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Best tip for winter bird feeding: To thine own self be true

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Cole's Wild Bird Products, Inc.2 copy
A Downy Woodpecker grabs a bite of suet. Photo courtesy Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.

This guest post comes to us from Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co., based in Kennesaw, Georgia. Enjoy!

Having grown up the daughter of well-known bird-feeding experts, I know all the rules of feeding birds. I know what to feed every season of the year and what type of feeder to put it in. I know how often to clean my feeders and all the best places to put them for maximum bird visits and avian safety. Yet, when it comes to winter bird feeding, all that knowledge gets boiled down to one simple truth: Baby, it’s cold outside!

The cold hard truth of the matter is that for most of us, winter is a time to hunker down in the house and stay as warm as possible. Go outside in that mess? No way! You may love your backyard visitors and all the joy they bring, but when it’s below freezing or there’s a couple feet of snow on the ground, feeding the birds can feel more like a punishment than a pleasant pastime.

So what is the absolute best tip for winter bird-feeding success? First and foremost, know your limits. Think about your tolerance level for cold and discomfort, and then adapt your bird-feeding habits to make the most of your capabilities. Make an honest and realistic assessment because your bird feeder is only as good as the effort you are willing to spend to keep it filled.

If you are a die-hard bird-feeding fanatic, then all you really need to do during the winter is feed high-quality, chemical-free seeds with lots of fat and protein like black oil sunflower (with or without shell), white proso millet (the No. 1 choice of ground-feeding birds), cracked corn, and niger seed. Be sure to offer a good selection of raw peanuts and suet cakes or kibbles to round out the nutritional benefits of your feeding station. Your feeder-filling routine likely won’t change much.

Tufted Titmice snack at a window feeder on a winter day. Photo courtesy Cole's Wild Bird Products Co.
Tufted Titmice snack at a window feeder on a winter day. Photo courtesy Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.

If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy beautiful wild birds without succumbing to frostbite and runny noses, there are a few ways to increase the likelihood of consistently fulfilling your feeder-replenishment duties.


For instance, place feeders where you can get to them quickly and easily during the harshest of winter weather. Move feeders closer to the patio or deck. Better still, set up a window feeder. Window feeders are perfect for winter bird feeding — not only do they give you a close-up view of nature in action, but they also save you from having to go outside to refill. Plus they’re quite versatile, holding anything from mixed seeds to suet to fruit pieces. Bowl feeders are similarly ideal. If you hang one just outside a window underneath the eaves, you’ll be able to see many different species without a lot of effort or thought.

To reduce the number of times you have to brave the harsh elements, invest in bigger feeders that hold more seed. When cold conditions are at their worst, energy conservation is critical for songbirds. They can’t afford to waste time waiting for you to feed them. So if your feeder is empty, they quickly move on looking for another food source. Basically, empty feeders equal empty yards. Large capacity feeders decrease the frequency of a feeder being empty, which increases the number of bird visits.

Mockingbird Coles Winter2
A Northern Mockingbird gets protein from a tray of mealworms. Photo courtesy Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co.

At the very least, lean out your door and scatter some seed or suet kibbles on the ground. It may not be elegant, but it still counts! Rest assured, aesthetic presentation is not a top priority for hungry birds.


A bird bath with an electric heater is a great way to easily entice wild birds. Birds need water year-round to survive, so offering a fresh unfrozen supply will help beautiful songbirds whether or not they eat seed.

Another minimal-effort way to aid and attract more birds in the winter comes straight from your living room. To offer much-needed cover from predators and weather, throw your Christmas tree in the backyard instead of the trash. Simply prop it up against another tree or fence and if you’re feeling fancy, adorn it with suet cakes and seed balls. It doesn’t have to be perfect, though, for birds to use it to their advantage.

When it comes to successful winter bird feeding, everyone benefits from a little self-reflection. — Elaine Cole

Elaine Cole is the owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products Co., based in Kennesaw, Georgia.



Originally Published