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What Do Birds Eat in the Winter?
When you see them pecking around on a cold winter day, you may wonder: what do birds eat in the winter? The food they like best depends on what bird you’re looking at. That said, most birds will eat seeds, nuts, berries, insects, and carrion in the winter.
Let’s dig into the specifics based on each type of bird, though!
What Different Bird Types Eat in the Winter
The following sections will break down what each bird type likes to eat in winter. You’ll notice there are some surprising similarities between nearly every bird variety!
In general, most songbirds eat seeds, nuts, and berries throughout winter. It makes sense, since these are calorie-rich byproducts of summer and fall that stay good for months in cold weather.
Seeds and nuts are loved by all of your common winter feeder birds, like chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, and many more. Berries are a favorite for many other winter visitors, like robins. (Here’s a guide to identifying common winter birds if you want to learn more.)
In addition, songbirds also tend to enjoy fat sources and insects. Fat often comes from carrion, and dormant insects and their larvae can often be found in tree bark and leaf litter. At the feeder, this translates to suet and mealworms.
While not songbirds in the usual sense, birds like ravens and crows will also eat carrion, seeds, nuts, and fruit they forage.
Birds of Prey
Large, carnivorous raptors (like eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and ospreys) eat the same foods in the winter as they do in the summer: meat!
They continue to eat carrion along with smaller creatures they can take down themselves, like fish, mice, and small birds. However, they often have more trouble finding food in winter, so you’ll see them exploring more.
For example, bald eagles become a regular sight along our Catskills streams every winter when the reservoirs freeze. Running water means easier access to fish!
Waterfowl and Shore Birds
Water birds, like ducks, geese, herons, and swans eat seeds and grain, along with aquatic plants and fish.
Shore birds, like seagulls, continue to eat their regular diet of fish, crabs, and other creatures commonly found along the ocean.
Birds considered “game” birds include turkeys, quail, and other mostly ground-based fowl. They eat grain, worms, insects, and carrion in winter. Wild turkeys will sometimes take down small creatures like mice and fish and eat them as well.
Woodpeckers fall in a category all their own, and they will generally tap deep into trees during winter to get to sap and any snoozing insects/larvae that are hiding there. They also eat berries, seeds, and nuts.
What do hummingbirds eat in the winter? Well, like most of the birds on this list, they eat their regular diet of flower nectar. That’s why you won’t see any in the northeast past December – they need to go farther south to find blooms!
What to Feed Birds in Winter
If you’ve enjoyed learning about all the types of food your feathered friends eat, you may want to start feeding birds this winter!
Perching birds are the most common birds to feed in your backyard. They’re also easier to feed, since there are plenty of ready-made mixes designed for them! The most common types are bird seed mixes and suet, and you’ll want the right bird feeder to go along with whatever you choose to feed.
My favorite is Wagner’s Greatest Variety. I find it brings in the perfect variety of songbirds without causing a mess and needless waste.
If you’d prefer to try feeding suet, consider using this variety, which will also call in a number of different feathery friends.
Enjoy your birds!