How to keep wild birds warm in the winter
A truly iconic winter image is viewing a snowy landscape and spying a bright red cardinal sitting atop an evergreen branch. While envisioning that cold, snowy scene, have you ever wondered how wild birds stay warm in the winter?
Winter weather can be challenging for wild birds because food is scarce, water sources are less accessible and temperatures can drop to dangerous lows.
But you can help provide warmth for your local feathered wildlife. While it may seem daunting, creating a warm sanctuary for wild birds is easier than you might think. With some pre-planning and attention to detail, you can ensure the wild birds near your home remain warm and healthy throughout the winter.
Plant evergreens and food-yielding plants.
Plants with year-round foliage offer warm shelters and windbreaks from winter's harsh chill. Consider planting trees and plants that produce nourishment by selecting native species that provide food for the birds. While not an exhaustive list, these supply nutrition to visiting winged visitors:
- American Washington Hawthorn
- Black and Red Chokecherry
- Staghorn Sumac
- Virginia Creeper
- Winterberry Holly
Most evergreens also provide seeds and cones — which sustain birds searching for food. However, it's important to remember that bird diets vary depending on the species. Wild birds can be frugivores (fruit-eating), insectivores (insect-eating), nectivores (nectar-eating), graminivores (seed-eating) and omnivores (eats both insects and plants), so you'll want to do a little research before designing your winter garden.1
Install heated bird baths.
Many people cover or remove birdbaths at the end of autumn. However, an available water supply is just as important in winter as summer — especially if snow is rare in your area.2 The K&H Thermo-Birdbath Heated Bird Bath is perfect for thirsty birds looking for a pit stop. The Thermo-Birdbath holds up to a gallon of water and ensures birds have available water even in the coldest temperatures. To expand its use throughout the year, simply remove the heating unit as winter transforms into spring.
Ensure water is accessible.
When temperatures drop, you need to ensure the water in your birdbath doesn't freeze. The K&H Super Ice Eliminator Bird Bath Deicer is an excellent option to add to your birdbath. This nearly indestructible deicer offers two options: a 50-watt model (for baths up to 10 gallons) and an 80-watt model (for colder climates or baths exceeding 10 gallons). Both deicers keep water from freezing in temps as low as -20°F. The 80-watt deicer can keep water unfrozen in temperatures as low as -40°F if used in baths with less than 10 gallons of water.
If your birdbath is more of a bucket or large bowl (any vessel up to 16 gallons), the K&H Perfect Bucket Heater is another excellent option for eliminating ice. To keep your feathered visitors dry, add rocks or sticks near your water source (any perch will do), so birds can drink freely without standing in frigid water.
Hang nesting boxes.
Nesting boxes add a warm shelter for smaller birds. Wild birds will appreciate nesting boxes all year (not just during nesting season), especially when frigid winds blow. The Kaytee Cedar Nesting Box, for example, offers warmth and safety from arctic weather. This well-constructed box resists cracking, decay, bacteria and fungus issues, ensuring a warm and healthy living space.
Create warm dining experiences.
In addition to providing fruiting trees and shrubs in your yard, be sure to set out bird feeders. According to Teresa Manucy, a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine, "Feeding wild birds helps to ensure that food is available and easily accessed during their migration to a different geographical area. Providing food for wild birds also ensures they have enough nourishment during the harsh winter months."3
When adding a bird feeder, you may want to consider the Kaytee Country Barn Feeder. This feeder is weather-resistant and has a lid designed to deter squirrels. With its excellent ventilation, seeds will certainly stay fresh longer, which means less expense for you.
For a multipurpose feeder, the Kaytee Cedar Bird Bath or Feeder gives you additional options. This feeder can also be used as a water reservoir. As a feeder, this product will hold approximately 3 pounds of wild bird feed or up to 5 cups of water for drinking.
To give wild birds a little extra boost during the winter, consider adding suet (rendered animal fat) or nut butters to your bird feed. Suet offers extra protein and fats that help take the chill off even in the coldest winters.
Be watchful and thoughtful.
Even wild animals need a helping hand from time to time. Being proactive throughout the year is key to establishing a warm and nurturing environment for visiting wild birds. Through purposeful planting and investing in the proper warming products, you're sure to create the perfect wild bird sanctuary and winter wonderland experience you can enjoy for years to come.
1. Landers, Lauren "12 Tips for Creating a Winter Bird Habitat." Gardening, org, 14 November 2022, https://gardening.org/tips-for-creating-a-winter-bird-habitat/
2. Tangley, Laura "Don't Forget Water for Birds in the Winter!" NWF.org, 31 January 2019, https://blog.nwf.org/2014/12/dont-forget-water-for-birds-in-winter/
3. Manucy, Teresa "Feeding Birds." PetMD, 12 December 2020, https://www.petmd.com/bird/feeding-birds