Top 5 Tips for Feeding Wild Birds

By Mary H. Dyer | November 5, 2016
by Mary H. Dyer
November 5, 2016

While feeding backyard birds may seem easy enough, to get the most out of this experience and bring in more birds without damaging the garden, there’s a few things everyone should know. Here are 5 tips for feeding birds.

1. Be selective when it comes to choosing bird seed. Different seeds attract different birds (and some seeds attract less desirable visitors). Black oil sunflower seeds are a good, all-around choice, as they provide much-needed energy and the thin shells are easy to crack. Black oil sunflower seeds attract a large number of birds, including finches, cardinals, sparrows, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, and sometimes even woodpeckers, to name just a few. Others types of seeds and foods birds love include:

  • Striped sunflower seeds – Cardinals, jays, some woodpeckers (Can be difficult for smaller birds to open.)
  • Safflower seeds – Cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, house finches, sparrows, doves
  • Millet – Sparrows, juncos and other small, foraging birds
  • Cracked or whole corn – Pheasants, grouse, jays, ravens, quail, pigeons and doves (Keep in mind that corn also attracts raccoons and bears, as well as undesirable birds like starlings, cowbirds and house sparrows.)
  • Nyjer thistle – Pine siskin, indigo buntings, goldfinches and purple finches
  • Shelled peanuts or peanut pieces – Nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers
  • Peanuts in the shell – Jays, crows, titmice, woodpeckers (also raccoons, bears and squirrels)
  • Milo – Jays, thrashers (also cowbirds)
  • Suet – Woodpeckers, nuthatches
  • Fresh fruit (orange or apple slices, etc.) – Orioles, bluebirds, robins and many others

Keep in mind that inexpensive seed mixes often contain less desirable, striped sunflower seed and more junky substances like oats or milo, which often end up on the ground where it can attract vermin.

2. Clean feeders regularly. Remove droppings and leftover seeds and shells that can become moldy and harbor bacteria. Take the feeder apart and run it through the dishwasher or scrub it with a bleach and water solution, then allow it to dry completely before refilling. Feeders may need cleaning once weekly or even more often during warm weather. Scrub hummingbird feeders more often, as sugar water grows mold quickly. If you see black mold, scrub the feeder with bleach immediately, or discard it and start over with a new feeder.

3. Choose appropriate locations. Place feeders where you can easily access the feeder for cleaning and refilling, preferably a quiet area where feathered visitors feel safe. Trees and shrubs – especially evergreens – provide shelter and protection. Allow about 10 feet between feeder and trees, as closer placement places birds in easy reach of neighborhood cats and other predators.

4. Add a mix of plants nearby. Surround the feeder with a variety of native plants that bloom in different seasons. For example, sunflowers, purple coneflower or black-eyed Susans that produce seeds, or fruit-producing plants like crabapples, viburnum or sumac. If you want to attract hummingbirds, plant nectar-rich, tube-shaped flowers such as fuchsia, columbine or hollyhocks.

5. Be patient. It may take time for birds to discover your feeder, but once they find it, they’ll be frequent visitors. If it’s been a couple of weeks with no visitors, sprinkle a few seeds on the ground to attract them. If that doesn’t work, you may need to try a different type of feeder.

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