Many people who set up bird feeders in their wildlife garden don’t pay a lot attention to which species stop by. They’re just happy to have beautiful songbirds or hummingbirds in their private paradise.
If you’re trying to attract the widest variety of avian visitors, though, you’ll have to add a special type of feeder to your garden – one which doesn’t automatically come to mind when thinking about bird feeders. We’re talking about fruit feeders.
Ask the first person you see: “What do birds like to eat?” and you’ll probably get a one word answer: “Seeds.” You probably already know that’s not exactly the right answer. Some birds do eat seeds, but many species prefer insects, nectar, suet or other foods available in the wild.
A large group of birds is known as “frugivorous” (fruit specialists), because their preference is to eat fruit. There are several reasons why some species have developed into fruit specialists, but the most important reason is that fruit is a terrific source of sugar. It can provide much-needed energy throughout the year, particularly when birds are breeding or suffering through cold winters.
Different birds actually eat fruit in different ways. Some just peck at it to get at the juice, some will primarily eat the flesh, some will eat the entire fruit (including the skin) or even swallow it whole. They’re not overly picky, either; if humans will eat a fruit, chances are good that frugivores will like it too. They’ll also eat some fruits that people don’t like (like crabapples) and they’ll be happy with overripe fruit that we’d probably throw out.
Even though they’re likely to eat any fruit available, birds are most partial to a relatively small group of fruits. They include blueberries, cherries, currants, elderberries, grapes, mulberries, plums, raisins, raspberries, strawberries – and most of all, oranges and apples. Some of these, like berries, are available naturally in many climates. However, those which are not will be welcome treats for avian visitors if you put them out in your garden.
What species of birds can you expect to see when you set up fruit feeders? Needless to say, it depends on which are native to your area. But some of the prettiest songbirds in the world are full or partial frugivores, so you might be able to attract varieties of orioles, robins, catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, jays, thrashers, bluebirds, starlings, finches, wrens, mockingbirds, grosbeaks and a number of others (including parrots and toucans if you happen to live in an exotic area of the world).
By now, you’re probably convinced that you need to put some fruit feeders into your wildlife garden. It’s time to look at how to do it.
You may already happen to have natural fruit feeders in your garden. If there are berry or fruit trees or bushes growing naturally on your property, consider yourself fortunate. Birds will have no trouble finding them and feeding at them. They’re also happy to share; they’ll be more than satisfied if you put nets around the fruit you want to harvest for yourself, and leave extra or overripe fruit unprotected on the tree or bush for them to eat. They’ll particularly appreciate it if you let fruit that’s left over at the end of the season hanging on the tree, since they will need a source for the extra energy required during migration. Of course, you can also plant berries or fruit trees in your garden if you have the space, climate, energy and budget for it.
An easy, although inelegant, way to set up a fruit feeder is to simply jam a stake into the ground near your other feeders. You can then stick orange or apple halves onto the top of the stake, and birds will be thrilled to have easy access to the fruit. If (as is likely) appearance is a consideration in your garden, there are a number of attractive stake feeders on the market, including the Ancient Graffiti Ceramic Yellow Bird Staked Fruit Spear.
The majority of commercially-produced fruit feeders are hanging or platform feeders, rather than ones which stick into the ground. Many use the same basic approach as the stake feeder, though, with skewers on which you can simply spear fruit halves. You’ll often find them with decorative touches in orange or blue, because those colors attract orioles and bluebirds respectively – two songbirds who love fruit. One example is the Speared Fruit Hanging Bird Feeder with Cardinal Motif which easily holds half of an orange or apple. There are also options which can handle more than one piece of fruit while protecting birds from the elements. Many are built in the shape of bird houses, like the Going Green Oriole Fruit Feeder.
Most frugivores don’t just love fruit, they love jelly as well. It’s easy to set some out on platform or types of feeders for birds to peck at, but many fruit feeders come with built-in trays in order to accommodate both fruit and jelly for your avian visitors. Commercial feeders can be found in both “bird house” and “spear” designs, like the Duncraft Eco-Oriole Fruit and Jelly Bird Feeder and the Heath Outdoor Products CF-133 Clementine Oriole Feeder.
If you’re looking to make things easy for songbirds by combining several feeders into one, or if you simply don’t have an unlimited amount of space for many different feeding stations, a number of products on the market can help. For example, the Songbirds Essentials Ultimate Fruit, Jelly and Nectar Feeder includes a flat-top nectar feeder which can hold a full quart of nectar, in addition to stakes for four fruit halves and trays for jelly. The trays can also hold berries, of course, if you want to give your visitors an added threat they’ll love.
