PhotoFor the estimated 52 million Americans who feed wild birds around their homes, there can be a certain therapeutic comfort to it.

In a study funded by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry (WBFI), researchers David J. Horn and Stacey M. Johansen of Milliken University found that 80% of the survey’s 1,290 respondents feed birds to bring nature and beauty to their area or because they enjoy the sound of birds. Sixty-five percent viewed bird feeding as a form of relaxation or therapy.

Whatever your reason for wanting to attract birds to your yard, the winter months are a good time to do so. With birds’ natural food supply consumed or covered by snow and insects mostly dormant, the life of a bird in winter can be challenging. To keep up their high metabolic rate, they need foods that are high in calories and fat.

Best winter foods for birds

If you want to help birds thrive in winter, but aren’t sure what type of food to bring home from the store, Mother Earth News suggests these eight kinds:

  • Suet. High in fat, suet is an excellent source of energy for birds in the winter. Be sure to hang feeders up high to prevent other creatures from snacking on it.
  • Peanuts. Many varieties of birds will enjoy this high-protein food during wintertime. Place out peanuts that have been shelled and dry-roasted, with no added salt.
  • Seed mix. Some seed mixes have lots of filler that most birds won’t even eat. Finding a mix that is simple and nutritious can take a bit of research, says Mother Earth News. A good seed mix should have a variety of items like sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and white proso millet.  
  • Black oil sunflower seeds. Almost any bird will eat black oil sunflower seeds. The outer shell is thinner and easier for most birds to crack, but the kernel inside is bigger than that of other varieties of sunflowers.
  • Fruit. For humans as well as birds, fruit is an important nutritional element. Set out slices of citrus fruit, pieces of apples and bananas, or grapes. Apricots and mangos also make tasty treats for birds. You can mix in some leafy green veggies like broccoli and kale as well.
  • Mealworms. Mealworms can be found at any bait store or online. Almost any feeder bird except goldfinches will eat mealworms, which makes them a perfect option for winter nutrition. Putting the mealworms in a glass bowl with rolled oats makes a tasty dish for your birds, and the slippery sides ensure the mealworms can’t crawl out before they’re eaten.
  • Safflower seeds. Although some birds find the hard shells of safflower seeds difficult to open, cardinals love this treat. Chickadees, doves, and some sparrows will also enjoy safflower seeds. An added bonus of this bird food: squirrels don’t seem to like it.
  • Homemade foods. Try making snack blocks for the birds by melting suet and adding little treats inside such as pieces of peanut, apple bits, or raisins. You can pour this mixture into ice cube trays, allow them to harden into cube-sized servings, and place them out for the birds in your area.

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