How to Choose a Bird Feeder

Choosing or building the right bird feeders and seed types will help you attract more wild birds to your backyard.

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Feeding backyard birds is one of the most popular forms of nature recreation. Part of the charm is its simplicity. Putting out a bird feeder is an easy way to connect with nature. But for such a basic activity, the variety of feeders and seeds can be overwhelming. Here are some basic bird feeder essentials to get you started.

Types of Bird Feeders

Feeding Without a Feeder

The simplest feeder is no feeder at all. Sprinkling seeds directly on the ground is one option for feeding backyard wildlife. This trick works especially well if the seed is near shelter. Shrubs provide some protection from the weather, or an easy escape if a Cooper’s hawk swoops in looking for a feathered snack.

Tube Feeders

Tube feeders, so named for their shape, come in various sizes and styles. Most have feeding ports with built-in perches. A tube of sunflower seeds is a classic setup. Tube feeders with screening or smaller openings work well for thistle seed or for chopped sunflower meats. Tubes can easily be hung from tree branches or shepherd hooks.

Hopper Feeders

Box-style hopper feeders, also called house feeders, are enclosed containers that self-replenish as birds access seed from an opening at their base. These also come in endless shapes and sizes. They can be hung from hooks, although larger hopper feeders can be heavy when filled and are often placed directly on a feeder pole.

Sunflower seeds or a seed blend are good choices for hoppers. Economy mixed seed blends are sometimes used in these feeders, but they can be high in filler seed like millet. This often spills out of hoppers and can make a mess on the ground.

Platform Feeders

Hanging seed trays or elevated platforms — flat feeders built on short legs or attached to a pole — replicate ground feeding. They help larger birds like cardinals and doves sit and eat for a spell. Trays can be stand-alone feeders or used to catch and re-offer seed from hanging feeders.

Specialty Feeders

There are endless varieties of feeders for specific situations. Hummingbird feeders and oriole feeders are popular options designed to attract specific sought-after birds. Suet cake cages give woodpeckers and nuthatches something to cling to. And clear bird feeders that suction-cup to your window provide you an easy close-up view of the birds you attract.

Bird Seeds and Other Feeder Foods

Choose your food based on the kinds of area birds you’d like to observe.

Black oil sunflower seed is popular with the widest variety of bird species. It’s basically the cheese pizza of seed. It can be served in many styles of feeder.

A mix of sunflower and safflower seeds can attract cardinals, nuthatches and chickadees.

Scattering cracked corn is great for attracting the scratchers like native sparrows, thrashers and doves.

Thistle seed is a favorite for attracting goldfinches. Specialized tube feeders or feeder socks are required for serving the tiny thistle seeds.

Wire mesh tube feeders can be used to offer up shelled peanuts or other varieties of mixed seed. Peanuts (in and out of the shell) help attract woodpeckers and nuthatches to your backyard.

Commercial suet cakes are another treat for woodpeckers. Suet cages are easily hung, but they are popular with squirrels and raccoons. (There are, however, ways to squirrel-proof your bird feeders.)

Specialized foods like hummingbird sugar water, orange halves for orioles and mealworms for insect eaters including robins and bluebirds are also worth exploring when you’re ready to expand beyond a basic setup.

Building a Bird Feeder

From simple seed-filled milk jugs to elaborate wooden structures, building a bird feeder is something anyone can do. The kids can get involved in constructing the simplest projects. More elaborate designs will challenge the seasoned DIYer.

Basic platform trays with short legs are simple to construct and easy to move.

Building seed tubes and hoppers offer a chance to be creative. Remember to keep them simple to fill and easy to clean. Bird feeding is one place where function is more important than form.

Year-Round Maintenance

Keeping your feeders safe and functioning for the birds requires year-round maintenance. It also helps keep your bird feeders disease free.

And to truly make the most of your feeders, share your sightings with others! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program is an amazing resource for documenting the birds you see and figuring out when and where to find others.