Winter is a great season to feed birds, with woodpeckers, finches, chickadees, and jays visiting your feeders for suet, seed, and nuts. But if you’re only filling hanging feeders when snow covers the ground, you’re missing out on a whole flock’s worth of ground-feeding birds that would love their own winter treats.
Ground-Feeding Birds You’ll See in Winter
Many bird species are more comfortable pecking away on the ground instead of clinging to feeders that make them feel more exposed. Even when snow and ice cover the grass, gravel, and dirt, these birds are happy to keep a low-to-the-ground profile as they’re searching for a meal:
Doves and pigeons
Grackles and starlings
Grouse and quail
Thrashers and thrushes
Of course, when seed spills to the ground underneath feeders, many different birds will take advantage of the bounty, even if they aren’t regular ground feeders. Especially in winter, when food may be scarce, any bird might visit a ground feeding area for an easy snack.
There are many different ways to offer a meal to ground-feeding birds. You can set any platform feeder with short, stubby legs directly on the ground. You don’t even need a specialized feeder at all. A simple plant saucer, pie tin, cake pan, or other dish with low sides can make a simple feeder to offer ground-feeding birds, or you can sprinkle seed, bits of fruit, nuts, or other treats directly on the ground. A patio, deck, or inside of a gazebo can become a popular feeding area. Or, you can offer some food on any walkway or clear area where the birds can easily visit. Just be sure the foods you offer aren’t going to create a slip hazard, such as small round seeds. Wherever you put the seed, savvy ground-feeding birds will quickly learn to visit the buffet.
In winter, birders often use broad baffles to keep hanging feeders free of snow and ice so birds can easily feed. It can be more challenging to protect ground-feeding areas, however, especially in regions prone to deep snowfall or frequent storms. Birds will happily feed directly on top of open snow. When the seed gets buried, it can quickly be too deep for small birds to find.
It won’t be until spring when the snow melts that the seed will be visible again. By then, it is likely to be spoiled or molded and unusable to birds but will foul the ground and could damage soil or flowerbeds. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult to protect ground-feeding areas from deep snowfall.
Situate ground-feeding areas under available cover where snows won’t reach but birds can easily visit.
Toss handfuls of seed under small, covered areas where a few inches of cover will keep snow from accumulating.
Use natural cover to shelter ground-feeding areas, such as tossing seed under the edges of thick shrubbery or at the edge of a brush pile.
Position a broad patio table or bench in the yard. Put platform feeders or tossed seed under that improvised cover.
If no cover is available, offer seed only in a bright, sunny area where snow will melt more quickly.
Sweep, shovel, or brush off snow more frequently in ground-feeding areas so it doesn’t have a chance to bury seed.
Put out only the amount of seed that will be eaten each day to keep food from getting buried. Using no-mess, non-sprouting seed in winter will also help ensure buried seeds don’t germinate in the spring. Plus, the higher-quality seed will provide better nutrition and more energy to winter birds.
Ground feeders can be an amazing option for feeding winter birds. As more birds visit your open feeding areas, you’ll be amazed at the variety that take advantage of the bounty.