Winter is the most popular season for feeding backyard birds, but feeders must be ready to withstand harsh weather and hungry flocks. Ideally, bird feeders should be winterized in late autumn so they are suitable for the change of seasons without difficulties either for the birds or the birders who maintain the feeders.
While the same bird feeders can easily be used year-round, very delicate feeders should be removed before winter to minimize the risk of damage. The best feeders for winter will be…
• Large: A larger capacity feeder will hold greater amounts of seed and need less frequent refills. This will make it easier to keep food available to birds without constant refilling. Be sure the feeder is not so large that it is too heavy for the hook or branch, however.
• Covered: A covered feeder will keep seed protected from excessive rain, ice and snow during winter. The cover should be broad to provide some shelter for visiting birds. Wide baffles can serve as covers as well, and will help deter squirrels and other unwanted guests.
• Durable: Stronger feeders will resist damage from snow and ice accumulation. Metal feeders are best, but the metal should be treated or coated to resist rusting. If feeders are wooden, they should be appropriately repaired in late fall so they are strong for winter.
• Accessible: Many birds visit backyard feeders in winter, and the feeder should provide easy access for hungry guests. Sturdy perches and plenty of platform perching space will accommodate many birds, or smaller perches and wire cages can help deter bully birds.
When examining feeders in late autumn, backyard birders should assess whether their feeders are suitable or not. Repairs or replacements can be made before snow flies, ensuring that winter birds will not miss a meal.
The best winter feeders will not help birds if they don't offer nutritious foods. Because it takes a lot of energy to generate body heat to survive winter's cold, birds require high-fat, high-calorie foods in winter. Switching to the best winter bird foods in late autumn will help birds adjust to new foods and be in good health for winter. The most nutritious winter foods include…
•Sunflower seeds, preferably black oil or hulled sunflower for easiest eating
•Suet in any form – cakes, balls, nuggets, etc.
•Nuts or peanut butter
•Nyjer for winter finches
The exact foods that are best will depend on which birds are visiting a winter backyard, and adjusting the foods offered as part of feeder winterization can help accommodate changing bird diets as late fall migrants arrive or winter bird populations shift.
More Tips to Winterize Bird Feeders
To make your bird feeders as ready as possible no matter what the winter forecast…
• Clean and disinfect feeders with a weak bleach solution in late fall, thoroughly removing any caked on seed or other debris. If possible, have spare feeders on hand so they can be swapped out throughout the winter to allow for good cleaning. When feeders are refilled, they should always be wiped clean of buildup.
•Reposition feeders to be under cover if possible, such as placing them under a deck or gazebo cover or below window awnings. This will minimize snow and ice buildup and keep feeders as clear as possible. Move an outdoor patio table or bench over ground-feeding areas to keep some ground clear of snow.
•Adjust feeder mounts so they will be easier to refill, moving feeders closer to pathways or doors, or lowering hanging feeders so there is no need for ladders or stools that may be slippery in winter.
•Take steps to keep natural foods accessible to birds as part of winterizing. Leave remaining fruits on trees, and use support stakes as needed for taller flowers, shrubs or grasses to keep them above the snow and allow birds to easily get to seeds, berries and other treats.
•Move birdseed storage to a more accessible area so it is not necessary to clear lengthy paths through the yard to get to stored seed. Be sure seed is protected from moisture, including dripping icicles or gutter buildup, so it will not get moldy and unusable.
•Be prepared to refill feeders as frequently as possible, not just when they are completely empty. Keeping feeders filled will allow birds to access more food and will cover for some delays in stormy weather or when it may not be easy to get to the feeders.
•Take early steps to discourage deer and other bird feeder pests so they do not associate bird feeders with an easy meal throughout the winter. It will be easier to deter pests in autumn, before they are used to feeding on seed.
Till next time, this is Becky Litterer from Becky's Greenhouse, Dougherty Iowa