Do We Need to Feed Birds More in Winter?

Birds have a tough time in the winter months. Some will need to fly hundreds or thousands of miles south, to where the food is plentiful, and the air is warm. Others will spend the long winter months hunkered down, relying on the food they’ve hidden during the warm months and scavenging for the rest. In some ways, human interaction has helped these year-round birds. Feeders and artificial water sources provide necessary sustenance in a bleak and frigid world.

It is true that some seasons require more effort on our part, assuming we want the birds to keep returning.

Need to Feed


First, reliability is the most critical consideration. If you put food out for the birds during the months when food is the hardest to find, they will flock to your house. However, if you forget to hang your feeder, replace the seeds or otherwise shaft the birds, you are making their lives exponentially harder. Beyond merely cutting of one of many food supplies, you are ensuring birds waste time flying to your residence, only to discover the food is no longer available.

Further, as with every warm-blooded animal, birds require more energy during the cold months. Their metabolism steps up, and their food intake increases. Any exercise they undertake during winter burns significantly more heat-energy. Flying to a known food source — only to find it missing — can turn deadly.

Winter-Time Food Sources

Birds that stay over the winter usually participate in a fascinating activity called “caching.” They spend the summer and fall hiding small food stores in various locations (caches) around an area. These caches should last them the rest of the winter if everything goes according to plan. For many birds, this is just the case. They hunker down and last out the cold months with plenty of stored food within easy distance of home. Whatever extra food the birds need is from the ground or other caches.

However, therein lies the problem: Other birds are also on the prowl for hidden caches, and many birds find their stores raided by others. The environment can play a role as well. Sometimes a short, cold autumn can mean a shortage of stored food and added winter hunger. In other cases, the stored food can naturally fall out of its cache, or the tree in which it’s stored can topple or become otherwise inaccessible.

These hardships might have meant inevitable death for a bird several hundred years ago. Since then, however, humans have found that creating feeders can attract beautiful birds to their homes during all seasons. Birds have the opportunity to cache plenty of food after return trips to the feeder, and they can rely on some houses for continued support in the winter months.

When choosing bird feed, think about what birds you would like to attract. A good, standard option is a mix of various seeds, including sunflower, in-shell peanuts and suet. Robins seem to enjoy small fruits — such as cranberries and dried apple. If you are concerned with the local squirrel population, put some chili powder or red pepper in the mix. Birds can’t taste it, but small mammals definitely can!

Reduced Water Availability

Dehydration can prove to be just as dangerous as hunger in the winter. Assuming the temperature plummets low enough, a bird’s regular sources of water can quickly freeze and become inaccessible. Larger bodies of water may be too dangerous for smaller birds, as a single splash can mean they are soaked and unable to warm themselves up. There are no reliable means for storing water, unlike food, and some birds must travel significant distances in hopes of a drink.

Providing water during the winter requires some special considerations and tools. Many standard fountains will freeze, as will standard water bowls. Despite this, winter options for water bowls are available online and in-store. Make sure you do some research first.

Taking Care of the Birds

Attracting birds to your place is wonderfully rewarding and aesthetically beautiful during the bleak winter months. Just remember that you are a steward of these fragile creatures and that they depend on you. Keep up the great work!


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Emily is a freelance conservation journalist who feels passionately about protecting endangered species and preserving the wilderness landscapes.

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