(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 14, 2008. Your commetns are welcome, but please note that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Working from home has its advantages. Gone are the hassles of a daily commute and morning "fashion crises." I would never had guessed when I started working from home five years ago, that the best thing about telecommuting is viewing birds from my window. Bird watching might conjure images of enthusiasts trudging through a nature preserve, spotting scopes in one hand and field guides in another. Bird watching for me is merely sitting at my computer each day, awaiting appearances from my winged friends.
Living "in town", I was not expecting to see a large variety of birds in the garden. I was pleasantly surprised to find a good variety of birds in my winter garden and continued to have new species sightings throughout the rest of the year. Many people only feed birds through the winter when natural food sources are scarce. I used to do that as well. When I started bird watching from the home office, I didn't want to take my feeders down; the company they attract are a great source of entertainment. I left feeders filled and was rewarded during the spring migration with many new "life list" birds.
Backyard bird watching can be an expensive addiction. You might think that the only expenses are bird food. Before you know it, you have to have every kind of bird feeder, premium bird food and exquisite bird baths. Only the BEST for your friends. Let's not forget the camera. Soon you'll be obsessed with documenting every type of bird that has come to your yard. This is only the beginning, I assure you. If you're ready to attract birds to your garden, loosen up that wallet and let's get started!
When choosing a seed feeder, determine what kinds of birds you want to attract and what seed you will be offering. Many birds will eat from any type of feeder, but some are particular about where and how they eat.
Hopper — This feeder is found in a variety of materials and contains sides that slant in a "V" shape towards a feeding tray at the bottom. Most hoppers allow greater quantity and larger seed to be served to perching birds. Hopper feeders may be hung or mounted on a pole and are appealing to a wide variety of birds. Most models allowing easy filling but look also for one that is easy to clean.
Tube — Tube feeders are a favorite of smaller songbirds. The seed cylinders have rods alternating along the tube allowing birds to perch and eat. They are not as easy to fill as hoppers and some can be difficult to clean. Select a tube feeder that has removable parts for easy cleaning. If you have squirrels in your area, consider tube feeders with metal parts. Specialty tube feeders include Nyjer feeders with smaller seed holes and feeders containing multiple tubes for differing seeds. These feeders can also be hung or pole-mounted. Some tube feeders have a metal mesh cylinder, allowing birds to cling freely. Thistle socks are a fabric version of a tube feeder.
Platform and Dish — Flat surface feeders attract a wide variety of birds. Placed close to the ground, they will serve ground-feeding birds. When hung from a tree, songbirds of all sizes will visit. Platform feeders accommodate all seeds and mixes and therefore have an advantage over other feeders. They are the easiest to clean of all feeders, can be mounted on a pole, hung or set on the ground or other surface. They sometimes are covered to project birds and seeds from the elements. Small platform feeders with suction cups attache to windows for viewing birds extremely close.
Satellite/Globe — Hanging satellite feeders are a great choice for small songbirds able to perch in small spaces and even upside down. Larger birds can't easily perch on these spinning feeders with feeding cavities on the bottom of the sphere. Providing sunflower seed in these globe feeders attracts chickadees, finches, nuthacthes and titmice. Versions of these include homemade coconut feeders as well as larger globes with insets to offer cover while eating. Be sure to baffle these if you have squirrels.
Cages and Protective Overhangs — Many types of the above feeders are available with cages built around them, restricting larger birds and squirrels from eating. These are ideal for those who have problems with larger birds devouring large amounts of seed in a short time. If you choose a caged feeder, consider squirrel baffling as well. Squirrels are known to get caught in many caged feeders. Many feeders also are available with overhangs to protect the seed and birds from bad weather.
Peanut Feeders — Peanut feeders are similar to tube feeders in shape. Long cylinders of mesh wire are filled with peanuts. Clinging birds grip the wire and snack on peanuts. Wire mesh size increase for peanuts in the shell, a favorite of larger birds like jays and large woodpeckers.
Specialty Feeders — The increasing popularity of garden ornaments as well as bird feeding have led to new specialty feeders that combine art with functionality. Unfortunately, many of these feeders are not as practical as they are beautiful and can be difficult to clean.
Hopper feeder from "beckygardener"
Hanging platform feeder
Upside-down finch tube feeder
Decorative mesh feeder
Decorative suet/seedcake feeder
Suet is an important part of a bird's diet in the winter months as it helps them stay warm and converts energy. Suet feeders are available in a variety of styles to attract all types of birds.
Cage — Caged suet feeders are square in shape to accommodate store-bought suet in the same form. They may hang from branches and hooks or attach to trees and posts. Some hopper feeders even have suet feeders attached to the side. Theses feeders are ideal for smaller clinging birds.
Prop — A variation of a caged feeder, the prop feeders include a long blade extending from thte bottom. This prop allows larger woodpeckers to brace their tails against it, much the way a tree would.
Upside-down — Designed to deter the greedy eaters like starlings, the upside-down feeder hangs horizontally and offers suet on the bottom portion only. Reports from the Dave's Garden Bird Watching Forum are mixed on the success of deterring starling and may require further baffling.
Log — Log feeders are available for purchase as well as easily home made. The log feeder has wide, drilled cavities into which suet is packed. This type of feeder is generally hung vertically. Similar resin feeders are available with cavities running entirely through the piece.
