How to Help Songbirds in Winter

Winter is the toughest season, for all creatures. There's little food, water, and warmth and prolonged deeply cold spells can be deadly for birds unable to replenish lost energy. Indeed, small birds can lose up to 10 percent of body weight during one cold winter's night, so consuming enough food to restore that loss is vital.[1] You can help songbirds survive this cold, harsh season, especially if you live in temperatures below freezing.


  1. Image titled Help Songbirds in Winter Step 1
    Help by making a decision to put out bird food regularly. In particular, when the winter weather is very severe, be sure to leave food out for the birds. Be especially attentive after storms, when the birds will probably have been unable to find feed until the storm passes.
    • If possible, feeding first thing in the morning and late afternoon can help the birds restore energy when it's most needed.
    • Position feeders where the birds can find them easily and can keep an eye out for any possible dangers. Some feeders are best at ground level for ground feeding birds, others hanging.
    • Always aim to locate feeders out of the wind.
  2. Image titled Help Songbirds in Winter Step 2
    Choose the right food. Provide the sort of food that the birds would be getting on their normal diet, while focusing most on foods of high calorie content (some of which wouldn't normally be found in nature, such as bread or pastry). A variety of food will attract a variety of birds. While you should familiarize yourself with the particular needs of species of birds visiting your garden, in most cases, the following foods will be ideal:[2]
    • Fat and suet scraps (woodpeckers love suet); suet cake should always be hung to avoid attracting rats and their ilk
    • Cooked potatoes
    • Mild grated cheese
    • Soaked fruit
    • Pastry
    • Cracked corn
    • Niger/Nyjer thistle seed for goldfinches
    • Safflower seeds for chickadees, titmice and downy woodpeckers
    • Black oil sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts
    • White millet for sparrows, juncos and mourning doves
    • Sunflower-rich birdseed mix
    • Apples and pears (chopped)
    • Bird cake
    • Millet, corn and canary seed mixes for ground feeding birds (sprinkle under bushes); avoid mixes with too much red millet though as birds don't like it much and what isn't eaten gets left as a mess
    • Unsalted high fat peanuts.
  3. Image titled Help Songbirds in Winter Step 3
    Ensure that the birds have constant access to drinking water. Obviously, water can freeze over in very cold temperatures, so you might wish to give the birds tepid water.
    • Put up a heated birdbath. Birds will be able to get a warm drink and bath. You can buy birdbaths with heaters or heaters that can be added to a birdbath at most birding stores.
    • Never add any anti-freeze product to drinking water. These products are poisonous.
    • If there is enough room for birds to get into the water and it's not heated, add rocks to prevent this on very cold days, as they will quickly become cold when wet. When the weather warms up, you can encourage hopping in by removing the rocks.
  4. Image titled Help Songbirds in Winter Step 4
    Offer a roosting birdhouse or nest boxes. These are a place where birds can spend the night away from the cold. You can build your own, or buy one. If it's a nest box, the birds might choose to breed there in the coming spring, providing your family with a wonderful source of joy watching the growing birds.
    • Adding hay and dried grasses to nest boxes or birdhouses will help keep the birds warm inside.
    • Prevent drafts by covering up ventilation holes during winter.
    • Try to face the bird box or house in the direction of the afternoon sun to help increase warmth and face it away from the harshest winds.
  5. Image titled Help Songbirds in Winter Step 5
    Keep the feeding regular and all through winter. Once you attract birds to feed during winter, you will need to remain consistent because the birds come to rely on the food source you're providing and expect it. Sudden cessation of the food source they've grown to rely on while the weather is still severe can be catastrophic for the birds.


  • Suet and seed can be stored in the freezer to keep them fresh.
  • Clear feeders of snow regularly. Also continue to clean regularly using a mild disinfectant solution.
  • If squirrels become a problem, put out a critter block for them.
  • Be patient; it may take some weeks before the birds realize that you're offering delicious, high energy fare for them.
  • High energy suet is recommended in winter.


  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling anything to do with the birds.
  • Where birds gather in large numbers, the risk of contamination or disease increases. Clear away all uneaten and moldy food regularly and clear away piles of droppings from bird baths, bird tables, nest boxes, etc. Don't clean anything inside your house - clean bird items on the porch, in a shed or outside.
  • Once you start helping the birds to eat during winter, don't stop until winter is over. The birds that learn that you are a food source count on your continued support.
  • Some of the seed suggestions are expensive. Be sure that the feeding containers or platforms that you're using aren't causing the seed to be wasted.

Things You'll Need

  • Bird feeder
  • Suet feeder
  • Birdbath
  • Birdbath heater
  • Roosting birdhouse
  • Bakery items, seed, suet, etc.

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