Make your backyard more attractive to birds in winter

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Make your backyard more attractive to birds in winter

There are lots of ways you can attract birds to your backyard, even during the winter months. Even though most birds in Tennessee fly south for the winter, there are several birds that stay here during the cooler months.

Common Tennessee winter residents:

  • American Goldfinch
  • American Robin
  • Blue Jay
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Carolina Wren
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Eastern Towhee
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Purple Finch
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Song Sparrow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatches
  • White-throated Sparrow 

In order to attract these feathered friends, examine your property from a birds-eye-view. Think of your backyard as a natural habitat for a bird to nest. Is there shelter? Food? Water?

Here are some tips to turn your backyard into a winter hotspot for native birds:


First, ensure that your backyard has native, non-invasive plants, like trees, shrubs, vines and ground cover. Evergreens, for example, can provide warm roosting areas for birds and a quick, easy escape from predators. Oaks, Dogwoods, Hollies and Chokeberries provide plenty of winter fruit for a bird. To promote ground-feeding birds, like towhees and thrashers, use leaf mulch. This promotes a place to forage for earthworms and pillbugs. Using leaf mulch not only provides food and a natural habitat for the birds, but will also put nutrients back into your soil for spring planting!


An important part of attracting winter birds is ensuring that they have food to eat. Determine which birds reside in your area. This will help you choose what type of feed and feeder you should use. Before making a purchase, try asking locals about feeders or feed they have used in the past.

Many people have a tendency to feed bread to birds, however bread is the junk food of the bird world. Bread can cause malnutrition, leading to the growth of deformities, illnesses, and even obesity that can make flying difficult.

Here are a few examples of feeders and nutritious feeds you can mix-and-match in your backyard.


  • Tray Feeders are platforms that may be open and roofed, but do not provide proper weather protection to prevent bacterial or fungal growth in the feed. These may also wind up feeding other wildlife, like squirrels and chipmunks. However, if this is not an issue or concern, place the feeder lower to the ground to attract ground-feeder birds like juncos, doves, jays and sparrows.
  • Hopper Feeders are similar to tray feeders, but hold feed in a center container that protects it from the weather and bird droppings. These feeders hold a large quantity of feed, so you have to fill them less. The downside is they are often harder to clean and can cause feed to spoil in the long-term. This feeder attracts a variety of birds like finches, jays, cardinals, chickadees and titmice.
  • Window Feeders provide a close-up view of birds. They are easy to clean and refill, are usually weather-resistant, and provide safety from most predators. These feeders are great for apartment dwellers. Finches, chickadees, titmice and sparrows are fans of these feeders.
  • Tube Feeders are the most common type of feeder and tend to keep feed clean and dry. If the feeder is metal with smaller feeding holes, it is more squirrel-resistant and small-bird-friendly. In the wintertime, it’s best to use a group of smaller models to keep seed fresher and still provide an ample feeding spots. These feeders are best for sparrows, chickadees, finches and titmice.


  • Suet feeds contain animal fat mixed with chopped dried fruit or nuts. Pre-made suet can be found in most stores that sell bird feed. Suet should be kept refrigerated until used. Suet is a high-energy food, favored by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and jays. Suet can become rancid quickly in warm weather.
  • Sunflower seeds can be either black-oil seeds (with smaller, thinner shells) or white-striped seeds. Most songbirds like black-oil sunflower seeds. 
  • Safflower seeds attract chickadees, doves and native sparrows.
  • Rapeseed is preferred by doves, finches and juncos.
  • Peanuts or peanut butter attracts jays, chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers.

In addition to choosing the right kind of feeder and feed, it is also important to clean your feeder at the end of each season. Clean your feeder with a 10 percent bleach solution, rinse well and let dry. Keep your feed fresh by storing it in a clean trash can or storage tote that closes tightly. Keep no more than enough to get you through the season.

Your feeder’s location is important. Follow the 3-or-30 rule for best results. Birds fly fastest when leaving a perch or feeder, and if a window is in the flight direction of the bird it may cause a fatal error. To prevent window strikes, place your feeder either less than 3 feet or more than 30 feet from a window. Consider jump-off points when placing your bird feeder as well. Placing it near shrubs and trees provides an easy escape from predators, but closer than 10 feet allows easier access for squirrels.


Birds always need water to drink and bathe in, and clean, bug-free feathers provide better insulation for the bird during the cold months. But water can be particularly difficult to find in the winter.

Typical ceramic bird baths are actually too deep for most birds. They can also crack easily and be difficult to clean. Shallow, hard plastic bird baths are a better choice, as they are easier to clean and may come with a built-in heater. Baths should be elevated on a pedestal or balcony railing to prevent predator attacks. Wet birds are clean but poor flyers, and therefore easy prey. If your area is prone to feral cats and other predators, it may be better to avoid using an artificial bird bath altogether. Otherwise, birdbaths that are cleaned and refilled regularly can increase visits by other birds normally disinterested in bird feeders. 

Pine Sisken
Northern Cardinal
White-crowned Sparrow
Sharp Shinned Hawk
Carolina Chickadee
Posted by Kelsey White at 1:54 PM

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