Almost every birder begins as a backyard birder, and remains active in backyard birding throughout their lifetime. Whether you live in the city or the country, the opportunities for attracting birds to your yard are many. Just because you may have limited space does not mean your yard cannot be bird-friendly. Oftentimes, a few well-placed feeders and a water feature is all you need.
Types of Bird Seed
Bird feeders are a great way to attract birds to your yard, as long as they are filled with the appropriate seed. The best overall bird seed is black oil sunflower seed. More species of birds eat sunflower seed than any other seed on the market. Many backyard birders also use cracked corn, safflower, white millet, milo and fruit. Sometime cracked corn and millet or safflower is mixed in with the sunflower seed. Nyjer seed is great for finches, but they will also eat sunflower seed. Unsalted in-the-shell peanuts are great for Blue Jays. Whatever you do, don’t forget the suet; it’s a magnet for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and other backyard birds. Remember to spread seeds on the ground; many birds, including sparrows, doves, finches, cardinals and others are at home with seed spread on the ground.
Platform, or tray, feeders attract a wide variety of seed-eating bird species. When using these feeders, set out only enough seed to last about a day or two. Drilling a few drainage holes at the bottom will help keep seeds fresh. One of the advantages of this feeder is that birds will scratch and knock some seed onto the ground for ground-feeding birds.
This style of feeder is usually shaped like a little house, which does a better job of keeping seeds clean and dry than a platform feeder. Like platform feeders, this type attracts a wide variety of bird species. You can fill hoppers with enough seed to last all week, but make sure the roof doesn’t leak, or bacterial and fungal growth will soil the seeds. It is still a good idea to clean them out periodically, but you can get away with longer intervals between cleanings compared to a platform type.
Tube feeders are usually designed with multiple perches, allowing several birds to feed all at once. Some have perches above the holes for birds that can feed upside down, like Chickadees. It is best to completely replace old seed with fresh seed, instead of just pouring fresh seed on top.
Suet may look pretty gross, but birds love it. Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Jays flock to suet to fill up on the calorie dense food. A typical design is a chunk of suet placed within a mesh bag or a small cage suspended from a tree branch.
Water will attract more birds to your yard than anything else. Stationary water features work great; just remember to keep the water fresh and the container clean. However, moving water has an attraction that still water cannot match for attracting birds. A small bubbler fountain in your water element will attract many species of songbirds. Some birders even report visits by Eastern Screech Owls late at night. Don’t forget to use a thermostatically controlled water heater in the winter. You will be amazed at the birds that show up when everything else is frozen. Many birders also have in-ground water features which are excellent, just make sure you have a shallow area or stones that birds can perch on while drinking or preening.
There are many questions about feeders and food, so ask around and shop around before you make any decisions. I recommend you talk to someone in your neighborhood that has feeders and feeds birds. Talk to your friends and see if they know anyone who feeds birds. Better yet visit your local Audubon Chapter and talk to other backyard birders and hear what they have to say. Start off with one or two feeders and some good seed and build from there. If you have any questions, try MDC's Backyard Birding FAQ.