Don’t Forget to Feed our Wintertime Feathered Friends

Many of us don’t think of filling our bird feeders until spring, when migrating birds start to returning and nature is coming back to life. However, there are many birds, like cardinals, woodpeckers and blue jays, that call Ohio home throughout the winter and are all in need of extra food sources.

The bright red feathers of male northern cardinal contrast against the snow in Winton Woods.

Keeping your bird feeder full, and providing access to water, allows our backyard friends to find food when it is scarce. Not only does this provide them with proper nutrition to survive the cold weather, but also gives us an opportunity to enjoy some birdwatching and see our feathered friends in action.

If we want to help the birds in the winter, it is important to choose the right food that is of the best nutritional value. Always avoid giving birds foods like bread or popcorn, which can cause digestive issues, growth abnormalities and can even be fatal to certain birds. Here are the top five easiest and healthiest ways to keep Ohio winter birds properly nourished and fit during those cold winter months.

  • Dry-roasted peanuts: Probably the easiest and most accessible form of food, since you can grab some on your trip to the grocery store. Be sure that they are de-shelled and are unsalted or not flavored. You will need a hopper or open tray bird feeder to allow for easy access. Peanuts will attract birds like woodpeckers, doves and sparrows.
  • Cracked corn: This is another easy-to-find food at your local grocer. Be sure that it is cracked corn and not on the cob, for easier digestion. Corn can be placed in a tray or a hopper feeder to attract songbirds and ground-feeding birds. Just like peanuts, cracked corn is also a favorite among squirrels and other wildlife, so be sure to keep an eye out that they don’t wipe out your supply!
A nuthatch sits on a log. It has birdseed in its beak on an early winter morning.
  • Premixed seed: As the most affordable option, you can typically find mixed seed in the pet food aisle. Be aware that some mixes can be made of lower quality seeds and fillers, so be sure to find one that has sunflower, peanuts, cracked corn and other legit bird seeds. Mixes can attract different birds depending on what it contains, so it might not be a bad idea to do a little research on what the mix contains. It is probably best to put premixed seed in a hopper-style birdfeeder, as to not lose too much on the ground or to other wildlife.
  • Suet: Depending on where you shop, you may have to go to a pet store to find a good suet cake. However, if you are feeling crafty, you can find recipes online to make your own with peanut butter, birdseed, beef broth, etc. What makes suet great is that they contain animal fats, which give the birds energy and provide more calories to keep them warm and at a good weight through the winter. You will need a special feeder to hold the suet cakes appropriately and will attract mostly insect-eating birds like woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches.
A blue jay rests on a bird feeder on a winter morning.
  • Black-oil sunflower seed: This is the richest of the sunflower seeds with its high oil content, which helps birds to maintain energy. Cracking open the seeds also keeps birds like robins, cardinals and finches active and healthy. You may get lucky and find this type of seed at the grocery store, but going to a pet store may be your best option for quality seed. You can use basically any feeder for this type, just know that sunflower seeds are one of the squirrels’ favorites too!

To learn more about the best food to feed Ohio winter birds, check out these websites:

Keeping your feeder full all year long is very helpful to our feathered friends who are in constant competition for a good food source. By maintaining a food supply, you will have regular visitors to your yard, which makes for a fun birdwatching experience, especially while cooped up inside over the winter. Happy feeding!

Kimberly Whitton
Public Engagement Coordinator