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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.