6 Hot Tips for Winter Bird Feeding

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

 As the seasons change, so should our backyard bird feeding habits - especially during the winter months. There is lots to think about when it comes to winter feeding: Did I put enough seed out? Or maybe too much? Can I even get to my feeders through all the snow? What will the birds drink? How often should I be cleaning my feeders during the winter? We have the answers to all of these questions and more to help you prepare for a great winter season of backyard birding.

Common Redpoll

1. Pay attention to the forecast
Paying close attention to the weather forecast can help you decide when to fill (or not fill) your feeders. If there is a predication of an abundance of snow or freezing rain, it might be best to hold off on completely filling your feeders to avoid wasting seed. Birds are less likely to consume, or even locate, seed that has been buried or saturated with snow and rain. Wet seed has the potential to spoil quickly and become a health hazard for the birds. During times of inclement weather, it is best to offer smaller amounts of food that you know will be consumed in a timely manner. Feeders that are typically safe to fill when heavy snowfall is in the forecast are tube feeders, hopper feeders, suet feeders, and seed cylinder feeders, as these styles protect seed from snow while making it accessible to the birds.

2. Clean your equipment often
In the winter, birds - especially finches - congregate at feeders in large numbers. When these large crowds gather and things they've touched aren't cleaned regularly, bacteria and illnesses can spread like wildfire. Be sure to sanitize your feeders once per month at the very least, and immediately after seeing a possibly unhealthy bird visit your feeding station, or if there has been particularly wet weather as it can cause seed to mold and spoil quickly. Some illnesses like House Finch Eye Disease and Avian Pox can be quite noticeable in birds, but some aren't as easily spotted so it's best to keep a tight cleaning schedule just to be safe. Click here for more information on bird illnesses and proper cleaning protocol. 

Feeding station with several protected feeders

3. Invest in weather domes and hooded feeders
If you plan on feeding birds for years to come, investing in high-quality hooded feeders and/or weather domes will save you major bucks in the long run. Protecting your feeders offers benefits to you and to the birds. Weather domes and feeders with roofs provides birds with some protection from the elements, helps keep seed dry, and aids in blocking the feeders themselves from harsh weather which in turn extends their lifespan. You can find a great selection of weather domes and covered feeders in store and on our website.

Blue Jay drinking from WBU Heated Bird Bath

4. Install a heated bath
Birds rely on snow consumption and naturally open sources of water for hydration throughout the winter months. Open water is harder to come by when the temperature gets below freezing, and snow takes a lot of energy to convert to water, so having a reliable source of drinking water available can mean the difference between life or death for some birds when the weather gets particularly intolerable. Heated bird baths can be purchased as a single unit and are simple to attach to a pole system, deck railing, or on stand-alone poles, and are kept just above freezing by an internal heater that is not exposed to the birds. Alternatively, heaters are available to add to existing baths that are large enough to accommodate them. Either are great options to ensure your backyard birds have a supply of fresh water all winter long. You may be surprised by who you see at your heated bath - even owls have been known to frequent them!

5. Clear a path to, and around, your feeding stations
If you have the ability to do this - do it! You will thank me later. Start early in the season, even when the snow isn't very deep. By keeping a path clear, you will ensure that you can easily get to your feeders even when weather doesn't want to cooperate. Keeping an area around your feeders clear of snow also allows ground-feeding birds to comfortably forage for dropped seed.

Brown Creeper feeding on Hot Pepper Bark Butter

6. Offer Bark Butter around your yard
Though birds are built to fly in all types of weather, extreme winds can be dangerous to even the most agile of birds, particularly in cold weather. When it gets really windy and snowy, birds will typically hunker down and remain in one spot for as long as they can to avoid their feathers blowing away from their body and losing insulation. During periods of high wind, we recommend removing your feeders to eliminate the chance of damage or breakage. You can still help the birds get the nourishment they need without having to travel far by spreading high-energy Bark Butter in trees around your yard. Bark Butter is a spreadable suet that allows any bird safe surface to become a bird feeder. This is a great way to ensure birds don't have to go far to get their protein. Bark Butter has attracted more than 150 species and may even bring in some birds who don't typically visit feeders like Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and even Brown Creepers! Find Bark Butter in store and on our website

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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