You’re probably already setting out food in at least one type of bird feeder, in your wildlife garden. It only takes a little extra space (and some leftover fruit) to widen the variety of birds visiting your sanctuary – and the beautiful visitors who primarily eat fruit are well worth inviting.
When you were growing up (unless you lived in a city), you probably saw bird feeders in at least a few of the yards in your neighborhood. They looked like big birdhouses (which is why they’re sometimes called “house feeders”) or little barns, and were never short of visitors. Those were hopper feeders – and today, they’re just as popular as they’ve been for decades.
There are two main reasons why so many people favor hopper feeders. First, you don’t have to refill them very often, because they’re quite large and hold a lot of seed. Second, they’re so bird-friendly that a huge variety of species, of all sizes, can feed at them simultaneously. With a huge assortment of hopper feeders models on the market, there’s no question they’ll remain a bird-watchers’ favorite for a long time to come.
As already mentioned, most hopper feeders are in the shape of a house, with sloping wooden sides and frame, and plastic or plexiglass sides. The roof can be wooden, plastic, or some other synthetic material. The middle of the “birdhouse” is where you pour the seeds, and it can usually accommodate one to two pounds of seed, sometimes even more.
The theory behind a hopper feeder is similar to that of a tube feeder; birds eat seeds which are dispensed slowly over time. The difference is that they don’t have to sit on tiny perches and nibble at small seed ports as they do with a tube feeder; instead, there are long trays for the food along the base of the house and your visitors, large and small, can easily perch on the edges of the trays to eat their fill.
Since the seeds fall through a slot into the tray at the bottom of the hopper feeder, there’s really no restriction on the types of seed you can use. Sunflower seeds (especially black-oil sunflower) will always be popular among your avian guests, but almost any type of seed mix, whole corn, nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds or pecans) or white millet will work as well. Normally, you just pour the seeds into the top, close the roof, and you’re good to go.
When you purchase a hopper feeder, be sure to look for one which allows quick access for filling, and can be easily taken apart for cleaning. You should clean your feeder at least once a month; even though the seeds are pretty much protected from the elements, moisture can still cause the food to go bad over time. Clean the trays more frequently, to get rid of left-over food and bird waste.
Almost any songbird will be happy to eat at a hopper feeder. Among the varieties you can expect to see visiting are cardinals, chickadees, blue jays, finches, sparrows, woodpeckers and grosbeaks, and most hopper feeders provide enough room for many birds at once.
Most hopper feeders are hung from a tree or wire, although there are also some models which come with a pole on the bottom so that you can position the feeder anywhere you can plant the pole.
If you’re planning to hang the feeder, take two things into consideration.
Hopper feeders will make the biggest “decor statement” of any bird feeder you can place in your wildlife garden. They immediately catch the eye because of their size and their placement above the ground, and the endless variety of hopper feeder styles and colors available will let you choose exactly the look you think matches your garden best.
Just a sample:
And that’s just scratching the surface. Hopper feeders will not only bring an incredible assortment of songbirds to your garden, they’ll give you an amazing range of options which allow you to get creative in designing your wildlife paradise.
As you relax in your wildlife garden, it’s enjoyable to sit back and watch all of the songbirds and hummingbirds coming to visit, flying around and eating their fill at the bird feeders you’ve thoughtfully hung throughout the area. The colors are vibrant, the melodies are soothing, and the sight is wonderful.
Unfortunately, there are still some species who will feel left out. There are a number of birds who won’t use feeders that are up in the air. They vastly prefer to feed down low – and unless you accommodate them by setting up ground feeders, you’ll be missing out on their presence.
Doves, blackbirds, juncos, starlings, grackles, robins, jays and sparrows are just some of the birds who look for their food at ground level, so if you want to attract them to your garden (and who wouldn’t want to have robins or jays as regular visitors?), you’ll need to look into putting at least one ground feeder into your garden. And the good news is that it’s easier to set up a ground feeder than any other type of feeding station for birds.
Actually, the name “ground feeder” is slightly misleading. Most do not actually sit directly on the ground, but are really flat trays which sit on legs or pedestals just above ground level. This is for a very good reason, which we’ll get into shortly.
No matter their construction, ground feeders function on a simple theory: put food onto a large, level surface, and all of the birds who want it will be able to reach it. You can spread lots of seeds all over the tray, or put out a combination of seeds, nuts, berries and fruit for your visitors to serve themselves buffet-style. Smaller birds won’t have to fight through a crowd or wait their turn, and larger ones won’t find themselves unable to access the food because of tiny supply ports. It’s an equal-opportunity feeder.
