Backyard Bird Feeding Basics: Best Seeds, Grains, Nuts and Treats for Michigan Winter Birds (with Chart)

Backyard Bird Feeding Basics: Best Seeds, Grains, Nuts and Treats for Michigan Winter Birds (with Chart)

Michigan winters can be brutal, as any native of the Great Lakes State will attest. With freezing cold temperatures, bitter sub-zero wind chills, inches of ice build-up, and over 5 feet of average snowfall each year across the state, Michigan can be difficult to endure, even for those of us with access to comfort food and warm shelter. 

This is even more of a challenge for Michigan winter birds. In order to be able to locate sufficient shelter to withstand the weather and survive frequent winter storms, these birds must be able to find enough of the right types of feed and seeds to stay warm and energized.  

During the winter months, you will likely notice different types of birds in your backyard than you do during the rest of the year. Some birds migrate south for the winter, while others, like cardinals and blue jays, remain in Michigan to stick it out with us.

Still others, like Dark-eyed Juncos, actually migrate TO Michigan for the winter (crazy)

To make sure these fellow winter Michigan residents have enough to eat (and have enough energy to search for food and maintain body heat) during this time, it's important to provide access to the right types of bird seed and other foods.

In order to select the right type of bird seed, suet, or other bird foods, you need to know which species of birds you will feeding.

Which particular species of birds will be searching for food and shelter in your yard this winter?

You need to consider which species of birds you can expect to be visiting your yard. This will determine which bird food, treats, seeds and seed mixes they are most likely searching for to eat. 

There are many species of birds that can be seen on a snowy day in Michigan. If you’ve lived in the same home, or the same general area for years, you may already have some idea of the types of birds you can expect to be stopping by.

There are more Michigan winter birds than you might think

You might be surprised to learn that, during the 121st Audubon Christmas Bird Watch in Michigan in 2021, participants recorded the presence of 158 different bird species across the state. The Audubon Christmas Bird Watch is an annual winter bird census that started in 1900.

While it would be nearly impossible to know every individual bird species that could pass through your yard this winter, we do have a pretty good idea of which Michigan winter birds are most likely to drop by your home or property in their search for food and shelter.

We’ve combined the population numbers (how many there are) with the distribution numbers (how much of the state they cover) and created this handy list of 12 Michigan winter birds that are most likely to be visiting your home this winter.

12 most common winter birds in Michigan (in alphabetical order)

  1. American Goldfinch
  2. Black-capped Chickadee
  3. Blue Jay
  4. Cardinal (Northern)(more common in lower Michigan than in the Upper Peninsula)
  5. Dark-eyed Junco
  6. European Starling
  7. House Sparrow
  8. Mourning Dove
  9. Nuthatches (White-breasted & Red-breasted)
  10. Rock Pigeon
  11. Tufted Titmouse
  12. Woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied)

What do these Michigan winter birds like to eat?

There are many options when it comes to bird feed, seed mixes, and other foods. The specific types of seeds, grains, and other feed that a particular species will eat is dependent on a range of factors. Some of the reasons why bird species will prefer different foods include:

  • Physical attributes
    • Birds with shorter, stronger beaks, like the Blue Jay, can break open even tough-shelled nuts like acorns and hazelnuts, while many others on this list are simply not able.
    • Some birds, like starlings, can't break through grains or nut shells very well and need softer foods that they can access more easily.
    • Larger birds have little problems eating whole peanuts, while others prefer them to be chopped into smaller pieces.
  • Natural tendencies
    • Many birds on this list eat a varied diet of seeds, grains and grasses as well as insects and worms. However, insects are much harder to come by in winter, so they are happy to have access to mealworms or freeze-dried crickets.
    • Some species that usually eat a diet with a higher proportion of insects are natural hunters and may avoid jumping or flying insects, like crickets or grasshoppers, if they are already dead.
    • Birds that tend to move in larger flocks tend to be wary of their surroundings and may avoid eating until they are in a group. Even then, they may avoid feeders and will prefer to forage through seeds that have fallen to the ground, so they can be in the open and keep watch in all directions.

Thankfully, we know what kind of grains and seeds that certain species of birds are likely to eat, so we can give them a helping hand by providing bird feeders stocked with their favorite food. In addition to attracting beautiful winter birds to our Michigan backyards, this simple act can help them survive the colder months.  

If your goal is to provide for as many of these species as possible, you could opt for a general seed mix that is heavy on sunflower seed (which is a top choice of almost every bird on this list).

If your goal is to attract one or more particular species, you can use the chart below to make sure you have exactly what they're looking for. 

 Best Foods and Treats for the Most Common Michigan Winter Birds

 Michigan Winter Bird Species

Primary Food Choices

Favorite Treats

American Goldfinch
Nyjer seeds, sunflower seeds, coneflowers
Suet, chopped peanuts
Black-capped Chickadee
Sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn
Hulled sunflower kernels, chopped peanuts, berries, mealworms
Blue Jay
Sunflower seeds, acorns, cracked corn, peanuts, hazelnuts
Suet, mealworms
Safflower seeds, sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn
Suet, peanuts, fruit, berries
Dark-eyed Junco
Sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, safflower seeds
Chopped peanuts, mealworms
European Starling
Sunflower hearts, raisins, berries, chopped peanuts
Suet, mealworms
House Sparrow
Black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, millet, cracked corn, milo, wheat, oats
Mourning Dove
Black oil sunflower seeds, sorghum, safflower seed, millet, milo, cracked corn
Sunflower hearts, wheat
Nuthatches (White-breasted, Red-breasted)
Sunflower seeds, chopped peanuts
Suet, mealworms
Rock Pigeon
Cracked corn, oats, sorghum
Peas, chopped peanuts
Tufted Titmouse
Black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower kernels, Nyjer seed
Suet, chopped peanuts, mealworms
Woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied)
Black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, millet
Suet, shelled peanuts, mealworms


We love Michigan and we love our Michigan backyard winter birds. Standish Milling is proud to be one of the top sources of bird feed, seed mixes, and treats in the state. We are a wholesaler and retailer of our very own custom bird feeds as well as popular general bird seed, suets, and grain blends.

If you're looking for the best selection of wild bird feed, feeders and other products to help care for our feathered friends, you can visit our retail store or order online with confidence.

If you're a retailer looking for a wholesale partner to supply you with the best bird seed in the state, we would love to speak with you. Give us a call today at (989)273-2746