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Best Winter Food for Birds

Feeding birds in the winter can be a rewarding experience and a way to enjoy birding in your own back yard. If you offer them quality food, you will find a greater variety of birds visiting your feeders.

The following foods make excellent choices for many common winter birds in our area because they offer great nutrition and their high caloric content will give birds plenty of energy to build fat reserves for frigid winter nights.

Sunflower seeds black oil

 Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

  • by far the best food to offer birds for winter

  • high oil content making them more nutritious for the birds

  • attracts grosbeaks, finches, jays, nuthatches and woodpeckers


  • one of the best foods to offer birds for winter due to its high calories

  • available in many blends with added nuts, seeds and berries to attract different species of birds including woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and jays


Nyget seed


  • also known as thistle seed. Attracts finches including the common red polls

  • an oily seed offering lots of calories, helping birds store the fat they need to keep warm throughout the winter


Millet seed


  • best for ground feeding species such as Red Polls and overwintering Juncos

  • an inexpensive starchy grain most birds enjoy


Bird Seed Mixes

For convenient and economical winter feeding, nothing beats a good quality bird seed mix. The mix should feature large proportions of sunflower seeds and millet. Avoid mixes containing wheat or corn.

Bird Trivia

Here are some interesting facts about some of our most common winter feathered friends!


  • can lower their body temperatures at night and enter a state of hypothermia, cooling their body temperatures as much as 12-15ºF to save energy as nights become frigid.

  • They must consume 60% of their body weight per day (that's approximately 250 sunflower seeds) to stay warm

  • they stay warm by constantly shivering, which uses up energy and reduces their body weight daily, especially when temperatures drop below -20ºC

Bohemian WaxwingBohemian Waxwings

  • must double their body weight in berries each day

  • arrive in flocks through the winter months scouting out berries (especially Mountain Ash)

  • this behaviour, however, brings along its consequences

  • fermenting berries produce alcohol which can intoxicate the birds, sometimes causing death

  • some die from ruptured livers or flying drunkenly into buildings, fences or each other


  • known as the “upside down” bird or “clowns” of the bird world as they are often seen creeping head first down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insects

  • females of all the species act like “watchdogs”, while the males role is finding food

  • prefer unshelled vs. shelled sunflower seeds as it's quicker for them to store these away for the winter months

Downy WoodpeckerDowny Woodpeckers

  • will often forage together with Chickadees and Nuthatches, depending on the other bird's distress calls in case of predators

  • when threatened by predators, they will often freeze motionless against the trunk of a tree and not return to normal activities for up to 10 minutes


Blue JayBlue Jays

  • their blue colour is a result of distorted light rather than pigment, caused by the specific structure of their feathers. If you destroy that structure by crushing their feathers, the blue colour goes away

  • very clever and curious birds in that they watch human behaviour waiting for an opportunity IE. If they watch someone planting seeds in a garden and the person goes away, the blue jays will go and dig up all the seeds

  • mimic the sounds of other birds

  • love peanuts and store them underground. To keep them from bullying smaller birds, always try to keep a peanut feeder in the yard.

How Birds Survive Our Winters
  • some birds grow extra down under their feathers to serve as insulation

  • have oil producing glands that allow them to preen a coating of waterproof oil over their feathers

  • roost in groups in a protected, sheltered area away from wind to give each other warmth and protection from the elements

  • birds shiver which heats up their bodies

  • feet covered in scales which have very little cold damageable tissue

  • tuck their feet under their down

  • eat more high energy food during the winter months and some have the ability to store up these reserves as fat helping to keep them warm

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