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Main Content
birds in winter

Winter Survival

By Adam T. Rohnke

Providing winter habitat in your back yard for birds is quite simple, as long as you have the essentials: cover, food, and water.

Planting native trees and shrubs is the best long-term way to provide habitat year-round. Some species, such as hollies and American red cedars, provide cover and produce berries for food during the winter months. 

Native grasses such as little and big bluestem are excellent seed sources and provide thick ground cover for birds. As a bonus, they provide beautiful landscape color during the fall and winter. 

Check with your local extension service for recommendations on the best trees, shrubs, and grasses for your area. 

In the short-term, providing artificial cover and supplemental food sources is a great way to get more birds in your back yard during winter. Artificial cover or brush piles can be easily created from yard debris such as branches, leaf litter, and used, live Christmas trees.

The brush piles provide immediate cover from the wind and also keep the ground moist, attracting food sources such as insects and other invertebrates. 

A properly placed feeder station provides an important food source, while offering hours of viewing pleasure for you and your family. For winter use, place feed and water stations in areas with trees and shrubs to shield birds from the wind and to provide perching areas for them to survey the feeding station for predators before entering the area. 

Avoid placing a feeder too close to a window. Birds may inadvertently strike the window, resulting in injury or death. 

Black oil sunflower seeds are the preferred seed by most backyard bird species and provide the highest calories per ounce of available birdseeds. Winter is also a great time to offer suet cakes as an additional high-energy food source.

Although many backyard birds prefer the black oil sunflower seeds, different species access them in different ways. Ground birds, such as doves and sparrows, prefer flat feeders. Perching birds, such as chickadees and titmice, favor perch-style feeders. 

To accommodate the greatest diversity of winter birds, provide both types of feeders at the feeding station.

Remove seed hulls from under the feeding station to reduce scavengers such as rodents, squirrels, and raccoons. 

Water is more important than food during winter when temperatures are below freezing. Many birds die of dehydration because they cannot readily access water when itis frozen. 

Fountains and waterfalls in containerized ponds or heated birdbaths offer clean, unfrozen water. 

By following these simple steps, you can provide great winter habitat in your own back yard for years to come.