Hoary redpoll (Photo by NCC)

Hoary redpoll (Photo by NCC)

Winter backyard bird visitors

Dark-eyed junco (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Dark-eyed junco (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Barren trees and frozen ground may signify to some that nature has gone to bed until spring, but at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), we know winter is one of the busiest and most dynamic times for our work and for some of Canada’s most beloved species.

Just look outside your window and no doubt you will notice some of Canada’s most interesting birds in your backyard and surrounding areas, busily searching for food in the wintery landscape.

Download our introductory Backyard Bird Guide and share this delightful pastime with your friends and family >

How to attract birds to your backyard this winter

A few tips to make your backyard more attractive to birds this winter:

  • Provide a sturdy bird feeder that can stand up to winter weather. Ensure that it’s tight enough to keep the seeds dry. Make sure it doesn’t sway too much in heavy winds.
  • Place your feeder in a quiet area, where it’s easy to see and convenient to refill. Find a spot close to natural shelter such as evergreen trees. Make sure the seed isn’t blowing out or getting wet. If it is, move the feeder to a more sheltered spot.
  • Think about safety. Make sure the feeder is in a location where predators such as cats can be detected and avoided. Keep the feeder some distance from reflective glass to avoid window strikes by the birds.
  • Habitat loss is the leading cause of population declines in many bird species, so planting native vegetation is one of the best ways you can help the birds that visit you this winter.

  • In most locations the best all-around attractant is black-oil sunflower seed. Take the time to find out whether your visitors prefer seeds or suet.
  • Provide a bird bath and arrange a few branches or stones in the water so that birds can stand on them and drink without getting wet.

Enjoy watching your backyard visitors come and go from your birdfeeder this winter!



28 comments

  • Nita January 19, 2016 - 8:31
    We live next to a lake we put out a feeder this summer with no luck but when winter hit we had so many birds we had to build another larger feeder I have never seen so many birds.

  • Carol January 03, 2016 - 2:28
    Chickadees singing in my backyard today - Edmonton AB

  • Bowsandarrows December 27, 2015 - 6:51
    Strange winter, normally we have hundreds of song birds around. Have feeders out but nothing, bough oil seeds but untouched. Live back in the trees on Saskatoon mountain near Grande Prairie. Out all day today and not even heard a chick-a-dee. Only tracks to the feeders that have out is a squirrel. Last year had just about every bird in Alb erta including a Brown Creeper at the suite. Any ideas?

  • Southpaw December 25, 2015 - 10:55
    Christmas day her in Winnipeg and just saw a Flicker, Wow, how unusual for us since we've never seen one at this time of year. Merry Christmas all.

  • Anonymous December 01, 2015 - 11:33
    our upstairs deck used to be bird central at our feeders but strangely this winter not a one no sign of any bird life at all .is this normal / in the past years they always came. we live in . blind bay in the shushwap is this normal?perplexedpooest

  • NCC Admin November 27, 2015 - 10:48
    Hi Anonymous, southern Canada is the northern end of the mourning dove’s range. Some doves will remain through winter over most of the breeding range, but many move south from northern areas in fall. They’ve been observed in backyards hunkering down into themselves against winter winds and snows, and successfully weathering the worst that Canadian winters have to offer. Sincerely, NCC Admin

  • Anonymous November 26, 2015 - 11:29
    we fed the summer birds this summer --the usual- with 8 to 14 mourning doves also, it is late november and we had 14 come for lunch today. should they still be here?i fear for their survival this cold n.b. winter. do they all normally migrate?

  • ATLComm October 13, 2015 - 11:38
    Hi Anonymous, We sent you a reply by email. Please look at your mailbox and let us know if you need anything else answered. Sincerely, NCC

  • Anonymous October 03, 2015 - 2:14
    Over the past month or so, I've noticed a drop in the number of birds at my feeders. Especially in the last two or three weeks. I always have lots of birds at my feeders pretty much all year around, which is why it's so noticeable. I had hundreds here in early spring because of the late snowfall and lack of food. And the feeders were busy all summer. Now I only have a few blue jays, the odd chickadee and woodpecker. No sparrows or starlings or anything else. I miss them :( Why is this happening? I'm in Nova Scotia, west of Truro toward Maitland area.

