Winter Bird Feeding

During the winter months, finding food can be especially difficult for birds. Hanging a well-stocked bird feeder will provide much-needed food sources for birds overwintering in our area.

In autumn, there is an abundance of seeds, insects, and fruit for birds to feast on. As winter closes in, insects are dead or dormant, and most seeds have been devoured or are covered by snow. Finding food can be especially difficult for birds at this time. Hanging a well-stocked bird feeder will provide much-needed calories to birds overwintering in our area. In return, you will be able to observe many beautiful species of birds from the comfort of your home.

Expected Avian Winter Visitors

The most common birds you will see throughout the winter in our Bucks County, Pennsylvania, area are cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, finches, chickadees, tufted titmice, juncos, and mourning doves. More unusual birds, such as red-bellied woodpeckers, flickers, wrens, exciting migratory birds, indigo buntings, and scarlet tanagers, can be encouraged to visit your feeders with their preferred food and feeder style. Keep in mind that many of the species you will see depend on the local ecosystems. For example, different birds live in forested areas than those that live in meadows.

Food Selection

The seed that attracts the largest number of species of birds has a thin shell that is easy to crack, with meat that is nutritious and high in fat. The less work a bird needs to do to get to the meat of a seed, the more energy it has to keep warm. Some of the most sought-after seeds are black sunflower, peanut kernels, white millet, and cracked corn. Insect-eating birds can be encouraged to visit by offering peanut butter or suet (beef fat). You can increase the variety of visitors further if you offer fruit. Try offering dried raisins, or currants softened in water at your feeding station. These are attractive to waxwings, robins, mockingbirds, and wrens. Birds’ tastes vary from season to season; species visiting will also change as birds migrate in spring and fall. Seek to provide a variety of food types and see what the birds in your area favor.

Feeder Types

Feeders should be able to keep seeds dry and easy to clean. There are five (5) general categories: tray feeders, hopper feeders, tube feeders, suet cages or holders, and natural feeders such as hole-drilled logs, pinecones, bark, etc.

Tray Bird Feeder

Tray feeders

Tray feeders are usually placed close to the ground. They also work well mounted on posts, deck railings, and stumps. Ground-feeding birds will also visit seeds scattered on the ground or placed on a plate that can be brought inside at night. Some ground-feeding birds include cardinals, bluejays, sparrows, mourning doves, juncos, and pheasants.

Hopper feeders

Hopper feeders are usually placed on poles or hung from tree branches and decks. This feeder holds seed dispensed by gravity to a tray at the bottom of the hopper. These are an excellent choice for a wide variety of birds. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Finches, Nuthatches, and Woodpeckers are frequent hopper feeders.

Hopper bird feeder
Tube bird feeder

Tube Feeders

Tube feeders are a popular style. They are often hung from shepherds’ hooks or trees. The birds most attracted to the tube feeders are chickadees, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatches.

Suet Cages

Suet cages or holders are typically sized to hold one suet cake. Some suet cages also have tail props which allow birds such as woodpeckers to feed comfortably. The birds particularly attracted to suet are woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, and starlings. Wrens, cardinals, and some warblers occasionally visit suet feeders.

Suet Cage Bird feeder

Natural Feeders

Natural feeders such as hole-drilled logs, pinecones, peanut butter smeared in bark-covered logs, and other rustic feeders can be great alternatives to commercial feeders. Search online for fun DIY projects to add to your feeding station.

Combo Feeders

Providing several different feeder types will prevent overcrowding while offering different seed types. This will maximize the number and species of birds you will see. Another addition to the feeding station is a large branch or stick stuck in the ground to provide a spot for birds to perch on when approaching or leaving the feeder. This also gives birds a place to watch for predators.

Combination bird feeder

Feeder Placement

The feeder placement is probably as important as food type to a bird when deciding where to dine. You will want to place your feeder where you can see and enjoy watching the birds from your home and where the feeders are easy to refill.

Ideally, you should place your feeders close to cover, such as dense shrubs, to protect feeding birds from predators such as hawks. About ten feet away from trees and shrubs protects from flying predators and is far enough away so you do not encourage predators such as outdoor cats to ambush birds from the shrubs.

To minimize window strikes (birds crashing into windows thinking the reflection is a safe flyway), place your feeders either 0 to 10 feet away or 25 to 30 feet away from your windows. Feeder placement depends a lot on how the sun hits your windows. You may wish to add decals such as “Warning Web” or alert decoys to your glass windows to warn birds away from the glass.

Feeder Maintenance

While bird feeders need minimal care throughout the year, removing any moist or moldy seed as soon as possible is the most important factor. Moldy seeds can harm birds and cause them to get sick or even die.

The National Audubon Society recommends cleaning your bird feeders once or twice a month and more often in wet or hot, humid weather. To clean your feeder, scrub the feeder with soap and water, then rinse with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry completely before refilling with fresh seed.

Take time to rake up the seed hulls underneath your feeders. The decomposing seed debris can harbor bacteria harmful to ground-feeding birds. In addition, an accumulation of debris could kill your lawn or flowers beneath your feeder. Locating your feeder over an area of open flower bed is one way to minimize any negative impact on your landscape.

Water Source

One thing that is often overlooked is a clean water source. Birds need water, especially in winter, to drink and bathe. Water can be put out in a shallow dish daily if temperatures remain above 10 degrees Fahrenheit. You may want to use a bird bath deicer in your existing bird bath. We carry one at Gasper Home & Garden Showplace that is thermostatically controlled, running as needed, and using a minimum amount of electricity. These heaters are safe for use with plastic bird baths. Unheated ceramic or concrete birdbaths must be emptied before freezing to prevent cracking the top. By supplying water, you can attract birds you would not otherwise see at your feeders, such as mockingbirds. Access to freshwater year-round makes your garden a more favorable stopping point for migratory birds and locals.

Gasper Home & Garden Showplace is the place to go for all your birding supplies and will help bring the color and beauty of birds to your winter landscape this season.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.

E. E. Cummings, American Poet