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The Bird Buffet
Winter Bird Feeding

by Diane Porter

If you want to see scads of birds in winter while staying warm, you can invite the birds to come up close to your window. Offer the birds a winter buffet. Place it in view from your living room, bedroom, dining room, or kitchen, and you're all set for a winter of entertainment and cheer.

Dark-eyed JuncoThe simplest way to start attracting birds is simply to put black-oil sunflower seeds on the ground.

You'll attract juncos, goldfinches, cardinals, mourning doves, and maybe even some of our native winter sparrows, such as American tree sparrow, song sparrow, and white-crowned sparrow.

I don't recommend the bags of mixed seed that you can buy at the supermarket. It's full of red millet, which most of the birds won't eat.

Location, location, location

Some birds prefer to dine up higher. To make woodpeckers feel easy, you can offer sunflower seeds in feeders suspended from a tree branch, your eaves, or a shepherd’s-hook pole. If you have cats roaming your back yard, suspending the birdseed in the air also makes safer dining for the birds.

Northern FlickerWoodpeckers also love suet, solid animal fat. The least messy way to deal with suet is to buy packaged suet cakes, usually sold with some seeds mixed in. Offer suet in a suet feeder that allows access only from the underside, usually available where suet packages are sold.

Woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice have no problem hanging on from below. However, roving bands of starlings, non-native birds who can instantly gobble up all the suet and scare away other birds, just can’t get a grip. They will leave the suet to the more desirable species.

Finch food

Red Ball FeederOther specialty feeders can attract a more varied clientele. I offer nyjer seed, which is tiny and rather expensive, in a special hanging nyjer feeder. Goldfinches are all over that feeder all the time, and sometimes it also attracts pine siskins and common redpolls.

Just as much fun, for goldfinches, is a mesh feeder like the red ball at right. I fill it with hulled sunflower seeds, and the chickadees go mad for it. Woodpeckers come to it as well.

I also put peanuts in a hanging wire mesh feeder for my favorites, the tufted titmice. Sometimes a Carolina wren bops in for a peanut too.

How to rate five stars

If you want to be a 5-star hostel, you can also provide open water. Birds need water all year around, and liquid water is pretty hard to come by if the world seems to turn into one big icicle. A birdbath with a built-in heater does not keep the water warm, but it keeps it from freezing.

Bluebirds at the Kozy Spa

Nothing warms my heart like looking out on the frost-rimmed birdbath, with a little steam rising, and a bunch of birds enjoying a drink. Even birds who don’t eat seeds will visit a birdbath. I once had a dozen bluebirds at my Kozy Spa birdbath at one time, on a Christmas morning.


When you first start feeding wild birds, you may have to wait a little while before the birds start visiting. Especially if you're beginning in winter, the birds are stressed by cold, and they may be going to the food sources they already know.

Keep putting out the food where birds can find it. Like with a new restaurant, word-of-beak will bring in the visitors. Don't worry if it takes a few days or a few weeks. They'll come.

It's easy.

Just set the table.

They'll come.

Photos and text © 2011 - 2014 Diane Porter

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