Attracting Winter Birds

Judy Watt
Adams County Master Gardener

Birds have accentuated our gardens all summer long. The flash of a cardinal, a downy woodpecker hopping along the rail, finches and bluebirds splashing in the birdbath, and the assorted colors and sizes of the birds at the feeders were pleasures to behold. They need not go away during the long gray winter!

As Aunt Hortense said "Good grief, darhliní, letís keep them"! We need only food, water, and protection to attract the non-migrating birds all winter. You will find great varieties of both food and feeders available. There are tube feeders for the smaller birds, with or without the wire protector, which keeps out the larger birds. Suet cages are great for homemade or store bought suet. The wonderful green feeders with the weighted traps doors really, really do keep out the squirrels and crows. There are long lasting plastic feeders for thistle, although my finches seem to prefer the thistle "socks" Shepherd hooks come in various sizes, some with double hooks, and can be attached to a porch or stuck in the ground.

If you have no spot for a feeder, just regularly sprinkle seed on the ground and soon the birds (and probably squirrels) will find it. Clean your feeders periodically with soap, water, and a flush of 1 oz. Clorox to 1 gal. water before final rinse to prevent fungus growth in damp seed.

Food is easy. Millet is essential for the small birds. Combinations of black sunflower seeds, nuts, and dried fruit will be irresistible to cardinals, catbirds, nuthatches, chickadees and finches. Some goldfinches will stay all winter if thistle is provided. Suet will attract the shy woodpeckers. Collect a few pinecones and spread then with peanut butter - plain or mixed with a little bacon fat, bread and cereal crumbs. Thread popcorn, cranberries, dried fruit and hang from a nearby tree. Place a platform out with crumbs, fruit, nuts and seed but expect the squirrels to enjoy it too! Be consistent with your feeding. If birds are accustomed to your restaurant they may go hungry if itís closed.


Japanese barberry
Berberis thunbergii DC
Note: Japanese barberry is considered an invasive exotic plant

Water can be scarce when it is snowy and freezing out. Immersible heaters are available to keep birdbath water from freezing. Anything shallow and flat can be used for water- pie tins, saucers, inverted trash can lids. Just remember that birds donít like their water more than 2 to 3 inches deep. Protection and food can also be combined. Donít pull everything out of your garden this fall. Leave plants for birds to seek cover in as well as eat the seeds. Many of our common flowers, such as daisies, sunflowers, zinnias, coneflowers, asters, mums, make excellent birdseed. Hopefully your landscaping includes some berry bushes such as pyracantha, holly, juniper, and Japanese barberry.

For further protection, leave nesting boxes cleaned out, and hanging. Some birds, notably bluebirds, will seek shelter in them during windy winter nights. Place your food and water in an easily visible open area .You will want to easily watch these areas from the warmth of your home. Feeding is most intense at dawn and dusk, so fix yourself a "cuppa," put your feet up and enjoy the nature, color, motion and music of birds in your yard all year!

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

Read other articles by Judy Watt