Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds
One way to attract more birds to your yard is to provide a variety of feeders and food. Here are some suggestions for choosing the best kinds of feeders and food to bring in more birds to your yard.
It’s fun to watch the birds at the feeders in our own back yard. It’s been a great way to learn to identify the common and not-so-common birds that visit us, and to get to know their habits and their songs and calls. We start to learn what kinds of birds live in our area all year, and what birds visit us just at certain times of the year (some we see only in summer, some only in winter, some while migrating through). They’re endlessly entertaining to watch at all times of the year!
We’ve found that the best way to get the most birds into our yard is by putting out a few feeders, each with their own type of bird seed.
Considerations For Choosing a Bird Feeder
There are many kinds of bird feeders and many types of bird seed and other food to fill the feeders. The best choice of bird feeders for you will depend partly on what birds you want to attract to your backyard or garden area. You may decide that you want to attract many species of birds, and choose to put up a few different feeders filled with a variety of food.
Consider the following in the choices you make when you are deciding what kinds and how many feeders you will put out:
- What kinds of birds do you want to attract?
- Where do you want to place the feeder?
- Will you have easy access to it?
- Is the feeder easy to clean?
- How much bird seed will it hold?
- Does it keep the bird seed dry? If not, will you replace the bird seed frequently?
I recommend that you start with just one feeder and see how that goes. If you can keep that one filled and clean, then you might try adding more. If it’s difficult for you to keep on top of caring for your bird feeder, don’t add more. There’s nothing sadder than a lot of neglected, empty bird feeders in your yard! It’s also important to keep your feeders clean so that the food doesn’t become contaminated with molds and bacteria which can make the birds sick.
Different Birds Prefer Different Feeders and Food
Here are a few different types of feeders. Some attract many species of birds, while others are more specific to just a few species. You might decide to have more than one kind to attract a greater variety of birds. I’ve included information on each type listed here along with online buying suggestions. There are also many places locally that may sell feeders, such as hardware stores, home and garden stores, and specialized wild bird stores. For each type, there are many styles to choose from of course, inexpensive or more expensive, rustic or more modern, simple and basic to very fancy. For the most part, the examples I show on this page are the more basic designs.
Types of Feeders:
- House or hopper
- Thistle or nyjer finch
- Seed cakes, seed bells
Tray or Platform Feeders
Tray feeders are simple to maintain, often inexpensive, and attract a large variety of birds including ground-feeding birds that usually don’t visit other kinds of feeders.
Look for tray feeders with screened bottoms for better drainage. Since this kind of feeder doesn’t protect the bird food from rain or snow, only put out enough for a couple days at a time, and clean off the old seed before you add the new.
The one shown below is simple and easy to maintain, with the benefit of being able to set it out anywhere in your yard. No hanging required!
House or Hopper Feeders
House feeders usually keep the bird seed protected from the elements. They can be put up on a pole or suspended from a pole or tree branch.
This type of bird feeder attracts finches, cardinals, jays, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice, along with other feeder birds. House feeders hold a few days worth of food, which is fine as long as it doesn’t get wet. They’re more difficult to clean than tray feeders.
The hopper feeder shown above is similar to one we have in our yard. It has removable plexiglass front and back, for easier cleaning.
Suet feeders are usually metal or plastic mesh cages that hold suet cakes.
Suet is a mixture of animal fat and other ingredients that attract insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, blue jays, and cardinals. Suet is a quick source of energy for birds, and is a good substitute for insects when the weather is too cold for many insects. Suet can be put out all year. The product shown below is the simplest and most inexpensive design for a suet feeder, and it works very well. You can hang it from another bird feeder or pole, or from a nail on a tree. We hang one on the side of our hopper feeder.
Tube feeders keep bird seed fairly clean and dry.
Tube feeders with smaller perches will attract smaller birds, such as finches, chickadees, and sparrows, keeping away larger birds such as grackles and jays.
Larger tube feeders will of course hold more seed, but if there aren’t many birds around during certain times, it’s best to use smaller feeders, so that the seed doesn’t get old and contaminated. The one shown above is a good size to start with.
Thistle or Nyjer Finch Feeders
Thistle feeders are more correctly called nyjer feeders, since nyjer seed, and not thistle seed, is used to fill these feeders. Nyjer feeders attract goldfinches, house and purple finches, pine siskins, and redpolls.
Nyjer seed isn’t from a local U.S. plant, but rather it is from India, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Burma. It is irradiated so it can’t sprout and grow in your backyard. Nyjer seed dries out when it gets old, and then the birds won’t eat it, so buy smaller quantities to begin with until you can tell how quickly it is being eaten. While I usually don’t get as many Goldfinches at a time as the feeder shown below, I have gotten two or three at a time.
Window bird feeders are usually a modified platform feeders that can attach to windows with suction cups or hook into window frames. Usually they are clear so you can watch the birds through the feeder.
These bird feeders attract smaller birds such as cardinals, finches, chickadees, sparrows, and titmice. Seed should be changed daily since birds often stand in these feeders.
Hummingbird feeders hold a sugar water mixture made from four parts water to one part sugar. These feeders should be cleaned out every 3 or 4 days, so the liquid doesn’t spoil.
Smaller feeders have fewer ports, while larger ones can accommodate more hummingbirds. Since ants have a way of finding these feeders, many hummingbird feeders have an ant moat – a small cup in the middle of the feeder filled with regular water that keeps the ants from getting to the nectar.
The feeder below is the one we use. We hang it on a hook from our house, and can easily see the jewel-like ruby-throated hummingbirds that come to it. It works perfectly for our needs.
Seed Cakes, Seed Bells
Hanging seed bells or seed cakes is an easy way to feed birds! You can buy different mixtures to attract different birds, although do buy a good quality bird seed mix, since many bird seed mixtures in seed cakes or seed bells have too many kinds of seeds that birds won’t eat.
Some seed cakes fit in suet feeders like the one I show earlier on this page. Others may fit a particular seed cake holder. These cost a little more, but they are very attractive.
What Kind of Bird Seed to Choose, What to Avoid
- The favorite food of many birds is the black oil sunflower seed. It has a thinner shell than striped sunflower seeds, and is easier to shell by more birds. If you prefer to discourage house sparrows and black birds, put out the thicker shelled striped sunflower seeds.
- Nyjer seed attracts gold finches, house and purple finches, pine siskins, and redpolls (depending, of course, on what lives in your area).
- White millet is enjoyed by many ground-feeding birds, such as sparrows, juncos, doves, cardinals, cowbirds, and blackbirds.
- Birds that like rapeseed include juncos, doves, and finches. Most other birds will ignore this, so if you’re not getting birds that like rapeseed, don’t buy mixtures that include it.
- Some of the birds that like peanuts are jays, crows, woodpeckers, titmice and chickadees.
- Put out corn to attract doves, jays, juncos, starlings, and white-throated sparrows.
SEEDS TO AVOID include golden and red millet and flax. Most birds will not eat these, and when left for long the seeds easily become contaminated, causing unhealthy conditions in the bird feeders. Also it’s good to avoid canary seed, since it draws the already overly-prevalent house sparrows and cowbirds.
The cheaper mixed bird seed bags are filled with too many kinds of seeds that don’t appeal to most birds who come to tube or hopper bird feeders. The birds will kick out the seeds that they don’t want and eat just the sunflower seeds, making a mess underneath. It’s a better idea to buy unmixed seeds and place different kinds in different feeders to attract a variety of birds to your backyard.
What Bird Feeders Will You Choose to Attract More Birds to Your Backyard?
Whichever you choose, make sure to keep them filled and clean. That way you will continue to attract a variety of birds to your yard!