Winter Backyard Birding

Welcome the new birds that have migrated to your yard this winter.

I’m sure most of your favorite feathered friends have left you for the winter and gone south. Well, don't let that stop you from seeing the new birds that have migrated to your yard and have taken their place, or moving through for a short visit. As many birds are forced to leave the cold climates and travel to Central and South America, many others are leaving Canada and Alaska and heading south in search of warmer weather. Some studies have found that in many places around the country, there are just as many different bird species around in the winter as in the summer.

“Winter visitors” can be found all over the country, says Jeff Wells, Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Vice president for Bird Conservation of the National Audubon Society. “There’s this massive sea of a billion or more birds that come down into the U.S. and become, often, the common birds of backyards and parks and lakes and ponds,” says Jeff.

So what can you do to attract these new visitors and welcome them to your backyard this winter?

Birds need food, water and shelter no matter what season it is.

These birds have the same needs—food, water and shelter in the winter as they do any other time and helping these winter visitors out could really help sustain their populations in both their wintering and summering grounds. 

Choosing the right plants can make a big difference. There are berry-producing landscape plants, such as juniper trees and shrubs like dogwood, serviceberry, and viburnum. Many birds, including the Yellow Rumped Warbler, the Cedar Waxwing, and several sparrow species, will eat berries during the winter.

Provide shelter and protection from predators by creating brush piles in the corner of your yard. If and when you rake leaves put them under some trees and shrubs and leave them there to make a covered environment for the insects and spiders that many birds like to eat.

Providing Winter Visitors with a nice choice of bird food is very important.

Now of course providing a nice choice of bird food is very important. Black oil sunflower seed is the absolute best seed. For convenient and economical winter feeding, nothing beats a good quality birdseed mix. Choosing a mix that features large proportions of sunflower seeds and millet works very well. Some of the better mixes may also include nuts and nut pieces birds will enjoy. You may also want to try different mixes to attract different types of birds. Keep your bird feeders clean. That's very important. 

When it comes to high calories, suet can be a superb winter food for birds.
When it comes to high calories, suet can be a superb winter food. It is also available in many blends with different ingredients to attract different species of birds. It is even easy to make your own custom suet flavors for your backyard birds. And, try different suet shapes such as bells, balls, plugs and wreathes to create for more feeding fun. Just be careful with your flavor choices. Many people believe birds like the plain chunks of suet that you can get from your butcher or the peanut-flavored suets.

Cardinals can come in flocks to your backyard!
Of course, the type of winter birds you may see in your backyard may depend on your location, but for most you can look forward to lots of cardinals. Not just a couple but they can come in flocks. Something very beautiful to see in the snow. You'll get two kinds of nuthatches — both red- and white-breasted. Winter is a great time to scatter some white millet on the ground for dark-eyed juncos.There is also Blue Jays and just about every kind of woodpecker imaginable. If you're lucky enough to have a lot of trees around you'll also get a lot of hawks.

Another great backyard bird attracter in the winter is water. Birds need water every day, but unfortunately much of their natural water sources is frozen. Yes, when things get tough they can get it from snow or food such as insects and wild fruits if needed, but they would much rather have available water - and they will search for it.

There are different types of birdbaths, but a favorite and most reliable birdbaths are those with heating elements built into the bowl, This kind of heating system is also the easiest to keep clean, full, and unfrozen. And yes, the birds go right for it. 

Changing your bird feeder locations might get you new visitors.

Now to add a little more to the “attraction factor” we suggest attaching branches trimmed from cedar trees to your feeders. This simple addition provides birds with protective cover. Leave roosting boxes and nesting ledges up year-round. And change your feeder locations. If you try new locations, you just might get new visitors.


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Audubon Society, Boreal Birds, The Spruce, Birds and Blooms