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!


  • 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.

  • New Westie January 25, 2013 - 10:24
    Recent transplant from Manotick, Ontario to Salt Spring Island, BC. Saw Eurasian Widgens for the first time on the Christmas bird count and also my first encounter with a Northern Pygmy Owl. Lots of Juncos and Stellars Jays on the feeders and a couple of Pileateds are regulars but I really miss the squirrels!

  • prairiegal January 24, 2013 - 6:56
    We live just north of Winnipeg and have been in a deep freeze for awhile. We have many redpolls visiting our feeders along with bluejays, starlings, magpies, downy and hair woodpeckers, white breasted nuthatches and chickadees. We have two coveys ( 5 and 12) of gray partridges coming into our yard for seed every morning and evening.

  • Bird Brain January 24, 2013 - 5:02
    We've had male and female common redpolls at our two feeders so far this winter, but the biggest surprise of all was yesterday morning when a small flock (3 males and 2 females) of mallard ducks showed up. We are close to Shuswap Lake but I guess the ducks heard it through the "tweet vine" that there were free seeds going to the earliest bird (or duck). What a lovely sight!

  • Kiana January 24, 2013 - 12:23
    We have a lovely family of cardinals - Dad and son sit together with the Blue Jays all in the same tree - have great pictures. Also saw a Pine Grosbeak for the first time 2 weeks ago. Lots of chick-a-dees and nuthatches, doves and a fabulous pileated woodpecker . .we keep an almost dead tree just for him . . he loves it and visits daily about noon. Lots of activity in my Kingston backyard . . .not to mention 4 grey and 8 black squirrels . . love them all.

  • Bob A January 24, 2013 - 11:47
    In Kanata, we have had a mixed flock of common and hoary red polls, juncos, house sparrows, house finch and goldfinch. This numbers from 15 to 50 on any given day. We also had 30+ starlings when we put some fat out, and the mourning doves number from 3-20 depending on the day. Blue Jays and a pair of Cardinals visit every few days. A very busy winter.

  • Rosie Rat January 24, 2013 - 10:50
    *don't mind

  • Rosie Rat January 24, 2013 - 10:48
    Many, many sparrows here, some chickadees and blue jays. We used to have a family of cardinals, but I haven't seen them lately. By far the most common visitor is the grey squirrel! I don't find, I'll feed them all. It's cold here (Montreal QC) - wind chill of -37 C today. We have to help them survive the winter. Loved the video.

  • Jinxie January 24, 2013 - 10:33
    we have had a single bright red cardinal at our feeders since midoct along w/ 3 pairs of pine grosbeaks in addition to a family? of pileated woodpeckers visiting off/on here in Garson,Man. only seed we use is locally grown black sunflower

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