What are the best foods to feed birds in the winter?

If you offer the best winter bird foods, you will find a greater variety visiting your feeders even on the coldest days. While you want to be sure to offer the foods that your garden birds like best, the following foods are excellent choices. All of these foods offer great nutrition, and their high calorific content will give birds plenty of energy to build fat reserves for those winter nights.

Sunflower Seed Hearts - Sunflower seeds are by far the best food to offer birds in any season. They will attract a wide range of hungry birds. By using the pre-hulled sunflower hearts or chips, you can avoid a buildup of discarded shells that will get buried under snowfall and can damage new grass in the spring. 

Suet Fat Balls / Cakes - For high calories, suet is one of the best foods to offer birds. It is available in many blends with different ingredients to tempt different species of birds. It is even easy to make your custom suet flavours. There are different suet shapes for more feeding fun, including balls, bells, and wreaths. In addition to suet cakes, chop suet into chunks or shred it so more birds will sample it.

Peanuts - Peanuts are a high calorie, fat-rich nut that appeals to many garden birds. Because the nuts don’t freeze, they are perfect for winter feeding. Peanuts are also popular to mix in suet. Do not give birds flavoured peanuts or any with chocolate coatings. Peanut butter is a great option as well and can be smeared on bark or offered in small dishes. Both crunchy and smooth butter will be a big hit!  Crushed peanuts are recommended over whole peanuts as whole peanuts can choke baby birds in the spring time – so better to be safe than sorry.

Nyjer Seeds - Nyjer or thistle seed is a favourite food of a lot of birds. This is another oily seed that offers a lot of calories, helping birds store the fat they need to keep warm through the season. Nyjer is typically treated so as not to germinate if spilled on the ground, but the hulls can get messy underneath feeders. It also has a bitter taste which squirrels etc do not like, so they are less likely to attempt to try and steal them!

Fruit - While a lot of birds that eat fruit will migrate in the winter, many other birds that stay will enjoy the treat. Offer chopped apples, orange wedges, banana slices, halved grapes and melon rinds. Chopped or dried fruit can also be added to suet mixtures, or you might try a garland strung with cranberries or other fruit for a festive feeder. You could even plant fruit trees and berry bushes for birds and leave the fruit on the bare branches to give birds a natural food source.

Millet - Millet is a favourite food of many small birds, particularly sparrows. This starchy grain is inexpensive and can be easily offered in feeders, and by sprinkling it on the ground it will attract even more small birds. Millet is often a large component of many different birdseed mixes. To make millet more attractive, mix it with sunflower seeds at first. Gradually change the mix proportions until birds are used to straight millet.

Salt - Many birds crave salt as an essential mineral, particularly in the winter. Create a strong saltwater solution and let it evaporate in a shallow dish to make larger crystals. Salt can kill grass and make it difficult to grow plants, so keep the salt you’re offering the birds well away from gardens and other plantings. To keep birds healthy, only offer salt in minimal amounts.