Different bird species can be attracted to your yard through different types of feeders and foods. The first step is to research what species live in your area and which ones you would like to attract. Keep in mind that refilling and cleaning your feeder is very important, so it should be easy to clean.
Before setting up your bird feeder, though, read Audubon's When It's Okay (or Not) to Feed Birds by clicking here. Birdfeeding can have many effects, good and bad, so know the facts before you decide to attract birds to your yard.
Some people believe that providing food for birds can cause them to not migrate. That's false. To know when it's time to migrate, birds pay attention to the lengths of the days and their internal compass. Food availability is why some birds migrate, yes, but it is low food availablity isn't there signal to migrate. And so, you can provide food to birds without worrying that you're affecting their migration patterns!
Types of Feeders
Platform (Tray) Feeder
This feeder is a wooden or metal tray that can be mounted or suspended. Seed is put in the middle of the tray, and birds can perch on the edge; it attracts a variety of seed-eaters.
Very susceptible to germs. It has little protection from the elements, so the seed can easily get wet and foster bacteria. Bird droppings also contribute to unhealthy conditions for birds.
Some of these feeders come with a roof for weather protection, but these still susceptible to germs.
For cleanliness purposes, get a platform feeder with a screened bottom.
If you can't find one with a screened bottom, you should drill several drainage holes in the bottom.
Needs to be hosed down every time before fresh seed is placed—it should be cleaned every 1-2 days.
Also attracts chipmunks and squirrels.
If you only want to feed birds, mount the feeder on a pole with a Stovepipe Baffle below. Visit our Birdhouses page to learn more baffles by clicking here.
Attracts: native finches, pigeons, grosbeaks, house sparrows and starlings. When placed on the ground, it can also attract ground-feeders such as doves, juncos, jays, and sparrows.
A Guide on Types of Seeds
for Your Birdfeeder
Don't know which seed to put in your feeder, or ready to try something new? Learn more about seeds from the Cornell Lab's All About Birds website by clicking here.
Hopper (House) Feeder
A hopper feeder is shaped like a house, where the seed is stored safely inside with an enclosed roof to protect it from the elements. The seed spills into a feeding area at the bottom.
Can be either suspended or mounted on a pole.
Also attracts squirrels.
If you only want to feed the birds, mount the feeder on a pole with a Stovepipe Baffle.
Protects seed fairly well from the weather, so less susceptible to bacteria than the platform feeder.
During wet months, monitor the feeder closely to make sure no water is leaking into the seed. Wet seed breeds bacteria, which makes birds sick.
Can hold for seed for several days.
Clean this feeder every time fresh seed is added (change seed every several days).
Harder to clean than platform feeders.
Attracts: feeder birds such as buntings, titmice, cardinals, jays, finches, chickadees, grosbeaks, and sparrows.
A tube feeder is a plastic feeder with multiple feeding ports. The size of the feeding ports and the types of perches will attract different birds. For example, a feeder with perches above the port are designed for birds that can feed upside down. Smaller perches attract smaller species such as sparrows, titmice, chickadees, finches, and grosbeaks. Larger species, such as grackles, cannot feed from these smaller perches. This feeder is available in a variety of sizes with different numbers of feeding ports.
Tube feeders are well-protected from the weather, so wet seed is generally not a problem (unless there is a leak).
Seed located below the lowest feeding port can breed bacteria. To solve this, place something in the bottom of the feeder so that the lowest seed is level with the lowest feeding port. No seed should be below the port.
Empty out all old seed before adding more.
These feeders are not squirrel resistant; squirrels will chew through the plastic, so you will want to make the feeder unreachable through hanging the feeder or using a Stovepipe Baffle.
These feeders can also be made out of metal mesh.
Attracts: House finches, Pine Siskins, chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, grosbeaks and other smaller birds. Feeders with large feeding ports can attract blackbirds and grackles.
In this photo, there is seed below the lowest feeding port.
All seed should be level with and/or above the feeding port.
Nyjer (or Thistle) Feeders
This feeder can be a metal grate or a mesh bag (a "thistle sock"), as seen in the photos to the left. They're specifically designed for nyjer, which is a type of seed.
The nyjer seed can become easily wet—this feeder should be taken down in wet weather, dried fully, and replaced with new seed before it is set outside again.
