Feeding Winter Birds

It is Frost-Exploding-Trees Moon, pawâcakinisîsi-pîsim, and we are spiraling towards the darkest day of the year. And yet, there are birds right outside our windows, getting on with things and bringing beauty and fascination into our lives.

Our backyards, balconies, parks and boulevards provide rich winter habitat for dozens kinds of overwintering birds. Mostly they manage just fine on their own—except when the weather turns mean. Having reliable access to a well-stocked feeder can be a life-saver when the thermometer plunges. With times so tough for our fine feathered friends, who wouldn’t want to help them?

To support birds through the winter, all you need is a bag of bird seed and something to put it in. Wild-bird seed mixes are readily available at grocery and hardware stores and at specialty shops like Wild Birds Unlimited and Early’s. Many shops also sell bird feeders, though if you are feeling crafty, it is easy to make your own.

Gallery of Winter Birds

Black-capped Chickadee

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Brown Creeper

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Female House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow


Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Bohemian Waxwing

Northern Flicker

Black-billed Magpie

Common Raven


Sharp-shinned Hawk

Northern Shrike

For a small donation (no minimum amount), you can join Project Feeder Watch, count the birds that come to visit according to their protocol, and contribute your data to this long-running citizen-science initiative. Online communities like iNaturalist and e-Bird are free to join and allow you to learn and contribute to science at the same time.

Watching birds at a feeder is just about the best fun you can have from the comfort of your own home. Every arrival brings a tiny shock of delight. Every sound—the chittering of sparrows, the warm dee-dee’s of chickadees, the nasal beeps of nuthatches—engages you in a conversation. Every movement is full of interest. Why did the sparrows just rise together in sudden fright? Was that a downy woodpecker or a hairy woodpecker, a female or a male? Exactly how many peanuts can a blue jay stuff into its mouth at the same time?

Bringing the wild world close by feeding birds has lifted our spirits during the bleak days of the pandemic. We hope you will join us in discovering the pleasures of this stay-at-home adventure.


Candace Savage and Meghan Mickelson

Project FeederWatch

Check out this great resource! You’ll find detailed information about different types of feeders and bird food–and the kinds of birds you might attract. This website also provides help with tricky bird IDs, advice on cleaning your feeders, and a list of FAQs.

Common bird food

  • Black oiled sunflower seeds
  • Shelled and unshelled peanuts
  • Cracked corn
  • Suet
  • Mealworms

Birds aren’t the only ones enjoying the seed!

Where to bird beyond your backyard this winter