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What You Should Feed Wild Birds in Winter

Robin Sat on a Branch in Winter

Winter poses significant challenges for birds, as natural food sources become scarce and temperatures drop. During this critical time, the provision of appropriate food is essential, not only to ensure their survival but also to help them thrive in the harsh conditions. By offering the right nourishment, we can support our feathered friends, enabling them to maintain their energy levels, stay warm, and continue their vital role in our ecosystems. Understanding their needs and how to meet them can make a profound difference in their ability to endure the winter months.

Providing the right food for birds during the winter months is crucial for their survival and well-being. This season presents unique challenges for our feathered friends, and offering a balanced diet can help them thrive even in the harshest conditions.


Peanuts are an excellent source of protein and fat, making them an ideal winter food for birds. They provide the necessary energy to help birds maintain their body heat during cold weather. Opt for unsalted and unroasted peanuts to avoid any harmful additives. Peanuts can attract a variety of birds, including blue jays, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. To make them accessible to smaller birds, consider crushing the peanuts or using a mesh feeder designed for nuts.


Seeds are a staple in any bird’s diet, especially during winter. A good mix of sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, and mixed bird seed blends can cater to various bird species. Sunflower seeds are particularly favoured due to their high fat content, which is essential for energy. Black oil sunflower seeds are a popular choice because their thin shells are easy for small birds to crack open. Nyjer seeds, though small, are rich in oil and particularly attract finches. Mixed birdseed blends often include millet, cracked corn, and safflower seeds, providing a diverse diet that can appeal to sparrows, cardinals, and other garden birds.

Live Food

Incorporating live food such as mealworms and waxworms into your bird feeders can significantly benefit birds. These insects are rich in protein and fat, providing a crucial source of nutrition. They are especially beneficial for insectivorous birds that might struggle to find natural food sources during winter. Mealworms, in particular, are easy to store and can be offered dried or live. Waxworms are another excellent option, though they should be used sparingly due to their high fat content. Birds such as robins, wrens, and chickadees will appreciate this high-energy food source.

Bruised Apples and Pears

Fruits, particularly bruised apples and pears, are highly attractive to thrushes and blackbirds. The natural sugars and vitamins found in these fruits offer a vital energy boost. Placing these fruits in your garden can attract these beautiful birds and provide them with essential nutrients. To make the most of these offerings, cut the fruit into manageable pieces and scatter them on the ground or place them in a dish. Additionally, other fruits like berries (such as holly, juniper, and rowan) can be left on shrubs and trees for birds to forage naturally.

Pastry, Cooked Rice, and Breadcrumbs

While household scraps can be a convenient food source, they should be offered sparingly. Items such as pastry, cooked rice, and breadcrumbs can attract birds but should only be given in small amounts. These foods lack the necessary nutrients that birds need in larger quantities, so they should not replace their primary diet. When offering scraps, ensure they are free from seasoning, salt, and fat, which can be harmful to birds. Leftover baked goods like unsweetened bread or plain biscuits can be crumbled and mixed with seeds for a more balanced offering.

Creating a Bird-Friendly Environment

Creating a bird-friendly environment in your garden is a rewarding way to support local wildlife, especially during the challenging winter months. By providing essential resources such as food, water, and shelter, you can transform your outdoor space into a sanctuary for birds. This not only helps birds survive harsh conditions but also brings vibrant life and natural beauty to your garden.

Feeding Stations and Bird Feeders

Setting up various feeding stations and bird feeders in your garden can help attract a wide range of bird species. Ensure feeders are regularly cleaned and stocked with fresh food to prevent the spread of disease and maintain bird health. Consider different types of feeders such as tube feeders for seeds, mesh feeders for peanuts, and platform feeders for a mix of foods. Position the feeders in safe locations, away from predators and harsh winds, and near shrubs or trees where birds can find shelter.

Water Supply

In addition to food, providing a freshwater source is vital for birds in winter. Water can freeze quickly, so check and replenish it frequently. A shallow dish or birdbath with clean water will encourage birds to visit your garden. You can even use a birdbath heater to prevent the water from freezing, or place the birdbath in a sunny spot to naturally keep the water thawed. Ensure the water is shallow enough for birds to drink and bathe safely.

Shelter and Safety

Providing shelter is just as important as food and water. Planting dense shrubs and evergreen trees can offer birds protection from the elements and predators. You can also create brush piles with fallen branches and leaves to give birds a safe place to roost.

Monitoring and Maintenance

Regularly monitor your feeding stations and water sources to ensure they are clean and functional. Remove any uneaten food that could spoil and attract pests. Refill feeders as needed and keep an eye out for any signs of illness among visiting birds.

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