Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding

Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding

A world-renowned ornithologist shows how, with the right combination of feeder and food, your backyard can be a refuge for birds and a stage for watching their colorful antics.

By Steve Kress
Published: November-December 2010

More than a hundred bird species supplement their natural diets with foods offered at feeders. They often rely most heavily on feeders in winter, when food is scarce. Additionally, some species will take advantage of backyard refueling stations during spring and fall migrations; others will stop by while nesting during the summer. Selecting a specific feeder design and a variety of foods can set the table for a greater diversity of birds. Choosing more than one will prevent crowding at your backyard buffet. Keep birds coming back with three essential ingredients: the right mix of quality seed and other foods, a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing, and ample cover from native plants. Follow this guide and watch the birds flock to your feeders.

1. Tube feeder

If you hang just one feeder, this should be it. Choose a model with metal ports around the seed dispensers to deter squirrels. Hang it at least 5 feet off the ground, and 3 feet (or 30-plus feet) from a window to avoid bird collisions.

Seed types: black oil sunflower, mixed seed, safflower, peanuts

Birds: Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins, purple and house finches

2. Hopper feeder

With these feeders you can keep an abundant supply of seed dry and ready for visiting birds. The weight of the arriving birds triggers the release of seeds. Position this feeder on a pole about 5 feet off the ground, or hang it from a tree branch.

Seed types: safflower, sunflower, cracked corn

Birds: attracts all the species that visit tube feeders, plus larger birds like cardinals, jays, grackles, red-winged blackbirds

3. Suet feeder

Hang suet in mesh onion bags or purchase a cage feeder. You can make your own suet "pudding" by grinding suet and adding seeds. Create homemade suet feeders by packing the mixture into the crevices of large pine cones.

Seed types: suet and bird puddings

Birds: woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees; occasionally wrens, creepers, warblers

4. Thistle feeder

These feeders make seed available only to small-beaked finches. Hang them from a tree or place on a 5-foot pole near other feeders.

Seed types: nyjer (a.k.a. thistle) seed

Birds: goldfinches, redpolls, pine siskins

5. Ground feeder

A simple screen-bottomed tray that typically sits several inches off the ground or on a deck. Some have covers to keep out snow; others may have wire mesh to keep out squirrels and large birds like crows. Place at least 10 feet from trees or shrubs to give birds a chance to escape predators.

Seed types: mix of cracked corn, milo, millet; also sunflower seed, mixed seed, wheat, oat

Birds: doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches

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Author Profile

Steve Kress

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Male house sparrows and

Male house sparrows and starlings are quite able to go from the hanging seed feeders over to my "upside down" suet feeder. They do it all the time and scare away the downy woodpeckers.

Clever! I shall try it

Clever! I shall try it Thank-you! It has always been frustrating for me (physically and financially) when I have struggled through the snow to refill the feeders in the afternoon when I had just filled them the night before only because the birds haven't been allowed to feed because it is being guarded by the horde.



what is homepage? I was

what is homepage? I was active with urban wildlife until my open heart surgery. Now I want to be involved again...Sam

I had so much damage from

I had so much damage from squirrels and raccoons, we have resorted to tray feeders for sun & safflower seeds, they do not bother the finch Niger seed, the peanuts, I have in a heavy concrete feeder for the flickers. Any other suggestions? I have to scoop out seeds when it rains, seems to spoil in the tray feeders?

Could you please include an

Could you please include an article on feeding hummingbirds that winter over in the Northwest?

I would really like to know

I would really like to know more about feeding hummingbird, both summer and winter. Where should one locate feeders and what are the best foods for them?

I would really like to know

I would really like to know more about feeding hummingbird, both summer and winter. Where should one locate feeders and what are the best foods for them?

Feeders for winter

Really this article is almost useless without any pictures. Someone who knows nothing about bird feeding would read this and then have to do an internet search to find the feeders.
This article would be a great asset had there been photos.

Feeders for winter - Pictures

Hi Orrin, I just wanted to point out that if you click on the white arrows to the right and left of the image at the top of the article, it will scroll through images of the various feeders mentioned. The arrows, which are not obvious, are located at the middle far right and left of the image. Hope this helps!

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