1. Feeding Winter Birds
The basics of feeding birds is to provide:
A variety of quality seed.
Fresh water for drinking and bathing.
Ample cover, preferably provided by native
plants, which also provides potential nesting
sites and a source of natural food.
Keep in mind that bird feeders also
present potential risks, such as window
collisions, predation, and exposure to disease.
It may take only a few hours, or weeks,
for birds to discover your new feeders. Help
birds find this new food source by scattering
sunflower seeds near your feeders.
Birds visit feeders most often in the
early morning and again just before dusk.
The balance of this article will expand on
Most of the information in this article
was compiled from the following sources:
Lab of Ornithology
Society for the Protection of Birds
Helping or Hurting
Since feeders only supplement natural
foods and birds don't settle in and dine at
just one place, most species will not suffer
if feeders go empty for days or even weeks at
Studies suggest that backyard feeders are
not creating a population of dependent
"All the same," as one bird feeder put it,
"birds that come into your yard at dusk on a
cold evening are hungry, and one does not
like to disappoint one's guests. It's my
pleasure to make sure that they always find
something to eat in my yard."
Lab of Ornithology says, "It is safe to
watch and feed wild birds, especially in
North America, where the highly pathogenic
H5N1 virus has not been detected."
Sometimes birds suffer more from lack of
water than food. Birds need water for
drinking and bathing all year around,
including in the winter when natural supplies
may be frozen, and in dry weather during the
Set up at least one birdbath.
The surface should be easy to clean, and
there should be a gently sloping shallow end.
Place the birdbath away from the feeders to
keep the water from being contaminated.
Empty water from your birdbath every day:
Brush or wipe it clean and rinse, then refill
the birdbath with fresh water.
Clean it once a week, using a 5-10 percent
solution of chlorine bleach.
Different birds are attracted by different
kinds of seed. By supplying a variety of
food, you are
more likely to attract many different species.
To attract a particular bird to your
backyard, you need to know if that species is
in your area and what good they prefer.
See a list
of the 25 birds most frequently seen by
Feeder Watchers in your area during the
2006-2007 Feeder Watch season.
Experts recommend black oil sunflower seed
as one of the best single seeds to attract a
variety of birds to your feeder.
It has a high meat-to-shell ratio and a high
It's small and thin-shelled, making it easy
for small birds to handle and crack.
They're also cheaper than the larger
grey-and-white striped sunflower seeds with
thicker seed coats.
Mixes usually contain a lot of filler that
birds won't eat. They rummage through the
seeds in the feeder and kick the unwanted
seed onto the ground where it rots.
Instead, buy the seed you know your birds want.
Provide only one type of food per feeder.
A preferred food of the finch family of
birds. It is expensive, and thus needs to be
placed in a hanging tube with tiny holes,
designed especially for nyjer.
Suet is a high-energy food and is
especially favored by birds wintering in cold
locations. It turns rancid when temperatures
rise above 70 degrees.
According to recent studies, birds prefer
plain, inexpensive beef suet over commercial
suet cakes. Ask at your grocery store
butcher counter if you don't see packages of
suet on display.
It's best to offer seeds and suet in
separate feeders, rather than providing
seed-filled suet cakes. Many seed-eating
birds do not like suet and can become covered
with the fat when trying to pick seeds out of
the mixtures. The grease may cause feathers
on the birds' faces and heads to become
matted or to fall out, exposing bare skin to
Cracked Corn (vulnerable to rot)
Fruit, such as apple or chopped and soaked
What Not To Feed
Do not put out salted peanuts as most garden
birds cannot process salt and will die if
they are given too much.
Do not feed birds anything with sugar or
chocolate in it.
Never put out plain peanut butter as
birds can choke on it. Always mix with it seed.
Keep seed dry, free of mold, and safe
from rodents by storing it in a metal can
with a tight-fitting lid, such as a clean
garbage can. Discard damp seed.
Feeders need to be compatible with the
food that is being dispensed and the feeding
habits of the birds for which it is intended.
Following are a variety of feeders to
accommodate specific types of birds and their
diets. Choosing more than one will help
attract more species and avoid feeder congestion.
There are three categories of feeders.
1. Tray, Ground, or Platform
Screen-bottomed trays sit several inches off
the ground or your deck and help to keep
grain or seeds and bird droppings from coming
in contact with each other.
Some feeders have covers to keep out snow and
Some may have wire mesh to keep out squirrels
and large birds like crows.
2. Hopper Feeders
Position on a pole, branch, or patio fixture
about five feet off the ground.
A metal hopper feeder is sturdy, weather
resistant to rain and decay, and easy to clean.
Keeps several pounds of mixed seed dry and ready.
3. Tube Feeders
A sunflower-seed tube feeder is a good choice
to start with.
Generally made from plastic, hollow tube with
multiple feeding ports.
Select a model with metal ports around the
seed dispensers to protect the feeder from
nibbling squirrels and house sparrows.
Hang the feeder at least five feet off the
Keeps seed dry.
Size of perch will determine types of birds
that will visit this feeder.