The most common option is a simple tray with four legs built into it. In fact, if this is what you’re looking for, it’s easy enough to build your own if you’re handy. Otherwise, you’ll have no problem finding them at garden stores or on the web. For example, you can opt for a bare-bones metal-and-wire model like the Gardman BA01305 Compact Ground Feeder Tray which costs less than ten dollars. It sits low to the ground and is small enough (7 inches by 7 inches) that you can move it around easily or even put it on an apartment balcony. A larger and sturdier ground feeder, like the Songbird Essentials SESC1013C can accomodate many more visitors since it measures 16 inches by 20 inches, and has cedar legs and frame for stability and longevity. Again, the tray itself is wire mesh and we’ll shortly discuss the reason why.
There are certainly more elaborate ground feeders available; many are covered, birdhouse style, like the Stovall 5F Pavilion Feeder in order to protect the birds and the food from rain. Since you can’t see all of the activity at your feeder with a roof partially obstructing your view, you can choose a model with a see-through, plexiglass top like the Duncraft Clearview Ground Platform Feeder. Those choices will run you between $50 and $100.
We’ve already mentioned that most ground feeders have wire mesh trays for a very good reason, and here it is: a solid tray would cause major issues for the comfort and health of your avian visitors. Even with a roof above the feeder, at least some rain and moisture will get into the feeding area – and rain will quickly cause the food to spoil or even grow mold. Seeds could also start sprouting after a decent rain. A mesh tray allows the best possible drainage for the tray, somewhat minimizing these problems. This is also why you don’t want your ground feeder sitting directly on the grass or soil; there needs to be at least a little space for water to escape.
It’s also important to realize that even without an excess of moisture, food left on the ground feeder tray for more than a day or two will begin to spoil. Even worse, birds have a nasty habit of leaving their waste behind after they’ve eaten, so the tray (and food) will quickly become contaminated. It’s essential that you clean the tray daily (or at the most, every two days) to protect the well-being of the birds you’re trying to attract. A full scrub isn’t necessary that often; you can usually just hose down the tray well, before setting out new food. One other note: don’t put out more than a day or two’s worth of goodies for the birds. In the event you don’t get a chance to clean the feeder, you don’t want them eating food that’s spoiled. And if you’re “forced” to regularly replenish the food supply, it will be good motivation to clean the tray at the same time.
There’s one more enormous problem with ground feeders: birds aren’t the only visitors who will want to eat from them. Because they’re low to the ground, they’re within easy reach of just about any mammal interested in checking out the dinner selection – everything from deer to cats – but particularly squirrels. There are ways to protect hanging feeders from these ubiquitous nuisances, but ground feeders are, for the most part, unprotectable. You can try, though by putting a frame with sturdy chicken wire around them, or get something like the Gardman Ground Feeder Cage which is a metal cage to place around the feeder. However, those methods will prevent larger birds from getting to the feeder, and squirrels trying to find a way in will still scare most birds away. The best alternative is to find somewhere in the garden far away from the bird feeding areas, to set up a separate squirrel feeder and hope that you can keep the two sets of visitors apart.
Ground feeders are problematic at times, but they definitely are easy to set up and keep supplied. They won’t attract every variety of bird to your wildlife garden, but they’re a very good start.
The wide selection of bird feeders on the market can be overwhelming, if you’re just setting up a wildlife garden and trying to decide on the best way to attract bird visitors. The best advice for anyone who’s trying to decide between hanging feeders, suet feeders, nectar feeders, tube feeders and the like – is to take a deep breath, take a step back, and start out with a simple platform feeder.
Platform feeders are often known as tray feeders, because they’re basically a flat tray on which you lay seeds or other types of food. They can be placed on the ground, mounted on legs or a pedestal (which come with the feeder if you buy a one-piece model designed for that purpose) or hung from a pole or chain. You can even put them on a stump or porch railing if need be. Platforms attract different species of birds depending on whether they’re placed close to the ground or higher in the air.
We say that most birds love platform feeders because you’ll be able to attract the greatest variety of avian visitors with them. Since the food is “out in the open,” and you can put a lot of it on the large tray, there’s no issue for large birds who either can’t get their beaks into the small ports on tube feeders, or small ones who can’t push their way through a flock of other feeders. Also, you can put a variety of seeds, fruit, nuts and other types of food on the tray so there’s a smorgasbord for your visitors to choose from.
Bird lovers love these types of feeders for two reasons, both of which we’ve already alluded to. They’re much simpler to install and deal with than some of the more complicated alternatives, and they will attract a wonderful assortment of songbirds to your garden. You can make your bird population even more diverse simply by putting one platform feeder low to the ground, and another one higher up, in order to feed different species.
