If you are looking to grow plants that attract birds in winter to your backyard, we have the expert tips to attract our many feathered friends that are beneficial to your garden.. Many native bird species, especially nesting birds do not migrate. Instead, they tough it out through the long, chilly days and months. These birds need food such as bird seed, water, and shelter, and we can all take steps to provide them with the necessities for the duration of winter.
Over the years, as human populations increase, bird habitats have decreased. Migrating birds are finding it tougher to find the foods they are accustomed to. Finding water is also an issue, as well as locations that are safe with plentiful trees and nesting places. Every yard in the United States, though, can be an area birds love to shelter and eat.
How Are Birds Beneficial to the Garden?
Birds help our gardens by keeping insect populations low. Seed-eating birds keep weeds out of the yard and garden. They eat many of the weed seeds, which means fewer weeds for the gardener to deal with in Spring. When you have a robust population of nesting birds in your yard or around your area, there is less need to use pesticides because the birds will take care of many of those unwanted insects. Giving our feathered friends a safe space to be in winter with a variety of foods encourages them to stay for the Spring too, and be a huge benefit to our garden’s health.
What Kind of Birds Stay in Winter?
Not all birds migrate. Many bird species stay in one location year-round. You may be surprised how many local bird populations tough it out in your neighborhood for the long winter haul. In addition to local birds, there may be migrating birds passing through your region, stopping to rest and forage for a day or two before continuing on their journey.
Migrating birds generally avoid unfamiliar bird feeders, preferring instead to eat from native plants that they know. This means that bird feeders alone aren’t enough to attract or help all birds during the late fall and winter months. Supplying multiple sources of food and shelter will bring a broader range of bird species to your backyard. If you already have a wide variety of backyard birds but wonder what they are, the Audubon Bird Guide from the national Audubon society is an excellent resource.
The Ten Plants That Attract Winter Birds
Plant a variety of sunflower seeds directly in or around the garden. Sunflowers make an excellent perimeter or border plant. During the summer and fall, you can enjoy their bright and beautiful flowers. And, once the flowers fade, the birds will enjoy a fine feast. Don’t cut the seed heads off; leave them as they are, and the birds will thank you by appearing in droves. Nuthatches, finches, and tits especially love these giant seed heads; sunflower seed heads can feed quite a crowd. The sunflower is a bird feeder that you grow!
Besides looking beautiful in a landscape, holly plants provide important food and shelter for birds. The red berries are adored by cedar waxwings, robins, eastern bluebirds, mockingbirds, and hermit thrushes. Plus, the spiky leaves repel predators and give the birds a safe place to roost and relax.
During the summer months, honeysuckle attracts insects and also insect-eating birds. In autumn, honeysuckle continues providing valuable food with bright red berries. Thrushes, purple finches, and warblers all enjoy a tasty treat of these honeysuckle fruits.
The teasel plant produces tall, striking seed-heads, which are a portion of essential food for buntings, sparrows, and goldfinches. The seeds often last through December, a crucial time for any winter bird. Teasel also looks stunning in a landscape.
The deep-purple ivy berries are often the last fresh winter food available for foraging birds. Ivy flowers late and fruits late, which is ideal for all types of bird species. The foliage is also an excellent shelter for lots of species and is popular with hibernating insects. Thrushes, blackbirds, waxwings, jays, and starlings all feast on ivy berries with enthusiasm. Many gardeners consider ivy to be a problematic plant, but if kept in check, it is well worth it for the birds, pollinators, and other wildlife that benefit from its fruits and shelter.
The bright-purple fruits of the beautyberry are stunning to see, but beyond that, the birds think they are delicious! The beautyberry shrub grows quickly and produces abundantly long into the winter months.
A favorite with cardinals, grosbeaks, and tanagers, the elderberry bush is becoming quite popular as a landscape plant. During migration, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks depend on elderberries and other fruit-bearing shrubs. In Spring, elderberry bushes are popular with insects and attract lots of insect-eating birds.
For chickadees, titmice, sparrows, and other birds, the plentiful red winter berries of the sumac trees are an essential food source during tough times. This native plant is like a superfood for birds, often providing berries all winter long. Plus, it is an excellent source of shelter.
Black chokeberry bushes burst with dark purple berries and attract songbirds to the yard to enjoy a rich feast during the cool of winter. Red chokeberry shrubs are excellent food for birds, too, producing their fruit in early winter. These bushes are easy to grow and don’t need much care, so they are ideal for incorporating into a low-maintenance landscape design.
Tall grasses are ideal habitation for insects, and therefore, vital food for insect-eating birds. Planting a variety of grasses will provide food and help birds year-round
Tips For Attracting Backyard Birds in Winter
- Birds are attracted to specific conditions and plants. They don’t all have the same food preferences or shelter needs, but some species prefer similar things. The best way to attract winter birds is to figure out which species frequent or pass through your location and provide for them. Audubon’s Native Plant Database is a great place to start. When you enter your zip code, it tells you which native plants and trees to grow and which birds they will attract.
- Don’t over-tidy your garden space. Leave some of the natural yard debris, old garden plants, and unkept areas; this will attract more birds. If your yard is impeccably landscaped and cleaned up, it just isn’t attractive to wildlife or birds. Natural is better, especially all the seed heads and potential food sources for the local wildlife.
