Top 8 Foods to Attract Winter Backyard Birds to Your Feeder

Feeding Backyard Birds Brightens the Darkest Days of Winter and Helps Birds Brave the Elements

Just because it’s cold and snowy in the eastern U.S. doesn’t mean you can’t attract winter backyard birds to your feeders.

Winter bird feeding is rewarding and enjoyable in the midst of chilly weather.

It's a beautiful sight to see a male Northern Cardinal in your backyard set against the backdrop of fresh snow
It’s a beautiful sight to see a male Northern Cardinal in your backyard set against the backdrop of fresh snow

It’s one of the most popular ways to interact with nature and helps birds get through tough winter months when some hungry birds might otherwise lose the battle with the elements.

At intoBirds, we optimize the resources available at our feeders to enjoy attracting a more significant number of birds with more diversity.

Since no one type of seed is preferred by all birds, we offer more than just a mixture of seeds to increase the attractiveness of our feeding area.

Winter Backyard Bird Species

Depending on your climate, geography, the landscape of your backyard and your region of the country, you could expect dozens of backyard birds to visit during the winter months.

The most common winter birds in the U.S. include finches, sparrows, titmice, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, and cardinals.

Dark-eyed juncos are found around woodland edges and suburban yards, feeding on the ground, making ticking calls as they fly up into the bushes
Dark-eyed juncos are found around woodland edges and suburban yards, feeding on the ground, making ticking calls as they fly up into the bushes

Backyard birders in northern regions may have pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, and red crossbills.

Southern birders may still have overwintering hummingbirds and warblers even in the middle of winter.

Since natural food sources can be unpredictable in winter, there is always the possibility of a very unexpected and exciting visitor at your feeders.

The Common Redpoll is fond of colder climates and is an unexpected guest in some parts of the country
The Common Redpoll is fond of colder climates and is an unexpected guest in some parts of the country

So with care and consideration, backyard bird feeding can be an exciting hobby throughout the winter, with birdsong and backyard visits to brighten the coldest, darkest days of the season while enhancing the survival of birds for us to enjoy all year long.

RELATED: Learn how to become a responsible backyard birder

Black-capped Chickadees are sweet beautiful birds that will visit your feeder throughout the day to take one seed at a time
Black-capped Chickadees are sweet beautiful birds that will visit your feeder throughout the day to take one seed at a time

Here are our top picks of foods we use to keep our backyard bustling with avian visitors.

8 Foods to Attract Winter Backyard Birds

1 – Black-oil Sunflower Seed

Black-oil Sunflower Seed is the “hamburger” of the bird world and is the best all-around choice of seed to provide because it attracts a wide variety of birds to your winter feeder.

Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds will bring the Tufted Titmouse to your feeders all throughout the day
Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds will bring the Tufted Titmouse to your feeders all throughout the day

Almost any bird that will visit a bird feeder eats black-oil sunflower seeds. And birds that can’t crack the seeds will scour the ground under the feeders to pick up bits and pieces.

We regularly have Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows and Northern Cardinals under our feeders.

White-throated sparrows are always a welcome sight under your feeders
White-throated sparrows are always a welcome sight under your feeders

Black-oil sunflower kernels have a high oil content and a thin seed coat, providing significant nutritional value for birds and making them easy to crack open.

Consider Hulled sunflower seeds (sunflower hearts) for a no-mess option.

Grab a 25-lb bag of Wagner’s Black-oil Sunflower Seeds from Amazon.

Keep your feeders stocked with Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds and you'll have many visits from Northern Cardinals
Keep your feeders stocked with Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds and you’ll have many visits from Northern Cardinals

2 – Peanut Suet Nuggets

Peanut Suet Nuggets are a hit with our backyard birds all year round and are favored by fruit and insect-eating birds.

Red-bellied Woodpecker keeps coming back multiple times a day for peanut suet nuggets
Red-bellied Woodpecker keeps coming back multiple times a day for peanut suet nuggets

We keep two feeders stocked with peanut suet nuggets and enjoy daily visits by Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, and White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Northern Flicker enjoying the peanut suet nuggets
Northern Flicker enjoying the peanut suet nuggets

This product is a high-energy food with roasted suet peanuts and can be fed on either a platform feeder or in a tube feeder.

Pick up a 1.68-lb bag of C&S Peanut Suet Nuggets from Chewy.

3 – Nyjer/Thistle Seed

Nyjer/Thistle seed is eagerly consumed by all the small finches, including American Goldfinch, House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin’s Finch, Pine Siskins, and redpolls.

Nyjer/Thistle is a very tiny seed and is offered in a special feeder with small holes to dispense the seed.

American Goldfinch will be glued to your nyjer/thistle feeder. Pictured is the Droll Yankees Finch Flocker
American Goldfinch will be glued to your nyjer/thistle feeder. Pictured is the Droll Yankees Finch Flocker

The two most commonly used types of thistle feeder are a tube feeder with small, thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock.

