Tips for Feeding the Birds: How to Attract More Birds Into Your Backyard
Helping the Birds to Feel at Home in Your Backyard
There's more to attracting and feeding wild birds than just filling up a bird feeder with seed and hanging it in your backyard. Sure, hanging out bird feeders will attract a few birds. But to really bring in the feathered visitors, it helps to do a bit more than just handing out a few seeds. To attract the birds and keep them hanging around, we give them an inviting habitat that caters to all of their natural needs including water sources for thirsty visitors along with trees, flowers and shrubs for food and shelter. Creating an environment that lets them feel safe from predators, protected from the elements, provides places to raise their young and offers a varied diet throughout the year will attract many more and many different types of birds to your garden.
Attracting birds and getting them to stay requires just four basic but essential ingredients:
- Nesting Sites
Regardless of the size of your property, gardening skills or investment of time or money, every yard has the potential to attract some interesting wildlife visitors. Creating and maintaining our backyard wildlife habitat is a rewarding experience that benefits the birds and other local wildlife.
Our backyard is our own personal wilderness sanctuary. Surrounded by woodlands, we are fortunate to have lots of feathered visitors from hummingbirds and hawks, bluebirds to black-capped chickadees. Toads and turkeys, butterflies, bees and bugs, bats, bunnies and deer are also frequent and welcome visitors.
Over the years, we've planned and planted to create a backyard wilderness that attracts and feeds the birds and their families and encourages them to stay. Or at least, they come back and visit again.
Wildlife Friendly Gardens Encourage Birds, Bats and Bees to Visit
Calling in the Locals
To attract the most birds to your feeders, it helps to become familiar with the types of wild birds in your area. Attracting and feeding wild birds requires a basic awareness of the types of birds found in your geographic region and in your local environment.
Even within the same geographic region, a suburban plot may attract different species of wild birds than an urban yard or a large rural property, making it important to understand which types of wild birds are in your local area and will visit your backyard habitat.
Bring in the Natives
Wild birds evolved eating the natural berries and seeds produced by trees, bushes and wildflowers. They also feed on the varieties of insects that are attracted to flowers and nectar produced by native plants.
We planted a variety of native and ornamental shrubs, perennials and annuals to increase the natural forage available to visiting birds and other wildlife. Flowers and blooms that attract insects are both beneficial to the wildlife habitat and as prey items for bug hunters including flycatchers, martins and bluebirds.
Trees and shrubs provide cover for escaping predators as well as protection from the wind, rain and snow. Hanging a few birdhouses gives cavity-nesting birds a safe place to raise their young, encouraging generations of birds to take up residence in your garden.
With a little planning, any yard can become a haven for attracting and feeding wild birds.
Add a Water Source
Wild birds need fresh, clean water daily for drinking and bathing, and they are attracted from long distances away by the sound of moving and splashing water.
Rinse and re-fill birdbaths daily, both to provide fresh clean drinking water for the birds as well as eliminating places for mosquito larva to grow.
If space allows, a small garden pond offers a permanent water source and adds another important environment to for attracting frogs and other wildlife. A small circulating pump in our pond creates enough water flow to feed a small stream. Running year round, birds and other wildlife are attracted to the water source by the sounds of splashing water. The continually moving water also prevents the stream and pond from freezing over completely when the cold weather comes, giving the birds access to fresh drinking water throughout the winter months.
If You Feed Them, They Will Come!
Offering a variety of wild bird seed from a number of different types of feeders scattered around the yard at different heights will increase the number and variety of birds enticed into the yard in search of a free meal.
Here's a short list of the types of birds that visit our feeders, along with the in types of birdseed that we use to attract them. Fill up the feeders and ring the dinner bell!
Sunflower seeds: The black oil sunflower seeds have a thinner shell than the gray striped variety, making it easier for the birds to open.
- Attracts: nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, titmice, finches, sparrows, and grosbeaks.
Safflower seeds: Birds like safflower seeds, but squirrels tend to leave them alone.