Specialized tube feeders for Nyjer or peanuts.
These wire mesh cages can be hung from
trees, from poles near other feeders, or from
a wire stretched between trees at least five
feet from the ground to keep it out of the
reach of dogs.
Where To Place Your Feeders
Considering your convenience and the birds
safety, place your feeders:
Where they are easy for your family to see.
Where it is convenient for you to refill them.
In a sheltered area, out of the pounding rain
and howling wind, so feed stays dry.
Close to natural shelter such as trees or
shrubs, which offer refuge to birds as they
wait their turn to feed.
About 10 feet from cover that could hide
squirrels and cats.
Vary the heights of your feeders and spread
them out so more birds can use them and to
prevent overcrowding. See more
Birds & Bird Feeding
5. Feeder Maintenance
Feeding birds does not require much
effort, but some maintenance is necessary.
Birds can become ill from moldy or
decomposing seeds and hulls that accumulate
on feeder trays. Bird droppings and other
contaminants may also spread infectious bird
1. Regularly Clean Feeders
Bird feeders should be cleaned every month.
Scrub with soap and water, then dip into a
solution of one part bleach and nine parts
water (or one part vinegar to 20 parts water).
Use gloves and wear a mask for your own
protection from bird-borne diseases.
Rinse feeders well and dry thoroughly before
2. Clean Ground below Feeders
Rake up birdseed hulls and other waste at
least once a week.
Moldy or spoiled food is unhealthy not
only for birds but for your outside pets and
can attract unwanted rodents.
3. Preventative Care
To help keep food clean, use feeders that
allow birds to perch away from the food.
In wet weather, put out only enough seed to
last several hours.
Do not build feeders out of plywood; some
birds eat the glue.
Check that feeders have no sharp edges that
would scratch birds and cause them to become
susceptible to disease.
4. In Case of a Disease Outbreak
If you notice dead birds or obviously sick
birds (they're less active and less alert)
near your feeders:
Stop feeding immediately.
Discard all seed.
Clean and disinfect all feeders and the
ground below them.
Wait a week before resuming feeding.
Check to see if your
state is collecting information on dead
6. Learn About Birds
Most birds that come to your feeders can
be identified without any equipment, but
often you may need some help.
You might also get interested enough in
birds to go birding during the spring,
summer, or fall months.
Get better views of the bird.
See details to help with the identification.
Look for an easy-to-use guide.
Find a guide that features birds in your region.
Resource: See article, "Backyard
Birdwatching," plus order binoculars and bird
guides at Home
Use these for recording the birds you see
and their habits, as well as for art and
writing exercises if your child gets
interested in birds.
Keep a notebook exclusively for taking down
details of your sightings.
Make a list of all the varieties of birds you
Use the notebook for sketches of birds.
Write a description of how the birds act and
interact with each other at your feeder.
What To Look For
A number of features will help your
Learn the names of different
parts of a bird's body to help when writing
your notes or when you are describing the
bird to others.
Find a section in your science texts and
learn about the parts of birds.
how to identify birds.
Online Bird Guide
See a dynamic
online guide for bird species
identifications and in-depth information,
including description, food, audio sounds,
video, and distribution maps.
Study the purpose of various bird species in
Look up Bible passages about birds and how
God uses them as illustrations for us.
Read articles about birds and the false
theory of evolution at Answers in Genesis
on the Wind: How do migrating birds know
and where, to go?
Join the Feeder Watch
up and receive an instructional kit,
including a bird identification poster and a
bird feeding handbook.
Create Your Own Online Wildlife List
Start a bird
list and see how many different birds you
Plant Your Own Backyard Wildlife
National Wildlife Federation will help
you create a thriving habitat for wildlife
that will attract, shelter, and feed birds.
View and Study the Art
of J. J. Audubon
To Draw a Bird.
Bird Houses. Clean out or put up bird
houses in your
yard to give wrens a nice warm place to roost
during the winter.
for Beginners: Ten Tips for New Birders
8. Looking Out for Your Birds
Squirrels are a notorious nuisance because
of their acrobatic abilities and
determination in eating bird feed. You can:
Try to stop them by placement of feeders and
devices to keep them out of the feed.
Distract them with their own feeders with
lower-priced food, such as a corn ear holder
and locate them far away from bird feeders.
When all else fails, pretend you are feeding
squirrels and enjoy watching them!
Colliding with a window is the most common
cause of bird death associated with feeders.
To avoid this problem, position feeders at
least three feet from your window.
If collisions persist, fruit-tree netting
stretched taut a few inches in front of the
glass is the best deterrent.
Cats account for about 30 percent of birds
killed at feeders (bells on their collars do
not hamper their stealthy hunting skills).
By keeping your cat indoors, you will not
birds, but also keep your cat safe from
traffic, disease, and fights with
neighborhood pets and wildlife. More
If a hawk starts regular visits to your
feeders, stop feeding until the smaller birds
disperse and the hawk looks for food
"Look at the birds of the air, that they
do not sow,
nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they?