A thistle sock is a fine-mesh, synthetic bag that is filled with Nyjer seed. Small finches can cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the mesh.

Be sure to check that your Nyjer seed hasn’t gone bad. It can go rancid or moldy quickly in wet weather. If the birds stop visiting the feeder, then it’s time to replace the old seed.

Grab a 10-lb bag of Wagner’s Nyjer Seed Premium Wild Bird Food from Amazon.

4 – Peanuts

Peanuts are preferred by blue jays, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, and woodpeckers.

Blue Jays are always close by when peanuts are near
Blue Jays are always close by when peanuts are near

Shelled (which means without a shell), dry-roasted and unsalted peanuts provide protein and fat, so they’re an excellent fuel for birds in winter.

If you opt to provide whole peanuts (in the shell), be sure to crimp part of the shell, so small birds like the tufted Titmouse have something to grab onto when they pick them up.

Be warned, squirrels love peanuts too!

Pick up a 10-lb bag of Kaytee Peanuts for Wild Birds from Amazon.

5 – Cracked Corn

Cracked corn attracts sparrows, jays, doves, and squirrels.

Depending on where you live you may also get turkeys, deer, elk, moose, and caribou.

Fed in moderation, cracked corn will attract almost any feeder species.

Grab a 10-lb bag of Wagner’s Cracked Corn Premium Wildlife Food from Amazon.

6 – Mealworms

Most feeder birds, except goldfinches, will eat mealworms.

Female Bluebird enjoying a mealworm snack
Female Bluebird enjoying a mealworm snack

I know what you’re thinking, “mealworms are slimy and gross.”

In fact, they aren’t even worms. They’re larval stage of a beetle (Tenebrio molitor).

Male Bluebird feeding his fledgling mealworms
Male Bluebird feeding his fledgling mealworms

Bluebirds, in particular, go crazy for mealworms and will eat as many as you provide.

We recommend feeding no more than twenty mealworms per bluebird per day to maintain the bird’s balanced diet.

Pick up a 17.6 ounce bag of Kaytee Meal Worm Wild Bird Food from Amazon.

7 – Fruit

Fruit is an essential dietary element for birds but can be hard to find in the winter.

Blue Jay enjoys fresh strawberries and Black-oil Sunflower Seeds
Blue Jay enjoys fresh strawberries and Black-oil Sunflower Seeds

Offer your backyard birds grapes, slices of citrus fruits, chunks of strawberries, apple or banana slices, and melon rinds, and watch the birds visit more often.

Female Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrow enjoying fresh strawberries
Female Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrow enjoying fresh strawberries

8 – Homemade Bird Treats

Create your own recipes for winter bird treats using any of the above as ingredients.

Smear peanut butter on a pine cone, drizzle some peanut bits onto it and hang it from a branch.

Pileated Woodpecker loves this homemade bird treat
Pileated Woodpecker loves this homemade bird treat

Melt suet in your microwave, and pour it into an ice-cube tray. Before it solidifies, add peanut bits, raisins, apple bits, or other fruits and bird foods.

Tufted Titmouse, House Finch (on top), American Goldfinch and Downy Woodpecker (back) enjoying homemade birds treats
Tufted Titmouse, House Finch (on top), American Goldfinch and Downy Woodpecker (back) enjoying homemade birds treats

Put the tray in your freezer to harden.

Once its ready, place your homemade bird treats into your favorite suet feeders.

These bird treats are easy to make, and your birds will love them.

Don’t Forget the Water

A water source helps make your yard attractive to backyard birds.

In the winter, unfrozen clean water can be even more challenging to find.

Crows sits on the ice drinking flowing water from the river
Crows sits on the ice drinking flowing water from the river

And in the coldest climates, rivers, and lakes are entirely inaccessible.

Providing a place for birds to drink and bathe can attract species that don’t usually visit your feeder.

Eastern Blue birds enjoying some fresh water on a cold winter's day
Eastern Blue birds enjoying some fresh water on a cold winter’s day

Use Birdbaths in the Winter

When selecting a birdbath, choose a non-slippery surface and a depth of no more than three inches.

Birdbaths are highly sought after when cold temperatures become a time of drought for birds.

Because water is scarce, it’s particularly attractive to birds.

Keep your birdbaths and ponds unfrozen with heaters.

Or consider offering birds a heated bird bath.

American Goldfinch sitting on a heated birdbath
American Goldfinch sitting on a heated birdbath

Another option is to place a heated brick on a frozen birdbath. The brick will unthaw the water gradually and make a great perch as well.

Don’t worry that wet birds will freeze in the winter.

Wet birds won’t freeze because all their feathers make for excellent insulation and birds are smart enough to know when to get wet and when to stay dry.

Now that your feeders are stocked with delicious offerings for your winter birds grab your binoculars and enjoy seeing birds.

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