Welcoming Winter Birds to Your Backyard

Provide Food, Shelter, and Water to Keep Winter Birds Safe


Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you love birds, then you probably wonder how winter birds survived the whipping winds and heavy snow during our first significant snowstorm impacting most of the U.S. last week.

The answer is simple: adaption.

Birds have developed and evolved unique adaptations to survive brutally cold winter conditions.

Even the harshest winter storms, arctic blasts, freezing temperature, and polar vortexes.

There’s an easy way to remember the Dark-eyed Junco. With their dark gray feathers and white bellies, the folk saying goes like this: “Gray skies above, snow on the ground.”
There’s an easy way to remember the Dark-eyed Junco. With their dark gray feathers and white bellies, the folk saying goes like this: “Gray skies above, snow on the ground.”

Birds Have Magical Feathers

A bird’s feathers are quite magical.

They’ve evolved into many forms and are marvels of engineering even though the average feather weighs .0082 grams.

Feathers are incredibly lightweight, yet strong, durable, and have amazing insulating and waterproofing capabilities.

The secret to a feather’s magical powers lies in a preening gland at the base of a bird’s tail.

Birds take oil from their preening gland to treat their feathers, adding more insulation and waterproofing to them.

You’ve probably seen birds looking fluffier at times and that because they can contour their feathers.

Birds flatten or fluff up their feathers to create more airspace between them as a way to regulate temperature.

So the hotter a bird gets, the flatter their feathers become with no airspace.

The colder a bird is, the fluffier they become by puffing up and trapping air that acts as additional insulation between their feathers.

When birds are sleeping at night, they tuck their beaks into their feathers on their shoulders or back to reduce heat loss from their unfeathered beaks.

Birds also breathe in air that has been warmed in pockets trapped by their feathers.

Birds flatten or fluff up their feathers to create more airspace between them as a way to regulate temperature. Pictured is a Blue Jay looking fluffier because its puffing up and trapping air that acts as additional insulation between its feathers
Birds flatten or fluff up their feathers to create more airspace between them as a way to regulate temperature. Pictured is a Blue Jay looking fluffier because its puffing up and trapping air that acts as additional insulation between its feathers

Adaption Secret: Thermoregulation

This process is called thermoregulation, and it’s one of the fantastic abilities birds have to endure adverse environments.

Thermoregulation helps birds reduce 20%-50% of their heat loss by sitting.

Even though birds have adapted to conserve heat and stay warm, they can still succumb to extremely frigid temperatures as birds’ mortality rates become quite high during severe winter.

So knowing how to help keep birds warm gives your backyard feathered friends an advantage over the harsh elements.

Keeping Winter Birds Warm 

Here are a few things you can do to keep welcoming winter birds to your backyard during harsh winter conditions to keep your yard filled with beautiful bursts of color only birds can provide.

Provide Good Food

Providing the best winter bird food means selecting seeds, suet, nuts, peanut butter, scraps, and other items high in fat and calories to give birds plenty of energy to generate more body heat.

At intoBirds, we use a blend of different bird food to keep our feathered friends happy.

We give our suet-loving birds woodpecker cakes and peanut suet nuggets.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker visiting our peanut suet feeder during a winter storm
Female Red-bellied Woodpecker visiting our peanut suet feeder during a winter storm

Our Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Flickers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers enjoy these products, and it keeps them coming to the feeders throughout the day.

So do Carolina Wrens, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other backyard birds.

Our primary choice of bird food for backyard birds is black-oil sunflowers seeds and no waste  blends that keep the feeding area cleaner, and the ground-dwelling birds like the White-throated Sparrows and Mourning Doves love it.

READ: Top 8 Foods to Attract Winter Birds to Your Feeder

Keep Feeders Full

After long, cold night birds need ready access to food in the early morning to replenish their energy reserves.

This requires attention and dedication from the backyard birder.

And that means keeping your bird feeders stocked with nutritious seed no matter what the weather is like outside, so the birds know where to go for a high energy meal.

We go out several times a day in snowstorms to make sure our feathered friends are well fed.

 The Northern Cardinal's favorite seeds include black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Other foods cardinals prefer include cracked corn, peanut pieces, fresh berries, apple chunks, and small pieces, crumbles, or shreds of suet

The Northern Cardinal’s favorite seeds include black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Other foods cardinals prefer include cracked corn, peanut pieces, fresh berries, apple chunks, and small pieces, crumbles, or shreds of suet

Water

Birds can melt snow to drink if necessary, but doing so uses a bird’s precious energy needed to maintain their body heat.

Consider offering birds a heated birdbath they can drink from in freezing temperatures, and your backyard birds have a much better chance at survival.

READ: Be A Responsible Backyard Birder

Shelter

Plant evergreen shrubs and coniferous trees that will provide suitable shelter throughout the winter.

And leave fall brush piles giving birds a safe, sheltered place to roost.

We have a pair of Carolina Wrens that have taken shelter in our brush pile, and we enjoy having them as part of our backyard flock.

Adding a roost box to your yard is also helpful.

Welcoming winter birds to your backyard during winter keep your yard filled with beautiful bursts of color only birds can provide. Pictured is an Eastern Bluebird
Welcoming winter birds to your backyard during winter keep your yard filled with beautiful bursts of color only birds can provide. Pictured is an Eastern Bluebird

Keeping Winter Birds in Your Backyard

As the temperatures continue to plummet and the freezing temps register wherever you live, don’t worry about keeping your backyard birds warm.

Nature provides them with efficient adaptations to survive severe winter weather.

But a little helping hand of good food, shelter, and other necessities keeps winter birds flocking to your backyard.

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