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Choosing a Bird Feeder

How To Select The Right Feeder For Your Yard

A bird perches on hand waiting to be fedWhen practiced properly, feeding birds in your backyard benefits the local bird population and provides hours of enjoyment. The first step in making your yard a paradise for hungry birds is choosing the best type of bird feeder (or feeders) for your situation.

Your choice will depend highly on the types of birds you want to attract. Feeding behavior differs by bird species, and some feeders tend to attract more of one type of bird than another. Feeders also differ in terms of maintenance requirements; when making your selection, consider how easy a feeder will be to clean and refill and how often refilling will be required. Review the following common feeder types and get ready to enjoy this great hobby.

Tray or platform feeders

Perhaps the simplest of the feeder designs, a platform or tray feeder is exactly what it sounds like: a platform that holds seed and provides a place for birds to feed as they stand. Platform feeders have the advantage of being easy to clean, and they tend to attract a diversity of bird species. Their open construction makes viewing birds from all sides easy. Platform feeders can also be placed close to the ground to attract many ground-feeding birds.

Many platform feeders are open to the elements; after rain, throw out wet seed that, if left too long, can sprout, spoil or promote bacterial or mold growth. Look for feeders with mesh bottoms that promote drainage and allow bird droppings to fall away from the seed. Be sure to put out enough seed only for a few days and clean frequently. Caution: the platform feeder's open construction may provide easy access for deer, squirrels and other hungry wildlife.

Birds attracted to platform feeders include:

  • Pigeons
  • Starlings
  • House finches
  • Jays
  • Northern cardinals
  • Song sparrows
  • Titmice

Ground feeders include:

  • Doves
  • Juncos
  • Jays
  • Sparrows
  • Towhees
  • Goldfinches
  • Cardinals

Hopper or house feeders

Hopper feeders are enclosed feeders that feed out seed at the bottom. Hopper feeders may hold several pounds of food and need not be refilled for several days. As with platform feeders, hopper or house feeders attract a wide variety of bird species.

Hopper feeders must be completely emptied, cleaned and allowed to dry at least once a month. They can be a bit harder to clean than platform feeders. Hopper feeders tend to protect seed from the elements better than a platform feeder, but you should still check them every few days to make sure the seed has not spoiled.

Birds attracted to hopper feeders include:

  • House finches
  • Jays
  • Northern cardinals
  • Titmice
  • Grackles
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Buntings
  • Chickadees

Window feeders

Window feeders usually are small plastic boxes or platforms that attach to a window with suction cups or hook to the window sill. They offer the advantages of being easy to clean and providing extreme closeup views of birds. Feeders attached directly to the window are one of the safest types for preventing window collisions, say specialists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Because birds stand directly in the seed while feeding, these types of feeders need to be cleaned and refilled daily.

Birds attracted to window feeders include:

  • Finches
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Certain types of sparrows

Tube feeders

Tube feeders are hanging-type feeders that allow birds to feed through screens or ports. They keep the seed fairly protected from the elements.

Tube feeders often have small perches that perching birds are attracted to. One of the main advantages of a tube feeder is that it prevents competition from larger birds, such as jays. Tube feeders may also be somewhat squirrel-proof, although squirrels may chew through flimsily designed feeders. Audubon specialists recommend selecting a tube feeder with metal ports around the seed dispensers to protect the feeder from squirrels and house sparrows. You may also select a model with perches designed for birds that can feed upside down, which will encourage birds such as goldfinches.

Cornell specialists recommend checking frequently to make sure unused seed doesn't sit in the bottom of the feeder and rot. Use a feeder just large enough so that bird populations will empty the feeder often.

Birds attracted to tube feeders include:

  • Goldfinches
  • House finches
  • Chickadees
  • Pine siskins
  • Redpolls

Nyjer feeders

Nyjer seed is a tiny, black oilseed grown in Africa and Asia and imported to the U.S. as bird feed. Nyjer seed is also known as "thistle seed," although it's not related to the thistle plant.

Nyjer feeders are often tube-shaped and specially designed with tiny feeding holes to allow access only only small-beaked birds, such as finches. Another type of nyjer feeder looks like a hanging mesh bag, which birds cling to while they feed. Cornell specialists note that the bag-type designs can get very wet, and thus should be emptied and refilled after rain.

Birds attracted to nyjer feeders include:

  • Goldfinches
  • House finches
  • Redpolls
  • Pine siskins

Suet feeders

Suet is a type of high fat and protein feed that generally contains peanut butter or rendered fat mixed with grains and seeds. You can purchase feeders specially designed to hold suet cakes, which hold the cakes and allow birds to feed through a wire mesh.

Suet may attract high numbers of less-desirable starlings, although starlings cannot easily feed upside down so hanging suet feeders open only from the bottom will discourage them. Remember that suet can spoil in the hot sun.

Suet feeders attract birds such as:

  • Woodpeckers
  • Bluebirds
  • Wrens
  • Warblers
  • Nuthatches
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Jays
  • Cardinals
  • Starlings

Hummingbird feeders

Hummingbird feeders are designed to hold liquid nectar substitutes and often come in bright colors. If you make your own nectar, be sure not to use honey, which can harbor a bacterium that harms hummingbirds.


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