Close button
Join BirdBot Newsletter
Computer Vision Assisting in Wildlife Initiatives
Contact us:

Bird Feeding Basics: Feeders & Foods Selection

March 25, 2023

Feeding birds in your backyard is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby that brings you closer to nature and helps support local bird populations. Offering a variety of feeders and foods will attract a diverse range of bird species, providing you with the opportunity to observe and appreciate these fascinating creatures up close. This extensive guide will cover the essentials of bird feeding, including selecting the right feeders and foods, maintaining a clean and safe feeding environment, and understanding local bird species' preferences and needs.

1. Types of Bird Feeders

There are several types of bird feeders designed to cater to the feeding habits and preferences of different bird species. By providing a variety of feeder styles, you can attract a diverse range of birds to your backyard.

(a) Tube Feeders

Tube feeders are cylindrical, transparent feeders with multiple feeding ports and perches along their length. They are ideal for dispensing small seeds, such as black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer (thistle) seeds, and are popular among finches, chickadees, and titmice. Tube feeders can be hung or mounted on a pole, and many models include squirrel-resistant features, such as baffles or weight-sensitive perches. For more information, check out this guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

(b) Hopper Feeders

Hopper feeders are enclosed containers that dispense seed through a narrow opening at the bottom, where birds can access it from a small platform or tray. They can accommodate a variety of seed types and sizes, making them attractive to a wide range of bird species, including cardinals, sparrows, and jays. Hopper feeders can be hung, mounted on poles, or placed on a flat surface, and many models include a roof to protect the seed from rain and snow. Learn more about hopper feeders from Wild Birds Unlimited.

(c) Platform or Tray Feeders

Platform or tray feeders are simple, flat feeders that can accommodate a variety of food types, including seeds, fruit, and mealworms. They are popular among ground-feeding birds, such as doves, juncos, and towhees, as well as larger species like jays and blackbirds. Platform feeders can be hung, mounted on poles, or placed on the ground, but they may also attract unwanted visitors, such as squirrels and rodents. To minimize this issue, consider placing a tray feeder on a pole with a squirrel baffle or using a hanging tray feeder with a squirrel-proof dome. For more information, check out this guide from Birds & Blooms.

Photo by DiePhotoPotato:

2. Types of Bird Food

Offering a variety of bird foods will help attract a diverse range of bird species to your backyard. Different bird species have different dietary preferences and nutritional needs, so it's essential to provide a mix of food types.

(a) Seeds

Seeds are a staple food for many backyard birds, and there are several types to choose from. Black oil sunflower seeds are high in fat and protein, making them an excellent choice for a wide range of bird species, including finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and cardinals. Nyjer (thistle) seeds are small, oil-rich seeds favored by finches and other small songbirds. Safflower seeds, with their tough outer shells, are a favorite of cardinals and grosbeaks, and they're less attractive to squirrels and grackles. Millet is a popular choice for ground-feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and doves. To learn more about seed options for backyard birds, check out this guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

(b) Suet

Suet is a high-energy, fatty food made from rendered animal fat, often mixed with seeds, nuts, and other ingredients. It's especially popular among insect-eating birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees, and it's an important food source for birds during the cold winter months when insects are scarce. Suet can be offered in a variety of forms, such as cakes, balls, or plugs, and is typically placed in a wire or mesh suet feeder. For more information about suet and suet feeders, visit The Spruce's guide to feeding suet.

(c) Mealworms

Mealworms are the larval stage of the mealworm beetle and are a popular food source for insect-eating birds like bluebirds, robins, and wrens. They can be offered live or dried, and are typically placed in a small dish or tray feeder. Mealworms provide an essential source of protein and can be particularly beneficial during the nesting season when birds require additional protein for egg production and chick growth. Learn more about feeding mealworms to birds from Wild Birds Unlimited.

3. Choosing the Right Location for Your Feeders

The location of your bird feeders is crucial for attracting birds and ensuring their safety. Consider the following factors when selecting a suitable location:

(a) Visibility and Accessibility

Place feeders where you can easily observe the birds from a comfortable distance without disturbing them. Ensure feeders are easily accessible for refilling and cleaning, and consider using a pole system or hooks to hang multiple feeders at different heights to accommodate various bird species.

(b) Protection from Predators

To minimize the risk of predation, place feeders at least 10 feet away from trees or other structures that can provide cover for predators like cats or raccoons. Installing a squirrel baffle on pole-mounted feeders can also help deter climbing predators.

(c) Shelter from the Elements

Position feeders near shrubs or trees that can provide cover from wind, rain, and sun, but ensure that they are far enough away to prevent squirrels or other unwanted visitors from jumping onto the feeder. For more tips on choosing the right location for your bird feeders, check out this article from Birds & Blooms.

Photo by Aaron J Hill:

4. Maintaining a Clean and Safe Feeding Environment

Keeping your bird feeders clean and well-maintained is essential for preventing the spread of diseases among bird populations and ensuring a safe feeding environment.

(a) Regular Cleaning

Clean your bird feeders at least once a month, or more frequently during periods of heavy use or damp weather. Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water to disinfect the feeder, and rinse thoroughly before refilling. For more information on cleaning bird feeders, consult this guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

(b) Managing Waste

Remove old seed, shells, and other debris from the ground around your feeders regularly to prevent mold growth, discourage rodents, and maintain a clean feeding area. Consider using a seed tray or catchment device to collect discarded seed and minimize waste.

(c) Monitoring Bird Health

Keep an eye out for sick or injured birds at your feeders, and report any unusual sightings to your local wildlife rehabilitation center or birdwatching organization. If you notice a significant increase in sick birds, consider temporarily removing your feeders to encourage birds to disperse and reduce the risk of disease transmission. For more information on monitoring bird health, visit this page from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

5. Understanding Local Bird Preferences

To attract a diverse range of bird species to your backyard, it's important to understand the dietary preferences and feeding habits of the birds in your area. Consult field guides, birdwatching clubs, or local wildlife organizations for information on the types of birds you can expect to see in your region and their preferred foods. This knowledge will help you select the most appropriate feeders and food types to cater to the needs of your local bird populations.

Photo by Tina Nord:

6. Adapting Your Feeding Strategy for Different Seasons

Birds' nutritional requirements and food preferences can change with the seasons, so it's essential to adapt your feeding strategy accordingly. For example, during the winter months, when natural food sources are scarce, high-energy foods like suet and black oil sunflower seeds can be particularly valuable. Conversely, during the nesting season, providing protein-rich foods like mealworms can support the growth and development of chicks.

7. Engaging with the Birdwatching Community

Joining local birdwatching clubs or online forums can help you connect with fellow bird enthusiasts, share experiences, and gain valuable insights into the feeding preferences and habits of birds in your area. Participating in citizen science projects, such as Project FeederWatch or eBird, can also contribute valuable data to support bird conservation efforts and deepen your understanding of bird populations and their needs.

In conclusion, providing a variety of feeders and foods in your backyard can help attract a diverse range of bird species and support local bird populations. By understanding the preferences and needs of your local birds, maintaining a clean and safe feeding environment, and adapting your feeding strategy to different seasons, you can enjoy a rewarding and enriching bird feeding experience.