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Bird Feeding 101

When we feed others, we nourish our own souls.

hand feeding a bird

Want to add beauty to your landscape and have a fun and interesting hobby? Start feeding birds and watch them flock to your yard.

Bird watching and feeding is something that everyone can do, from small children to great grandma. Even elderly homebound people can enjoy the birds from a window.

It’s a wonderful way to teach children about nature and wildlife, and it adds vibrant color and activity to your yard.

Young children can do simple tasks like filling the feeder and checking seed levels. Older children can fill or take turns
cleaning feeders.

Those showing a greater interest in this hobby might keep a log of birds they’ve seen and what seems to attract them. And of course everyone can take pictures and share the most interesting ones with the whole family!

Where to begin?

Do some research to find out what birds are native to your area and decide what species you’d like to attract. This will inform your feeder style and food.

Best Feed Choices

There are many types of bird feed. You can buy any number of commercial mixes, buy bags of just one type of seed and use them in different feeders or mix your own. Commercial mixes vary greatly in quality. Use this guide to determine the nutritional value of the mix you’re considering. Alternatively, you can choose a single seed type, or mix two or more on your own to customize the kinds of birds you’ll draw.

bird eating seeds

bird eating seeds from feeder

Here are some of the most commonly used seeds and the birds
they attract:

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds: These are easy to use and have wide appeal among many species. In fact, if you want to keep things simple and feed only one type of seed, this is it.

Black sunflower seeds have high oil and fat content and thin shells that are easy to crack open. This feed will attract cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, finches, titmice, woodpeckers, grosbeaks
and jays.

Be aware that since the hulls aren’t eaten, they will create waste on the ground around your feeder. This type of feed can be offered in most styles of bird feeders.

Hulled Sunflower Seeds (also “Sunflower Hearts”): These will attract the same birds as those stated above, yet they’re more expensive per pound than those in the shells. Of course, you get more food per pound and won’t experience waste in the form of shells around
your feeder.

You will have to be more careful when feeding shelled seeds, as they are more prone to spoilage and bacteria growth. Only leave out
what can be eaten in a day or two and watch the seed carefully. If feeding hulled seeds, avoid tube feeders, where moisture is more likely to collect.

Striped Sunflower Seed is high-fat and high-oil, but the hulls are thicker and may be difficult for some birds. If you’d like to attract cardinals, grosbeaks and chickadees, this is a great food choice. Some nuisance birds such as starlings, blackbirds and house sparrows can’t open them, so feeding this may deter them from your yard.

sunflower seeds

bird eating suet

Safflower is an extremely nutritious flower seed favored by songbirds such as doves, titmice, finches, nuthatches and cardinals. It’s a great food choice, particularly because squirrels, starlings and grackles generally leave it alone.

Nyjer (or Thistle Seed) is nutritious, with high oil, fat and protein content. While expensive, this seed leaves little waste. This can be fed on the ground or in feeders with small openings or fine mesh so it won’t blow away. Nyjer is a favorite of goldfinches. Look for a finch feeder, one that’s designed for tiny seeds.

Suet is animal fat available in concentrated cakes. It can be fed any time of year, but due to its content and possible spoilage in warm weather, many people only offer it in fall and winter. This is when the birds need it most. It can be purchased commercially, and there are also DIY recipes available. It’s served in suet cages, which the birds cling to while they feed.

Undesirable Feed

Some kinds of food are often used as fillers in inexpensive commercial bird feed, but don’t offer much nutritional value and should be avoided. Check feed bags for ingredients and don’t purchase those with these seeds.

Golden Millet, Red Millet and Flax are shunned by most species, which creates waste and promotes bacteria growth.

Cracked corn is cheap and widely available, yet its use will attract animals you may not want. Ground feeders including ducks, quail, geese and turkeys will eat it. but it also attracts cowbirds, bears, raccoons and deer.

Red Milo has less nutritional value for birds and is not generally appealing to smaller songbirds. It’s cheap but there is often a lot of waste with this seed.

golden millet

Bird Feeder Types

Look for feeders that are sturdy enough to withstand weather and squirrels, will keep seeds dry and are easy to clean. A squirrel baffle can be an important component of many feeders to keep these animals away. Plow & Hearth has a large selection of feeders and birdbaths that are both aesthetically pleasing and perfectly designed for your feathered friends’ needs.

Tray/Platform Feeders

These appeal to a wide range of species but open platforms offer no protection from rain, which can promote seed sprouting and bacterial growth. A large footprint means that bird droppings will end up in the tray, contaminating the seed. Look for a screened, rather than solid bottom and plan to clean the tray every day or two. Some platform feeders have a roof, making it easier to keep seed dry. Still, frequent cleaning is a must.

Hopper/House Feeders

These hold seed in a container that spills out to a feeding tray as the seed is eaten. These protect seed fairly well but if it does get wet, bacteria and fungus will take over quickly. They can hold plenty of seed, but care should be taken not to over fill as seed can go bad. Can be mounted on a pole or suspended.

Window Feeders

You can attach these to a window to get a bird’s eye view of your feathered friends. Finches, chickadees, titmice and sparrows.
Birds will feed while standing in the seeds, so they should be cleaned daily.

Tube Feeders

Hollow tubes with mesh keep seed fairly dry and attract smaller songbirds while discouraging larger species. Some, like Plow & Hearth’s Yankee Flipper, are designed to discourage squirrels.

Squirrel-Resistant Caged Tube Feeder

This feeder lets your favorite little songbirds in, while keeping larger birds and squirrels out.

Suet Feeders

These feeders are specifically designed to hold suet. Put them out in the winter for extra nutritional support for the birds.

It’s easy to get started! Just get some bird feed and a feeder, and wait for the birds to find you. Complete your backyard aviary with birdbaths and bird houses to make your home a truly bird friendly paradise.

Mon May 27 08:44:37 EDT 2024