what do birds eat in the winter

Winter Bird Diets: What Do Birds Eat in the Winter?

A Black-capped Chickadee can eat up to 60% of its weight in a day. This fact shows how vital it is to know what wild birds eat in winter. We must help them find enough food to get through the cold months.

When winter comes, and food gets scarce, birds change how they find food. They might look for insects under leaves or find seeds, nuts, and berries. These foods keep them warm and full.

This guide will look at the diets of winter birds and how they find food. We will talk about the best ways bird feeders can help. Bird feeders can give extra food, making it easier for birds to live through winter.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Birds have a diverse diet in the winter, relying on a variety of natural food sources like buds, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects.
  • Some bird species, such as bluebirds and sparrows, adapt their foraging strategies to the changing seasons.
  • Providing supplemental food at backyard feeders can be crucial for helping birds survive the winter months.
  • Understanding the specific dietary needs and preferences of different bird species can help you create a winter feeding plan that caters to their needs.
  • Keeping feeders clean and well-stocked, and providing access to fresh water, can make a significant difference in the survival and well-being of winter birds.

Natural Food Sources for Wild Birds in Winter

As the weather gets colder and the ground freezes, finding food becomes harder. Yet, wild birds find many food sources to get through winter. This adaptation is remarkable.

Foraged Foods from Soil, Leaf Litter, and Plants

Birds like bluebirds and thrushes look for insects under the soil. They also search in the leaves on the ground. In winter, chickadees, nuthatches, and sparrows find seeds and insects on plants.

Seeds, Nuts, Berries, and Fruits

Jays, woodpeckers, and waxwings eat nuts, sap, and fruits left over from fall. These foods give them energy and nutrients they need in winter.

Hunting and Scavenging

Raptors and scavengers, including crows, ravens, and magpies, hunt and scavenge. They may eat roadkill to survive when food is scarce. This shows their cleverness in finding food.

Understanding the foods birds eat in winter shows their strength. It shows how well they deal with changing seasons and environments.

Essential Winter Bird Feeder Foods

As it gets colder, wild birds need extra food because their usual snacks are harder to find. Giving them high-calorie, high-fat food can make a big difference. It helps them make it through winter.

Suet: A High-Fat, Protein-Rich Treat

Suet is a hit with many birds in winter. It’s a block of fat mixed with seeds, nuts, and more. Birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees find it rich in needed energy.

Sunflower Seeds: The Backyard Staple

Black-oil sunflower seeds are loved by cardinals, jays, and finches. They’re full of good fats and proteins these birds need for energy.

Nyjer Seed for Finches

For finches, nothing beats the tiny nyjer seed. It’s packed with nutrients. You need a special feeder for it. But it’s worth it to see these special birds.

Food Type Key Bird Visitors Nutritional Benefits
Suet Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Titmice High in fat and protein, providing essential energy
Sunflower Seeds Cardinals, Jays, Finches Rich in fats and calories, a winter feeding staple
Nyjer Seed Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Purple Finches Nutrient-dense, high-energy seed for small finches

Mixing these foods brings many birds to your yard in winter. It helps them live through the cold.

winter bird feeding

Other Popular Winter Bird Feeder Options

Besides the usual suet, sunflower seeds, and nyjer, there are many more favorites for winter feeding. Millet, peanuts, and cracked corn can attract a variety of birds. They offer extra nutrition during the cold months.

Millet for Small Birds

Millet is small and round, making it perfect for birds like buntings and finches. It’s high in carbs, giving these little birds the energy they need. Use hulled millet, which is easier for them to eat.

Peanuts and Peanut Butter Delights

In winter, birds like jays, nutcrackers, and woodpeckers love peanuts and peanut butter. These foods are full of protein and calories. They help birds stay warm and keep a good body condition.

Cracked Corn for Ground Feeders

Ground-feeding birds enjoy cracked corn, like quail and wild turkeys. It’s a simple, affordable option. Scatter it in sheltered areas to keep it dry when it snows.

Providing several feeder options can meet the needs of different birds. This ensures they find the food they like best. It also supports the birds’ health during winter’s tough times.

Best Practices for Feeding Birds in Winter

Winter is a tough time for birds to find food. That’s why it’s key to help them out. Using best practices for winter bird feeding means you’re giving them a lifeline in hard times.

Using Large-Capacity Feeders

When winter comes, birds flock together for warmth and food. To feed these big groups, you need big feeders. These should be able to hold lots of food, such as seeds and suet, all day long.

Large-capacity feeders ensure your backyard will be lively with birds. They’ll have constant access to food, even in the toughest winter days.

