Ask Our Expert: Cold Weather Birding


From a bright-red cardinal against fresh snow to robins in early spring, we love spotting birds of all shapes and sizes in our gardens. During the winter months, we especially enjoy the color and life that winged visitors bring to our view from the window. For tips on inviting feathered friends to our landscapes this winter, we turned to our Creative Director, Greg L. To draw birds to the garden-- and encourage them to stay throughout the seasons-- Greg shared his essentials for birding during the coldest months. Above all, he stressed the importance of consistency and patience; offer food, water, and shelter throughout the year, and be aware that it might take birds a few weeks to find your garden. If you're just starting out, here are five more tips for a bird-friendly winter landscape.

Full feeders: Make sure to fill your feeders consistently throughout the year, not just during the colder months. If food is available in the spring and summer, birds will come to rely on your garden as a source of food and stay to nest and overwinter.

Warm drinks: Water can be difficult for birds to find when natural sources or unheated bird baths are frozen. Set up a heated bird bath near your feeders once temperatures drop so that birds have a consistent source of fresh water.

A winter feast: In cold weather, birds can spend up to 85% of the day feeding; short days and chilly temperatures make it challenging for them to stay warm at night. Provide plenty of fatty foods to help feathered visitors stay cozy. Black sunflower seeds, suet, and peanut butter are good choices; avoid high-starch options like barley or bread. Seeds without husks are also preferable, as birds won't have to use extra energy to reach the kernels. Birds also need grit for proper digestion, so it's helpful to add sand or ground eggshells to your seed. Be sure to bake the eggshells before grinding at 250 degrees for 10-30 minutes to kill any bacteria.

Go native: Plant native berries like winterberry, serviceberry, chokeberry, sumac, or bayberry to attract a more diverse variety of bird species. Native evergreens like Eastern hemlock and American holly also invite birds by providing shelter from harsh weather and predators.

Comfortable spaces: Set up shelters or feeders in your garden throughout the year, not just during the winter. Houses in varying shapes and sizes, roosting pockets, and even piles of loose brush encourage birds to become permanent residents by offering safe, comfortable places to nest. Hang feeders and houses in a sheltered location, away from strong winds and beyond the reach of predators. Let fall leaves remain on the ground—many bird species dig through leaves in search of insects. 

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