Feed the Wild Birds

Feeding Wild Birds

A vibrant bird population creates a healthy eco-system in your yard.

If you already have a variety of birds in your yard, it probably means that you have the necessities that keep them coming back: native shrubs, trees or perennials that supply all sorts of goodies including plentiful seeds, berries, insects and even shelter. And last, but not least, a pesticide-free environment will attract the most birds because there will be a healthy balance of insects for insect-eating birds and their young ones. And, in winter, one of the first questions that eager birdwatchers ask is, "How do I attract the most birds to my bird feeders?


Be consistent: Try to follow a routine by keeping feeders filled with seed or suet that is favored by the birds you wish to attract. In this way, birds are rewarded with food every time they return. If you only feed birds in the winter months, start filling bird feeders in early autumn so they will find the feeders in time for the colder months ahead. That is when they really need the extra energy from seed or suet.


What is the best type of bird feeder?: Since birds forage for their food in different ways, you can increase your odds of attracting birds by choosing the proper bird feeder design. 

Tube Feeder: American Goldfinch, House Finch, Nuthatch, Titmouse

Platform Feeder: House Finch, Blue Jay, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Titmouse

Hopper Feeder: House Finch, Blue Jay, Titmouse, Northern Cardinal

Suet Feeder: Northern Cardinal, Nuthatch, Titmouse, Warbler, Woodpecker, Wren

Nyjer or Thistle Seed Tube Feeder: American Goldfinch, House Finch, Purple Finch

Nectar Feeder: Hummingbird

Fruit or Jelly Feeder: Oriole, Eastern Bluebird, House Finch, Woodpecker


Where should I hang my feeder? Give them shelter! Place your feeder in a spot where birds can feel protected. Depending on the bird, it can mean an open meadow or close proximity to shrubs and trees. If you want bird families, birds need foliage, grasses and twigs as nesting materials. Avoid predators by placing bird feeders at least four feet off the ground and away from fences and lower, hanging branches. Some birds, like bluebirds, prefer to have an open view while feeding so they can keep their eyes open for predators.


Include a water source close to the feeder. Birds need water for sipping and bathing. Since they are attracted to the sound of water, the light spray of a hose or fountain will bring them flitting to the water source. Robins and hummingbirds appreciate the sparkle of water and love to fly through the spray. The moist ground makes it easier for robins to snag a worm or two. Shallow birdbaths welcome many types of birds who need to remove dust or mites from their feathers. Also, the winter is a challenging time for birds. It helps to provide water year-round by including a heater in your birdbath... one with a thermostat that will keep the water from turning into a skating rink!


What do you plant to attract the most birds? Native plants will attract the specific birds to your backyard by providing local birds with the foods that they have grown up with for generations. Some birds such as woodpeckers and bluebirds enjoy berries and fruits along with insects, while finches prefer the seeds of dried coneflowers in fall and winter. Native grasses offer their seeds, as well as providing shelter in winter and nesting material in spring.

1. Purple coneflowers, asters, cosmos, zinnias, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan and sunflowers produce tasty seeds that attract American goldfinches, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, cardinals and titmice.

2. Add native prairie plants such as goldenrod, gay feather, thistle, millet or blanket flower.

3. Hummers love the sweet nectar found in pink, purple and red, tubular flowers such as: salvia, columbine, bee balm, honeysuckle, nasturtium, petunia and hibiscus.

4. Shrubs with fruits and berries (blueberries, viburnum, dogwood, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, winterberry, chokeberry, mulberry, serviceberry) attract woodpeckers, orioles, scarlet tanagers and waxwings.


How long will it take to see birds at the feeder after you hang it? You must have patience. It usually takes time for birds to locate the new feeder and enjoy this new source of food. Wait for up to two weeks, then try a few new ideas. First, sprinkle some of their favorite seed on the ground around the feeder. Hopefully, this will get their attention and realize there is a food source nearby. Or, try a new location. Most birds like to feel secure. Move the feeder to a new location that has shrubs or conifers where they can hide and observe their surroundings. Keep the feeder away from traffic, loud noises and predatory cats. Most birds like to remain hidden from their predators as they fly to and from the feeders.


But, most of all, have fun feeding the birds. A backyard isn't really alive until you hear the symphony of tweets, a flash of color and the buzz of a hummingbird's wings. Happy birding!