Choosing a Bird Feeder So Many Choices Which One is Right for Your Yard?
With so many different types and sizes of bird feeders available, which one should you buy? A lot depends on the birds you’d like to attract, as well as how much space you have.
Bird feeders come in a variety of styles and sizes depending on what you’re serving and who’s eating at your diner. Each feeder is designed to hold a specific food- from seeds & nuts to suet, fruits & nectar, even insects and baked goods. They are made from a variety of materials as well- plastic, glass, wood, metal and even recycled materials. If your budget allows, I would suggest avoiding the plastic ones, as I’ve had many a feeder damaged by over-zealous squirrels trying to get at the food inside.
What a bird eats often depends on the type of bill they have. As well, different birds tend to feed at different levels so you may want to put out more than one type of feeder if you have the room. Consider hanging multiple feeders from a single pole to maximize your space. This will not only attract a larger variety of birds but also help reduce conflicts at the dinner table.
If you are just starting out and only have room for one feeder, my tried-and-true favorite is the Hopper Feeder, also commonly referred to as the Gazebo Feeder. It is available in a variety of sizes, styles and colors, and is fairly inexpensive. It can be mounted on a pole or hung from any convenient location. If your budget allows, I would suggest purchasing one with a metal frame, as opposed to the more common plastic frames. The drawback to the plastic frame, although lightweight, is that I’ve had many of them destroyed by hungry squirrels. Hopper feeders can be filled with Wild Bird Seed or Black Oil Sunflower Seed, however, my backyard birds prefer the Black Oil Sunflower Seed. Wild Bird Seed, while generally cheaper, is made up of Sunflower seeds with lots of filler seeds that generally go to waste. We buy our Black Oil Sunflower seed in 50-pound bags for between $17.99 – $19.99 at Thiele’s Country Max in North Tonawanda, NY. Prices will vary depending on where you live but you can get similar prices at many of the feed stores and you’ll appreciate the savings once you get started with backyard bird feeding. We commonly see a large variety of birds at these feeders including Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouse, Chickadees, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Sparrows, Finches, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Red-Breasted Grosbeaks and many more.
Another of my must-haves is the Suet Feeder. This is a small metal cage in which you insert a suet cake and hang from a tree branch, shepherd’s hook or even a hopper feeder. Suet cakes come in a variety of flavors and are made up of suet (a by-product of meat fat) mixed with seeds, nuts and/or fruits and berries. We use the basic cakes which contain seeds and purchase them in bulk, either at our local feed store or home improvement center. By the dozen, they are only 79 cents each, a very inexpensive way to treat the birds, however, the cakes that contain nuts and berries are slightly more expensive (again, prices may vary depending on where you live). I’ve found that storing them in the refrigerator not only keeps them fresher, and from melting in the hot summer months, but makes them easier to remove from their plastic trays. You can also make your own suet mixtures with low-cost suet purchased from your local butcher and add your own nuts and berries. We attract a variety of Woodpeckers, including Downy, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Northern Flickers as well as Nuthatches (both White & Red-Breasted), Tufted Titmouse, Sparrows and more. Unfortunately, European Starlings and Squirrels are a big fan of suet. We are eagerly trying to entice the Piliated Woodpecker living in our woods to come closer with suet but have not had any luck as of yet.
Tray Feeders are available in 2 styles- covered and open. These types of feeders allow you to serve a wide variety of foods, including seeds, along with items that don’t fit into standard bird feeders, such as nuts, baked goods, meal worms and fruit to name a few. We made our own open tray feeder with some wood scraps and window screen, filled it with cherries and red grapes and the Catbirds and Robins just love it. The only drawback is that the raccoons enjoy the berries too.
If you’re looking to attract Hummingbirds to your yard, in addition to planting nectar-producing flowers, try placing a Hummingbird Feeder in your garden. Attach it to a low hanging tree branch or hang it from a small shepherds hook, preferably in a somewhat shady area near flowers and a tree for perching. You can purchase pre-made nectar, but we’ve found that our Hummingbirds actually prefer the home-made kind and it’s not only cheaper but really easy to make. Just mix 1-part white sugar to 4-parts room temperature water. Mix it well until the sugar is completely dissolved. Use real sugar- no artificial sweeteners. There is no need to add red dye, as this can actually harm the birds. Instead, place your feeder in a garden of red flowers, tie a red ribbon on it or just let the red color of the feeder guide these little beauties to your yard. Be sure to change the nectar frequently, as it can begin to ferment if left out for more than a few days, making these little birds sick. Once your new feeders become established, you may find that they attract pests, but once you see these little beauties, you won’t let that stop you. One issue is ants… Ants love sugar water and will climb up any pole or branch to get to it. They aren’t very smart though because they will climb inside the feeder and drown. Many stores sell moats that you can attach above the feeder, but keeping it filled with water on hot summer days can be futile due to the water evaporating so quickly. You can also apply a layer of petroleum jelly to the pole or branch and the ants will not cross this line. The second issue is bees… To reduce the attraction to bees and wasps, purchase a feeder that doesn’t have yellow feeding ports. Bees like yellow and Hummingbirds like red. If you have one with yellow ports, try painting them red with a non-toxic paint. Once your Hummingbirds are established, you’ll be glad you took the time to make your yard Hummer-friendly.
Tube feeders come in a variety of styles and sizes like most other feeders. A solid glass or plastic tube feeder usually has 4-6 adjustable-sized ports and can be filled with an assortment of seeds including Sunflower, Niger (also called Thistle) and Wild Bird Seed. The port size depends on the seed being served (large seed-large port; small seed-small port). Tube feeders made of a mesh-like screen come in two screen types as well. A screen with small holes is good for Thistle seed (also called Niger) and can attract Finches, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and more. Feeders with larger holes are great for nut-eating birds like Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, Woodpeckers and more.
While there are a wide variety of bird feeders available, I hope this has encouraged you to go out and pick one out and begin your backyard birding journey. I plan to revamp some of my feeders once the weather breaks by mounting a 4-inch by 4-inch wooden post into the ground and attaching a variety of feeders to it. We already see about 32 different bird species in our yard and this year I’d like to see that increase. My ultimate goal is to attract Blue Birds and Owls- surprisingly which elude my yard.