Attracting birds in the winter | backyard birding

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Are you on the hunt for easy winter nature connections?  Making your backyard and balcony inviting to local birds is one of the simplest ways to bring more nature into your family’s life.  Get your kids involved and make your backyard a safe and inviting place for birds in the winter.

Come wintertime it can be hard to get outside.  It sometimes takes longer to get your snow pants, scarves, mitts, and boots all on than the actual time you spend outside!

And then there’s the temperature.  Sure, you can do all you can to dress appropriately to play in the snow, but when you go outside and your nostrils freeze together, it’s just no fun!

However, that doesn’t mean you have to disconnect with nature when you can’t actually get out into it.  Instead, use these tips to bring nature closer to you and enjoy it through an insulating pane of glass until those temperatures are a bit more manageable and inviting again.

an empty bird feeder on a winter day

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Tips to attract birds in the winter

1. Hang a bird feeder

One of the simplest ways to attract birds to your backyard is to make sure you have winter appropriate bird foods in the yard.

Some people recommend putting bird feeders out in the fall so that the birds have an opportunity to find the feeder before the snow arrives.  You may also try sprinkling the seeds on the snowy ground to help birds find the feeders.

It’s important to feed birds proper bird foods – no bread please. This post outlines the most common types of seed for North American backyard birds.

2. Access to fresh water

Fresh water can be hard for birds to find in the winter.  Consider adding a heated birdbath to your yard or adding a heating attachment to your current birdbath.

3. Shelter for your backyard birds

Some of these tips will need more long-term planning than other. But, the main idea is to provide places for birds to find shelter and to forage for their own food.

  1. Plant some evergreens and dense bushes for shelter
  2. Grow local fruit or berry trees for birds to peck away at over the winter
  3. Leave an area of your yard wild with tall grasses and fallen debris for shelter, nesting material, and scavenging
  4. Don’t pull all your garden or flowers out in the fall.  Let them overwinter in your yard providing homes for bugs and food for the birds.

A super easy tip is to grow a patch of Sunflowers in the summer.  Come winter, leave the sunflowers standing and the birds will eat those seeds throughout the winter, and sun themselves on the tall stalks. Or, if you’re having trouble with them falling over you can cut the flower heads off the stalks and nail those to the fence, tie them in the trees, or place them in sheltered spots in the yard.

5. Consider putting up a bird house

Lastly, you might want to consider winterizing a bird house or providing birds with a roosting box.  A quality winter roosting house will offer birds a safe place to gather and stay warm over the winter.

What to feed birds in the winter

Birds benefit from a higher fat diet in the colder season.  You’ll often see suet offered as a winter food because of its high calorie content.

Good foods to feed birds in the winter are:

  • black oil sunflower seeds
  • peanuts
  • nyjer seed
  • peanut butter
  • suets

You’ll notice many DIY feeders use suet.  You can either purchase bird suet blocks or you can render your own suet from fat purchased in the meat department of the grocery store.

I haven’t tried rendering my own suet.  And to be honest, I’m not really interested in trying it either.  But, if you are, here’s a tutorial on rendering your own bird suet from animal fat.   Really, there are so many bird suet options available that I plan to just go purchase a few of those when we get around to making our own winter feeders.

If you’re into nature crafting and are more DIY-minded, you might want to spread some peanut butter onto pine cones and roll the cones in some seeds. This is a fun and festive activity that the kids would happily get involved in!

Or, you could get crafty and use gelatin to make these super sweet cookie cutter shape birdseed cakes.

Where to hang your bird feeders?

1. Shelter

Put your bird feeders in a sheltered location.  The feeder will be less likely to get covered in snow if it is protected overhead by large tree branches or a wide roof overhang.

2. Visibility

Also, if the intention is to enjoy the birds, you’ll want to be able to see this feeder from your window.  Consider which windows you can see easily out of or have seats nearby such as the couch or dinning table. Or, consider making yourself an inviting nature sit spot close to that window.

3. Placement and fall of seeds

Depending on the type of seeds  you’ll be using, consider what is underneath the feeder.  Will the birds be leaving piles of shells on your sidewalk or for your toddler to play with in her sandbox? And, remember, seeds are the only things that drop from birds! 😉

4. Safety

Prevent birds from hitting your windows by using decals, decreasing reflections, and either placing feeders very close or far away from the window.  The Spruce has a very detailed article on keeping bird-window collisions at a minimum.

How to get your kids excited about backyard birding

Making bird feeders with kids is just one activity idea in a whole process of learning about, helping, and observing birds in your backyard.

First, you and your children could do some local bird watching:

  • What birds are frequenting your neighborhood?
  • Are they eating any particular seeds or hanging out in certain areas?
  • What are your neighbors feeding the birds?
  • Can you identify any of the birds you see around your backyard?

You could do some research into the types of birds found in your area and their preferred foods.  For example, are your kids interested in attracting and learning more about painted buntings, hummingbirds, or maybe pigeons? This research might involve some internet searches, using bird field guides, or even a trip to the local natural history museum if you’re really in need of some indoor wintertime diversions.

For any of you living in Canada, here’s a list of the top 10 most common winter birds.

You and your kids will need to spend some time looking around and deciding what ingredients and style of winter bird feeder would be best for your children’s skills (if you’re going to craft your own), the local birds, and your winter weather (for example, suet will melt if it’s overly warm where you live).

Lastly, try setting up an indoor birdwatching station.  If you’re really wanting to encourage the learning, you could show them how to identify the birds and record their birding in a nature journal.

You don’t have to wait until the winter to start inviting birds to your yard.   Plan your planting in the spring with winter foraging and shelter in mind.  But, come winter when you’re all looking for some nature time, try some of these easy tips above.

P.S.  If you have any other tips for birds in the winter, please feel free to share them in the comments below. 

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  1. I think it’s helpful that you mentioned how planting evergreens and providing birds with a winterized birdhouse can help give them the shelter they need. My wife and I enjoy photographing robins during the winter and want to find a way to attract them to our patio when it is snowing. We’ll think about getting a birdhouse that can keep them safe.

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