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Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Bird Feeding

Small bird perched on the edge of a bird feeder

There’s nothing quite as relaxing and pleasurable as watching wild birds in your yard. Whether you live in a city, suburb, or rural area, you can attract songbirds with food, especially during the colder months.

If you’re interested in backyard bird feeding, it’s easy to get started. Here’s everything you need to know, from how birds find bird feeders to what wild birds eat. Make your feathered friends happy with backyard bird feeding.

When is the Best Time to Start Feeding Birds?

Woman in a long sleeve and ballcap putting bird seed in feeder hanging from a tree

You can feed backyard birds any time of year. However, you might find more success if you start bird feeding in the early autumn months.

During warmer weather, birds can often find plenty of food from plant life and insects. When the weather turns cold, about 4,000 types of migratory birds begin to move south toward warmer weather. Other songbirds might hunker down for the winter and look for food in your backyard. In North America, about a quarter of birds stay in place when the weather turns cold. 

You can feed all wild birds, migratory birds on their journey, as well as resident (also known as sedentary) birds who spend their winters locally. It's also perfectly fine to start feeding birds during the spring or summer. It may take a little longer for them to establish a routine of visiting your feeder when natural food is more abundant.

If your region is experiencing unusual weather, such as a heat wave, cold snap, or sudden precipitation, wild birds might rely on your backyard bird feeder even more than usual. You will entice birds to return to your feeders regularly by noting these unexpected changes and providing extra sustenance. 

Types of Feeders

Small bird perched on the side of a black, tall, house-like bird feeder

So, what types of special feeders do you need for backyard bird feeding? It's important to note that you don't really need a backyard to feed birds. You can put a feeder on a balcony or porch and get wonderful results.

There are many backyard feeders on the market, so it can be overwhelming to know what type of bird feeder you need to get started. What type is best? Should you opt for a seed-type feeder? Do suet feeders work for all birds?

Here are a few types of bird feeders to consider.

Tube-Style Birdfeeders

These popular types of bird feeders feature a long tube with holes along the length or at the bottom. The feeder typically has a perch or multiple perches where birds can sit and eat at feeding ports. These are easy to refill—pour the seed into the top. Tube feeders are also versatile and easy to hang from a porch, a branch, or any spot in your yard. These are appropriate for a variety of birds—both larger birds like blue jays and smaller birds like sparrows and house finches.

Hanging Birdhouse-Style Feeders

Birdhouse-style feeders are charming. These types of bird feeders usually feature a square or house-shaped box that holds seeds and hangs from a porch or tree. Birds can perch on the hopper feeders and enjoy their meal. Hang these birdfeeders from trees, poles, or porch posts. Some birdhouse-style feeders are pre-attached to poles, keeping them out of the reach of other snackers (like chipmunks and squirrels).

Tray Feeders

Tray, flat, or platform feeders are another popular choice. These types of bird feeders feature an open tray area where you pour the seed—similar to a big plate. Sometimes, tray feeders are affixed to a pole, making them safe from squirrels and other climbers. Tray feeders are also available for ground-feeding birds.

Suet Feeders

Suet feeders are another type of feeder specially made for suet blocks. Suet is a mixture of healthy fats, seeds, and proteins that attract many songbirds. Many of these square suet cages feature perches for avian visitors. Hang suet cakes from trees, porches, or any other spot where you want birds to flock.

Window Suction Feeders

A window suction feeder is a nice idea if you live in an apartment or enjoy watching birds from your home. These feeders are affixed to the outside of your window using suction cups. You'll find suet feeders as well as seed-feeding options. Be sure to place these feeders carefully to prevent window collisions.

Nectar Feeders

Nectar-style feeders are specially made for hummingbirds. These hummingbird feeders hold liquid in a jar or chamber and feature flower-like openings where hummingbirds can hover and drink. Hummingbirds drink sugar solution that mimics nectar in flowers. You can purchase hummingbird nectar concentrate that makes it simple to bring these sweet little birds to your backyard.

Types of Feed and Bird Seeds

A close-up of a bird seed mix with corn kernals and sunflower seeds

So, what types of bird food do you need for your birdfeeder? There are so many choices of birdfeed that it can be a little overwhelming. Here are a few types to consider.

Seed MixA simple seed mix is a nice choice at first. These seed mixes can bring in many different birds, and you’ll quickly learn what your local backyard birds like (and which seeds they seem to ignore). If you're hoping to draw in a variety of birds to your yard, a seed mix is a safe first choice. 

Suet: As mentioned before, suet are bricks with different types of seed and fat mixed together into a solid cake. These cakes are great for winter bird feeding because they have high levels of protein and fats, which help keep them healthy during cold weather.

Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds, particularly the black oil variety, are a popular bird-feeding option. These black oil sunflower seeds attract a variety of non-migrating songbirds like cardinals, chickadees, and sparrows, making it an excellent wintertime food option, too. (Migratory birds also like this type of seed, giving them extra fuel for their flight south).

Nyjer Seed: Nyjer seed is quite popular amongst many bird species, including bright-colored finishes, buntings, and goldfinches. Nyjer seed is a good choice if you hope to bring these charming and sweet small birds to your backyard. 

Hummingbird Nectar: If you love the tiny but mighty hummingbird, then nectar is a vital food source for these feathered friends. Hummingbirds migrate in colder weather but are at their peak backyard feeding season during the summer.

Getting Birds to Come to Your Feeders

When it comes to feeding birds, adopt an “if you build it, they will come" mentality. Birds will likely visit your backyard if you put out bird food. Even in the most urban environments, birds are around, and often, in the city, birds need even more access to food.

Sometimes, it takes a little while for birds to start to visit your feeder. If you have pets like an indoor-outdoor cat, or dogs that have run of the yard, birds may steer clear for a while. Birds may also need time to warm up to feeders close to the house or nearby areas where kids play.

Be patient. Start with an appealing seed option like a songbird mix, suet cake, Nyjer, or black oil sunflower seed. Place your feeder carefully in an area away from foot traffic, pets, and loud noise. Replenish the bird seed when it starts to look low and keep fresh seed flowing in your feeder.

If you diligently keep your feeder full and place it in a safe spot, birds will eventually visit—you may even have a flock! As the weather gets colder and natural foods become scarce, birds will discover that your backyard is a source of abundance.

Feeder Location: How Do Birds Find Bird Feeders?

Young girl with blonde hair wearing a yellow jacket putting bird seed in a hanging bird feeder

Believe it or not, birds have an amazingly strong sense of sight. They will start to recognize your feeder and the food contained within it. Think of birds flying along and spotting seeds in the wild—their keen sense of sight allows them to find food even from the sky.

You can make bird-friendly areas of your yard by including a bird bath in the summer months (be sure to regularly clean the bath to avoid the spread of illness). Keep food near bushes or trees where birds like to flock. Surround the bird-friendly spots with native plants, which often have appealing qualities for local birds.

Most importantly, ensure your bird feeder is in a safe area, away from the street. Birds are vulnerable to predators, especially as they eat, so many are cautious in their approach. Squirrels and chipmunks aren't necessarily dangerous for birds, but they can feast on the seeds quickly, leaving nothing behind for their winged counterparts.

The best placement for feeders is somewhere that's mainly accessible only to birds. That means looking for a spot about five feet off the ground, quiet and protected. Place multiple feeders around your yard to test locations and see what seems to be the most popular spot.

Cleaning Bird Feeders & Maintenance

Bird feeders can be a source of dirt and germs. Unfortunately, birds can pass illnesses through shared bird feeders. It’s important that you wash out and clean feeders at least a few times each season.

You can wash a bird feeder in the dishwasher or use mild soap and very hot water. Using a mix of one part bleach to 9-10 parts water can also disinfect the feeder. Scrub the bird feeder and then dry it thoroughly before hanging it back up.

It's essential that you also keep your bird seed fresh and protected. Bird seed can get mold and mildew. It can also attract rodents, which can leave droppings, spreading bacteria and illness. Keep your birdseed in a dry, clean location, out of the reach of pests, and keep the container closed.  

Keep in mind that once you begin to feed birds, they will start to view your yard as a spot they can safely depend on for food. It's important to continue feeding them during the winter when they may have difficulty finding other food sources.

Feeding Birds with Help from Do it Best

Woodpecker perched on the side of a caged suet feeder

Feeding birds in your backyard is great fun for the whole family. It's like having your own nature program right outside your window. You may enjoy learning about the different types of birds that are native to your area so you can identify your backyard visitors.

There are many different types of bird feeders and bird food available. Start with a simple hanging feeder, a suet feeder, or a tray feeder. Look for a wild bird seed mix or some special seed mixes to attract songbirds and migratory birds to your yard. You'll need a special nectar feeder to bring the charming, tiny hummingbird to your yard.

Although you can feed birds any time of year, you’ll likely have the most success if you feed birds in the colder winter months, when their natural food is scarce. Feeding birds during harsh winters is especially important. 

Be sure to place bird feeders at different heights to keep them out of the reach of predators. Birds will be most attracted to feeders in safe, quiet areas away from human and street traffic, as well as pets. Put bird feeders in bird-friendly areas of your yard near native plants and water sources.

Clean your bird feeder regularly using soapy, hot water to remove bird droppings and waste. Store birdseed in a closed container in a dry location (such as a corner of your garage).

Visit your local Do it Best for all the bird-feeding supplies you need. We carry everything for beginning backyard bird feeders and hobbyists to start feeding feathered friends.

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