Feeding Winter Birds in Alaska: Tips and Tricks




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Alaska, the Last Frontier, experiences some of the most intense winter conditions in the United States. With temperatures often plunging below zero, coupled with fierce winds, heavy snowfall, and long nights, the state offers a dramatic contrast to its relatively mild summer months.

The interior, in particular, is known for its bitterly cold temperatures, while coastal areas, though milder, often bear the brunt of powerful winter storms.

Alaska’s extreme conditions present unique challenges for bird feeding. The sheer cold can freeze birdseed, making it inaccessible to birds. The thick snow cover can bury ground feeders or spill trays, and strong winds can knock over or scatter food from hanging feeders. Moreover, the long hours of darkness can limit the feeding window for many bird species.

Why Feed Winter Birds in Alaska

Alaska is known for its harsh winter climate, with temperatures dropping down to -50°F in some areas. Despite the challenges of the cold, many bird species remain in Alaska throughout the winter. These birds rely on natural food sources such as seeds, berries, and insects during the warmer months, but these food sources become scarce or inaccessible during the winter. This is where feeding winter birds comes in.

Other local states for feeding birds:

Benefits of Feeding Winter Birds

Feeding winter birds in Alaska can have several benefits for both the birds and the people who feed them:

  1. Helping birds survive the winter: By providing food for winter birds, we can help them survive the harsh winter conditions when natural food sources are scarce. This can be especially important for species such as chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos, which are common winter visitors to bird feeders in Alaska.
  2. Enjoying bird watching: Feeding winter birds can be a great way to enjoy bird watching during the winter months. Many species of birds that are not commonly seen during the summer months can be found at bird feeders in the winter.
  3. Contributing to citizen science: Feeding winter birds can also be a way to contribute to citizen science projects. By keeping track of the species and numbers of birds that visit your feeder, you can help scientists track changes in bird populations over time.
  4. Promoting a healthy ecosystem: Feeding winter birds can also promote a healthy ecosystem by providing food for birds that may help control insect populations during the summer months.

When feeding winter birds, it is important to provide a variety of food sources that are appropriate for the species of birds that you want to attract. Some common winter bird foods include black oil sunflower seeds, suet, nyjer seeds, and peanuts. It is also important to keep bird feeders clean and to provide fresh water for birds to drink.

How to Feed Winter Birds in Alaska

Choosing the right location is paramount in Alaska. A sheltered spot, away from the harshest winds yet easily visible, ensures birds can feed safely. It’s essential to consider potential predator hiding spots (like tall shrubs) and ensure feeders are at a safe distance from them.

Given the state’s extreme conditions, standard feeders might not suffice. Sturdy feeders, preferably made of metal or thick plastic, are ideal. Designs that minimize spillage and exposure to snow are beneficial. Tube feeders with large perches, hopper feeders with roofs, and suet feeders are all excellent choices.

In Alaska’s freezing conditions, liquid water can be a rare commodity for birds. Providing a source of unfrozen water can be as beneficial as providing food. Heated birdbaths, though consuming energy, can be invaluable. Alternatively, placing birdbaths in sunny, sheltered spots or using insulating materials can slow the freezing process.

Types of Feeders

There are many types of feeders available for winter birds in Alaska. Some of the most common types include tube feeders, hopper feeders, suet feeders, and platform feeders. Tube feeders are great for small birds like chickadees, while hopper feeders are better for larger birds like jays and woodpeckers. Suet feeders are ideal for birds like nuthatches and woodpeckers, while platform feeders are great for ground-feeding birds like juncos and sparrows.

Types of Seeds

Different types of birds prefer different types of seeds. Some of the most common types of seeds include black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, safflower seeds, and millet. Black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of many birds, including chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. Nyjer seeds are a favorite of finches and pine siskins, while safflower seeds are preferred by cardinals and grosbeaks. Millet is a favorite of ground-feeding birds like juncos and sparrows.

Cleaning Feeders

It is important to regularly clean feeders to prevent the spread of disease. Clean feeders at least once a month, and more frequently during periods of heavy use. Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to clean feeders, and rinse thoroughly with water. Allow feeders to dry completely before refilling them with seed.

