Taking care of the birds in winter

“RED BIRD in SNOW crg” by carl & tracy gossett is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

What you do to attract birds to your yard in the winter will depend on where you live. One of the first rules is that birds who are fed seed in winter require water, not just snow. How do you do this if you life in an area where the water freezes, like I do?

“Birds in Snow-9” by Tancread is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

You can purchase bird baths with heaters or various other water bowls with heaters that attach to your deck. If you do get a birdbath with an electrical cord you will need to stabilize the pedestal. That was the first great hint a birdie told me was to fill the pedestal with sand bags. It worked perfectly. Be sure to put the cord and the extension cord in first! Fill with sand bags and attach the top. OR if you want to save your money and you have an electric skillet that still works then you can do like my neighbour Bert. Bert had several old electric frying pans. He even set them on styrofoam sheets at the time so the feet would not get cold. Those frying pans worked well but they have to be set at a very very low temperature and you need to put rocks in them. So rule number 1 – birds need water all year round but especially in winter if you feed them seed. They cannot consume enough snow. Make sure that the source of water is kept clean.

“Fowl Spray” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Early Birds in Snow” by alans1948 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Mr Blue Jay eating his dried corn on the cob.

Buy good nutritious food for your birds. While they might love bread, do not feed bread. It is junk food for them. Sugar and salt and they love it like people but they will fill up on the bread and not get the proper nutrients. Our birds love black oil seed in winter but the shells are messy and you have to be able to clear them up. While chopped sunflower seeds and peanuts out of the shell are more expensive initially, you are getting as much bang for your buck because half the product does not wind up as opened shells on the ground. Where I live suet is very important. I put out one that is a grainy suet and another that is called peanut butter and jelly. The only place that I can spread seeds for the birds that like to forage on the ground is on the deck if it is dry or the snow is so frozen it will not melt.

Some of the birds will also find seeds under the feeders that gets knocked out. The type of food will, however, depend on where you live.

I love my Blue Jays and they are very thankful for dry corn cobs (if Dyson doesn’t carry those away) and peanuts in the shell.

“Bird in Snow” by Rajan Manickavasagam is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For the health of your birds the feeders need to be cleaned. Remove the feeders if you hear of any diseases spreading in your area like salmonella, trichomoniasis (that probably killed chick 4 at Collins Street), aspergillosis, or avian pox. Be careful what you use to clean the feeders. Many cleaning substances are toxic to the birds. This is what my bird seed supplier says to do: “To clean your feeder, take it apart and use a dishwasher on a hot setting or hand wash either with soap and boiling water or with a dilute bleach solution (no more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before refilling.”

Create windbreaks for the birds so that they can get away from the wind and blowing snow.

“Birds in our yard” by MN Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Plant trees and shrubs that have fruit that the birds can eat in the winter. In my City, Mountain Ash is very popular. The Robins love the berries and they will eat and eat them entertaining you for a long time before they migrate.

I am not going to suggest stringing popcorn and cranberries and putting it outside for the birds to nibble on. Why? I bet you already know. That string – however thin – can tangle and cut those tiny, tiny little legs.

At this time of year there are various suet balls and ornaments to put in the trees for the birds. Just make sure that the bell or wreath does not have a string to attach it to the branch. Get the ones with the metal hooks. All those precious little feet and legs will thank you!

One last thing and this is a real biggie problem for the birds. Wreaths that have artificial berries that are plastic. Please do not put them outside where the birds can get at them. They will eat those plastic berries and die. It is a simple fix. If you have anything outside that has artificial berries, remove it. The birds and the wildlife rehabilitation clinics will thank you!

Thank you for joining me today. There will be an update on our favourite birds on streaming cams later today. Take care!


  1. Linda Kontol says:

    Oh Mary Ann these birds are all so beautiful especially in the snow. Thank you for all the info on their survival during the winter.
    I look forward to the next newsletter.
    Thank you! Linda

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