Just because we’re heading into winter doesn’t mean your backyard birding has to take a hit! Songbirds may have migrated south, but they’ve made room for winter birds like jays, woodpeckers, finches, juncos, and more! Winter birds’ have to be a little tougher to make it through the harsh Canadian winters because they’re dealing with less food, water, and heat.
Luckily, there are a few ways you can prepare your backyard that’ll help birds survive through the winter, and that will have the bonus of bringing those winter birds right to your home!
1. Offer suitable bird feed
Birds eat to create heat, and (unsurprisingly), that’s more important than ever during the colder months! To help generate that heat, winter birds require a heartier diet with more carbohydrates and fats.
All of the seed we carry at Gilligallou is high-quality, meaning it’s free of mould or fillers that add weight to your bag but are useless as actual bird feed. Providing any Gilligallou bird feed would be a good choice, but a few options stand out in particular.
Derived from the fat located around the kidneys and loins of beef or mutton, suet is high in calories, which birds convert to much-needed energy during the winter months. It is also very easy to digest and metabolize, which comes in handy as the weather begins to cool.
Birds that mostly eat insects are particularly attracted to suet. For this reason alone, it is a great alternative to offer your birds in the winter months, when insects are not plentiful. Suet is a welcomed addition to several species but is particularly enjoyed by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and jays.
Gilligallou's suet is made right here in Ontario and blended with the highest quality, pesticide-free ingredients and can be used with any of our suet feeders.
There are many different suet options to choose from, depending on your specific preferences!
Nyjer seed is one of the smallest and most delicate seed available, making it a favourite for a wide variety of different birds, but particularly winter finches like redpolls and pine siskins. The oily texture and makeup of Nyjer are perfect for providing your birds with the necessary calories during the winter months.
At Gilligallou, we carry two different kinds of Nyjer seed:
- Black Oil Nyjer: Pure, high-quality Nyjer seed
- NyChip™ Finch Seed Blend: A blend of nyjer and hulled sunflower seed
Nyjer is one of the pricier seeds on the market, so be sure you’ve chosen the suitable feeder to minimize any potential waste.
Black oil sunflower is the pizza of the seed world - everyone loves it! If you’re looking for a seed that will appeal to the widest variety of birds, this is the seed for you. This oily seed has a higher fat content than other sunflower seed varieties, making it especially great for winter. Cardinals, cassins, and evening grosbeaks are just a few winter birds that will enjoy black oil sunflower seed.
Seasons Urbans and Seasons Woodlands are a few of our favourite blends to provide during the winter months. Seasons urban has been created with established neighbourhoods and new developments in mind and is the most nutritionally perfect formula made for city birds in the world. Seasons woodlands is blended for country birds, who generally use more energy in their daily lives than their urban counterparts, and so require higher levels of carbohydrates and proteins to support them.
These blends are adjusted for the season, so extra carbohydrates are added for the winter to help stimulate body heat. Extra grit is also added, so birds don’t have to find salt on dangerous roads.
2. Choose the right feeder
Now that you’ve chosen the perfect bird food consider the feeder that will be best for your winter birds.
If you’re choosing to provide suet for the winter birds (a great choice, if we do say so ourselves), you’ll need a way to offer it to your backyard birds. If you have trees or logs on your property, you can put suet in the natural crevices found there. At Gilligallou, we also carry a range of high-quality vinyl suet cages that come in various shapes and sizes.
Platform feeders are great options during the winter months. Because of their wide base, they can be used to provide any kind of bird feed you’d like! What makes them particularly great is that most platform feeders are equipped with a roof, which provides ample coverage from the wind and snow.
Tube feeders are some of the most popular feeders available and for good reason! We carry feeders with six, eight, ten, and twenty perches. The polycarbonate tube has a lifetime warranty and is much safer than cheaper plastics, which are softer, more porous, and absorb toxins. Cleaning these feeders couldn't be easier with the quick-release bottom. There's also a built-in bridge that keeps seed near the food ports, so the seed doesn't become compact and spoil in the middle.
For winter, look for feeders with a port cover to help keep water out of the tube so seed stays fresh in even the worst of weather.
3. Maintain a birdbath
Now that you’ve ensured your winter birds will have plenty to eat, the next thing to consider is: water! Like any other living thing, birds need water to survive, and during the winter, freshwater can be challenging to come by. That’s why we recommend keeping a birdbath in your yard throughout the colder months!
Not only will a birdbath help birds survive the winter, but it’s also going to attract a broader range of birds to your yard — ones that might otherwise not have been attracted to your feeders!
When you set up a birdbath in your backyard, the main issue you’re watching for is how to make sure it doesn’t freeze over. Luckily, there are a few different options to keeping the birdbath ice-free.
For those who want the most reliable outcome for the least amount of effort, a heated birdbath is for you! If you don’t already have a birdbath (or you’re looking to add to your collection), consider investing in a bath that is specifically designed to be heated! We carry one that comes with a stand, but that can also be mounted to a railing or pole system, so long as it’s close to an outdoor outlet. For the warmer months, the heating element can be removed, making it ideal for year-round use!
For those who already have a birdbath, don’t despair. You can easily transition your birdbath to a heated one with one of our portable heating units. These units are entirely external and can be placed inside any existing bath.
Set up the birdbath in a sunny location
If you’d prefer not to invest in a heated bath, make sure you set up your birdbath in a sunny area of your yard to soak up as much of the daylight sun as possible. You can also consider adding dark material at the base of the birdbath (a black garbage bag, for example) to help melt any unwanted snow or ice from building on the birdbath.
Monitor the birdbath and change the water daily
We won’t lie — this option is by far the most labour intensive, so only the most dedicated birders need apply! However, the best way to ensure your birdbath doesn’t get any ice build-up is to monitor it closely and use hot tap water to refill the bath daily.
4. Create a roosting site
So now that you’ve got food and water figured out, the next thing you have to worry about is:
Although winter birds are designed to withstand colder weather, they are still at risk of mortality when the temperatures suddenly drop. The best defence birds have against cold weather are roosting sites!
Roosting boxes differ from nesting boxes because they’re not intended to build nests or raise young in but instead are designed to be a safe space for secure shelter for up to a dozen birds, allowing them to share their body heat increase their chance of survival through cold nights.
Although roosting boxes differ from nesting boxes, you can still repurpose the nesting boxes that you already have into roosting sites! Simply clean up your nesting boxes of any debris, scrub off mould, feathers, and feces, and add some cedar shavings or moss to create the perfect, cozy home for your winter birds! You could also paint the box a darker colour to attract more warmth.
If it isn’t in an ideal spot already, consider moving your box to a location that will get a good amount of sunlight throughout the day so that it will retain some warmth throughout the evening. Aim for a spot that’s out of the wind and, even more ideally, points south for that extra sun.
Now that you’ve got food, water, and shelter set up, you’re ready to enjoy your backyard birds, no matter how much snow’s on the ground!
Any questions or tips for preparing for winter birds? Comment them below! And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to never miss out on important birding info, as well as exclusive offers and deals on Gilligallou products!