Birds play an enormous role in our ecosystem. They are masters at pest control by consuming bugs and insects, which helps farmers grow our vegetables and keep diseases that are transmittal to humans at bay. They are also excellent at planting trees, such as the Whitebark Pine which helps to protect drinking water supplies since its pines grow all the way up to the tree line. However, due to deforestation and habitat loss, an estimated 1,200 species of birds are facing extinction over the next century. As winter kicks in, survival becomes even tougher. The days are shorter, the nights are longer and burrrr, it’s cold. Food supplies run low since most fruits and berries have been consumed or buried under snow, and insects are dormant. As ice freezes, water can be hard to find as well. In the Northeast, most species of insects and plants go dormant during the winter months, making it difficult for birds to forage for food. There is something we can do though to help our avian friends.

Bird feeders are a great way to help birds during the cooler months (and you can even make your own). It’s a pretty cool thing to delight your eyes with beautiful wild birds, as well. From banditry Chickadees and Tufted Titmice to a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, there will never be a shortage of beauty fluttering just outside your window — that reason alone is good enough! In addition to having an awesome little bird party in your yard each day, you will be providing an additional food source for wild birds.

Chickadees are frequent visitors in the cooler months of the Northeast.

Can a Bird Feeder in Your Backyard This Winter Benefit You and the Birds?Ano Lobb/Flicker

If you’d like Blue Jays to stop by your home, stock your feeder with nuts,  fruit, and seeds.

Can a Bird Feeder in Your Backyard This Winter Benefit You and the Birds?Saforrest/Wiki Commons

Getting Started

There are many different types of bird feeders available for purchase, hopper feeders, tube feeders, Finch feeders, peanut feeders, window feeders, and more. Before purchasing a feeder, it’s important to think about where it will be placed as that will help inform your purchase decision. Different varieties of bird food will also impact the species of birds that visit. There are a lot of different feed options ranging from general mixes and special blends to dried and fresh fruit (e.g., berries and apples). Bags of wild bird seed are available at most commercial grocery stores and natural markets, but the best place to buy wild bird seed is from a local wild bird store. Most sell high-quality mixes that will attract a wider variety of birds. Watch out for suet, also called “cake,” which contains animal byproducts.

What to Watch Out For

If you hang a feeder from your apartment balcony in a city, there’s a big chance that you’ll attract rodents (and we don’t mean squirrels) because again, everyone’s gotta eat. You will need to check with your HOA or property manager, as well as your neighbors (because of bird droppings) to see if hanging a feeder is even an option. Also, it’s recommended that bird feeders be hung about 30 feet away from your home to avoid fatal window collisions. Window reflections confuse birds and sometimes they fly into closed windows, get stunned, or die. Extra consideration must be taken when deciding to place a feeder in an urban setting. Also, if you have an outdoor cat a bird feeder is not for you.

Being a Friend to Birds

Buying a bird feeder this winter and providing an extra food source for birds is a mutually beneficial practice. By putting forth a little effort, you’ll have beautiful birds just outside your window every day and help dozens of bird species survive the winter all for the price of a bird feeder and some feed — that sounds like a pretty good investment to us!

Bird feeders aren’t just for winter use, though, you can utilize a bird feeder to attract birds year round. Birds eat bugs and inviting them to forage near or around your home can help with garden pests in the warmer months. Also, by feeding birds throughout the year, you’ll be inviting them to familiar foraging grounds year after year.

Image source:  Orietta C. Estrada