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Attracting Winter Birds

by Sarah Browning, Extension Educator

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There are many bird feeders available commercially, or you can make your own. Seed feeders can be as simple as a raised platform or a window shelf feeder. Hopper-type feeders have an overhanging roof that protects the seeds from moisture. Tube feeders and some hanging feeders are designed to accommodate smaller birds while discouraging blue jays, starlings, and squirrels. Providing several feeders may give the desirable birds a chance to compete.

Bird seed mixes are readily available in supermarkets, garden stores, and bird specialty stores. The most economical method for feeding birds is to use two common seeds -- the black oil sunflower seeds and white proso millet. With these seeds, expect to find cardinals, chickadees, house finches, juncos, and doves at your feeder. Project FeederWatch,, from the Cornell Ornithology Lab is a great source for additional information on bird feeder and food types.

The addition of a suit feeder will attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other woodland species to your yard. Place fruit on a platform feeder to attract mockingbirds and other birds.

Carefully plan where to locate your feeder to maximize its visibility for both you and the birds. Place feeders in an open area where you can see them from your window, and where the birds can see predators approaching from the ground and air. Cats and hawks will be attracted to the congregating birds. Preferably, shrubs or trees should be located ten to fifteen feet from the feeder. This will provide escape cover for fleeing birds.

Keep Your Feeders Clean

Don't forget to clean and disinfect your seed and suet feeders periodically, ideally every two weeks, or more often when feeders are in heavy use. Feeders that can be brought indoors, when temperatures outside are cold, and disassembled make cleaning easier. Wash the feeder in soapy water, then dunk it in a 10% bleach solution. Allow it to dry before refilling and placing outside.

Relocate the feeder when several inches of discarded seeds begin to accumulate on the ground. Wet seeds are a breeding ground for a fungus that causes a potentially fatal bird infection, and excessive bird droppings can pose a health hazard. If relocating the feeder is not possible, then rake out and discard the accumulated waste beneath the feeder every two weeks.

For more information on feeder cleaning, read the Aububon Society's guide to feeder maintenance and hygiene.

Provide Water

A fresh, unfrozen water source is as important to birds in the fall and winter as other seasons, but can be very difficult to find when temperatures drop. Provide birds with a flat, shallow container, such as a large clay saucer, that can be cleaned easily. An immersion heater will keep the water from freezing.

Squirrel-Proof Your Feeders

If squirrels become a problem, squirrel-resistant feeders are available commercially, and squirrel baffles can be mounted under a post feeder. Another option is to apply hot pepper to the seeds, which won't affect birds but may slow down squirrels' consumption, according to a Cornell University study. However, squirrels don't give up easily. For more information on how to squirrel-proof your feeders, take a look at UNL Extension's "Deterring Nuisance Wildlife at Bird Feeders".

This resource was added November 2013 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180