- To keep warm and healthy, our feathered friends need lots of high-fat, rich food sources. If you can provide one or two bird feeders, that’s fantastic. Setting up a smorgasbord with diverse food choices is ideal. Birds love variety and diversity.
- Birds eat seeds, fruits, and insects. Some plants provide excellent seeds for eating, while others become insect habitats that the birds benefit from, as well. Tiny insects live all over the place and are a valuable source of food. Don’t clear away all the leaves and grass in fall as these are important insect homes, and therefore, excellent sustenance sources for the birds. Native plants, shrubs, and trees are always the best food choice.
- Set up a water source nearby that won’t freeze. This can be a heated birdbath, a flowing water source, or a small pond that doesn’t freeze over.
- If you have birdhouses on your property, give them a good cleaning before winter cold sets in. This helps prevent diseases and pests from spreading. A clean birdhouse will be a welcome spot for birds escaping the cold, wind, rain, and snow.
- Plant trees, bushes, flowers, grasses, native plants, and fruit-bearing bushes around your property to create a diverse landscape. Not only does this attract backyard birds, it is also important conservation work and helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Cherry trees and native trees of all types provide shelter and food.
Should I Leave Out Birdseed During the Winter Months?
Yes! Since so much habitat has been destroyed over the years and decades by human habitation, birds aren’t always able to rely solely on what is available in the wild. Native plants, trees, and natural shelters aren’t as prevalent, and many birds struggle to meet their basic needs during the cold, winter months. The conservation of bird species and the provision of safe places for them to live is our responsibility.
Once you start providing birdseed and the birds begin visiting, it is extremely important that you be consistent. Birds are creatures of habit, and once they start visiting your feeder, they will also depend on it. During inclement weather, it may be their only means of survival. Don’t neglect to fill it. If you’re traveling or will be away, ask a friend or neighbor to refill the feeders.
What Type of Bird Feeder is Best?
There isn’t one perfect kind since large and small birds have different needs. It’s best to have several different types. Choose lightweight ones with short footrests for the smaller birds like sparrows and swallows. Larger birds will have difficulty accessing these, which means the little ones can feed in peace. Install bigger feeders for the large birds, like jays, doves, and cardinals, and make sure the feeder and what it is hanging from can support their weights.
Don’t be surprised if the birds shun a new feeder at first. Birds are creatures of habit. Any changes must be observed, tested, and determined to be trap or danger-free before being used. Our feathered friends are naturally and, with good reason, hesitant!
What Is The Best Birdseed?
Again, this depends on the birds. Providing a diverse mix is best and pleases a wider bird population.
Safflower and sunflower seeds are a favorite for grosbeaks, doves, and cardinals, but smaller birds cannot crack the shells.
Millet seeds (white proso, not red or golden), black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, rapeseed, cracked corn, thistle seed, and sorghum are appreciated by a wide variety of birds. Rapeseed is adored by juncos, finches, doves, and quail. Black thistle seed (Nyier seed) is loved by finches, goldfinches, indigo buntings, and pine siskins. Turkeys, ducks, crows, ravels, quails, and cardinals enjoy cracked corn, but it also attracts raccoons, deer, and bears, so it should be used in moderation. This bird seed guide is excellent for determining which seed to leave out for your feathered friends.
Quick Guide to Using a Bird Feeder
It seems like an easy thing — set up a feeder, add seeds, and watch the birds flock to it. There are some things to know, though, to create an ideal feeding environment for the birds.
Birds become dependent on feeders, especially when there aren’t a lot of other options around. If you forget or neglect your bird feeder, the birds will suffer. Or, they will stop visiting entirely.
Seeds will rot or mold over time
If you fill the feeder up to the top and it sits for a long time, the seeds will spoil and may transfer bacteria to the birds. Only fill the feeder with enough seed for 2-3 days. Refilling more often, while more effort for you, is better for the health of the birds. Unshelled sunflower seeds are attractive to use since you don’t have to worry about shells all over the ground, and smaller birds can access them too. However, they mold faster.
Squirrels LOVE sunflower seeds
If you have these in your feeder, you will have squirrels, too. Baffles and deterrents sometimes work, or you have to just accept the squirrels as part of the flock.
Many commercial bird seed mixes contain “filler” seeds, which most birds don’t like.
These include flax, red millet, and golden millet. Avoid packaged bird seeds with these types in them. They’ll be ignored, go to waste and become a source for dangerous fungi and bacteria.
Don’t forget the suet feeders for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and wrens
Peanut butter and seed homemade suet is also a treat these North American birds adore.
Fruit-loving birds don’t usually eat birdseed
Bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds, and robins prefer dried fruit mixes.
If you’re unsure what birds are in your yard or migrate through, black sunflower seed is the best overall seed to use.
Make sure the neighborhood cats can’t reach the bird feeders!
Winter birds are a tough bunch, fighting for survival through all types of weather conditions. When these birds show up in our backyards, though, the world seems a brighter place. The vibrant colors and cheerful songs of the winter birds are a welcome addition to cold, gray days. Once these birds recognize your yard as a safe space with plentiful food, they’ll stick around. Or, if they are migrators, they’ll remember the lush accommodation and likely return year after year. Whether you use plants or feeders, or both, all the birds will be happy for a reliable winter food source.