Bird Feeding Basics

By National Gardening Association Editors

Different species of birds have different preferences when it comes to food and feeders. Some birds prefer tube feeders, while others like hopper styles. If you want to see lots of birds, offer a varied menu at different types of feeders.

Hopper feeders have a seed storage area that spills down onto a small platform. This type of feeder attracts a wide range of bird types, especially if it's filled with black oil sunflower seed.

Platform feeders consist of an open area on which you set the seed. Mimicking open ground, platforms attract ground feeders such as juncos, white-throated and tree sparrows, towhees, doves, cardinals, jays, and many finches. Use any type of food, but know that if you fill the platform with mixed seed, much of it will be wasted as the birds pick out their favorites and scatter the rest.

Tube feeders attract perching birds such as goldfinches, redpolls, siskins, finches, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. The Audubon Society says that if you are putting out just one feeder, use a tube feeder filled with sunflower seed.

Thistle feeders have numerous perches and small holes, and should be filled with niger (thistle) seed, which is a favorite of finches.

Suet feeders attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and others. Ask your butcher for suet or purchase special suet blocks or seed cakes.

In summer, set out nectar feeders to attract hummingbirds.

Some birds don't eat seed. To attract fruit- and berry-eating birds, such as waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds, soak raisins or currants in water and place them on a platform feeder.

Select the Best Location

Where you feed is as important as what and how you feed. Set your feeder where it will be convenient for you to refill it. Ideally, place it about ten feet from a tree or shrub -- close enough so birds waiting their turn to feed will be protected; far enough to keep cats and squirrels from leaping to the feeder. Locate it in a sheltered area, away from prevailing winter winds. And finally, remember that feeding birds can be a messy endeavor so avoid hanging feeders over a porch or deck unless you don't mind cleaning the area regularly.

Keep Feeders Clean and Stocked

Clean feeders periodically, especially if they are in a location where the seeds can get wet. Once you start feeding, try to keep the feeders stocked with seeds. Although the limited studies done to date suggest that birds don't become completely dependent on food in bird feeders, it's important to keep feeders filled during the coldest part of the winter since this is when birds have the hardest time meeting their calorie requirements.

Foil the Squirrels

Unfortunately, squirrels are as attracted to feeders as birds are, and they'll devour or scatter all the seeds in a flash. There are all sorts of squirrel barriers you can purchase and install, or you can try a new "squirrel-proof" feeder.

Take Steps to Protect Your Feathered Friends

Although you want to be able to watch birds through the window, placing feeders near windows can also result in repeated bird/window collisions which often result in the bird's death. Experts believe that birds fly into windows because they can see the sky and landscape reflected so they just keep on flying, not perceiving the pane of glass. If birds are having repeated collisions, try moving the feeders further away from the window -- or closer so collisions will cause less injury. Also, anything you can do to break up the reflection will help, such as adding window awnings to shade the surface and placing decals on the outside of the glass.

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