Using a smaller thistle sock can also decrease any potential bacteria.
Large socks should only be used when birds are consuming all of the seed in a few days. (You don’t want seed sitting out there any longer!)
Squirrels are not a threat; they are not attracted to nyjer seed.
It may appear that this feeder is very leaky, spilling seed all over the ground. That seed on the ground is actually the nyjer seed shells, something the birds don't eat.
Attracts: goldfinches, House finches, chickadees, redpolls, and Pine Siskins.
Photo courtesy of Cassidy Garcia, used with permission.
A window feeder is a small, plastic feeder with a seed-holding tray. Suction cups allow the feeder to stick to the window, providing anyone inside with an amazing bird-watching view. There are also other types of platform-like feeders that hook into window frames.
As with the platform feeder, seed is soiled easily, despite the feeder's overhang, because birds may stand in the seed while eating. Daily care is needed; it should be cleaned and changed every day. Fortunately, they are easy to clean!
Attracts: chickadees, finches, sparrow, and titmice.
Wait, Don't Windows Kill Birds?
Yes, windows kill birds. However, window feeders are believed to actually reduce collisions since they break up the surface of the window, according the Cornell Lab. Additionally, birds are decelerating to land, not accelerating. If you’re still concerned about the risk, visit our Window Solutions page (here).
This feeder is a fixed box of wire mesh, specifically designed for blocks of suet (beef fat). If you are concerned about bird tongues sticking to the metal in winter—a rare occurrence, although it has happened—buy a plastic-coated suet feeder.
Clean the feeder after a block of suet is finished. Set it in hot water for at least 15 minutes.
Can also use a degreasing dish soap if needed.
Attracts: suet is loved by nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, jays, and starlings.
European Starlings, an invasive species in the US and Canada, can be excluded from feeding by buying a feeder where suet is only available from the bottom. Starlings struggle with feeding upside down, unlike the other species suet feeders attract.
Top: @USFWS Midwest Region, Flickr. Used through CC BY 2.0. Bottom: Rhododendrites, Wikimedia Commons. Used through CC BY-SA 4.0.
Hummingbird feeders are plastic or glass, and they are somewhat tube-shaped feeders with special feeding ports near the bottom. These feeders are specifically designed to carry nectar, have bright colors to attract hummers, and some have “bee guards” (small plastic screens) at the feeding ports to prevent insects from getting into the sugar solution.
Should be emptied every 1-2 days because the nectar will spoil if left inside for too long. In hot weather, it should be cleaned daily.
Start with buying a small feeder over a large one. Smaller feeders are better at discouraging bacteria, and more feeders can always be purchased.
Clean the feeder with a bottlebrush that is able to scrub each corner and crevice.
Place feeder in shady spot. Direct sunlight will make the sugar solution spoil faster; it will also leak due to expanding air pressure.
When placing near a window, secure the feeder from the top and bottom so it doesn’t cause any damage in bad weather.
Attracts: hummingbirds! Learn more about attracting hummingbirds by visiting Bird and Blooms (here).
Homemade Sugar Water
Ingredients for hot/dry weather: ¼ cup of sugar per cup of water
For cold /rainy weather: ⅓ cup of sugar per cup of water
Mix the two ingredients before pouring into a hummingbird feeder. If the sugar water is intended for later use, make it with boiling water, and then refrigerate. If not, the water doesn’t need to be boiled for smaller quantities (which should be mixed every couple of days).
Do not use honey, as bacteria grows faster with it. Do NOT dye—red dye may actually be harmful. Nectar in flowers is clear, so there is no need to dye sugar water red. While bright colors do attract hummingbirds, the feeder (usually colored red) attracts them as flowers do.
Don't Want to Make Sugar Water?
Hummingbirds can also be attracted to your yard through the planting of a wildflower garden. However, make sure the wildflowers are native to your area.
Invasive Species Alert! House Sparrows and European Starlings are both invasive species in the United States. These species take over resources and habitats used by native birds, ultimately hurting them. Before you make a birdhouse or set out bird feed, make sure that they won’t help invasive species. (For example, starlings cannot fit through certain sized holes in birdhouses and prefer certain bird feeds). If you live outside the US, check with your local bird organization to see if your area has any invasive birds.
Where Do I Put My Birdfeeder?