Low feeders are likely to bring sparrows, doves, jays, blackbirds, starlings and juncos, while the higher ones will attract blue jays, cardinals, wrens, finches, woodpeckers and grosbeaks, among others.
The easiest solution to a problem often brings with it the largest number of potential problems, and that’s definitely the case with platform feeders.
First, most simple tray feeders don’t provide any way to protect the food from rain, so it can easily mold or spoil – causing fungus and bacteria issues. The rain could also cause the seeds to begin sprouting, another issue for visitors who simply want to eat. And if birds leave their droppings in the tray, the food can quickly be contaminated. Some of these problems can be handled by ensuring that your platform feeder’s bottom is made of mesh and not solid material, so that water can fully drain out of the tray. If that’s not possible, at the very least there should be plenty of drainage holes in the tray. However, the best approach to a platform feeder is make sure the bottom can be removed and hosed off each day (or two at the most), and to only put one or two day’s worth of food into the tray each time you refill it.
The second issue with platform feeders can be summed up in one word: squirrels. There are certainly other animals which can cause problems with tray feeders, particularly ones which are low to the ground; from dogs and cats, to deer and foxes. But the mammals which are usually most vexing to garden enthusiasts are squirrels (and chipmunks). An important way to sidetrack them is to make sure your feeders have baffles above and (if applicable) below them. Baffles are sloped pieces of smooth plastic or metal, and many feeders will come with them already attached. If not, they’re cheap to purchase and easy to attach. Also, make sure your hanging feeders aren’t close to any trees or large rocks, because squirrels have an amazing ability to jump. If your feeders are on or near the ground, there’s not an easy solution to the squirrel issue. One approach to try is setting up a separate squirrel feeder that’s some distance from the birds, but there’s no sure-fire way to squirrel-proof a tray feeder that’s on the ground.
Because platform feeders are so easy to set up, they’re extremely popular. That means there’s a wide choice of models available at garden and nature stores, as well as online. Most of them are relatively simple and inexpensive, such as the Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder (seen below), designed to hang from a pole or wire, or the Gardman Wild Bird BA01014 Ground Feeder Tray which comes on legs so it sits close to the ground. Many choose a so-called “fly-through” model like the Birds Choice 17×16 Fly-Through Platform which comes with a roof to protect food from the elements. All of these platform feeders come with mesh bottoms.
Obviously, a tray feeder that’s going to be on the ground or on legs doesn’t need to be hung. If you want your platform feeder higher in the air, the easiest way to do it is to use a pole designed for the purpose. It allows you to place the food source wherever you want it (for example, away from squirrels’ jumping-off spots) without having to worry about chains and anchors. Plus, it’s by far the simplest way to get your feeder up and doing its job in minutes. You can get a simple one like the Achla Designs TSW-37 for around 30 bucks.
You can also use chains attached to a tree branch or suspended wire to hang your platform feeder. If you do, be sure to place spinners on the wires and chains (something like empty thread spools or plastic bottles will do the trick) which will spin around and prevent squirrels from working their way along the wires to get at the feeder.
Once you’re an expert at working with bird feeders, it’s quite possible you’ll want to move on to more elaborate alternatives which will attract specific species without the hassles that come with trays. Platform feeders can’t be beaten, though, for easy setup and a quick infusion of avian visitors into your garden habitat.
Most of the bird feeders you will be considering for your wildlife garden will probably be hanging feeders, whether you hang them from poles, trees, wires or structures. There are some songbirds which prefer ground or platform feeders, like robins, sparrows, doves and juncos. Most birds prefer to feed at higher levels, though, so hanging feeders should be a centerpiece of your garden. Tube feeders, nyjer feeders, hopper feeders, suet feeders, fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders are all usually hung for the convenience of avian visitors, so let’s first take a look at the purposes of each and the differences between them.
Lots of people choose to locate bird feeders based on their own convenience, hanging them in spots where they can be easily watched from a favorite chair or window. That may seem like a good plan, but unless you think about your visitors’ needs and normal behaviors you may end up watching just the feeders and no birds.
Most songbirds prefer to feed in a sunny area with little wind, so your best bet is to choose locations with a clear southeastern exposure (to maximize sunshine) and ones that are sheltered from the wind. The exception is hummingbird feeders, because too much sun can quickly lead to spoiled nectar. There should also be a clear visual area around the feeder, to allow the birds to see any approaching predators and make a hasty retreat. Make sure there isn’t too much foot traffic in the vicinity, since most songbirds prefer a quiet area for feeding.
