Do you know not all North American bird species migrate to warmer climates before winter? Those birds that don’t head to somewhere warmer need adequate food sources to overwinter. But, there are almost no fruits, flowers, plants, and insects available to them.
So, what do birds eat in the winter? Most winter birds eat various nuts, high-fat seeds and grains, nutritious insects, and several fruits. They also consume tree sap, carrion, and other small animals. Suet, peanut butter, and white millet can be in their diet chart in winter.
When it comes to finding those foods in harsh winter areas, many birds store plenty of foods in secret areas between the late summer and fall to overwinter without any hassle. Besides, you can offer winter birds foods from your kitchen.
Foods That Birds Eat in the Winter
Although winter is the time of food scarcity, birds can find abundant food sources under deep snow even when the temperatures are below zero. They’re pretty clever and therefore identify where food sources can be out there. Now, let’s see some available winter foods below.
- Nuts: Many overwintering birds, such as jays, titmice, finches, chickadees, and sparrows, eat various nuts, including peanuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, beechnuts, Hickory nuts, almonds, and acorns. Typically, nuts contain essential vitamins, fats, and protein.
- Seeds: Winter birds eat various seeds, including black oil sunflower, nyjer/thistle, safflower, and squash seeds, to gain higher fat content to cope with the coldest winter. They find these seeds under plants or in leaf litter where there is not much snow.
- Fruits: Typically, raisins, blueberries, cherries, grapes, and apples are probably available in many winter areas. During the coldest winter, birds may not find fresh fruits, but they can get leftovers on trees and bushes.
- Grains: Many game birds, blackbirds, sparrows, and doves consume grains, such as cracked corn and white proso millet, in agricultural fields. These grains contain protein, fiber, fat, calcium, vitamins, magnesium, and minerals.
- Insects: Since flying insects are not available in winter and other insects and larvae remain dormant, birds don’t find insects to eat. However, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees forage for hidden mealworms and snowbugs in tree barks.
- Tree Sap: Tree sap is always an excellent food source for birds, especially for various species of woodpeckers. In winter, these birds drill into tree barks to sip warm sap. After that, other overwintering birds consume sap from the same drilled location.
- Nectar: Many birders ask what do hummingbirds eat in the winter. These tiniest birds drink nectar from hanging feeders all over the United States. Due to climate change, nectar-producing plants blossom flowers almost all year round.
- Carrion: Many animals don’t cope with harsh winter weather, and therefore, they become carrion. Many opportunists, such as American crows, bald eagles, and ravens, eat those animals to survive the coldest winter climates.
- Small Animals and Birds: Invasive birds, also known as birds of prey, are deadly hunters. Common buzzard, Eurasian sparrowhawk, and peregrine falcon are some of them, eating voles, mice, fish, and small birds to survive throughout the winter.
What Foods Should You Offer Overwintering Birds?
To survive harsh winter weather, birds need foods that contain oil and high fat. These foods are suet, peanut butter, mixed seed with white millet, etc. They will provide the birds with extra energy to cope with bad winter climates.
- Suet: As you know, birds need high fat to survive in the coldest winter nights. Suet is one of the main sources of fat that you can find wherever birdseed is sold. Apart from commercial blocks, you can collect suet from any butcher counter.
- Suet Mixes with Fruit or Seeds: Suet can be served in a couple of ways, such as suet with fruits and suet with seeds. Many overwintering birds, such as downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice, love these dishes.
- Peanut Butter: This is an excellent food source for overwintering birds, especially for chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and creepers. Peanut butter contains iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which helps these birds survive winter weather.
- Mixed Seed with White Millet: When it comes to seed mixes, good mixed seed with while proso millet can be what birds actually are looking for in the winter. Seeds include black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, or sometimes peanut chips.
- Human Food: From your home kitchen, you can offer overwintering birds various foods, including apples, bananas, raisins, peas, potatoes, eggs and egg shells, melon, pumpkin, and even pet food.
- Water: Everybody knows that winter is the season of the scarcity of freshwater because of snow everywhere. If you provide clean water to overwintering birds to drink and bathe, we hope they’ll be pretty grateful to you.
