Miller Landscape Blog

Attracting Birds in Winter: 3 Landscaping Tips

Nov 10

Written by:
11/10/2012 8:17 PM  RssIcon

Birds need three basic items to survive long cold winters here in Michigan - food, water, and shelter. If you can properly provide these three things, you will get to enjoy watching birds all winter long.

Red Headed Woodpecker


Traditional bird feeders and various bird seed mixes work great. As long as you keep food available the birds will find it. Birds mainly feed on seeds in the winter time and, in addition to bird seed, there are plants that can provide food over the winter.

A personal favorite is Winterberry Holly. It is a 6-10' multi-stem shrub that prefers moist environments but will handle most normal landscape conditions. It is a deciduous form of Holly that gets bright red berries that last well into winter. The warming and cooling process over the winter slowly softens the hard berries and they become more edible as winter rolls along. As a bonus, the bright red berries are highly visible when snow is on the ground and they can be cut for use in holiday decorations.

Another good late fall/early winter option is crab apple trees. Crab apples won't stay around all winter but they can be a good starter food source to help birds prepare for the winter ahead. Some of the smaller, more ornamental varieties can hold small crab apples into mid-winter.

Crab Apple Berries in Autumn

Traditional oak varieties can provide acorns that some of the larger birds, like Blue Jays, will use as a food source in the winter. Red Oaks are a great option since they hold a large percentage of their leaves throughout the winter. This provides another wind break and cover option.


Water is the most often overlooked necessity for birds in the winter. During deep cold spells it is difficult for many birds to locate water that isn't frozen up. A great landscaping solution to this problem is by using pondless water features.

Pondless water features can be kept running during the winter and this can provide birds with a steady source of water all year round. They can form some amazing ice formations too. Just be sure to keep the pump running and the water filled.

If you have a pond or are on a lake, a small de-icer can be installed to keep an open spot in the ice. This is good for fish too as it provides fresh oxygen in the water.


Shelter is probably the best place to start when you want to make your home a destination for winter birds. With all the leaves gone it is very open and birds stand out. This makes them more vulnerable to predators. In addition to predators, the harsh winter winds and deep cold can harm and even kill birds. 

Evergreens are vital for providing protection from the elements and predators alike. Several different sizes and types of evergreens are needed to create an ideal winter landscape for birds. Large pines such as blue spruce and white pine provide a wind break and a safe place to hide from predators.

Smaller trees and large shrubs such as Spartan Junipers are a perfect solution for winter birds. The birds feed on the berries they produce and the tight, prickly needles provide great hiding spots for small birds. Predators such as cats are highly unlikely to attempt to climb tight branching junipers.

Smaller evergreen shrubs and ground covers like boxwood and pachysandra can provide cover for birds that are foraging on the ground. Extra seeds or nuts can be hidden on the ground and providing extra cover will help birds feel more secure while foraging.


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