It is also important, whenever possible, to hang your feeders at least 10-12 feet away from trees, buildings, bushes, or other freestanding objects from which squirrels can jump or in which cats can hide. With the ability to leap ten or more feet, squirrels can quickly eat all the food, damage the feeder, and drive the birds to a more friendly environment in a flash. 6-8 feet is a good height to shoot for, since you want to make sure squirrels, cats and other invaders can’t jump up to reach the feeder. The exception here is for suet feeders, because many birds like woodpeckers like to feed in or near trees.
One of the biggest hurdles in attracting beautiful avian visitors to your wildlife garden is making sure they can find your feeders. A good way to do this is to place them near brightly-colored flowers or to hang bright, decorative items on them. Also, placing a metallic pie plate under your feeder can catch the sun – and birds’ attention – making the feeder easy to find. Red hummingbird feeders (or ones with red accessories on them) are a must to get the attention of hummers, and it’s a good idea to place the food source near flowers they already visit for nectar so they’re “in the neighborhood.”
If you’ve ever had a bird hit one of your windows, you’re already sensitive to the issue of safety. If you want a feeder near a window so you can watch your visitors from inside the house, it’s better to hang it close to the window, and definitely not more than a few feet away. Researchers have found that most collisions occur when birds are leaving a feeder and not when they’re approaching it. So if you place your feeder just two or three feet away from the window, there’s not enough space for a bird to build up dangerous speed when they’re flying away after a meal.
It doesn’t really matter whether you decide to hang your feeder from a pole, a wire, a tree or a building (with the caveats discussed above) – almost all bird feeders come with hooks, handles, or other attachments which can attach them to whatever you’re using.
The bigger issue is the pole, wire or other base from which you’re hanging the feeder. It’s an issue because of a problem mentioned earlier – squirrels and other predators. You don’t want to make it easy for them to get to your bird feeder, so every obstacle you can place in their way is important.
If you’re using a pole, make sure it’s a tall one and that it’s made of slippery metal so animals can’t get a good grip when trying to climb it. (Don’t grease it, though, the grease could be dangerous to birds). If you’re hanging the feeder from a wire, thread it through “spinners” (empty plastic bottles, spools of thread, or anything else which will spin around and cause squirrels to fall when they try to navigate their way across the wire). Put a large (12-16 inches) slippery plastic or metal baffle above the feeder, and perhaps below as well. And one other idea if squirrels are climbing down the wire your bird feeder is hanging from: try using strong fishing line instead.
One final suggestion: if birds haven’t found your feeders after a few weeks, move them to a new location. It’s easy to try and guess where birds want to feed, but it’s not always easy to guess correctly. Eventually, you’ll find a spot where they’ll be happy to eat, and you’ll be happy to watch.
One of the most vexing problem anyone with a wildlife garden will face is how to keep squirrels from overrunning their private paradise. Perhaps the biggest issue is denying them access to bird feeders; unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that problem since squirrels love to eat most of the same things birds do: bird seed, suet and nuts.
It may be cute – at first – to see these little furry creatures running around the garden, but then you’ll realize that they’re chasing away all of the birds and eating all of their food. In addition, squirrels often destroy plastic (and even wood) feeders by chewing right through them, and they’ve even been known to eat birds’ eggs and kill their nestlings. It won’t be too long before you realize it’s time to take action.
Before running out to buy a bird feeder that’s advertised as “squirrel proof,” here are five things you can try to make your current feeders less friendly for intruders.
There are several things people commonly try to get the better of squirrels which you should avoid: don’t sic cats on them, since cats can be just as much of a danger to your avian visitors; don’t grease up your bird feeder hangers because the grease can end up coating the birds’ feathers and killing their young if it gets onto eggs; and while it’s can be very tempting, don’t try to poison or shoot the squirrels, since that’s not only dangerous, but often illegal.
As a last resort, you can stop feeding your birds for a week or two, and perhaps the squirrels will move on for a while – or you can set up separate squirrel feeders which are easier for them to access, with the hope that they’ll be satisfied and leave your birds alone.
For those who are either buying new feeders, or replacing ones which squirrels have already trashed, there’s a wide variety of “squirrel proof” models from which to choose.
The novelty of watching squirrels zipping around your garden wears off quickly, and they provide a lot less enjoyment than the beautiful songbirds who will frequent the area once you’ve protected their food source. A few extra dollars spent on keeping squirrels away from your bird feeders will pay off in the long run.
Even if you’ve only seen them a few times, you already know that hummingbirds are an absolute delight. Many of them appear to be exotically-colored, and some are. But often the bright reds, greens and oranges we see are an illusion created by the top cells of the birds’ feathers; those cells act like prisms to split light into different wavelengths and colors. Hummingbirds are also one of the smallest birds in existence, usually no more than three or four inches long, and they zip around and hover while flapping their wings as many as 200 times per second (creating the humming sound from which their name comes).
