|Suet is a great option for feeding birds in winter. Here, a red-bellied woodpecker enjoys a tasty treat from a suet feeder. Image credit: Mike's Birds|
As winter temperatures plummet, survival becomes more difficult for most species of birds. Their summer and fall food sources have diminished or disappeared completely. In addition, the colder temperatures require that they take in more calories to keep warm. For that reason, feeding birds in winter brings a different set of challenges for bird lovers.
It’s All about Calories
Keeping warm burns calories. So the colder it gets the more calories a bird needs to stay warm. The seeds we fed our backyard birds from March through November may no longer give them the extra calories they need for winter survival. Just as their eating habits have changed, our feeding habits need to change as well. Feeding birds in winter should include lots of high fat, high energy food choices.
Healthy Options for Feeding Birds in Winter
- Fat – Suet is 100% fat and is an excellent choice for feeding birds in winter. You can either purchase suet (usually found in square cakes) or make your own. It’s fun and easy to make yourself – check out this suet recipe for birds if you’re interested.
- Peanut butter – Peanut butter is also high in fat and is a favorite of birds like nuthatches and woodpeckers.
- Dried mealworms – Dried meal worms can be found in most large pet and feed stores. They are also high in fat and make a great nutritional supplement for feeding birds in winter.
- Dried fruits – All-natural chopped dried fruit (like raisins, mango and prunes) make excellent additions to your homemade suet for feeding birds in winter. The sugar content of most dried fruit is very high, thus giving winter birds the extra calories they need to keep warm.
Tips for Feeding Birds in Winter
- Place feeders out of the wind. Food items such as seeds and dried meal worms are very light weight and will blow out of a feeder in high winds.
- Frequently remove snow or ice from feeders. One of the reasons wild birds have such a difficult time in winter is because snow and ice often cover their natural food sources. This can happen with feeders, too. Be sure to check your feeders frequently and remove any snow and ice that may prevent birds from eating.
- Don’t forget the water! Birds need water, too, and when temperatures drop below freezing their water sources are all but eliminated. Bird bath heaters are available at most pet and feed stores, and are a great way to ensure your birds have a constant source of water.