Feeding Your Birds in Winter

Northern Cardinal in the snow

Northern Cardinal in the snow

Winter is a great time for watching your birds. The bare trees and shrubs let you observe many birds that are hidden in lush summer foliage. But it is also a hard time for birds with a much diminished food supply. It is important to keep your bird feeders well stocked with high energy food sources. Black oil sunflower seed and suet are some of the best sources of calories for birds. Peanuts and peanut butter are also excellent. Millet is a favorite of small birds. Dried and fresh fruit is also appreciated. Don’t scatter bread or cracker crumbs though. They fill the birds up without providing much energy in return.

Many garden plants and shrubs can offer birds winter food. Hollies and junipers have berries attractive to birds as well as giving them shelter. Dogwoods, crabapples and Southern magnolias are both ornamental and provide fruit into the winter, as do shrubs such as pyracantha, butterfly bush and beautyberry. Both annual and perennial flowers such as black-eyed susans, coneflowers, asters, sedums and zinnias have seed heads that will provide winter food for your birds. If possible, it is best to let these flowers stand in the garden through the winter rather than cut them back. If you must cut them back, scatter the flower heads in a natural area for the ground feeding birds to find.

A natural area is a great boon to birds in winter. Try to keep at least one area where the leaves can be left undisturbed. Fallen leaves provide hiding places for spiders, insects and earthworms (don’t you say ugh, now) which are important sources of protein for birds in winter. They collect moisture, providing a source of drink and baths when the bird bath is empty. Thick twiggy shrubs such as burning bush, viburnums of all stripes, Carolina allspice and fothergilla give much needed shelter and protection.

Once you have attracted birds to your yard they can become a year round delight to the eye and ear, adding a whole new dimension to the garden.