Seeing these tiny, colorful birds flitting about from time to time is a pleasure. Watching them on a daily basis is a true joy – and it’s easily accomplished by making sure they have the food they need whenever they visit your wildlife garden, whether it’s from flowers or hummingbird feeders.
It’s a common belief that many types of birds like to sip nectar from flowers. In reality, nectar is an important dietary element for only about 5% of all bird species, primarily hummingbirds and orioles. Nectar isn’t all they eat or drink, though. Hummingbirds will typically spend about one-quarter of their day looking for spiders or similar insects to eat; orioles do the same, and also feed on suet, mealworms and fruit. However, a ready source of nectar is crucial for these species’ survival. It’s particularly important for hummers, because their incredibly high metabolism requires them to eat as many as twenty times per hour.
The birds would prefer to get their nectar from flowers, and adding beautiful, hummingbird-friendly plants and flowers to your garden will make it more attractive. Some of the varieties you can consider are bee balm, zinnia, salvia, cardinal flower, impatiens, fuschia, bleeding hearts, lupine, honeysuckle, trumpet creeper, butterfly bush, petunia and columbine. Most are extremely colorful (hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors) and will be appreciated by your visitors, both avian and human.
If these flowers or plants aren’t native to your area, don’t worry. Well-cared-for hummingbird feeders will make your guests (the birds, not the humans) very happy, and they’re also a good supplement to the nectar plants that you do have in the garden.
Hummingbirds aren’t partial to a particular shape or style of feeder, as long as it doesn’t sit on the ground. So when you shop for a feeder, you should actually choose one based on your own needs rather than theirs. (The one exception here is that many hummers like to perch as they drink, so they may appreciate a feeder with perches built in.)
If a feeder is attractive and you think it would look good in your garden, there’s no reason to look further. You should, though, also consider how easy it will be to clean. At the very least, you’re going to have to wash it out twice a week to prevent mold (always do this before refilling it), and will have to soak and wash it every month. That’s why a feeder which comes apart easily is your best bet, and basin-style hummingbird feeders are much easier to work with than the ones which look like upside-down bottles.
As you look at the selection of hummingbird feeders in stores or online, you’ll notice that most of them are at least partially red. That’s because, as previously mentioned, hummers are attracted to bright colors, primarily red. If you find one that you really like which isn’t red, that’s fine; just tie some red ribbon onto the feeder and your visitors will find it without a problem.
As for where to place your new feeder, there’s good news there as well: hummingbirds aren’t overly picky. You can place the feeder in the open, near windows where you plan to bird-watch, or in shaded areas. The only drawback to hanging a new hummingbird feeder is that it may take some time for the birds to find it and get acclimated to it; for that reason, many people like to hang feeders over or near hummingbird-friendly plants so they can be easily found.
One other note: nectar does often attract unwanted visitors like ants, bees or even bats. If this becomes a problem, there are solutions for each type of pest. Dripless feeders will drastically lessen any ant problem, and some feeders come with built-in ant moats (always fill them with water, not oil, because some birds will try to drink from the moats). Many bee or wasp issues can be cured simply by using feeders which don’t have the color yellow on them (bees and wasps are attracted to yellow); there are also feeders sold with bee guards (although they tend to drip a lot) and shallower basin feeders make it more difficult for insects to reach the nectar. If you have a bat problem, either use a model with bee guards or take the feeders in overnight.
Every pet store has a shelf full of bottles filled with pre-made hummingbird nectar. It’s relatively cheap, and it’s simple to just grab a bottle and pour some into your new feeder. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you should know that it’s really not necessary. Yes, the pre-made stuff may have added vitamins, but hummingbirds don’t get their vital nutrients from the nectar they drink from your feeder – they get all the protein, vitamins and other nutrients they need from flowers and insects. Hummers just drink from feeders in order to get supplemental energy to replace what they burn while flying around and hovering all day. Some of the solutions sold with added protein may even be a waste of money, because they spoil extremely quickly.
For that reason, it’s less expensive and more practical to make your own nectar at home. It couldn’t be simpler: combine four parts water and one part sugar (preferably white cane sugar) and store it in your refrigerator until you need it. It should last for several weeks. There’s no need to boil the water first, and tap or well water is better than distilled water since water with salt and minerals in it better mimics the makeup of real nectar.
If you want to use hummingbird feeders to attract these gorgeous visitors to your nature garden regularly, you’ll have to take some responsibility for keeping the feeders clean. Supposedly, hummers won’t drink spoiled nectar so you probably won’t be making them sick by neglecting to clean your feeders regularly. But at the very least, if you’re offering them bad nectar they won’t be likely to return.
