(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 31, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Why does my neighbor get all of the “really cool” birds in his feeders and I can only get sparrows, starlings and the like? This has been puzzling me for several years so I decided to find out why. I went to an expert.

I paid a visit to Gary Phillips owner of Backyard Birds in Plymouth, Michigan. I got educated on winter bird feeding in a hurry.

Gary pointed out that most import thing before food during winter month’s is a FRESH supply of water. Ponds are frozen and if there’s no snow cover the birds absolutely have no source for water.

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Fresh water is a must for birds during winter

There are heaters available to install in your bird bath that keeps water from freezing. You can also buy bird baths with built in heating coils. Change the water on a daily basis to keep it fresh.

While walking through his store I was amazed at the vast choices of bird seeds; the universal, can’t-go-wrong seed is called "Black and White." It’s a mixture of sunflower seeds: black oiler, black and white stripers, and white safflower seeds. This mixture will attract a wider variety of birds than any other seed on the market.

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Sunflower seeds attract many different birds

To attract specific birds here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Cardinals: sunflower, safflower, raisins, and peanuts. (Cardinals prefer to eat from a tray rather than a regular feeder. Feeders are available that have a tray attached below the feeder.)

  • Purple Finch: sunflower, safflower, suet mixtures, and thistle seed.

  • Blue Jays: whole corn, striped sunflower, suet mixtures.

  • Chickadees: sunflower, safflower, peanut butter, suet mixtures

  • Nuthatches: sunflower, safflower, suet mixtures, pumpkin seeds

  • Woodpeckers: suet in a hanging log feeder, cracked corn, suet mixtures

As you can see sunflowers and suet are a real staple for most of the birds.

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(left) Suet comes in many different flavors (right) a suet feeder

If you have a problem with squirrels and raccoons raiding your feeder, there are squirrel-proof feeders available.

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Squirrel-proof feeder

Keep your feeders free of seed hulls and bird droppings.

Don’t let the seed in the feeders get wet; if it does discard it and refill with fresh seeds.

Spread your feeders throughout your yard. Closely spaced feeder make easy pickings for predators such as hawks and owls.

Evergreen trees provide excellent shelter and hiding spots for songbirds. A couple of nesting boxes is also a good way to provide shelter form the winter winds.

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Nesting Boxes

Here are some recipes that you can make your own bird treats.

Woodpecker Stick Recipe

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup lard - any animal fat will do
1 cup flour
3 cups corn meal
Mix well. You can add peanut hearts or seed to the mixture. Form into a log or stick.

Pinecone Raisin Mix

4 1/2 cups rendered suet
1 cup dried and crumbled whole wheat bread
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup millet
1/4 cup raisins or chopped dried apples

1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, and then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
4. Stuff the mixture in-between the "petals" of a pinecone. Hang onto a tree and watch your birds devour it!

Fruit Suet

1 pound lard (not Crisco or shortening)*
1/2 - 1 cup peanut butter
Approx 1/2 loaf of bread, or equivalent bread products such as donuts, plain cake, buns, rolls etc.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 finely diced apple, or other fruit **
(raisins, blueberries, etc)
1/2 cup pecans (optional

*beef fat can also be used, of course, but is hard to find in my area. Also the lard doesn't smell up the kitchen so badly.
**I gather wild cherries and elderberries in season, freeze and use in the recipe later.

Melt the lard and peanut butter over low heat. Mix flour, cornmeal and sugar and stir in. Add enough bread crumbs to absorb all liquid. Add fruit and nuts as desired.

Pour into a 9- by 5-inch bread pan and keep refrigerated.

Recipes courtesy U-M Dearborn EIC