How Do Birds Find Food in the Winter?
You may know that not all birds head to warmer regions in winter. They overwinter in harsh cold places where almost everything remains under heavy snow. So, how do overwintering birds find food to survive?
- Some Overwintering Birds Store Food: Chickadees, nuthatches, jays, and crows store foods in many places during late summer and fall to get enough food supplies throughout the winter.
- Some Overwintering Birds Eat Nuts and Berries: Some pigeons and doves don’t migrate to warmer areas. To survive harsh winter weather, they eat nuts and berries that humans put out for them.
- Some Overwintering Birds Find Bugs Out: Apart from storing food, house finches, house sparrows, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, northern cardinals, American robins, and European starlings consume bugs out of tree bark or old rotten trees.
How Can You Help Overwintering Birds Find Food?
When food is scarce in winter due to heavy snow, many overwintering birds rely on what birders offer them. If you love watching birds around your house, you can help them find food or offer food in your backyard, ensuring the following ideas.
- Make Your Feeders Full of Foods: To help birds find food in harsh winter, you can fill your bird feeders with calorie-dense seeds, like black oil sunflower seed. Although not all birds eat the same type of food, make sure you’re using the right food and feeders.
|Feeder Type||Food Type||Birds|
|Tube feeder||Black oil sunflower, safflower, mixed seed, peanuts||Chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, house finches, nuthatches, siskins, purple|
|Hopper feeder||Safflower, sunflower, cracked corn||Cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, jays|
|Suet feeder||Suet and bird puddings||Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, warblers|
|Thistle feeder||Nyjer (thistle) seed||Pine siskins, goldfinches, redpolls,|
|Ground feeder||Mixed seed, wheat, oat, black oil sunflower seed, a mixture of milo, cracked corn, and millet||Goldfinches, sparrows, doves, juncos, towhees|
- Ensure That Seeds are Dry: When you’re offering birds various seeds in winter, ensure that the seeds are dry and edible for birds. Tube and hopper feeders are excellent to keep seeds dry even in heavy snow.
- Keep Extra Feeders for Harsh Weather: If the winter weather is too harsh to find food, an extra feeder of yours can help birds survive. When nasty weather comes, you should keep a large, additional tube feeder full of fatty foods in your garage.
- Scatter Seeds in Sheltered Places: Although you put out feeders with enough seeds, some birds, such as eastern towhees and Carolina wrens, prefer to consume seeds in the thickets and brambles. So, you have to scatter seeds for them.
- Offer Mealworms in a Dish: Since the ground is frozen in winter, overwintering birds cannot eat mealworms under the snow. If you offer them mealworms in a dish, they will definitely love to eat them in the winter morning.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Why is Winter Bird Feeding So Important?
In winter, birds require extra calories to survive harsh winter weather. However, food types are limited, natural seed sources are depleted, and water sources are frozen. This is why feeding overwintering birds is so important.
2. What is the best food for birds in the winter?
In our opinion, the 10 best foods for overwinter birds are black oil sunflower seed, peanuts, suet, good mixed seed, nyjer/thistle seed, safflower, cracked corn, mealworms, fruits, and homemade bird treats.
3. Do birds eat banana peels?
Although birds can eat banana peels, these contain cellulose, which is harmful to birds’ health. Banana peels are usually coated with pesticides. They’re toxic and can cause problems in their reproduction process.
4. What human food can birds eat?
Birds can eat apples, bananas, cooked pasta and rice, peanut butter, raisins, and many more foods.
5. Do birds eat from feeders at night?
Nocturnal birds, such as North Island brown kiwi, Black-crowned night heron, Short-eared owl, and Kakapo, eat foods from feeders at night.
Hopefully, you’ve already known what birds eat in the winter. Winter is always harsh for many bird species. There is not much food available in winter areas due to heavy snowfall. But birds can find many food sources and hidden areas where they store food in late summer and fall.
However, if you’re living in an area where birds cannot find enough food sources to survive, you can offer them some fatty and oily foods as well as regular human food from your kitchen. Therefore, you can attract plenty of birds and help them survive the coldest winter.