How to Attract Winter Birds to Your Yard

Updated on July 22, 2018
Casey White profile image

Dorothy McKenney is a former newspaper reporter turned researcher. Her husband, Mike, is a professional landscape/nature photographer.

The northern cardinal is always a welcome sight to see in the winter, when their red feathers are easy to see in a snow-covered tree. Don't forget that humans are not the only ones who need shelter in the winter.
The northern cardinal is always a welcome sight to see in the winter, when their red feathers are easy to see in a snow-covered tree. Don't forget that humans are not the only ones who need shelter in the winter. | Source

Winter Weather Can Take a Toll on Birds

When the leaves have dropped off the trees and the shrubs are bare that the birds depended on for shelter, it's often difficult for them to locate another safe habitat. So, if you are willing and able to provide them the comfortable, safe haven they need you will be rewarded with the beauty of some very grateful birds.

If you plant evergreen trees, certain ground cover, or even some vines you might find the birds staying close by your yard year round. But, there are some trees that birds like more than others, and the purpose of this article is to introduce you to the ones that will give you the best chance at attracting some colorful winter birds.

If you don't know what kind of birds you are likely to see in your area, you can always contact a local bird-watching club and they can provide you with the information you need. They usually have a Facebook presence.

Chickadees huddle together for warmth during a cold, Ozark winter.
Chickadees huddle together for warmth during a cold, Ozark winter. | Source

General Tips

  • An eco-friendly approach is always the best approach, so always choose products that are safe for the birds.
  • Nature sometimes can't do it all, so you can supplement by hanging a variety of different bird feeders filled with fruit, seeds, and suet.
  • Hungry birds are always looking for a good meal, so selecting plants with late-season fruit will be like offering your visitors an "all-you-can-eat" buffet.
  • Birds need fresh water in the winter just as much as in the summer so if you don't already have a birdbath in your yard, you might want to invest in one. They are not expensive and water is a magnet for birds. If you are going to buy one, you might also consider a birdbath heater, which will keep the water cold but prevent it from turning into a block of ice. It has been said that birds bathe more in the winter than they do in the summer.
  • Note: If there are cats in your area, position your birdbath near a dense, thorny bush or shrub so they can escape quickly to a place of safety if they need to.
  • If you have neighbors to which you are acquainted, tell them what you are doing in your yard and they might want to do the same. The birds should begin to feel even more welcome with additional food and shelter in the area and you should see a wider variety of birds this winter.
  • Some birds, although not all of them, will appreciate it if you leave them a supply of nesting materials, such as yarn or fabric scraps. Providing them with a safe place where they can raise their young is as easy as following the steps outlined in this article.

Sources of Winter Food for Birds

  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) seeds have been the favorite of our backyard birds all summer long, and it is included in almost all of the different food we buy for them, so this year I'm planting a large section of our backyard with sunflowers. I intend to harvest them and lay them right outside our bedroom window so I can wake up to the birds enjoying their morning breakfast.
  • A hawthorn tree is loved by songbirds and one of these trees in your landscape can provide lots of delicious berries all winter long. But you need to be aware that a hawthorn tree is susceptible to a host of diseases, so we recommend that you buy one of the disease-resistant varieties such as Winter King or Washington. They need to be planted in full sun and will grow up to 30-40 feet tall with a spread of 25-30 feet. The two varieties suggested here have an abundance of long-lasting red berries and they tend to grow well in almost any type of soil.
  • Dogwood trees have gorgeous flowers, and berries that will attract bluebirds, cardinals, robins and a whole host of other feathered friends. Dogwoods are hardy in USDA growing zones 2-8 and they should be planted in full sun to partial shade. I am particularly fond of the Japanese flowering dogwood, which has raspberry-like fruits for the birds to feast on in the winter, although it will put on its best display when planted in zones 5-8. Another favorite of mine is the pagoda dogwood, pictured below.
  • Providing a high-energy treat for birds is as easy as putting some shelled peanuts in a sturdy tube-shaped feeder intended to serve peanuts. This is always a good way to attract woodpeckers and many other birds in the winter, as the peanuts provide protein and fat that the birds need for healthy survival.
  • Cracked corn is a tasty treat for many birds, especially mourning doves who like to eat it when it's sprinkled on the ground. Cracked corn will attract some small birds as well and is best when offered in low trays or ground feeders.
  • You probably already have some of these items in your kitchen and sharing them with the birds will ensure your success in attracting them to your yard - bananas, apples, apricots, cranberries, mangos, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapple, hard cheese, melons, pumpkin or squash seeds, peanut butter, raisins, and cooked pasta or rice. Sharing your food with the birds, especially in the winter, is the right thing to do.

Pagoda Dogwood Tree Loaded With Berries

A pagoda dogwood provides birds with a veritable feast of blueish-black berries.
A pagoda dogwood provides birds with a veritable feast of blueish-black berries. | Source

More Trees and Shrubs to Plant

  1. A black chokeberry shrub will develop bluish-black fruit that tends to attract songbirds in the fall and winter.
  2. An American bittersweet tree will feed a variety of birds with its orange berries.
  3. A mountain ash tree has bright orange berries in the fall that persist into winters, and the birds seem to love them.
  4. An American highbush cranberry tree provides the birds with tart, red berries which will begin appearing late in the summer and staying throughout the winter.
  5. Countless birds like the taste of the showy orange berries of an American bittersweet tree.
  6. When the winterberry holly shrub drops its leaves, it displays some bright red berries that will attract a number of hungry songbirds.
  7. The berries on a coralberry bush range from pinkish-white to purple and again, the birds find them a tasty treat.
  8. The Virginia creeper tree is a vigorous grower that can get up to 50 feet tall, and the dark bluish-black berries it provides are a welcome sight for migrating birds in the fall and winter.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney


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      • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

        Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

        3 weeks ago from United States

        Thank you Pamela. I am a sucker for the birds. I go out twice a day and put ice in the birdbath so the water will be cooler for them. I think they appreciate it and I freeze the water in a small plastic bowl in the freezer. It slides out easily and they don't seem to be afraid of the large chunk of floating ice. I appreciate you reading the article so much.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        We feed the birds year round and provide water. I appreciate your good article that gives me more ideas to attract the birds in cold weather. I live in noethern FL, so winter is short. It does get down to freezing however.


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