- Attracts: nuthatches, cardinals, titmice, finches, sparrows, and grosbeaks.
Thistle (nyger seed): This small seed requires a specialized feeder.
- Attracts: nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, titmice, finches, sparrows, and grosbeaks. Flocks of goldfinches will crowd around a thistle-filled feeder.
Suet: Sold in square cakes, a commercially prepared suet cake often includes nuts, berries and other little tasty bits.
- Attracts: nuthatches, chickadees, jays, woodpeckers and titmice.
Cracked corn: Spread cracked corn on the ground or offer in tray feeders.
- Attracts: sparrows, jay and mourning doves. Wild turkeys, quail, deer, chipmunks and squirrels (including flying squirrels) will also visit a wildlife feeder filled with cracked corn.
Nectar: Hummingbirds and orioles will drink liquid nectar from specially designed feeders. Rather than using commercial nectar products containing red dyes that can be harmful to the birds, make a simple syrup by stirring 1/2 cup of sugar into two cups of boiling water. Let the liquid cool completely before filling the feeder.
Orioles also like jelly.
Mealworms: Bluebirds love mealworms. Available live or freeze dried, offer mealworms on a tray feeder or in specially designed bluebird feeders. Ring a bell when filling the feeder, and bluebirds will learn quickly that dinner is served.
The Buffet Is Open
Some wild birds prefer seeds, some eat berries and fruits while others hunt bugs and insects. Offering a wide variety of food sources and different types of backyard bird feeders will increase the number and types of birds attracted into your yard.
Matching the food sources to the wild birds in your area, and to the types of birds you want to attract, significantly increases your chances of attracting birds to your feeders. A hanging bird feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds attracts perching birds including nuthatches and chickadees. Gold finches flock to bird feeders filled with thistle or nyger seeds, and woodpeckers cling to suet feeders. Cardinals and mourning doves eat sunflower and safflower seeds, but they will only visit tray style feeders.
Recent studies indicate that feeding wild birds year round does not have any negative impact on the bird's ability to forage naturally. Instead, feeding wild birds throughout the summer provides a consistent food source during times of severe weather or times when natural foods are scarce. Backyard bird feeders must be kept clean and filled with fresh bird seed to discourage the spread of disease.
How many bird feeders are hanging in your yard?
Tips for Feeding Wild Birds
Dealing With Unwelcome Visitors
Backyard bird feeders can attract some uninvited guests who are looking for a free meal and quite willing to share with the birds.
Squirrels are persistent to the point of being comical in their pursuit of emptying the contents of bird feeders. Baffles and squirrel-resistant feeders offer some protection against these raiders, but their tireless attacks will ultimately reward them with a few stolen seeds.
Consider putting out ground and tray feeders filled with seed and cracked corn for the squirrels, and they are more likely to leave the other feeders alone.
Other visitors can be bigger problems, and perhaps even dangerous. Raccoons, bears and even moose may visit backyard feeders in search of an easy snack. Animals are creatures of habit and if they find your backyard bird feeders, they are likely to return again and again for a free meal. In most cases, the best option for deterring these unwelcome and potentially dangerous visitors is to remove the feeders for a while. After a few unsuccessful visits, they may look elsewhere for food.
If you live in an area with a bear population, consider waiting until the weather turns colder and bears go into hibernation before putting out the birdfeeders.
Consider certifying your backyard wildlife habitat.
The National Wildlife Federation Certification Program
For over 35 years, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has encouraged homeowners, schools, corporations and municipalities to incorporate the needs of the local wildlife into their landscape design.
So far, the NWF has recognized the efforts of nearly 140,000 individuals and organizations who plant native shrubs and plants for food, cover and places for raising their young, provide include a source of drinking water, and add nesting boxes for cavity-nesting birds.
Please visit the NWF website for additional information on their official Certified Wildlife Habitat program.
Don't Forget to Feed the Birds in Winter!
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna