Helping birds survive the winter

Bruant des neiges © concours photo (Normand Boucher)
  • Bruant des neiges © concours photo (Normand Boucher)
  • Pic mineur
Helping birds survive the winter

Written on November 8, 2013 

You have worked all summer to create your bird garden, and you have surely had the chance to see various birds flying around your home. But as the cold weather approaches, how can you help your feathered friends make it through the winter?

A helping hand

While the plants in your garden may offer shelter and a source of food for birds, they will probably not be sufficient to feed them throughout the winter. If you live in the countryside, you can put suet cages and feeders full of high-calorie seed mixes in your garden to help them gain the strength and weight they need to brave extreme temperatures. You will find ready-made seed mixes and vegetable-based fat cakes in most pet stores. Or better yet, you can make them yourself using the many recipes available on specialized websites. However, this approach is not recommended in cities such as Greater Montreal, because you risk attracting animals that will scare the birds off or non-native species. Avoid seed mixes as they attract exotic species such as sparrows, starlings and pigeons. Instead, choose unsalted black sunflower seeds.

A tip that works wherever you live

Take a log with a minimum diameter of 10 cm and drill a few holes—approximately 3–4 cm in diameter—on one side. Next, drill a small hole at either end of the log to screw in metal rings, then connect them by attaching a string or metal chain. Fill the holes with suet, then hang the log horizontally, with the holes facing downwards.

Why facing downwards?

Simply because starlings will have difficulty hanging onto the log to get the suet out. Meanwhile, it will be child’s play to native species such as woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and treecreepers. Check your feeders often to make sure your feathered visitors always have something to eat and clean them regularly to prevent bacteria from taking hold.

A source of liquid water

One thing birds need most in wintertime is water. Like all animals, they need to drink water, which can be in short supply during periods of extreme cold. They may have to resort to eating snow to hydrate themselves, but melting it wastes a lot of their energy.
Making sure that liquid water is accessible in winter is therefore essential. But how?
There are several solutions, of varying cost, available:

  • Buy a heated birdbath ($$$): Many heated birdbath systems can be found on specialized websites such as These will keep the water temperature above the freezing point.
  • Invest in an electric de-icer or build a heating system yourself ($$): Place a 60-watt lightbulb, plugged into a grounded outdoor receptacle, in a flowerpot wrapped in insulation, then place the saucer that came with the flowerpot on top and fill it with water. The heat emitted by the lightbulb will prevent the water from freezing.
  • Change the water in your birdbath regularly ($): Pour hot water (not boiling!) into the birdbath and bring it indoors overnight to prevent it from freezing.

With any of these methods, you will help birds get through the winter more easily and be in better shape in the spring!
This article was written in cooperation with Stéphan Deschênes, scientific interpreter at the Biodôme.

Subscribe to Space for Life communications to receive our monthly newsletter, relevant information on events taking place in our four museums, as well as tips straight from our experts.
Subscribe to the Space for life newsletter

Discover gardening tips and other horticultural advices
Subscribe to the My Garden newsletter

Share this page

Articles that might interest you

Follow us!

Subscribe to receive by email:
5 Comment(s)
Sylvia's picture

Great information , thank you very much. I will get this all ready for the winter. :)

Space for life

Thank you for your interest!


The blog team

Mark's picture

I’m not an expert on the habits of local birds, but I thought that humans should avoid feeding animals because those animals may either become dependent on humans for food (or not being able to hone natural skills and instincts) or may be given the wrong kind of food and become sick or die (for example, a neighbour sees a bird feeder and decides to do the same without doing the appropriate research).

I have specifically seen signs like this asking the public to avoid feeding ducks. And we wouldn’t put food outside for raccoons and squirrels, right? So why are birds an exception to the rule? Do they really need our “help”?

I hope I’m wrong here, but would like to hear from an expert on this if possible. Thank you either way for the great articles and work you all do!

Hugofirst1994's picture

:l I have specifically seen signs like this asking the public to avoid feeding ducks. And we wouldn’t put food outside for raccoons and squirrels, right? So why are birds an exception to the rule? Do they really need our “help”?

dianatremaine's picture

I don’t even know how to hill climb race and I did not even know that it existed before this but the game looks pretty compelling that I want to check it out and play it for myself. I want to know if it is any good and if the sport is fun to follow. From what I can see, it looks pretty exciting and I can’t wait to try it out in the I prefer the sims freeplay. I will definitely add this game to my video game library along after I play Hay Day online.

Add new comment
Anonymous's picture