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on selecting a bird feeder
and what to feed
to place feeders
Tube Usually plastic, a
tube that holds seed and has small holes along the sides. The tube may have
perches attached or be surrounded with wire mesh. It may have a tray at the
bottom to catch spilled seed. Tube feeders can be hung or mounted on poles.
The size of the perches and the bottom tray determine which birds can use
Open platform, shelf, table, or tray A
flat surface, often with edges. Platform feeders can be hung, mounted on a
pole or legs, or secured to a flat surface such as a stump. Homemade options
Platform feeders attract the widest variety of birds, including ground
- A very simple platform feeder can be made by attaching a large jar lid
to a stake or old broomstick. Place among shrubs or near a window.
- Edging attached to a thin piece of plywood. Tiny drilled holes for
drainage will help keep seed from spoiling or sprouting.
- Build two simple identical frames and sandwich screening between them.
Covered platform, hanging table A
platform feeder with a roof. The roof helps keep the food dry and, depending
on height, may also keep larger birds from monopolizing the feeder.
Hopper A platform, often
covered, with a container to dispense seed. The container helps keep the
food dry. Homemade hoppers can be as simple as an large upside down can
(with holes around the bottom edges) or a jar (resting on small pieces of
wood) on a small platform.
The size of the platform and the height of the roof determines which
birds can use the feeder.
Suet Suet feeders come in
many styles: hanging wire baskets, mesh bags, and wire mesh or a can
attached to a small wooden tray. Homemade options:
Suet feeders attract insect-eating birds.
- A tree branch, 3-6 inches in diameter, with suet or a peanut butter
mixture smeared on the bark. A cup hook screwed into one end (make sure
it's in tight), and the branch is hung near other feeders. Mine is oak.
Many birds find the suet when they use the branch as a perch on their
way to the other feeders.
- Coat pine cones with suet or a peanut butter mixture and roll in
seeds. Hang in clusters.
- Drill holes of various sizes in a small log and fill them with suet or
a peanut butter mixture. Attach a cup hook and hang.
Bowl, dome Basically an
small upright bowl with a larger upside down bowl above it. The distance
between the two determines which birds can use the feeder. These are easily
made with a fine-mesh colander as the bottom bowl.
Nectar There are several
designs. Those that require hovering will attract only hummingbirds. If
perching is possible, orioles may visit. Homemade nectar feeders can be made
from stoppered bottles or water bottles designed for pets painted or taped
with a red stripe as a welcome sign. Nectar feeders must be cleaned
What to offer
Location Generally, feeders
should be placed within 20 feet of cover. If there are cats in the area,
placing feeders too close to cover may give them a place to hide and catch
the birds off guard. If squirrels are a problem, using baffles and moving
the feeders 10-15 feet from structures, trees, and shrubs should help.
Several types of feeders in different locations and at different heights
will attract the largest variety of birds. Clusters of feeders are also
New feeders The best way
I've found to attract birds to a new feeder is to attach a small piece of
aluminum foil to it.
Moving feeders To move
feeders, especially when moving them closer to the house, do so gradually.
Even shier birds will accept a feeder that moves a foot each week.
Windows Birds may be
confused by reflections from windows if a feeder is placed nearby. If birds
collide with the windows, the obvious solution is to move the feeder.
However, it may be enough to move the feeder slightly, to change the angle
of the birds' approach. Hanging pieces of yarn or using decals may also
work. Closing the drapes or blinds will probably reduce reflection, but it
will also defeat the purpose if your objective is to observe the birds.
Grains Oats, buckwheat, and
cracked corn are often part of commercial mixtures. They attract
larger birds, such as crows, that push the smaller birds aside. Cracked corn
sprinkled on the ground distracts them from the feeders.
- Sunflower seeds, especially the
more nutritious black oilers, are the most popular. The hulls contain a
chemical that discourages plant growth. If this is a problem, you can
rake up the hulls regularly or put down a piece of screen to catch them.
Sunflower seed hearts (hulls removed) are available.
- Millet is a small grass seed
eaten by many small birds. White is preferred to red by many birds.
- Thistle or nyjer seeds
are small dark seeds popular with finches and sparrows. It is usually
more expensive than other types of seeds.
- Safflower seeds are eaten
primarily by cardinals, chickadees, and white-throated sparrows. More
expensive than sunflower seed, safflower's strongest selling point is
that most squirrels, crows, and grackles don't like it. They may find
another food source if a favorite feeder only offers safflower seed for
a week or two.
- Mixes attract the widest variety
of birds. Shop around to get the best price and compare labels to get the best value.
Some mixes contain grains and seeds that birds don't like. Grains
attract crows and grackles. Seed that doesn't appeal is often tossed off
Nuts Unless you have a
homegrown supply, peanuts are the most economical nuts to offer. Try
offering them with and without the shell. Use only raw peanuts. If you offer
other nuts, such as walnuts, crack the shell. Nuts need to be offered in a
Fruit Fresh and dried
fruit is popular with many birds, including those who won't visit a feeder
for seed. Dried fruit can be added to seed in a hopper. Offer fresh fruit,
such as half of an orange or chopped apple, on a platform feeder or in a
mesh basket. Experiment to find out which fruits are popular in your area.
Suet Suet mixtures contain
rendered fat, usually beef, and a variety of other ingredients. In warm
weather, it becomes rancid quickly -- use suet dough mixtures instead.
Commercial suet cakes are available. To make it at home, melt a cup of suet,
let it cool and solidify. Melt it again and add enough ingredients until you
have a thick pudding-like mixture. Pour it into small containers (tuna cans,
a muffin tin) and let it cool. Additional ingredients could include corn
meal, crushed dog food, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and chopped nuts.
Peanut butter mixtures The
possibilities are endless! Do not feed peanut butter alone though as birds
may choke on it. A basic recipe combines equal amounts of peanut butter and
cornmeal. Experiment by adding ingredients like those used in suet mixtures.
Peanut butter cakes are often available where suet cakes are sold.
Leftovers Bread crusts,
cookie crumbs, and other baked goods will be gobbled up by the birds.
Leftover rice, pasta, and potatoes are more nutritious. Stale dry pet food
is eaten by larger birds, who often dip it in water to soften it. I put
scraps in a small hanging platform feeder on the back porch. It stays drier
there and I can easily watch for signs of spoilage.
Nectar Nectar mixtures can
be purchased but it is very simple to make at home. Combine 1 part sugar and
4 parts water (eg., 1/2 cup sugar + 2 cups water) and bring to a boil. Stir
until the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool. Do not use
honey (it may grow a fatal mold) or red coloring.
Feeders Once a month, wash
with dish detergent plus a mild bleach solution (1 part chlorine bleach and
10 parts water). Rinse thoroughly and let dry before refilling.
Nectar feeders Clean twice
a week as above.
Around feeders Rake up
hulls. Moldy hulls and seeds and those contaminated by bird droppings can
spread disease to the birds.
food preference table:
based in part on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's
1995-96 Seed Preference Test, a National Science
Experiment sponsored by the National Science