It’s the time of year, when temperatures get a little nippy, that my mind turns to feeding birds. Bird Feeding is one of the most enjoyable, and easy, ways to interact with wildlife. It provides the opportunity to observe birds up close, learn how to identify them and start a property bird list. In this post, I will give tips for attracting birds and some dos and don’ts of bird feeding.
When I moved to Keeper’s Croft, I was STRESSED. The house-buying-selling-moving situation had not gone smoothly and investing in this place was a really big stretch for me. I questioned more than once whether I had just made a huge mistake.
One of the first turning points for me was the birds.
I don’t even consider myself a bird person but, dang, they are just really cool. I put up a feeder that first winter and I was able to see that I was in the right place because Keeper’s Croft is home to a wonderful diversity of the feathered kind. My feeder gave me the opportunity to meet them all! I’d found my home.
In this post, I’ll provide a quick but hopefully thorough overview of the best practices when feeding birds. I’ll address, how to best attract birds and how to do so responsibly so you are not having an unintended negative impact on them. ANNNNNNND… of course I will provide some tips about how to be kind of lazy about it so that keeping the birds fed doesn’t become a full time job!
First of all, try to feed as high a quality a food as you can afford. Those bird feed mixes in the grocery or farm store with lots of tiny little seeds are not ideal and not preferred. You’ll have a lot of wasted seed. Beyond that, here are the different kinds of seeds and the feeders needed to serve them. If, you just feed only these top three, or even just the very first one mentioned, you will have happy birds and keeping up with the feeders will be easy peasy.
Number ONE with a bullet! If you are just starting or want to keep it simple, I have three words for you: Black. Oil. Sunflower. If you serve up one seed it should be this. It has a high fat content and all your winter birds will eat it. Even the finches (see exhibit A over there on the left) and the woodpeckers. It’s the most popular all around seed and it can be bought in bulk and can be provided in an array of different kinds of feeders. Be sure to get the BLACK OIL sunflower. Most stores also carry striped or just “sunflower” seed and these generally have a tougher shell that is harder for birds to get into. Again, you can just feed black oil sunflower and you’ll make a lot of birds very happy. And probably some squirrels.
To provide some variety, the next on my list in “priority” is suet. Suet is a block of fat with usually some seeds and/or berries mixed in. It is beloved by woodpeckers and nuthatches in particular and does require a particular kind of cage feeder.
The final of what I would call the “major” bird foods, is nyjer or thistle seed. This is the seed of the thistle plant and is quite small, so must be offered in a thistle feeder. A thistle seed feeder can be anything from a fabric mesh sock (see picture) to a more substantial metal and plastic affair. Regardless they all tend to be long and tubular and have small openings which tends to exclude larger birds. Nyjer seed is meant particularly for finches who love it.
If you are feeling like you’d really like to get creative with bird feeding, there are a number of other possibilities. You can feed peanuts in or out of a shell (UNSALTED) in a feeder especially for peanuts. Peanuts are supposed to be very attractive to jays.
I really enjoy feeding big seed blocks, which probably technically count as suet but they hold together better and often come in big cylinders that last a long time.
You can find mealworms pretty readily these days which are generally for birds that primarily eat insects and which only reluctantly switch to other foods in winter (in my area the most common would be American Robins).
Finally, you can also play around with the style of feeder. You can feed pretty much any or all of the above feeds on a platform style feeder. As its name suggests, it is just a platform with a shallow rim. Be sure to make or buy one that has a roof, to keep the seed as dry as possible however.
Heck, why do you even need a feeder? You don’t. The feeders do help keep the seed more contained, and dry which is important. They also discourage rodents. But if you want, put out a small quantity of fresh seed daily on the ground or a deck railing.
Finally, I will just briefly mention sugar water and oranges/grape jelly which are foods that are for specialist species in the summer. Hummingbirds are great fun to feed and just need a 1 to 4 ratio sugar to water solution (no red dye necessary) served up in a special hummingbird feeder. In my area (the upper midwest of USA) you can also attract Baltimore Orioles or catbirds with halved oranges or a bowl of grape jelly.
A lot of advice would have you stick feeders out in the middle of a manicured lawn for best visibility and to thwart squirrels. In reality, this is a terrible idea because it provides no cover for the birds at the feeder. They are putting themselves at great risk visiting a feeder like that! If a Cooper’s Hawk happened by they would be hawk food. Which is okay in the grand scheme of things, Hawks gotta eat too, but the songbirds will appreciate having a fighting chance by having some cover within 5-10 feet of the feeder. Shrubs are best. Last winter I had my 2 feeders hanging off my deck and they really were in no mans land, so I laid my christmas tree out under the feeder and the birds loved it. Especially the Juncos which spend more time under rather than on the feeders.
Have you ever seen those metal feeder trees with like 20 feeders hanging from them? Don’t do this. You don’t want your feeders in groups larger than 3. If you have 20 feeders you should have at least 7 different groupings spread out across your yard.
Clustering birds in really large groups is never a good idea. They are essentially mini-dinosaurs and are rather ill-tempered so gathering too many in one place will cause a lot of fighting and stress. It also increases the risk of spreading disease and makes them more likely to attract predators.
Don’t place feeders too close to windows. Consider installing bird friendly decals on any of the closest windows. Birds are prone to flying into windows and it can injure or kill them.
If you have some feed that isn’t being eaten very fast or if it gets too wet, you’ll want to swap it out for fresh very regularly. Moldy seed isn’t any better for birds than moldy food is for us.
You should also clean your feeders regularly with a 10% bleach solution to help kill any mold or bacteria in the feeder. If you’ve got nice cold winters, this is less of a problem during those months but any time it’s a little warmer, stay on top of cleaning the feeders.
A couple of things that I think you should avoid as a general rule.
I reluctantly bring this up only, because someone is going to be seething about the squirrels. And it’s not just them that will steal from the birds! I mean who doesn’t like a tasty seed. But squirrels are particularly persistent and creative in their pursuit of the seedy goodness.
And my answer to you is a big I don’t know. There are baffles, there are “squirrel proof” feeders, there are all kinds of gadgets and gizmos for which most squirrels will eventually figure out a workaround. If you don’t believe me, you must watch this BRILLIANT video. You owe it to yourself. It’s longish but I predict you will be glued to the screen.
There is a new type of food that includes hot peppers in with the seed. It doesn’t bother the birds because they don’t have taste buds while the mammals, who do, will not be impressed. I haven’t tried it yet so I don’t know how well it works. It is on the pricey side.
My advice? Put up enough feeders so that everyone gets what they want. Learn to love the squirrel:).
I think, hopefully, that covers the basics. Birds are a joy to watch and will help brighten the gloomiest day. So give ’em a snack and give yourself hours of enjoyment and entertainment!
I love books and reading, so I can’t resist including a book recommendation with each post. The book will, in some way, correspond to the post.
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This post’s recommendation is a twofer! It’s the first two books in a series that has a lot of dragons! Since birds are modern flying dinosaurs and dragons are fantastical flying dinosaurs, I think this works:)! The books are Heartstone and Dragonshadow by Elle Katharine White. Heartstone is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in a fantastical world where “Darcy” is a dragon riding, monster slayer. It still has all the gentility and manners of a regency era novel but with a large dollop of adventure. I loved it!
Dragonshadow, follows on after book 1, when the two main characters have married and I was quite nervous I was going to hate it. Instead, I think I liked it even more though it is a very different beast than book 1. There is a third and concluding novel that I am saving for when I want, I need, a special read. It’s one of those series I don’t want to get to the end of!
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