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Attracting beautiful songbirds to your yard is easier than you think. I’m going to share the four basic things they are looking for when they visit. Even if you don’t offer all four things you can still count on visitors, maybe just not as many. When I started putting this post together it soon became evident that I would need to break this into 2 parts. There is just so much information I wanted to give you! This first post will discuss bird food and bird feeders, two of the most important things to consider when trying to attract birds. The second post will cover water sources and shelters for birds. Let’s get started!
I am a fanatical bird watcher and jokingly refer to myself as a bird nerd. All joking aside, bird watching, or birding is an important part of my life. Birds are fun to watch and even relaxing so I’m always excited when someone I know says they want to try to attract more birds to their backyards. I could talk for hours about birding!
The tips I’m sharing work well for attracting not only popular songbirds but other more unique birds as well. I use a lot of these things in my South Central Pennsylvania yard to not only draw these feathery visitors in but to keep them coming back year after year. While birding is exciting and satisfying it can get expensive if you jump right in and go overboard with supplies. I suggest you start off with some basic supplies and add more as your interest grows. These basic supplies include bird food, feeders, a water source and shelter. Today we’re going to discuss bird food and feeders. I’ll list some of the products I recommend to both newbies and experienced birders within this post.
*All of the bird pictures posted are ones that I took in my yard. They may not be perfect because birds are fast and I’m not a professional photographer and some are a couple of years old. My hope is that they inspire you because you can attract all these and more depending on where you live.
I recommend that you select a good quality seed mix to attract a wide variety of birds. I want to stress that you should choose the best quality bird seed mix that you can afford. Don’t feel like you have to buy the most expensive mix if you can not afford it. I’ve come to realize though that the cheaper mixes are full of fillers. You may be spending less money at the time but you’re wasting a lot of uneaten seeds which is money thrown down the drain. I’m better off buying a smaller bag of better quality seed for not much difference in price but birds will eat every ingredient. There is no waste. This will become a little clearer as we get into the various ingredients a bit more clear.
Mixes usually include some of the following: Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, White Proso Millet, Red Millet, Safflower Seeds, Striped Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts, Dried Fruit, Milo, Cracked Corn, Sunflower Chips, and Wheat. Generally, the cheaper mixes contain a majority of fillers that most songbirds don’t eat – unless they are starving. These fillers include Milo, Red Millet, Corn and Wheat. As a matter of fact, Milo is a common filler in most inexpensive mixes. The mixture I was buying was made up of mostly Milo which went to waste. Even though you still may be getting Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts and some other decent ingredients a huge amount of Milo will be wasted because birds don’t like it so is that bargain seed mix really a good deal?
Ask yourself, “How much are you saving when a ton of product, Milo, is being dumped out or scratched to the ground by unhappy visitors?”. I finally came to this realization. Not only would I dump it out of my tray feeder every time I went to refill it, but it would also build up on the ground and sprout weeds below every other feeder. Why was I thinking that I was saving money when all of this seed was going to waste?
Another ingredient that I consider filler is corn but some birders love using it. I find that when I use a mix with corn in it, I tend to attract a lot more nuisance birds like Starlings and Grackles. I stay away from it. You can decide if it’s something you want to offer to your feathered friends. Depending on who shows up maybe you’ll continue using it or maybe not. Wheat and Millet are also found in cheaper mixes but I can overlook Millet because more birds will eat that before Wheat and Milo.
To summarize, your basic seed mixture should include a mix of some of the following: Black Oiled Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts, Safflower Seeds, Dried Fruits, Sunflower Chips, Striped Sunflower Seeds and even White Proso Millet. By starting with a quality seed mix you are in a way throwing out a huge net which will ‘catch’ or entice a large group of birds. As a matter of fact, here are some of the birds you can expect to attract with a mix – Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches, Jays, Titmice, Grosbeaks, Juncos, Buntings, Sparrows and more.
Now we’re going to look at some of the seeds separately. They may be in your mixture but they can be bought and used on their own.
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (B.O.S.S.) – If there is only one seed you can afford, this is the one you want. Nearly every bird loves it. While birds will readily eat Striped Sunflower Seeds, most prefer Black Oil Sunflower Seeds because they are smaller and the shell is thinner and easier to crack. B.O.S.S. are high in oil content and provide more nutrition than Striped Sunflower Seeds. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Black Oil Sunflower Seeds – Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Titmice, Finches, Juncos, Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Nuthatches and more.
- Safflower Seeds – Not as popular as B.O.S.S but a great choice for your feeder especially if squirrels are problematic at yours. The shell is harder but birds enjoy them while squirrels don’t. Safflower Seed is high in protein, fat and fiber. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Safflower Seeds – Cardinals, Jays, Chickadees, Grosbeaks, Nuthatches, Mourning Doves, Titmice and more.
There are other foods you can choose to add to the menu to expand your visitor’s list. These foods include:
- Thistle Seed (Nyjer) – Finches love it! These seeds are teeny tiny and leave no shell or waste. Thistle Seeds are sterilized so that they won’t grow if they end up in your yard. They are high in fat and oil content and are a great source of protein for birds. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Thistle Seed – Finches, Pine Siskins, Tufted Titmice, Juncos, Mourning Doves and more.
- Suet – These are the formed cakes, plugs, pellets and blocks. They are made using suet (raw animal fat, lard or even vegetable shortening) various seeds and fruits. Some contain peanuts, sunflower seeds and cracked corn. Be careful because cheap suet will draw nuisance birds! They can devour a suet cake in no time! Suet is a great energy source for birds, especially in winter months. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Suet – Woodpeckers (including Downy, Hairy, Red-Bellied and Northern Flicker), Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Catbirds, Wrens, Thrushes, Thrashers, Warblers and more.
