How to Help Backyard Birds Survive Freezing and Snowy Weather

Animals and humans both need to manage through winter’s adverse conditions of freezing weather and snowstorms. When we’re all tucked up in our warm homes, it’s easy to overlook what we can do to make winter survival easier for wildlife in our backyards.

Photo: © Mike Hamilton

Many people care about and enjoy the birds visiting their backyards and want to provide them with nourishment during the winter. Bird feeders filled with seeds or hummingbird feeders are popular amongst people as well as birds. Please keep the following steps in mind to help prevent issues and illness of the backyard wildlife:

Hummingbird Feeders

  • Use the following recipe for sugar water. Mix 4 parts of boiled water with 1 part of white sugar. Stir, cool and fill up the feeder. No need to use food colouring, honey or other products. This will prevent bacteria and fungal growth in the feeder.
  • Use a feeder warmer or rotate feeders during freezing weather. Remember that hummingbirds have very high metabolism and feed constantly from dawn to just after dusk. Frozen nectar in feeders can literally starve hummingbirds, causing them to suffer very low levels of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), their body’s main energy source.
  • Although hummingbirds also feed on insects they can find in tree bark, hummingbirds are very dependent on backyard feeders to survive in freezing and snowy weather. To avoid freezing, alternate two feeders when temperatures drop towards zero and replace the one that froze overnight with one that is warm and fluid in the morning before you head to work. Another option is to purchase a feeder warmer that keeps the nectar from freezing.
  • Clean feeders regularly to prevent disease spread. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned once a week at a minimum during winter and more often during the summer. The feeder should be emptied, the sugar water in the feeder disposed of, and the feeder and its ports cleaned using a bottle brush with a mild solution of dish soap and bleach.

Seed Feeders

Bird feeders can provide songbirds with extra nutrition during the winter, but can pose some risks as well. The birds species found in our area are adapted to survive the winter and natural food sources are available to them.

Bird feeders make wildlife susceptible to cat and predator attacks, disease spread, bacterial infection, and territorial aggression. To prevent these common dangers, here are some tips that are helpful year-round:

  • Clean the seed feeders every few weeks and wait to re-hang the feeder for a week. This will disperse the population and lessen the chance of spreading disease or causing birds to get aggressive due to crowding. Disease spread is not uncommon and can include viral or bacterial infections in their eyes (conjunctivitis), or scaly leg mites (microscopic insects that live underneath the scales on the bird’s lower legs and feet), an uncomfortable and often fatal condition.
  • Replace bird seed regularly and thoroughly wash the feeder. If left too long, bacteria and fungus will grow and either kill or weaken the birds so they don’t have a fighting chance for winter. Use small amounts of seeds and wash the feeder regularly with a 10% bleach solution. Clean underneath the feeder regularly as some birds forage on the ground.
Photo: Paul Steeves
  • Keep cats indoors. Birds at feeders can be easy pray for cats that don’t need to feed on wildlife to survive. Protect both your cat and birds by keeping them indoors or provide them with a catio.

In summary, while the extra boost of calories and nutrition from bird feeders can help birds gain strength needed to survive the inclement winter months, some simple steps will ensure good intentions don’t become bad.


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