  • sye September 26, 2015 - 6:48
    we live south of Ottawa in the valley. We have a wonderful family of woodpeckers, cardinals, grosbeaks, blue jays, and the black cap chickadees. we love them all and hope to attract more birds. We need to build something this year which will be easier for the birds to feed, and keep the seeds dry. A video about this would be helpful. We also have suet feeders all over our property, and bird cakes, and this is our first winter doing this. We fell in love with the family of woodpeckers, these birds have such a big heart. thanks for this website.

  • Wendy August 19, 2015 - 3:35
    Hi Aberdeen: the Nature Conservancy of Canada does not sell bird feeders but you can try visiting local or online gardening stores. You may also contact local naturalist clubs for their recommendations on the best places to shop for specialized feeders. Cheers, Wendy

  • Aberdeen August 19, 2015 - 10:40
    A number of years ago, I purchased a Cardinal Bird Feeder ( believe it was shipped from Quebec). It is specifically designed for cardinals, which sits on a rest, opens the feeder, feeds, then flys off. When he leaves, the feeder door closes - i.e. the wieght of the bird opens the feeder. Other birds cannot use it. Can you tell me if this feederis still available?

  • Anonymous November 23, 2014 - 7:37
    Kris....not all birds migrate. Chickadees, nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, bluejays, starlings, all stay for the winter. They do here in Manitoba and they do in Toronto. There is no harm in providing feed for birds all year round. If they are a migratory bird, they will not stay because you provide food. They know when it is time to leave.

  • Kris November 20, 2014 - 9:53
    I thought birds were supposed to fly south in winter... I live in Toronto and it is freezing. I don't want to trick the birds into hanging around here with food... Should I really make MY backyard more attractive for birds in winter?

  • Heather November 20, 2014 - 5:53
    we get juncos,sparrows,blue jays,cardinals,evening grosbeaks,purple finches,house finches,canaries,mourning doves,indigo buntings and others. We feed different seeds for different birds and have several feeders.

  • ottsunshine November 20, 2014 - 3:40
    I feed dozens of blue jays, morning doves, chickadees (love them), two woodpeckers, gold finches, juncos, sparrows, I had up to 13 wild turkeys (one with a bad leg but gets around well) and so many other birds. I have lived here three years and I have not seen any cardinals and I wonder why that is? Squirrels, chipmunks and last year 22 deer at times. I spend more on them than myself. Deer feed, second cut hay, apples, turkey feed, bird feed and peanuts. I feed them year round. The squirrels sit on the ledge of my kitchen window and wait until I bring them peanuts. The chickadees, blue jays and hummingbirds peck at the window when they want more seeds and peanuts. We are in the country past West Ottawa. I tried to make them as comfortable as possible all year. Nature is awesome.

  • Anonymous November 12, 2014 - 10:27
    I live in Calgary....I feed my the birds all year round....WInter has come early this year and I have noticed that the sparrows are not feeding at their usual time...why is this, and what can I do about it?

  • Annie January 01, 2014 - 4:51
    I have had all kinds of birds at my feeders lately, despite the cold (I'm west of Truro, N.S.) - black-capped chicadees, redpolls,sparrows, mourning doves, starlings, many types of finches, evening grosbeaks, woodpeckers and bluejays. I would love to see a cardinal and they have been seen in and around Truro, but haven't had luck there yet.

  • Romie January 28, 2013 - 2:59
    We have loads of chickadees, juncos, goldfinches, redpolls, a dozen or more mourning doves, 3o4 bluejays, a pair of Cardinals and recently 13 wild turkeys which were chased away by our son's dog. Unfortunately, we also have squirrels: red, grey and black which we chase away whenever we see them, as they are chewing off the cedar shingles of our south wall. Why do they do this? We had to cover already part of the wall with metal and will likely have to recover the whole wall. I discouraged the greys and blacks from coming to the feeder by placing logs with ermine feces (one uses our wood shed as toilet) underneath the bird feeder, but I can't cover the wall of the house with the smelly stuff.

  • Anonymous January 27, 2013 - 9:45
    I have House Sparrows, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Magpies, a pair of Flickers, Redpolls, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and a Red Squirrel visiting my feeders in Edmonton. A pair of Boreal Chickadees were visiting earlier in the winter.

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