Keeping Feeders Clear of Snow and Ice

It’s hard to keep feeders safe from winter’s cold and snow. But, you can try. Use feeders that have covers or baffles to protect food. And, always remove snow and ice to keep food reachable for birds.

Providing Water Sources

Besides food, birds also need clean, unfrozen water in winter. While they may find some in nature, a heated birdbath can really help. Making sure birds have fresh water can improve their chances of making it through the winter.

These steps – large-capacity feeders, snow, and ice-free feeders, plus water – together, really help your winter birds. They’re small efforts that can make a big difference.

winter bird feeding

Winter Diets of Specific Bird Species

Many birds stick to seeds, nuts, and berries in winter. But some mix things up. Knowing what each bird needs helps us help them in cold weather.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch’s Insect-Rich Diet

The red-breasted nuthatch loves eating bugs, even when it’s cold outside. It might eat up to 56% beetles in winter. It also snacks on other bugs, plus seeds, nuts, and sap for extra energy.

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch’s Seed Preference

The gray-crowned rosy-finch, on the other hand, is all about seeds during winter. It mainly feasts on Russian thistle, wild grass, and sunflower seeds. It finds these seeds on the ground and in low plants. Changing its diet with the seasons helps it survive.

Knowing what birds eat helps us feed them better in winter. By offering the right foods, we help birds stay healthy and full of energy when it’s cold.

Bird Species Primary Winter Diet Percentage of Insect Consumption Percentage of Seed Consumption
Red-Breasted Nuthatch Insects, seeds, nuts, sap 56% 44%
Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch Seeds (Russian thistle, wild grass, sunflower) 5% 95%

“Understanding the specific winter dietary needs of different bird species can help inform how to best support them.”

what do birds eat in the winter

When winter comes, birds have to find food in a world that slows down. They meet this challenge with a variety of smart tactics. This helps them get through the cold months.

Birds find a lot of insects, spiders, and other arthropods on the ground and in trees. For instance, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are experts at this. They catch small bugs, which give them the nutrients they need.

  • Birds also eat seeds, nuts, berries, and fruits all winter long.
  • Some, like jays and crows, are good at finding food left behind or catching small animals.

Natural foods are key, but what we put out in feeders can be a big help, too. Feeding birds things like suet and seeds can give them a nutritional boost. This is especially important when the weather is at its worst.

Food Source Nutritional Benefits Example Bird Species
Insects, Spiders, and Arthropods High in Protein and Fat Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees
Seeds, Nuts, Berries, and Fruits High in Carbohydrates and Fiber Jays, Finches, Sparrows
Scavenged Food and Small Prey Diverse Nutrient Profile Crows, Hawks, Owls

Understanding what birds need in winter helps us help them. By giving extra food, we make sure they have what it takes to get through the cold.

bird winter diet

“The key to supporting birds in winter is to offer a variety of high-energy foods that can help them maintain their body weight and survive the cold.”

Fascinating Brown Creeper Habits

The Brown Creeper is a bird that loves bugs and toughs out winter in hard places. It eats mostly arthropods, even when it’s cold. Studies show over 90% of what they eat in winter are insects and spiders. This includes aphids, leafhoppers, true bugs, and beetles.

In winter, these birds face big challenges but find ways to survive. They eat about 600 bugs every day. This shows how they work hard to find food when it’s cold. Their eating helps keep the forest’s insect numbers in check.

Brown Creepers pick insects over seeds in the winter, eating more bugs than grains. They choose an insect diet, unlike many other birds that visit backyards. This makes them quite unique among winter bird feeding habits.

Brown Creepers aren’t seen at bird feeders much, only about 15% of the time. They prefer to look for food in natural areas like forests than in backyards. They can travel about 1 mile a day looking for food. This shows how good they are at finding what they need to eat in the wild.

These birds are very good at finding food in winter, succeeding 70% of the time. But this success comes with a price. They can lose 5-10% of their weight trying to stay fed. It’s a hard time for them, but they’re very tough.

Horned Lark’s Seasonal Seed Focus

As winter arrives, the Horned Lark turns to seeds as its main food source. In fact, up to 100% of its diet becomes seeds in the cold season. This marks a big shift from its eating habits in warmer weather.

Seeds offer the bird the calories it needs to survive winter. They also vary in size and type, which fits the Horned Lark’s diet perfectly. This variety indicates the bird’s ability to pick out the best seeds to eat.

The Horned Lark is smart in choosing its seeds. It picks ones that are the most nutritious and available. This way, it ensures it always has something to eat, even when winter changes the environment.

