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How can we help our feathered friends? By Myrna Pearman, Naturalist & Backyard Bird Feeding Expert

  • October 17, 2022
  • Written by Audra Cooper

How Can We Help Our Feathered Friends?

By Myrna Pearman, Naturalist & Backyard Bird Feeding Expert

 Setting out backyard bird feeding stations is one way that we can help birds in winter. Bringing birds into our yards and gardens can also liven up our cold prairie winters.

 There are two main types of bird food that can be offered in the winter: seeds (including nuts) and suet.

Seeds: Although there are different types of bird seed on the market, the most popular are sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds come in two varieties, black oil and striped, and can be served shelled or unshelled. Although the shelled seeds (often called chips) are more expensive, they are becoming increasingly popular because they leave less waste and the smaller species (e.g., redpolls and siskins) prefer them.

Winter birds will also readily dine on corn (e.g., jays, sparrows and grouse) and nyger seed (e.g., finches). Other seeds include canary grass seed, canola, millet, safflower and vegetable and fruit seeds.  The seeds to avoid are the cheap mixes that contain cereal grains, red milo or other filler seeds, none of which are favored by northern birds.

Nuts: Many birds (e.g, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches) will eat nuts, with shelled and unshelled peanuts being the most popular. Other nuts, including walnuts, cashews, pecans etc. can also be served. 

Seeds and nuts can be dispensed in a variety of ways, from simply scattering on the ground to being served from tray, hopper and tube feeders. Feeder designs continue to improve, and a wide variety of styles are available at garden, farm and hardware stores. 

Suet: Suet (the fat found around the hearts of cattle and sheep) can be served raw or rendered and mixed with seeds, cornmeal and other ingredients, and is relished by most insect-eating birds (e.g., woodpeckers, kinglets, chickadees and nuthatches). Lard (pig fat) can also be used instead of pure suet. Retailers that carry bird seed also sell packaged suet cakes that can be slipped into special plastic-coated cages, a combination that minimizes fuss and mess.


While all birds require water, even in the winter, resident (year-round) species are adapted to obtaining moisture by eating snow. However, since birds will avail themselves of open water if it is available, a heated bird bath is an easy way to provide water for the birds all winter long. There are many styles of heated bird baths on the market.

Whether you live in the country or in an urban condominium complex, sharing your outdoor living space with the birds is guaranteed to bring hours of entertainment, education and enjoyment.