, cardinals, and juncos, particularly enjoy eating black-oil sunflower seeds due to their thin shells and high-fat content. Another popular seed choice is millet, which can be found in various winter birdseed mixes. These nutritious seeds and grains help birds stay warm and energetic throughout the cold season.

Fruits and Berries

Fruits and berries serve as essential sources of sustenance for birds during winter months when their regular food sources may be scarce. Many birds, like robins and bluebirds, rely on fruits like apples and crabapples to fuel their daily activities. Meanwhile, berries like juniper and holly berries provide essential nutrients and help keep the bird population healthy. Consuming these fruits and berries allows birds to maintain their energy levels even when insect and other food sources are less abundant.

Nuts and Other Wildlife Foods

Nuts are a winter favorite for many bird species due to their high fat and protein content, which helps them maintain their energy levels during colder months. Birds with strong beaks, such as jays and titmice, often crack open acorns, beechnuts, and pine nuts to access their nutritious contents. Additionally, some birds turn to other wildlife food sources when insects and seeds become scarcer. Dormant insects and larvae found under tree bark or plant cover offer valuable nutrients for birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. Sometimes, birds may even feed on small animals, carrion, or sap to meet their nutritional needs in winter.

Attracting Winter Birds to Your Backyard

Creating a Bird-Friendly Environment

Attracting birds to your backyard during winter mainly involves providing essential resources like food, water, and shelter. Remember to plant native plants and flowers, such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and ornamental grasses, which can serve as natural sources of food and shelter for birds all winter long1. In addition to plants, consider installing a heated bird bath2. Birds have no problem melting snow and ice to drink, but fresh, liquid water will attract many backyard birds during the winter.

Types of Bird Feeders and Food

When it comes to feeding winter birds, it’s crucial to offer calorie-rich and high-fat foods to help them stay warm and active. Several types of food can be beneficial to birds during the cold months:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Insects3

To ensure that you cater to a wide variety of bird species, select different types of bird feeders4. Ground feeders, hanging feeders, and platform feeders will attract a diverse range of birds. Placing feeders in strategic locations around your garden, taking into account the available cover and water sources, can also affect their use by birds.

Specially Formulated Winter Bird Foods

During the winter months, birds require specific types of food to help them sustain their energy levels and maintain body temperature. In this section, we’ll discuss specially formulated winter bird foods, focusing on seed mixes, suet and high-energy ingredients.

Seed Mixes for Winter Birds

One of the most popular options for feeding birds in winter is a carefully selected seed mix that caters to the nutritional needs of birds during this period. Some of the best seeds for winter birds include sunflower seeds, which are high in fats and oils, making them an excellent energy source for cold weather.

Other popular seeds in winter bird mixes are white proso millet and black oil sunflower, both of which are enjoyed by a variety of bird species such as finches, sparrows, and cardinals. Additionally, peanuts provide a high-protein, high-energy food that attracts woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice to bird feeders.

Here are some common winter bird seeds:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • White proso millet
  • Black oil sunflower
  • Peanuts

Suet and Other High-Fat Ingredients

Suet is a high-fat, energy-rich food source that is especially beneficial for birds during the winter months. Suet is made from animal fat, and it provides essential calories and insulation to help birds stay warm in cold weather. This high-fat ingredient is irresistible to a variety of bird species, including woodpeckers, blue jays, and robins.

It’s important to choose suet cakes or blocks that contain other nutritious ingredients such as nuts, seeds, and fruits, as these provide additional essential nutrients to birds.

High-Energy Ingredients

Apart from suet and seed mixes, birds also benefit from other high-energy food sources during the winter months. Fruits, such as dried berries, provide natural sugars and vitamins that help birds maintain their energy levels. Similarly, sap from trees is another source of energy for birds like sapsuckers and woodpeckers.

Some high-energy ingredients to provide in the winter include:

  • Dried fruits
  • Tree sap
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Remember, always use appropriate bird feeders for each type of food you offer, ensuring that they are protected from the elements, and don’t forget to regularly refill and clean your feeders to maintain a hygienic environment for your feathered friends. Providing specially formulated winter bird foods will help your local bird population thrive during the colder months.

Tips for Winter Bird Feeding

Feeding Birds During Extreme Weather

During the cold winter months, birds have a harder time finding food and keeping warm. Here are a few tips to help them through the tough times:

  1. Offer high-fat foods: Foods rich in fat, such as suet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, provide the energy that birds need to maintain their body heat. Nuthatches, in particular, love these types of foods.
  2. Keep feeders full: Frequently refill your feeders to ensure that birds can always find a reliable source of food.
  3. Protect feeders from snow: Use feeders with wide covers to prevent snow from burying the seeds.
  4. Offer shelter: Place feeders near evergreen trees or shrubs, which can provide birds with additional warmth and protection from wind.

Dealing with Predators and Pests

Winter feeders might attract unwanted visitors. Here’s how to deal with them:

  • Squirrels: To deter squirrels, use squirrel-proof or baffled feeders, and avoid using cracked corn as it can attract them.
  • Cats: Place feeders at least 30 feet away from bushes or trees to minimize cat attacks. Audubon recommends that feeders be either very close to windows (closer than 3 feet) or farther than 30 feet, to reduce bird collision risk.