When and How Much to Feed

It is best to feed winter birds in Alaska regularly, rather than sporadically. Birds rely on a steady supply of food during the winter months. Offer food in the morning and late afternoon, when birds are most active. Offer enough seed to last at least a day or two, but not so much that it goes stale or attracts rodents.

Avoiding Injuries to Birds

It is important to avoid injuring birds when feeding them. Keep feeders away from windows to prevent birds from flying into them. Place feeders in a sheltered location to protect birds from the wind. Avoid using pesticides or insecticides near feeders, as these can harm birds. Finally, be sure to clean feeders regularly to prevent the spread of disease.

Common Winter Birds in Alaska

Alaska is home to a variety of bird species that are adapted to survive the harsh winter conditions. Some species migrate south to warmer areas, while others remain in Alaska throughout the winter. Here are some of the most common winter birds in Alaska:


Chickadees are small, active birds that are common in Alaska throughout the year. They are known for their distinctive black cap and bib, and their cheerful, “chickadee-dee-dee” call. In the winter, chickadees are often seen visiting bird feeders in search of food. They are particularly fond of sunflower seeds, suet, and peanuts.


Woodpeckers are a family of birds that are found throughout Alaska, including in the winter. They are known for their distinctive drumming sound, which they use to communicate with other birds and to find food. In the winter, woodpeckers are often seen searching for insects in the bark of trees. They are also known to visit bird feeders in search of suet.


Geese are large, migratory birds that are common in Alaska during the winter months. They are known for their distinctive honking calls and their V-shaped flight formations. In the winter, geese can often be seen feeding in fields and wetlands. They are particularly fond of grains, such as wheat and corn.

Threats to Winter Birds in Alaska

Winter can be a harsh and challenging season for birds in Alaska. While some species migrate to warmer areas, many birds stay in Alaska and face various threats that can affect their survival. Here are some of the most common threats that winter birds in Alaska face:


Birds in Alaska face a wide range of predators, including birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, and owls, as well as land predators such as foxes, weasels, and cats. These predators can pose a serious threat to winter birds, especially those that are small and ground-dwelling.

Collisions with Windows

Collisions with windows are another significant threat to winter birds in Alaska. Birds can mistake reflections in windows for open sky or trees, and fly into the glass, causing injury or death. This is especially common in areas with a lot of buildings or houses.

To reduce the risk of collisions, homeowners can use window decals or bird tape to make windows more visible to birds. Additionally, keeping bird feeders and birdbaths away from windows can also help reduce the risk of collisions.

Avian Diseases

Winter birds in Alaska are also susceptible to various avian diseases, which can spread quickly in dense populations. Common diseases include avian influenza, salmonellosis, and avian pox. These diseases can cause respiratory issues, diarrhea, and other health problems, and can be fatal to birds.

To reduce the risk of disease transmission, it’s important to keep bird feeders and bird baths clean and disinfected. It’s also important to avoid overcrowding at feeders, as this can increase the risk of disease transmission.

Special Considerations for Feeding Winter Birds in Alaska

Feeding winter birds in Alaska can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to take special considerations to ensure the safety and health of the birds. Here are some things to keep in mind when feeding winter birds in Alaska.

Suet Feeders

Suet feeders are a popular way to attract winter birds in Alaska. Suet is a high-energy food that is especially important for birds during the cold winter months. However, it’s important to choose the right type of suet feeder and suet to use.

When choosing a suet feeder, look for one that is sturdy and weather-resistant. Suet feeders should be hung at least 5 feet off the ground and away from windows to prevent birds from colliding with them. It’s also important to clean suet feeders regularly to prevent the spread of disease.

When choosing suet, avoid using suet that contains artificial flavors or preservatives. Look for suet that is made from high-quality ingredients and is specifically formulated for winter birds in Alaska.

Northern Lights

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are a beautiful natural phenomenon that can be seen in Alaska during the winter months. While the northern lights are a sight to behold, they can also have an impact on winter birds.

During periods of intense northern lights activity, birds may become disoriented and fly off course. This can be especially dangerous for birds that rely on landmarks to navigate, such as migratory birds. If you notice birds behaving strangely during a northern lights event, it’s important to take steps to protect them.

One way to help birds during a northern lights event is to turn off unnecessary outdoor lights. This can help reduce light pollution and make it easier for birds to navigate. You can also cover windows with curtains or blinds to prevent birds from colliding with them.

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