How to Choose and Stock a Bird FeederBird feeders are one of the best ways to bring a bit of the wild to your windowsill or yard. They also set the stage for one of the best shows in town, with more clowning, brawling, singing and courting than you'll find in all of Shakespeare.
Get a bird book and each new arrival will delight you even more.
Choosing a FeederBirds' tastes and feeding habits are almost as diverse as their plumage. Some prefer to feed on the ground, others like the treetops, and some take food wherever they can get it. Thus the designers of bird feeders offer a dizzying array of feeding stations. Here you'll find the five basic feeder types and suggestions on what to fill them with.
» Tube Feeders ...The tube feeder is relatively new. Its innovative design keeps the seed dry and discourages bullies like blue jays. Tube feeders are sealed at the bottom, with a cap at the top that you remove when you add seed. Typically they're made of clear plastic, which lets birds and you see what's inside and how much is left. Most feature two to six feeding ports, each with its own perch. When birds visit the feeder, they're out in plain view, which makes them easy to watch. Just hang tube feeders from a branch. Such feeders appeal most to small songbirds, who will drop enough seed to attract ground-feeding birds as well.
» Hopper Feeders ...These designs are modeled after the drop feeders used on chicken farms. They have one or more receptacles that funnel down to a small opening. The seed drops out onto a tray. When birds eat, more seed drops down from the hopper. Hopper feeders often resemble houses, and their roofs help keep moisture off the seed. Like tube feeders, hopper feeders tend to attract small songbirds. Depending on its size, you can suspend your feeder or mount it on a pole.
» Platform Feeders ...Platform feeders are open-air smorgasbords for birds of all shapes and sizes. (Feeding tends to be a matter of "might makes right," with big birds served first.) Designs usually feature a simple wooden frame with a window-screen bottom backed up by hardware cloth, which allows moisture to drain through. You can buy one or build your own.
Mount a platform feeder on a post, or add short legs to elevate it a foot or so off the ground. At that level, you'll attract ground-feeding birds, which aren't well served by tube or hopper feeders. Because there's no seed reservoir, you have to set food out daily. But if you or your neighbors have cats, don't buy this design: it puts birds at risk.
» Suet Feeders ...You can attract a much wider group of feathered feasters if you provide a suet feeder along with one that dispenses seed. Suet is the hard fat that surrounds the kidneys of sheep, cows and other animals. Doesn't sound too appetizing to us, but it's ambrosia to insect-eating birds. Buy fresh suet from the grocery store in small slabs, or buy suet cakes, made of rendered (or boiled) suet mixed with seed and other tasty treats.
A suet feeder is a wire-mesh box about 5" square and 2" deep. Suspend the feeder from a branch or a line, and soon the woodpeckers, flickers and sapsuckers will come to call.
» Nectar Feeders ...These feeders appeal mostly to hummingbirds, but they also draw orioles and other nectar lovers. We've all seen these glass or plastic reservoirs with their bright red plastic bases and tubular feeding ports. (The color is supposed to attract hummingbirds, but they'll find a nectar feeder, whatever color it is.) Humans haven't figured out how to synthesize nectar, but hummingbirds will happily slurp up a solution of sugar and water, and it doesn't need to be red. You can make this "nectar" yourself or buy it ready to use. (Most feeders come with a recipe.) You can also buy larger feeders and sugar mixes favored by orioles. If you put up a hummingbird feeder, change the sugar water and clean the feeder often at least weekly. Also, never use honey as the sweetener; it tends to get moldy, which is harmful to hummingbirds.
Nectar feeders are almost always suspended. A hook in the porch ceiling or a bracket attached to the side of the house is ideal.
Selecting Bird SeedWhen you first shop for birdseed, you may be surprised and confused by the number of choices and prices.
You'll find two or three different kinds of sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds (sometimes called kernels or "hearts"), and a bewildering number of mixtures all claiming to appeal to a broad spectrum of birds.
» Let's Keep Things SimpleYou'll appeal to more birds with sunflower seeds than any other food you can offer, and serving sunflower hearts spares you the chore of raking up the hulls or pulling up fierce grasses that sprout from seeds that the birds discard. Bargain mixes contain some of the more desirable seeds, such as sunflower, millet and safflower, plus wheat kernels, milo (a kind of sorghum) and cracked corn all essentially filler. Read labels carefully: ingredients are listed in order by quantity. Start with a small bag at a mid-range price and see how the birds react. If you try different seeds and mixtures, you'll quickly find one the birds love and you can afford.
Picking a Spot for Your FeederLook for a place that's good for the birds and good for you. Birds want to be protected from wind, especially in winter. They want to be close to cover (shrubs, bushes, hedges), so they can dash out of sight when a cat or hawk appears. And you'll want the feeder where you can see it clearly from indoors.
» A Word about Squirrels and other CrittersSquirrels love birdseed as much as birds do, and being much larger than most birds, they can eat a lot of it. You can try luring them away from your bird feeder by keeping them busy with an alternative and less expensive food, such as cracked corn. You can also try one of the many "squirrel-proof" feeders on the market. The better models have a semicircular baffle above the feeder, which prevents squirrels from climbing down the hanging wire to get at the feeder. Also, try to hang your feeder from an isolated branch squirrels can easily jump 4 feet from a nearby branch, tree, or fence.
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