COLUMN: Taking care of birds during winter enjoyable and helpful


Birding is one of North America’s favorite pastimes. Winter is a tough time for birds. Days and nights are cold; there’s no vegetation; and finding food can be difficult, especially after a heavy snowfall.

Take care of our feathered friends with these suggestions:

What type of food should you serve?

During the spring and summer, most songbirds will eat insects and spiders in addition to your seed. Insects are highly nutritious, abundant, and usually easily captured. During fall and winter, nonmigratory birds shift their diets to fruits and seeds.

In deciding what seed to use, black-oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest number of species; seeds are nutritious and high in fat. Their small size makes them easy for birds to handle.

Cracked corn versus dried corn is easier to eat for blackbirds, finches, and sparrows.

Nyjer or thistle seed is a delicacy for small birds such as finches; however, these seeds are expensive, and their small size requires that you use a special mesh or Nyjer feeder.

Instead of buying seed, consider saving seeds from squash and melons. Save the seeds from your Halloween pumpkin and put them to good use. Just spread these seeds out on trays to air dry before placing them in your feeders and/or on the ground.

You can also feed the birds scraps of stale bread, cake and/or doughnuts. Be sure the food isn’t moldy, or it could cause harm to the visiting birds. Just be aware that table scraps can attract some unwanted guests such as mice and/or raccoons.

High energy food in the form of suet can attract birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. Suet is difficult to use in warm weather months because it turns rancid quickly, but it’s the perfect high energy food in winter.

You can find suet cakes with their plastic-coated cages (to hold the suet cake) in stores that carry bird-feeding supplies.

You can also make your own suet using peanut butter. Some people worry about birds choking on peanut butter; there’s no evidence that they do but eliminate any risk by mixing peanut butter with corn meal and/or oatmeal.

Birds such as robins, bluebirds, and waxwings don’t show up at feeders because seeds aren’t their favorite. These birds like fruit; consider soaking some dried raisins in water and setting those out near the feeders. Sliced apples, orange halves, or frozen berries are another option.

Fruit can be placed on a plate or shallow bowl set on a platform feeder or placed on the ground.


Water can be as difficult to find as food in the winter. A dependable supply of water will attract many birds to your yard, including species which may not normally visit feeders.

You can use a birdbath and/or just a plant saucer. Change the water often. You can invest in an immersion-style water heater to keep the water from freezing.

Make sure to change and replace with fresh water when it freezes.

Types of feeders

There’s many to choose from and they basically fall into three different types: tray feeders, hoppers, and tubes. Different feeders will attract different birds. So, experiment; consider having different types of feeders.

Birds visiting feeders are often killed in collisions with windows. Be sure to place feeders at least three feet away from glass. If possible, place feeders close to natural shelters such as trees and shrubs. Evergreens are ideal because they provide the birds cover from winter winds and predators. Trees, however, can also provide a good launching site for squirrels eying your seed. Place feeder 10 feet from a tree will work well.

Clean your feeders about once every two to three weeks.

Poorly maintained feeders may contribute to the spread of disease among birds. Keep bird food in food storage containers where it will stay dry and free of mold and insects. Check for any sharp edges on and around your feeders which can scratch birds.

It may take a while for birds to discover a new feeder. Not to worry; if you offer water and food, they will come!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses the best science and technology to discover more about birds and biodiversity.

They also feature fun webcams of birds in action and information on identifying birds. Visit their website at

Consider participating in the master gardener volunteer training in 2022! Come and visit the Extension Parker F. Scripture Botanical Gardens an educational component of the Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer. For more information call us or visit, phone 315-736-3394, Ext 100. Be sure to like us on Facebook ( and check out our YouTube channel by hitting the icon at the bottom of our web page


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