The Bird Buffet

Winter Bird Feeding

Dark-eyed Junco

If you want to see scads of birds in winter while staying warm, you can invite the birds to come up close to your window. Offer the birds a winter buffet. Place it in view from your living room, bedroom, dining room, or kitchen, and you're all set for a winter of entertainment and cheer.

The simplest way to start attracting birds is simply to put black-oil sunflower seeds on the ground.

You'll attract our native winter sparrows, such as American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and the Dark-eyed Junco in the picture. Other birds who like to feed on the ground are cardinals, doves, and jays.

I don't recommend bags of mixed birdseed that you can buy at the supermarket. It's full of red millet, which most of the birds won't eat. In my opinion, it's a waste of money.

Location, location, location

Some birds prefer to dine higher. To make woodpeckers feel easy, you can offer sunflower seeds in feeders suspended from a tree branch, from a shepherd’s-hook pole, or perhaps from the eaves of your house. If you have cats roaming your back yard, suspending the birdseed in the air also makes safer dining for the birds.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Woodpeckers also love suet, solid animal fat. The least messy way to deal with suet is to buy packaged suet cakes, usually sold with some seeds mixed in. Offer suet in a special suet feeder that allows access only from the underside. Red-bellied Woodpeckers like the one in the photo and other woodpeckers find it easy to access the suet from below.

Chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice also have no problem hanging on from below. However, this type of suet feder denies access to many nuisance birds. The non-native European Starlings just can’t get a grip. That is good, because otherwise a gang of starlings can gobble up all the suet and scare away the other birds. An upside-down feeder can reserve the suet for more desirable, native species.

Finch food

Red Seed Ball

Other specialty feeders can attracte varied clientele. I offer nyjer seed, which is tiny and rather expensive, in special hanging feeders. Goldfinches are all over that feeder all the time, and sometimes it also attracts pine siskins and common redpolls. Bigger birds leave it alone.

Just as much fun, for goldfinches, is a mesh feeder like the red ball at right. I fill it with hulled sunflower seeds, and the chickadees go mad for it. Woodpeckers come to it as well, especially the tiny Downy Woodpecker.

I also put peanuts in a hanging wire mesh feeder for my favorite, the Tufted Titmouse. Sometimes a Carolina Wren bops in for a peanut too.

How to rate five stars

If you want to be a 5-star bird hotel, you can also provide open water. Birds need water all year around, and liquid water is pretty hard to come by if the world seems to turn into one big icicle. A birdbath with a built-in heater does not keep the water warm, but it keeps it from freezing.

Nothing warms my heart like looking out on the frost-rimmed birdbath, with a little steam rising, and a bunch of birds enjoying a drink.


When you first start feeding wild birds, you may have to wait a little while before the birds start visiting. Especially if you're beginning in winter, the birds are stressed by cold, and they may be going to the food sources they already know.

Keep putting out the food where birds can find it. Like with a new restaurant, word-of-beak will bring in the visitors. Don't worry if it takes a few days or a few weeks. They'll come.

It's easy.

Just set the table.

They will come.