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Feeding Backyard Birds

Having a bird feeder in your yard is a popular way to attract feathered visitors.  With the proper feeder and the proper bird food, you'll be able to observe birds every day.

Choosing a Bird Feeder

Bird feeders come in many shapes and sizes.  Most can be divided into several main categories:           


Tube feeders  involve a tube of birdseed with holes on the sides for feeding.  They can be wooden, metal, or plastic, and be as simple or fancy as you want.

Hopper feeders  contain the birdseed in a compartment which it slowly pours out of into a tray.  Some have anti-squirrel features like weighted platforms.  Choose one with a large gap for the birdseed to pour out through.  This allows you to use birdseed with nuts, which attracts more birds.

Thistle feeders  are specialized tube feeders designed for filling with Niger thistle seed, which is much smaller than normal birdseed.  Most of these feeders are plastic.

Platform feeders (or bird tables)  are trays on which a variety of foods can be placed.  Along with birdseed, a platform feeder can hold orange slices, mealworms, peanuts, and many other items.  A platform feeder can be made of wood, metal, plastic, or ceramic and may be mounted on a post, hung, or placed on the ground.  You can even use a large terra-cotta dish as a platform feeder.  One major disadvantage is that it's almost impossible to keep mammals, like rodents, out of a platform feeder.

Suet feeders  are feeders designed to hold suet (animal fat) which attracts many insect eating birds.  They come in a variety of forms.

Hummingbird feeders  hold sugar water.  Choose one with the color red, which hummingbirds can easily spot.  A helpful feature on a hummingbird feeder is a plastic "moat" meant to fill with water to keep ants away.

Filling the Feeder

The food you put in your feeder depends on what type of feeder it is and what birds you want to attract with it.  The following are common to feed to the birds:

Birdseed mix  is very versatile.  Many garden birds will eat it, and many feeders will hold it.  If you've never fed the birds, start with birdseed.  It's best not to buy the "bargain" birdseed, because this usually contains mostly seeds that birds don't favor.  Choose one that includes nuts, dried fruits, and sunflower seeds for the best results.

Niger thistle seed  is highly favored by finches.  Put it in a thistle feeder.

Sunflower seeds  are found in many seed mixes but are also fed alone because of their high desirability to birds.  Most hopper feeders or tube feeders can hold sunflower seeds.

Millet  can be put in feeders or fed as "spray" millet, which means it is still on the dried stalks of the plant.  Be careful about buying birdseed with millet: "Bargain birdseeds" that list millet as an ingredient may actually contain canary seed instead.  Millet is highly desirable to birds, but canary seed is not and results in a lot of waste.

Nuts  are attractive to many birds.  For best results, place them in a tube feeder with large (1-inch) holes or on a platform feeder.  If it's too expensive to buy nuts for the birds, try a birdseed mix that contains some.

Fresh fruit  attracts some birds that will not come for birdseed.  Put out some orange slices for orioles in the summer or put grapes on your platform feeder for other fruit eating birds.

Suet (animal fat)  attracts insect eating birds.  It's best to put this out only on cold (but not rainy) days because of its tendency to go rancid in the heat.  You can buy it cheaply at places that sell meat, or purchase cakes of it at a feed store.

Sugar water , also known as hummingbird nectar, can be made by boiling one part white sugar and four parts water.  This homemade mixture is better than store-bought ones because it does not contain preservatives.  Never add red food coloring, because it is unnecessary and can harm the hummingbirds.  Use a red feeder instead.

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