There are two types of cleaning required. First, when you change the nectar twice a week (always change it, don’t just add more), you should completely flush the feeder with hot water and scrub it with a bottle brush if necessary. Don’t use soap; hummingbirds don’t like the taste and may avoid a feeder with nectar that tastes soapy. Also before you refill it, check the feeder carefully to make sure there’s no mold growing.
Once a month, you’ll need to disinfect your hummingbird feeder. Soak it for an hour in a gallon of water with ¼ cup of bleach, rinse it well with cold water while scrubbing with your brush, and it’s ready to refilled and used again. The hummers should appreciate the extra care you take with their feeder, and will reward you by gracing your garden day after day.
Unless you’re already a bird lover, you probably only know one thing about suet – that is, if you’ve ever heard of it at all. It’s that disgusting-looking stuff that some supermarkets sell in their meat section.
In reality, suet is raw beef or mutton fat, and it’s used for cooking (often in British dishes like plum pudding and Christmas pudding), body energy (Arctic explorers and dogsledders add it to their food because of its high fat content), and the production of tallow (which is no longer used to make candles, but is used to make shortening as well as soldering flux and some soaps).
For our purposes, though, it’s important to know that many types of birds love suet, which is made into cakes and placed into a suet feeder for them to enjoy. Bluebirds, jays, wrens, cardinals, starlings, goldfinches, woodpeckers, thrushes and nuthatches are just some of the songbirds you can attract to your wildlife garden with a well-stocked suet feeder. They’ll particularly appreciate it in the colder months when they need more calories to sustain their energy, food is hard to find, and suet won’t go spoil.
Suet cakes often have other ingredients in them, or are made from a different type of fat entirely, but we’ll get to that later. First, we’ll take a closer look at the feeders themselves.
One thing that all of the birds who use suet feeders have in common is that they like to cling to the trunks of trees in order to feed. That’s why most of these feeders look pretty much the same; they need to have some sort of wire mesh for your visitors to grab onto and feed through. You can make a simple suet feeder yourself by fashioning it out of chicken wire and hanging it from a tree or pole. A short-term alternative would be to use a mesh bag like the ones used to hold onions.
Of course, there are many commercially-made feeders which will look prettier and last a lot longer, some with extra features designed to make feeding more pleasurable for your visitors.
The simplest suet feeders look much like the chicken-wire version, but they have much stronger metal mesh and either a metal or wood frame. The C&S Hanging Suet Basket and Cherry Valley Feeder Deluxe each cost less than $12 and can do the job just fine.
You only need to step up in price a bit to accommodate more songbirds or to cater to their particular needs. Models like the Stokes Select 38070 Double Suet Feeder do just what their names suggest: they hold twice as many suet cakes in order to feed twice as many birds at once. Woodpeckers and nuthatches, among others, prefer to hang upside down and feed that way, and bottom feeders like the Duncraft Upside Down Touch Free Suet Feeder make it easy for them to get at your suet cakes.
Move up another price notch (but we’re still talking well under $30-40), and you can feed even more birds, get suet feeders which accommodate both regular and bottom feeders, or protect the food from the squirrels who always seem to find it. A model like the Stokes Select 38069 Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder lets you use two suet cakes which are protected not only from squirrels, but also larger birds.
Most birds won’t care where you hang a suet feeder. You can hang it from a tree branch, pole or fence, or you can attach it to a tree trunk or structure (as long as it’s not a “bird house” model or other shape which needs to be hung in space). The height of the feeder won’t make much of a difference in the number of visitors you attract, but it’s best to keep it at least four feet off the ground so dogs and small animals can’t reach it.
While many suet cakes are really made from suet, many others are made of lard, vegetable fat or another type of fat. It’s not really the suet itself that’s important, it’s the fact that the fatty food provides songbirds with lots of quick energy and calories, and they can metabolize it easily. This really becomes crucial in the fall or winter when food can be hard to come by for many of your avian visitors.
The cakes are rarely made just of suet (or fat). They normally include a blend of other nutritious ingredients which birds like to eat such as seeds, oats, cornmeal or nuts. Some suet cakes even have fruit or dried insects inside. You can pay anywhere from $1.00 to $10.00 for a single suet cake depending on what’s in it and where you buy it, but they’re fairly simple and very cheap to make at home. There are lots of recipes online and most only require a stove or microwave (to melt the suet or lard) and a refrigerator to harden and store the cakes.
There are, however, two important facts to be aware of when you’re making or buying cakes to use in suet feeders.