Your birdfeeder needs to be safe from window collisions and predators. Thankfully, there are quick rules that can guide you to making the safest feeder possible.
Feeders should either be closer than 3 feet OR farther than 30 feet from windows. This works because a bird flying from a feeder 3 feet away (or less) won't be flying very fast, so they won't collide very hard. Most people hang bird feeders to see the birds, so windows are always a part of the equation. If you’re still concerned about birds flying into your window, visit our Window Solutions page (here) for help.
Feeders also need to be near shelter—but not too close. Trees and shrubs provide cover for a bird that needs a quick hiding spot, especially if there's a predator nearby. At the same time, cover can provide hiding spots for predators and help them access the birds, so be careful! The rule of thumb is your birdfeeder should be 10 feet from shelter. Evergreen trees are the preferred cover, as they provide constant protection and provide a buffer from the weather with their thick foliage. Loosely stacked brush piles and logs can also provide cover. (But not too near the feeder so predators can’t use it for a surprise attack!)
Courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited, Ottawa. Used with permission.
Windows are closer than 3 ft or farther than 30 ft
Shelter is approximately 10 ft away
Unless otherwise specified, the general rule of thumb is to clean your feeder at least every two weeks if they aren’t being used heavily. Hummingbird and tray feeders should be cleaned 1-2 days while tube and suet feeders should be cleaned after each use. Also, factor in mold or unusual high amounts of bird droppings for when your feeder needs to be cleaned. They should be cleaned more during heavy use.
Soap and water is effective in removing debris, but there is a better solution:
Scrub any debris you see off with a clean brush or sponge*.
Soak the bird feeder in a diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) for at least ten minutes. Make sure to take the feeder apart while cleaning!
Rinse thoroughly with water before letting the feeder completely dry.
Turn the feeder upside down while drying; a day of drying may be needed to completely dry any crevices.
It’s also a good idea to rake away any waste collecting under the bird feeder (spread it out to prevent accumulation). This is especially important if you also place feed on the ground. You may periodically want to move your feeder if waste accumulation becomes a big problem.
When choosing a bird feeder, get one that is easy to clean! The more convenient it is for you, the better maintained your feeder will be! Also, create a cleaning schedule (such as every week on Thursday morning).
*For tube feeders, there are tube feeder specialized brushes for a better and easier clean.
Did you know that birds can eat peanut butter? This homemade birdfeeder, which is basically peanut butter and bird seed on a pinecone, is a convenient way to give your outdoor birds a treat. Most of these ingredients and tools already in your kitchen, and it's a great craft for kids.
Concerned about giving birds peanut butter? Don't be—they can't choke on it.
Attracts: woodpeckers, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees.
Note: place the feeder in a cool, shaded place. In hot weather, the peanut butter will become runny and rancid, so this may only be a winter treat depending on your climate. This feeder is perfect for birds in winter because of the high-fat content it provides.
Peanut Butter (any kind can be used, but try to avoid no-fat peanut butters and look for natural and organic. Crunchy peanut butter can be used too!)
Bird seed in a bowl
12-14 inches of twine
Tools: knife, plate, scissors for cutting twine
**Notes on materials: the pinecone should be large and fairly “open” to carry the maximum amount of food. It should also come from outside when pine cones are dropped in the fall. Lard or suet can be used in place of peanut butter. Use twine over other strings; thinner strings such as fishing line could become tangled...with a bird!
Step One: Start with the twine. At one end of the pinecone, loop the twine in between the rows, 2-3 rows from the end of the pinecone. Then tie the loop around the pinecone with a secure knot. Leave the other end of the twine untouched.
Step Two: Use your knife to spread peanut butter across the pine cone. Fill in gaps by pressing peanut butter in between the scales; if the peanut butter is difficult to work with, heat it slightly in a microwave. Peanut butter can be applied either thinly or thickly.
Step Three: After the pine cone is covered in peanut butter, put some bird seed in a bowl. Roll the pinecone in the bird seed, manually putting bird seed in any gaps. Press somewhat firmly to ensure that the bird seed will not fall off.
Step Four: Tie the other end of the twine in a loop. Then hang the pinecone from a tree—if you set it on a tree trunk or log, squirrels will be apt to eat it. Or, instead of making a loop, you could simply tie the end of the twine to a branch.
Common Species and Their Preferences
(Canada and U.S)