Winter Bird Feeding Tips for a Successful and Healthy Backyard Feeding Station

Winter Bird Feeding Tips for a Successful and Healthy Backyard Feeding Station

American Tree Swallow, photo by David Trevarthan

Many of our feathered friends fly south for the winter in search of food, but many stay right here in Northeast Ohio. Resident birds that we see individually or in small family groups during the summer gather together in large flocks during winter as they search for food and shelter. We also see some species in the winter only — these birds nest north of us and fly south to Ohio or beyond for their winter vacations.

Once you start feeding the birds, don’t stop during the cold season. Although there are natural foods available, birds expend a lot of extra energy looking for new food sources if your feeders go empty.
Clean your feeders regularly. High concentrations of birds at your feeders can spread diseases quickly if they appear in the population. Disinfect feeders with soap and water and dip in a weak bleach solution (¼ cup bleach to two gallons warm water). Always rinse well and dry before refilling.
Choose the correct bird feed for your feeder. Some feeders are suitable for sunflower seeds and mixed bird feeds, which are eaten by most birds at your feeders. Others are designed for thistle (niger) seed, which is a favorite of finches and pine siskins. Other special feeders hold suet cakes and seed logs.
Never use grease or petroleum jelly on feeder poles to discourage squirrels and other animals from raiding your feeders. If these substances come into contact with bird feathers, they can hinder flight and are impossible for the birds to clean off. Instead, purchase or make a pole-mounted baffle to keep animals from climbing the pole.

Here are some year-round residents that are commonly seen at backyard birdfeeders:

  • Mourning dove
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Blue jay
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted titmouse
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • European starling
  • Northern cardinal
  • House finch
  • American goldfinch
  • House sparrow
Winter-only birds at your feeder:
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • American tree sparrow
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Pine siskin

—By Pat Morse, Assistant Chief of Interpretation for Lake Metroparks. If you have questions about bird feed, birdfeeders or birds, please call Penitentiary Glen Nature Center at 440-256-1404 and a naturalist will be glad to help you. The Nature Store at Penitentiary Glen also features a variety of bird feeders, field guides and other nature-related products.

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