10 Winter Bird Foods And The Birds That Love Them

Keep your feathered friends happy and healthy with these important winter bird foods to help them thrive through the toughest season. See the list.

Birds need extra fat and calories in winter to keep their body temperatures up and survive the bitter cold, yet the coldest winter days are exactly when it can be hardest for them to find food. Backyard birders can be a great help to birds when these rich foods are available at feeders. The foods that will be most appreciated in your yard will depend on which birds are common winter guests, but these 10 options are popular with many species that stay in our yards year-round.

winter birds

Top 10 Winter Bird Foods

  1. Suet. Whether you offer this rich, fat-filled option in cakes, balls, shreds, nuggets, or chunks, suet will always be popular. It can be offered plain or mixed with other foods such as seed, insects, nuts, or fruit, and every variety will be enjoyed by winter birds, especially woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, chickadees, jays, cardinals, and nutcrackers.
  2. Bark Butter. A softer, spreadable form of suet, bark butter can be smeared directly on a tree for an instant feeding station. This is a great option to offer birds that hitch along tree trunks, such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and creepers, and other clinging birds like chickadees will also visit for a quick bite.
  3. Hulled Sunflower Seed. Shelled sunflower hearts and chips are ideal for all winter birds. Not only is sunflower seed high in fat and calories, but without shells, it is easier for birds to eat, and there won’t be messy hulls underneath feeders. Wrens, finches, siskins, cardinals, nuthatches, jays, and plenty of other winter visitors will enjoy this seed.
  4. Black Oil Sunflower Seed. The go-to staple of bird feeding, there’s never a bad time to offer black oil sunflower seed. While birds will have to work to open each seed and those hulls can build up under feeders, the hulls will also protect seeds from snow and ice so they don’t clump together or spoil as quickly. All sorts of birds will gorge on this seed, including cardinals, chickadees, titmice, finches, wrens, jays, and more.
  5. Peanuts. Larger birds or those with more industrious attitudes will appreciate high-calorie, fat-rich peanuts at winter feeders. Whole, in-shell nuts are a great option for jays, nutcrackers, and woodpeckers, while smaller birds such as titmice, chickadees, and wrens are more likely to feast on shelled nuts and nut hearts.
  1. Nyjer. Also called “thistle” seed, Nyjer is a tiny, oil-rich seed. Because of its small size, it’s best to offer Nyjer in mesh or sock feeders so it doesn’t blow away on a windy day. Pine siskins, goldfinches, redpolls, purple finches, and other small, clinging seed-eaters all prefer Nyjer.
  2. Fruit. While many fruit-loving birds migrate south for the winter, some birds still appreciate the sweet treat of apple chunks, orange wedges, raisins, or fresh cranberries. Offer these foods in platforms or on festive strings and thrushes, jays, finches, and waxwings will all stop by for a visit.
  3. Millet. High in carbs and calories, millet offers fast energy for hungry birds. Millet can be offered hulled or whole and may be used in feeders or sprinkled directly on the ground for juncos, sparrows, finches, wrens, doves, and quail to enjoy.
  4. Cracked Corn. Though not the most nutritious food, cracked corn is a rich source of carbohydrates that can give birds good energy. It is also more affordable and is ideal to offer on the ground or in low feeders for birds with big appetites, such as quail, grouse, wild turkeys, doves, and ducks.
  5. Mealworms. There aren’t many insects around in winter, and insect-eating birds will flock to your feeder when you offer either dried or live mealworms. Only offer mealworms as a small treat, but you’ll still see bluebirds, thrushes, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice lining up for their share.

For the most feathered fun when snow flies, offer as many of these top winter foods as possible and you’ll have a diverse, active flock feasting at your feeders all winter long.

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Birds - House sparrow
Melissa Mayntz

Melissa Mayntz is a writer who specializes in birds and birding, though her work spans a wide range—from folklore to healthy living. Her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds was published in 2020. Mayntz also writes for National Wildlife Magazine and The Spruce. Find her at MelissaMayntz.com.

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Ron Jameson

The bird in your article is a Blue Tit native to Europe. I assume the article is about North American birds. Perhaps in an article directed toward a North American audience should feature a bird native to the Continent. Just a thought.

Susan Higgins

Thank you for your comment, Ron. It is our understanding that the Blue Titmouse can be found on all continents (expect the poles and Australia). “The tits, chickadees, and titmice constitute the Paridae, a large family of small passerine birds which occur mainly in the Northern Hemisphere and Africa.” But it’s true that it is commonly found in Europe.

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