Winter Birdbath Maintenance

Water is crucial for birds in winter, both for drinking and bathing. Follow these tips for winter birdbath maintenance:

  • Keep water clean and unfrozen: Replace water frequently to prevent it from freezing, and remove ice when necessary. You can use a thermostatically controlled birdbath or heater.
  • Location is key: Place birdbaths near cover, such as bushes or trees, so birds have a place to escape from predators.
  • Cleanliness is crucial: Regularly scrub the birdbath with soap and a disinfectant, as recommended by Penn State Extension, to keep it healthy for birds.

By following these tips and using the provided information, you’ll be prepared to help birds thrive during the harsh winter months.

Species-Specific Winter Bird Feeding

Winter bird feeding is essential for many species as their natural food sources become scarce during the colder months. In this section, we will discuss the winter feeding habits of Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Titmice, and Juncos, and the best practices to contribute to their well-being.


Chickadees are small, energetic birds that mostly rely on insects during the summer, but their diet shifts to seeds during the winter months. Some good examples include:

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds: High in fat and a favorite among many species, including chickadees. These seeds have a thin shell that is easy for chickadees to crack open. source
  • Peanuts: A rich source of energy and protein, these nuts will also attract chickadees to your feeders.

Furthermore, if your yard has trees that produce nuts or berries during the winter, chickadees will often flock to them in search of food.


Many species of woodpecker remain in colder climates throughout the winter and are often seen at bird feeders. Here are some suggestions for feeding them:

  • Suet: Woodpeckers are especially attracted to suet during the winter months, which provides them with high energy and fat.
  • Peanut butter: Woodpeckers will readily eat peanut butter, which can be smeared on tree trunks or feeder platforms.

Additionally, various woodpecker species can obtain nutrients from dormant insects and larvae hidden in the bark of trees by using their sharp beaks to dig into the wood.


Titmice, like chickadees, have a diet consisting primarily of insects during the warmer months but turn to seeds and nuts during the winter. Ideal food choices include:

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds: This popular seed is universally enjoyed by many birds during the winter months, including titmice.
  • Nuts: Acorns, beechnuts, pine nuts, and other varieties are sought after by titmice, providing essential nutrients.


Juncos are ground-feeding birds that forage for fallen seeds throughout the year. In the winter, you can support juncos by providing:

  • White millet: Scattering white millet on the ground or in low, platform feeders will attract juncos, as they are known to enjoy these seeds.

Other winter bird species, such as Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, doves, waxwings, and redpolls, may also benefit from the food options mentioned above. To attract a diverse range of birds during the winter months, consider providing a variety of food sources in your yard to support the general bird population with their specific dietary preferences. source

Frequently Asked Questions

How do birds find food in the snow?

Birds have different ways of finding food in winter, even when snow covers the ground. Some of them use their keen senses, like sight and hearing, to locate hidden food beneath the snow. Others, like woodpeckers and nuthatches, search for insects hiding under tree bark. Some birds, such as sparrows and finches, rely on their memory to revisit places where they have previously found food sources.

What are the best foods to provide birds during winter?

During winter, birds need high-energy and calorie-rich foods to stay warm and survive the harsh conditions. Some of the best options to provide birds in winter include black-oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and sunflower chips. These foods are particularly great because they’re easy to crack open and provide essential nutrients and energy.

Can birds survive without being fed in winter?

Yes, most wild birds can survive without human intervention in winter, as they have adapted to find food and shelter in their natural environment. However, our help by providing food, water, and shelter during the cold months can make their lives easier and enhance their chances of survival, especially in urban areas where natural resources are scarce.

Is it necessary to provide water for birds in winter?

While it might not be necessary, providing a fresh water source during winter is an excellent way to help birds, as they need it to drink and maintain their feathers in good condition. Heated birdbaths or water dishes with a submerged heating element can help prevent the water from freezing and make it accessible for the birds.

Are there any foods to avoid when feeding birds in winter?

Yes, some foods should be avoided when feeding birds in winter, as they can be harmful or not provide the necessary nutrients. Foods to avoid include salty snacks, bread, raw meat, and sugary treats. These items can either be unhealthy for birds or not provide the nutritional value needed to sustain them.

What changes in a bird’s diet occur from summer to winter?

Many birds change their diet from summer to winter based on food availability. For example, insect-eating birds may switch to a more plant-based diet, consuming seeds, nuts, and berries in the winter. Additionally, some birds will visit bird feeders more frequently in winter to supplement their food sources. Overall, a bird’s winter diet mainly focuses on high-energy, calorie-rich foods that help them maintain their energy levels and stay warm in the cold months.


  1. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/design/nature-lovers/winter-bird-feeding-tips/
  2. https://www.thespruce.com/attracting-birds-in-winter-386397
  3. https://www.thayerbirding.com/what-do-birds-eat-in-the-winter/
  4. https://extension.psu.edu/winter-bird-feeding-the-basics

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