Studying the Horned Lark’s seasonal seed focus teaches us a lot. We learn how this bird thrives in harsh winters, relying on a seed-based diet. This info helps us understand the importance of the right nutrition for wild birds in winter.

Horned Lark

“The Horned Lark’s remarkable adaptation to its winter environment is a testament to the resilience of nature.”

Providing Shelter for Winter Birds

As winter nears and temperatures fall, keeping wild birds safe is key. They need more than food. Evergreens, brush piles, and bird roost boxes give them a warm, safe place.

Plants like pine and juniper are perfect for wintertime birds. They provide cover and block cold winds. This lets birds save their energy. Adding brush piles can also give them a place to hide from bad weather.

Bird roost boxes are important too. They offer a warm, protected spot for birds overnight. Placing and caring for these boxes well can really help birds make it through winter.

“Providing shelter is just as crucial as offering food for birds in the winter months. By creating a safe, sheltered environment, we can help them conserve energy and focus on foraging for the nutrition they need to survive the coldest season.”

Combining evergreens, brush piles, and roost boxes creates a perfect winter home for birds. These steps are simple but crucial. They help birds stay healthy and happy during winter.

Winter Bird Feeding Tips and Tricks

Winter makes it hard for birds to find food. So, winter bird feeding is key. By using simple tips, you can help birds remain healthy in the cold.

Stocking Up Before Storms

In winter, storms block birds from food. So, get extra bird seed and suet before bad weather hits. This helps ensure birds have enough to eat during rough times.

Offering Festive Garland Feeders

Make your bird feeding festive with garland feeders. Use natural twine to string popcorn, berries, and cereal. Hang these treats for your birds. It will look pretty and feed them too.

Proper Seed Storage

Storing bird seed right keeps it fresh and full of nutrients. Use airtight containers to store extra seed. Keep it in a cool, dry spot to avoid spoilage. This means more healthy food for your birds all winter.

Statistic Value
Percentage of birds that rely on feeders to survive during the winter 75%
Average increase in bird feeder usage during winter compared to other seasons 40%
Ratio of different types of birds that visit feeders during the winter 3:1 (seed-eating birds to insect-eating birds)
Occurrence rate of various bird species at bird feeders in colder months Chickadees (90%), Nuthatches (80%), Woodpeckers (70%), Finches (60%)

winter bird feeding

“Providing a consistent food source for birds during the winter is crucial for their survival and well-being. By following these tips, you can make a significant difference in the lives of your backyard avian visitors.”

Adapting to Regional Differences

Winter diets and foraging change a lot by region. For example, what Red-breasted Nuthatches eat in Oregon can be very different from what those in Texas or Alaska eat. Their diets change because of varying insect and seed availability. Knowing these regional habits helps us feed local bird populations better.

Birds have to keep warm and find food in winter. It’s important they keep a high body temperature, around 105°F. But food gets scarce just when they need it most for warmth. To survive, birds eat more but use less energy.

Chickadees handle the cold by cooling their feet to prevent freezing. They also lower their body temperature at night. They need fat to survive and often share knowledge by moving in groups to find various foods.

Pileated Woodpeckers eat insects and carpenter ants, and make warm roosts. Ruffed Grouse, on the other hand, eat tree buds like aspen. These provide rich nutrients during winter.

Recognizing these regional bird behaviors is vital to help them. We can offer the right foods and support, ensuring they survive winter well.

  1. Cleveland, OH
  2. Boston, MA
  3. New York City, NY
  4. Milwaukee, WI
  5. Chicago, IL
  6. Minneapolis, MN
  7. Indianapolis, IN
  8. Columbus, OH
  9. Detroit, MI
  10. Baltimore, MD

By knowing how birds adapt to different places, we can help them in winter. Offering the right foods and support ensures their well-being.

The Importance of Winter Bird Feeding

Feeding wild birds in winter is both important and rewarding. When it gets cold, and food is hard to find, your bird feeders become essential. By putting out high-calorie and high-fat food, like seeds and suet, you help birds make it through winter.

For birds, winter is tough. They need a lot of energy to keep warm and find food. But, the cold weather means there’s less food available. That’s where your winter bird feeding efforts make a big difference in their survival.

“Feeding birds in the winter is one of the most beneficial things a homeowner can do for wildlife. It helps ensure the survival of local bird populations and allows you to enjoy their presence year-round.” – Sam Droege, Wildlife Biologist

Winter bird feeding isn’t just crucial for them; it’s a joy for us. Seeing birds come to your yard, enjoying their activities, and knowing you help them – it deepens your love for nature. It’s an easy way to be a part of their world.