- Mealworms – They may look disgusting but these creepy crawlies are a delicacy in the bird world. Insect-eating birds love them. You can find freeze-dried worms in a lot of stores but I have never had any luck with them. I strongly recommend using live Mealworms. They are actually very easy to raise and aren’t as gross as they seem. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Mealworms – Eastern Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, Wrens, Robins, Chickadees and more.
- Unshelled Peanuts – One of my favorite foods to offer birds is Unshelled Peanuts. All the Woodpeckers that visit love them. Surprisingly, many other birds enjoy them, too. It’s neat seeing them use various methods to open the shells. Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Unshelled Peanuts – Woodpeckers, Jays, Tufted Titmice and more.
- Fruit – Many birds love fruit. If you’ve ever grown your own fruit crops you probably know that. Try offering cut oranges, elderberries, strawberries, blueberries, crabapples and mulberries. Fruit-bearing trees are a huge draw for birds! Here are a few birds you can expect to attract with Fruit – Orioles, Robins, Waxwings, Grosbeaks, Mockingbirds, Catbirds, Tanagers and more.
As with anything, your mileage may vary with any of the bird food mentioned. Even so, I have had almost every bird listed in this post visit my feeders over the years. You never know who will show up from one day to the next and that is what makes birding so exciting. By offering a variety of foods you’re more likely to draw in a wide variety of birds.
Some bird food suggestions…
There is more to choosing a bird feeder than just looks alone. With so many types and styles on the market it may be confusing to figure out which one will work with the bird food you’ve chosen. Or maybe you’ve found a feeder you like but aren’t sure what type of food to use in it. We’re going to look at the different types of bird feeders and what to put in them so that you can feel confident in your choice.
- Hopper – Hopper or House feeders are generally house shaped containers that hold a decent amount of seed that automatically dispenses food through the bottom opening as birds eat. Usually the actual hopper is clear so that you can see how much seed remains and is covered by a roof that protects the food from the elements. There is usually a perch or area along the bottom for the birds to sit on while eating. Mixed Seed, B.O.S.S and Safflower Seeds work well in Hopper style feeders
Check out these Hopper Feeders…
- Tray or Platform – This type of feeder is open and often has a flat tray or platform bottom usually made of mesh or screen with sides that keep the food in. Platform feeders offer lots of room for larger birds who can’t perch on Hoppers or Tube feeders. That can be a good thing or bad thing. While it allows Jays and Cardinals to dine comfortably it also allows Mourning Doves (or as I like to call them, “The Cleanup Crew”) to sit and fill their bellies till their heart’s content. These feeders are typically open to the elements as well so seed may be more likely to get wet. Rain and snow will drain through the bottom but you may have to change out your seed so it doesn’t mold if it’s not eaten. You can use Mixed Seed, B.O.S.S, Safflower Seeds, Meal Worms and Peanuts/Fruits in Tray feeders.
Check out these Platform Feeders…
- Tube – There are two categories of Tube feeders. There are the hollow clear tubes that have various sized feeding ports usually right above perches. And then there are the metal wire tubes that have no ports. The first one I’m going to talk about is the clear tube style. You can find many styles of Tube feeders which allows you to tailor that feeder to the type of bird and seed you want to offer. Feeders with teeny tiny holes are meant for use with Thistle Seed or possibly White Proso Millet. Others have ports that can be turned to offer regular seed mixes or Thistle Seed depending on which way you set it. Then there are others that allow you to adjust the size of the perch to accommodate or discourage bigger birds. I love using Tube feeders and have had lots of luck drawing in birds with them. Try Seed Mixes, B.O.S.S. and Safflower Seeds in regular Tube feeders. For feeders with small-sized holes or labeled ‘Finch Feeder’ use Thistle Seed or White Proso Millet.
- The second type, wire tubes are a little different. As with clear Tube feeders, wire tubes may have different sized holes depending on the type of wire used. For instance, some have wide-spaced wires to house Peanuts or Suet. Others have tightly spaced wire to only allow small beaks and seeds to get through. I’ve never used a wire Tube feeder for Thistle but I do have a wire Tube Peanut feeder and I love it! It is great for Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They peck the Shelled Peanuts and clean the nut right out of the shell! It’s amazing! The one thing I don’t like about the wire thistle feeders is the lack of protection from rain or snow. Foods that work well in wire tubes with large openings are Unshelled Peanuts, Suet Plugs and maybe even B.O.S.S (if the holes aren’t huge). For metal tubes with very small openings use Thistle Seed.
Check out these Tube Feeders…
- Suet Feeders – Probably the most popular style of Suet feeder is the simple plastic coated wire or plastic square cake cage. You open the door, place in a suet cake, close and latch it then hang. Easy peasy. But there are other styles out there. Recently new forms of suet have come onto the birding market which meant we needed proper feeders for them. You can find metal tubes like my peanut feeder to house suet pellets or plugs though they do make specialized plug holders. These plug feeders discourage nuisance birds like Starlings and Grackles who will gobble up your suet in the blink of an eye. There are lots of different Suet feeders out there so shop around to find your favorite and hopefully the birds’ favorite, too.
Check out these Suet Feeders…
I hope you enjoyed reading the first part of How To Attract Birds To Your Yard. More importantly, I hope you’ve learned a couple of things that you can use in your birding endeavor. Remember to start small and add new foods and feeders as your interest grows. In the second part of this series, we’ll discuss how to create water sources and shelters for your new feathered visitors. Happy birding!!