Bird-friendly feeding in winter.
Birds are naturally drawn to places that provide nutritious food, fresh water and shelter. The placement of bird feeders paired with a high-energy selection of seed and suet is especially important in the fall and winter months…sometimes a matter between life and death.
Native birds that overwinter in the Chicago area include blue jays, cardinals, black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, woodpeckers and juncos. For every one of them, surviving winter means getting enough food to offset the energy they must spend to keep warm.
How are these birds able to stay warm in the freezing temperatures, strong winds and ice instead of water? Fluffed up feathers act as insulation by creating little pockets of warmth. But they also need a great deal of fat-rich food to generate that much heat.
With winter weather forecasts calling for colder winters this year, fall is the time to prepare. Keep your feeders clean, clear of snow and keep them consistently full so you can give your backyard birds a good chance of getting through these harsh winter conditions.
Top 10 Foods for Winter Bird Feeding
- Oilers or Black Oil Sunflower seeds: You’ll attract nearly every winter bird on the list with his fat-rich seed. It has a thin shell that is easy to crack for all birds.
- Peanuts: The peanut is a high energy, high protein food. Woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, nuthatches and even cardinals and finches will appreciate peanuts…just make sure they are dry roasted, unsalted and without shells.
- Suet: Suet blocks or cylinders are available in a wide variety of extras thrown in such as seeds, fruit, peanut butter, red pepper (to keep squirrels away) & many more. Mr. Bird and C & S brands offer a large selection in blocks and cylinders. Or, you can find suet at the grocery store in the meat department. You can add this this type of fresh suet in a mesh bag near your feeder. Woodpeckers and other clinging birds love this super-energy food.
- Premium Mixed Seed: A good mixed seed blend contains only the seeds that birds like to eat. Some poor quality seed mixes contain filler seeds such as red milo or seeds that our local birds toss to the ground. A quality blend has a good amount of sunflower seeds, cracked corn, white proso millet and sometimes peanut hearts, such as Pasquesi Four Seasons No Waste Bird Seed. Or, make your own mixture to attract your favorite birds.
- Nyjer/ thistle seed: All small finches--goldfinches, house and purple finches—and small seed eating birds love this tiny black seed that is high in oil, and a nutritious source of energy. You’ll need a finch feeder or thistle ‘sock’ (a fine mesh bag that is filled with thistle seed) where small birds cling to the bag and pick out the seed one by one.
- Safflower seed: This white seed that is rich in protein and fat. Safflower has a thick shell, and hard for some birds to crack open. It’s a favorite among sunflower seed-eating birds such as cardinals, chickadees, doves and native sparrows. When you fill a sunflower feeder with this seed, you’ll attract many birds but NOT squirrels, black birds or grackles, as they find it bitter tasting.
- Cracked corn: Almost all birds such as sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves. love cracked corn. However, it’s a favorite of squirrels, too. So you might want to keep an extra feeder with cracked corn farther away to accommodate hungry squirrels!
- Mealworms: Some of us might become a bit unsettled when handling mealworms. However, birds love this nutritious option... especially during winter.
- Fruit or berries: Birds search for berries in the wild but will appreciate your help when they become scarce in the winter months. Red winterberries are a favorite—you might see robins visit your holiday containers so it might be best to give them their own supply of berries near the bird feeders. Grapes, sliced oranges, bananas and apples are a special treat especially when freshly cut.
- Homemade treats: Share your breakfast with the birds some morning! Slather one side of a bagel with peanut butter. Sprinkle it with a mix of sunflower meats, dry roasted peanuts or a quality mix of energy-rich seed. Hang the bagel from a ribbon on sturdy branches or a shepherd’s hook.
Birds search for reliable food sources, especially during winter, so keep your feeders consistently full and free from snow. You'll get to enjoy another season of birdwatching!
Pasquesi All-around Favorites
Pasquesi Four Season Wild Bird Seed: Attract seed eating birds with a No-Waste mix of sunflower meats, white proso millet, cracked corn and peanut hearts. Mix contains no shells, so there is no mess to clean up under the bird feeder. Available in 25 lb. and 50 lb. bags
Quality Nyjer/ Thistle seed: These tiny black seeds are high in protein. Finches and other small-beaked wild birds prefer this high energy seed over other seed types. Available in10 lb. and 25 lb. bags