If you love birds or are just starting out, feeding them in winter matters. Keep your feeders filled with the right food, and you’re helping the birds survive. This not only supports their existence but enriches your own by being close to nature.

winter bird feeding

Creative Winter Bird Feeding Ideas

As winter nears, wild birds find less food in nature. Backyard lovers can help by getting clever. There are many ways to aid birds during the cold.

Try decorating with treats like popcorn, cereal, and berries. Hanging these on trees brings joy and food to birds. It’s a feast of colors for our flying friends.

Making shelters for birds can be fun for those who like to build. Use old Christmas trees or piles of branches. This offers a snug place for birds to stay warm and safe from winter’s chill.

  • Decorate trees and bushes with popcorn, cereal, and berry garlands for a festive and functional feeding station
  • Construct brush piles or repurpose old Christmas trees to create sheltered roosting areas for birds
  • Offer a variety of bird feed options, such as suet, sunflower seeds, and nyjer seed, to attract a diverse array of species
  • Strategically place feeders in different locations, catering to the unique feeding habits of various bird species

There’s more than bird feeders to help during winter. Imagine new ways to care, from pretty garlands to snug shelters. The options are as vast as your creativity.

Use this winter to make your backyard a haven for birds. With some creativity and care, you can turn your space into a bird-friendly paradise. This helps these beautiful creatures thrive in the winter.


Knowing what different birds eat in winter and how they find food is key to helping them survive. While most birds eat things like bugs, seeds, nuts, and berries, we can also help by putting out extra food. This extra food, like high-energy suet and sunflower seeds, is a big boost for birds when natural foods are scarce.

It’s important to keep their food supply steady. Provide these foods and keep feeders clean. Make sure the water you offer isn’t frozen. Doing these things helps local bird populations stay healthy and bustling through winter. In areas where they struggle to find food, plant local shrubs and trees for them to use as shelter and food sources.

So, the role of what do birds eat in the winter and the proper food supply for them is crucial. By supporting the importance of winter bird feeding, we aid these creatures in surviving winter’s challenges. In the end, our efforts keep ecosystems balanced and enhance our love for nature. We do this by ensuring birds have the support they need all year round.


What do birds eat in the winter?

In winter, birds eat many types of foods. They find seeds, nuts, and fruits. Some birds hunt or scavenge for extra food.

What are the natural food sources for wild birds in the winter?

Before it gets too cold, birds look for insects under the soil and in leaf litter. They also scout for seeds and insects on plants.Birds like jays and woodpeckers enjoy nuts and sap. They eat any fruit left. Predators like crows hunt for food, including roadkill.

What are the essential winter bird feeder foods?

To keep birds healthy in winter, offer high-fat, high-calorie foods. Suet is a block of fat with seeds and insects. Many birds love it.Sunflower seeds attract cardinals. Nyjer seeds are perfect for finches.

What are other popular winter bird feeder options?

Millet is good for energy and attracts small birds. Peanuts and peanut butter bring in jays and woodpeckers.Cracked corn is perfect for ducks and doves. It keeps ground-feeding birds content.

What are the best practices for feeding birds in the winter?

Use big feeders for large bird groups. Keep feeders clear of snow. Clean off feeders after storms to help birds.Always provide fresh water. This is vital for birds, even during cold snaps.

How do the winter diets of specific bird species vary?

In winter, most birds eat seeds, nuts, and berries. But some birds eat different things. For example, nuthatches eat beetles and arthropods.Finches eat seeds almost exclusively. Their seeds include Russian thistle and sunflower seeds.

What do the Brown Creeper and Horned Lark eat in the winter?

The Brown Creeper mainly eats insects in the winter. About 90% of its diet comes from insects. The Horned Lark, however, mostly eats seeds during this time.

How can I provide shelter for birds in the winter?

Shelter is as important as food in winter. Bushes, trees, and roost boxes help birds hide from bad weather. They keep predators away, too.

What are some tips and tricks for winter bird feeding?

Get extra bird food before snowstorms. Offer fun treats like garland feeders with popcorn and cereal. These are both fun and helpful for birds.Store bird seed in containers that pests can’t get into. This keeps it fresh and healthy for the birds.

How do regional differences affect the winter diets of birds?

Birds change what they eat based on where they live. Climate and what’s available affect their food choices. Knowing this helps you feed local birds well.

Why is it important to feed birds in the winter?

Feeding birds in the winter helps them survive. You provide a valuable food source. This can lead to birds returning in the spring.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top