Raw suet may look nasty when you buy it, but try not to think about that. Just think about all of the songbirds who will be thrilled when they find your suet feeder, and the wonderful parade of visitors who will make your wildlife garden a regular stop year-round.
Birds are, by their very nature, picky creatures. They’ll be happy to visit your beautiful garden – but only if you have the types of flowers and plants they favor. They’ll be happy to eat the food you put out for them – but only if the food is what they like to eat, in a clean feeder which will accommodate them (assuming the feeder is placed in an environment they’ll be likely to frequent).
That places the burden on you. If there are certain types of birds you would like to attract to your little slice of heaven, you must know what they’ll eat, where they’ll eat it, and what they’ll eat it from.
Since no wildlife garden would really be complete without small, colorful songbirds like sparrows and finches, you’re going to have to cater to their special feeding needs. The way to do that is with tube feeders.
There are three distinguishing features of tube feeders.
The theory behind tube feeders is simple. Seed is placed into a large tube, and only small birds are able to fit onto the perches and get at the food with their beaks, because the perches and ports are just their size. This not only discourages large birds from monopolizing the feeder and eating all the seed, but prevents squirrels and other “pests” from getting at the bird seed – as long as you purchase a model with metal ports and perches.
Among the birds you’re likely to see feeding at your tube feeders are chickadees, sparrows, grosbeaks, goldfinches, nuthatches and titmice. Jays and grackles may try to feed there as well, but will find that they’re just too big.
There are two different types of tube feeders; one has the perches above the feeding holes, while the other has its landing spots below the ports. The reason for this is that different types of birds feed differently. Chickadees and goldfinches, for example, prefer to hang upside down while they eat, so they would be most likely to use your tube feeder if they can perch above the food source. Sparrows and grosbeaks, on the other hand, eat while right-side-up, so they will want the ports above their perch. Some tube feeders are available with perches both above and below.
The way a tube feeder is built limits what can be put inside. Fortunately, the seeds that small songbirds favor fit easily through the tiny ports of the feeder. Sunflower seeds, particularly black-oil sunflower seeds, are a favorite of small birds and they’re easily able to crack the shells with their beaks. They also like safflower seeds, but those are often too large to fit through the ports and are harder for tiny birds to crack. If you want to try using safflower, keep a close eye on your feeder to make sure your visitors are actually able to get at the seeds. Otherwise, they won’t come back.
The tiniest birds prefer thistle (also known as nyjer) seeds, which are usually supplied in a variation of the tube feeder with even smaller ports known as a thistle or nyjer feeder. Thistle seeds are normally too large to use in a traditional model.
Be sure to avoid sunflower chips, sunflower hearts and cracked corn in your tube feeder; the moisture which will accumulate inside the tubes will quickly cause the food to rot, possibly even creating a toxin that’s fatal to birds.
As with any bird feeder, it’s important to keep your tube feeder clean. At a minimum, wash it thoroughly with a bleach/water solution (10%/90%) every few weeks, more often if the weather is hot or humid. Be sure to let the feeder dry completely before refilling it. Don’t forget to clean the ground underneath the feeding area as well, to stop rodents from gathering and prevent birds from eating the spoiled food.
Bird feeders aren’t just utilitarian, they can also be an attractive addition to your wildlife garden. There are many different models on the market from which to choose.
If you’re just starting out and want a cheap feeder which will do the job, simple tube feeders are relatively inexpensive. You can find a basic plastic model with six feeding ports, like the Garden Song 480 Classic, for less than ten dollars.
Those who are concerned about an influx of squirrels frightening all of the songbirds away from their garden can easily find tube feeders with metal tops and bottoms, as well as tough synthetic tubes. One example is the Woodlink NATUBE2 Audubon Seed Tube Feeder, which only costs about ten dollars more than a basic model.
Once you’ve decided that you want to make small songbirds totally at home, you can move up to more elaborate models. Many of them, like the Birdscapes 329 Triple Tube 2-in-1, have three separate seed tubes, so you can provide several different types of seed (and attract even more varieties of birds) in the same feeder. This tube feeder has metal ports and perches as well as a plastic dome, in order to protect against squirrels and other predators; it also has adjustable feeding ports, so you can easily switch from larger openings to smaller ones in order to accommodate thistle (nyjer) seed for tiny birds. This model has nine ports.
One of the advantages to tube feeders is that they don’t have to be placed on the ground or in a remote area. One can easily be hung right outside your living room or bedroom window, so you can watch, and listen to, an array of beautiful songbirds almost within arm’s reach. It’s a priceless natural show – but it will only cost you the price of a tube feeder and a bag of seed.