Sandwich — For woodpeckers only! This feeder has two pieces of resin which sandwich a layer of suet, simulating natural cavities of trees. The longer tongues of woodpeckers can reach this suet where other birds can't.
Mesh Bags — An economical choice, mesh produce bags can be reused as suet feeders! Mesh plastic bags hold animal fat as well as home made suet balls.
Upside-down cage from "pelletory"
Prop feeder from "pelletory"
Sandwich feeder from "pelletory"
In summer months, many birds like orioles and tanagers will love feasting on fruit. Specialty feeders are available for different types of birds and fruits.
Oriole — Orioles love oranges and grape jelly. Feeders attracting orioles may include skewers for fruit or cups for jelly and mealworms. Methods differ for securing oranges and include short skewers, dishes and wedging restraints. Feeders may be decorative or basic, hanging or pole mount. All are a welcome site to orioles. Orioles are also nectar feeders so many oriole feeders will include all three of these sources (see the nectar feeder section below).
Hanging Skewers — Versatility abounds with hanging skewers. All types of large fruit and suet balls can be stung along a skewer, creating a wonderful fruit kebab for birds!
Baskets and Trays — A simple solution for feeding fruit, a basket or tray allows for feeding smaller pieces of fresh or dried fruit.
Mealworm — Many birds are insect eaters, especially bluebirds. Mealworm feeders may be a simple cup set on a platform, or a more complex mealworm cage. Tray and dish versions work nicely. To restrict larger birds like mockingbirds and robins from devouring mealworms, a caged or enclosed feeder is recommended. Woodpeckers have really long tongues that can reach inside a caged feeder, so if you're making your own and want to restrict woodpeckers, consider a large cage.
Nectar — The most common nectar feeder is the hummingbird feeder that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. When purchasing a hummingbird feeder, consider how easy it is to clean. Feeders must be cleaned every few days in order to keep bacteria and mold from growing and harming hummingbirds. Orioles are common visitors at hummingbird feedersGrit — Grit (small bits of sand, pebbles or shells) is an essential part of a bird's diet. Birds swallow grit into their gizzard where it grinds the whole seeds. In winter months, scatter grits in a tray or dish feeder or along side the bird water supply. Be sure to keep it clear of snow and ice.
Hummingbird nectar feeder
Fighting SquirrelsSay what you will about squirrels, they certainly are entertaining. It's amazing to watch their antics as they attempt to eat out of feeders. They are smart, persistent and agile when it comes to getting into your bird seed. Regrettably they also can be very destructive to feeders and seed storage containers. If squirrels successfully raid a feeder, they can consume large amounts of seed in no time. To follow are some suggestions for battling squirrels.
Baffles — Baffles serve to keep squirrels from climing up poles or down chain to raid bird feeders. Some are cone or dome shaped while others are tube shaped and fit only on poles. Persistent squirrels may find that an attempt at bypassing the baffle will dislodge enough seed for a snack! Place hanging baffled feeders far enough from other trees or poles from which a squirrel might jump.
Squirrel-proof Feeders — Squirrel-proof feeders have weight-activated mechanisms to deter squirrels. Some of these mechanisms will close feeding ports while others roll or flip the squirrel off of the feeder. If you purchase one of the latter, be sure to place the feeder the appropriate distance from objects as not to injure squirrels. These feeders also aid in deterring larger birds such as grackles and starlings.
Cages — Caged feeders allow smaller birds access but keep larger birds and squirrels out, similar to the caged mealworm feeders. Store-purchased versions of these are often available in tube feeders.
Feeding — Perhaps the most successful method of deterring squirrels is to address the food itself. Provide squirrels their own buffet and they'll likely leave feeders alone. Many store sell squirrel mix feed that includes favorites like corn, peanuts and sunflowers. If you prefer, serve feed that squirrels don't care for, like safflower seed.
Squirrel baffle from "beckygardener"
Squirrel-proof feeder from "pelletory"
Squirrel-proof hopper feeder
Caged tube feeder from "gardenpom"
Squirrels love corn of their own!
Bird feeder collection from "dellrose"
These feeders are a basic representation of types available. You can make your own in all categories: a piece of wood across the deck, ball of suet in an orange half cup or crafted wood feeders. Kids will love to cover pine cones with peanut butter and seed or make home made suet balls.
Once you've made your choice(s), locate your bird feeder away from traffic but in good view of a window. While birds enjoy bushes for cover and protection, don't place your feeders adjacent to smaller bushes or structures where cats may hide and easily pounce on unsuspecting birds. If your location is near a large picture window, consider one of the many window decals available to prevent birds from flying into windows and stunning themselves. It's important to clean feeders every two to four weeks to avoid spreading disease and infection. For tube and nectar, specialty brushes assist in cleaning. If you've many feeders to clean, consider a rotating, weekly schedule. For more information on keeping a sanitary feeding station, visit Audubon.
Now is a great time of the year to start watching birds in your backyard. This winter's Project FeederWatch just began on November 8, 2008. Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, this event surveys birds that visit North American bird feeders. If you're looking for testimonials regarding bird feeders, the Bird Watching Forum on Dave's Garden (available to all members) includes threads describing feeders. Reviewing some of the types available will help you choose a feeder best for your backyard. Soon you'll be adding new birds to your life list, snapping pictures and joining us on the Bird Watching forum! We look forward to seeing you and your feathered-friends there!