Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo: Jeremy M. Lang/Plants for Birds Project
Turn Your Yard Into a Bird Magnet
Which Birds Will Visit?
Habitat influences the variety of birds that are likely to visit your feeders. Is your yard dominated by mature trees; is it open and surrounded by agriculture or meadows; do you live in mid-town, the suburbs, or a national forest? Is your focus on hummingbirds? Do you like to feed birds in winter or all year?
Do squirrels call your yard or neighborhood home? How about outdoor cats, raccoons or opossums?
Your answers will influence types and placement of feeders, kinds of food, and potential deterrents to protect your feeding station.
A wide variety of bird seed is available from big box to specialty stores. Be aware, cheap feed can contain fillers like corn and red millet; it's wasted, unless you have chickens! We recommend hulled sunflower chips - all birds love it! Hulled seed seems more expensive, but consider there is no waste, and deteriorating hulls below the feeders can cause the spread of disease among wild birds. Rake hulls well away from feeders and dispose when dried. See cleaning under What's Next column
Offering alternative foods like Safflower, for example, has not been proven effective. Some species quickly adjust to Safflower, meanwhile other birds might not prefer it to sunflower.
The best strategy is to use a variety of feeder designs that attract a wide diversity of bird species to your feeding station.
A feeder with large ports, long perches and a tray to catch feed will attract the most birds; to limit larger birds, remove the tray. An adjustable weight feeder controls the number of birds at any one time. For example, four Cardinals can feed, but when they leave, two to three Starlings have access, without tripping the weight limit.
Tube feeders with short perches accommodate goldfinch-sized birds and smaller. Then, there are specialty feeders for specialty foods to entice a subset of birds.
Specialty Food and Feeders
Hummingbirds are an easy addition to your yard. Just put up a nectar feeder in May. Use 1/4 cup sugar plus 1 cup water, mix until fully dissolved. It's not necessary, and may be harmful to add red food coloring. Check nectar once a week for deterioration. If it's cloudy (easy to see in clear nectar), dispose, use a bottle brush to clean the feeder with soap and water, rinse well, then fill with fresh nectar. In fall when hummingbirds are fattening up for their flight over the Gulf, you might put up another feeder if several hummers are vying for space.
Peanuts, suet cakes, mealworms, and fruit/jelly are specialty foods; using feeders designed to serve them is best, and many can be constructed at home. A feeder within a feeder is a great design, and limits the size and types of species that can eat your more expensive foods.
If you answered yes to neighborhood wildlife, keep reading!
Feeders can be protected by placing them away from trees or roofs at a distance greater than a squirrel can jump. Install a raccoon guard on pole feeders. This keeps squirrels and raccoons from climbing to reach feeders.
Ground platform feeders are not advised if there are free-roaming cats in your neighborhood. Ground-feeding birds are easy prey for house cats, while squirrels will devour the seed quickly.
Consider specialty feeders in context of current neighborhood residents. Pesky birds learn to cling to downward facing suet feeders. If flocking birds visit your yard now, adding suet can attract more. Ears of dried corn are an open invitation to squirrels and your feeding station regardless of the distance away.
- Clean feeders several times a year with a 10% non-bleach solution, rinse well and let dry before replacing seed.
- Add a brush pile, where birds can escape predators.
- Water is critical. A bird bath or recirculating fountain will invite birds that don't visit feeders.
- Add native plants to your landscape: Flowers, perennials, bushes and trees. Natives attract insects, provide nectar, and many produce berries; all things birds love.
- Add nest boxes sized to eliminate Starlings and House Sparrows.
- Help birds avoid window collisions.
- A word about raptors - Federally protected Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks' subsist on birds and small rodents. Feeder birds far outnumber hawks - if one visits, count yourself lucky!