The Dos and Don’ts of Winter Bird Feeding

Tips to Keep Birds Safe This Season

Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Northern Cardinals are just a few of the many winter birds that provide a burst of color and activity across a stark winter landscape. Bird feeders can help attract birds to your space during the winter when natural food sources might be buried beneath snow or limited in supply. Keeping your feeders up into the spring can help support birds on their long migrations north.

Here are some tips on how best to feed birds this winter:

  • Use tube feeders: These feeders are best for black oil sunflower, mixed seed, safflower seed, or peanuts, which attract chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins, purple and house finches.
  • Use hopper feeders: These feeders are best for safflower and sunflower seeds or cracked corn and, which attract all the species that visit tube feeders plus larger birds like Cardinals, jays, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
  • Use suet feeders: Suet attracts woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees as well as the occasional wren, creeper, and warbler.
  • Don’t place seed directly on the ground or use platform feeders, which tend to attract deer and other unwanted guests. Mess-free birdseed options are available to purchase at stores, which can help keep the ground clean.
  • Fence in your feeders, if possible, to prevent deer from accessing them. This is particularly important if you live in a state that is combatting Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Visit your local DNR website to learn more about how to help prevent the spread of CWD in deer.

It’s also incredibly important to provide water to birds during the winter, especially when there is no snow. Use a sturdy birdbath that can withstand freezing and place it in a sunny area so it remains visible to birds and stands a better chance at remaining liquid. Heated birdbaths can also be purchased at stores.

Remember to keep your bird feeders and birdbaths fresh and clean for your feathered friends throughout winter.  Freshen the water every other day, if possible. Clean your feeders once every 2 weeks in a solution that is 9 parts water and 1 part bleach, scrubbing away any debris. Dry the feeder before refilling. Clean bird baths with a scrub-brush in a solution that is 9 parts water and 1 part vinegar.

You can also provide shelter to birds from winter storms in the form of brush piles or bird nest boxes, which can double as winter roosting boxes.


MI Birds is a public outreach and engagement program created by Audubon Great Lakes and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which aims to increase all Michiganders' engagement in the understanding, care, and stewardship of public lands that are important for birds and local communities.

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