Bird Feeding Basics

October 25th, 2022 by georgann

Bird FeedingBasics  

Bird feeding is often confronted with the dilemma of what and how to feed birds.  Attracting birds to your backyard is easy and fun but keep in mind that the health and safety of birds is more important than your enjoyment in watching them.  Bird feeding can be more rewarding and done correctly with a few recommendations.


  1. To attract the most birds, offer them a variety of seeds. The most preferred seeds are black, oil sunflower, safflower and thistle, but other seeds such as red and white milo, millet, corn, or peanuts can be used.  Never feed human food such as bread to birds.  It fills them with empty calories of sugar instead of high energy natural foods. 
  1. Don’t use a seed mixture in a hanging feeder.  Use only one type of bird seed per feeder since the birds that use hanging feeders tend to will pick out undesirable seeds from a mixture, dropping them to the ground.
  1. Unless you go through bird seed quickly, either buy small quantities of seed at a time or divide large bags into smaller bags and freeze it.  Since nearly all seed contains beetles or moth larva when you buy it and bags that have been sitting around for awhile will spoil very quickly.   Buying fresh seed in smaller quantities or from stores that have a quick turnover is often better than buying from large stores where the bags have been stored too long.
  1. Check your feeders often and discard any wet or rotten left-over seeds.  The fungus and bacteria in spoiled seeds will kill birds.
  1. Do not let seed remain on the ground since seed on dirt will quickly spoil and become contaminated with fungus, bacteria, and bird droppings.  If using hanging feeders and one type of seed per feeder, there should be less spillage since birds are not throwing out uneaten seed.  Putting trays under feeders can help keep seeds and their shells off the ground.  Clean under the feeder regularly and often if you see birds eating underneath on the ground.  Ground feeding is also a cat hazard for unwary birds.
  1. Suet feeders are a great way to attract insect eating birds including warblers, woodpeckers and even bluebirds.  As with seeds, offer just enough suet that gets eaten before it spoils.  After buying it (or making it), divide the suet into small hunks and freeze it.  Remove and thaw small amounts at a time.
  1. Suet and seed mixtures that contain fruit can be a problem and are not really necessary.  Birds may not eat the fruit which leaves it behind in the feeder to spoil.  It also makes cleaning the feeder more difficult.
  1. Try using a variety of nuts such as sunflower hearts, shelled peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds and hazelnuts.  Mix them together and grind the mixture to a consistency of breadcrumbs.  Careful–this is a high maintenance food.  If it gets wet, it spoils very quickly and must be thrown away.  Therefore, put out only a handful at a time especially if rain is forecast. 
  1. The mixture to attract hummingbirds is four parts of water to one part sugar.  Hot weather may ferment it, so test the mixture every few days to determine if it has spoiled.  Put out just enough so that the birds drink it before it spoils.  Do not use honey or red food coloring or buy store mixtures that contain coloring or other ingredients.
  1. Leave your hummingbird feeder out all year.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds nest in the eastern part of the country and migrate to Central and South America for winter, but at least seven western hummingbird species have been seen regularly in the southeastern United States during the winter months.


  1. Along with a variety of bird food, a larger number of birds and bird species can be attracted by using a variety of feeder styles.  Hanging feeders, stationary pole mounted feeders and platform feeders are among the easiest and most popular.
  1. Select a hanging feeder with small holes in the sides and a hanging feeder with small perches.  This small difference in these feeders accommodates different birds with different feeding behaviors.  
  1. Stationary feeders are used by birds that won’t tolerate the swinging and movement of hanging feeders.  These can be tube or hopper feeders mounted on a pole and baffled from beneath to keep squirrels off.  (As with hanging feeders, these feeders should contain only one type of seed at a time.)  Also, make sure the seed does not fall to the ground from these feeders, cleaning under them often.
  1. Platform feeders can consist of scattering seed on a piece of wood, a tabletop, deck railing or flat rock or purchasing a pre-built feeder.  Platforms with a roof keep the seed dryer.  Nevertheless, it will get wet and spoil faster than seed in other feeders.  As with all feeders, check it often and clean it with hot soapy water every few weeks.  Clean feeders are important for the health of birds
  1. If House Finches frequent your feeders, watch closely for any indication of eye infections.  If birds with a problem are seen, discontinue feeding and wash the feeders thoroughly before putting them out again.

Last but not least, provide a safe place for birds.  Do not leave dog food outside for opossums, raccoons, Blue Jays and American Crows to eat.  Keep your cat indoors.  Try to get your neighborhood to be free of feral cats that kill your birds.  Limit your use of chemicals by using integrated pest controls as much as possible.  Break up reflections in glass windows if they have been hit by flying birds.

Birding Adventures, Inc.

Georgann Schmalz


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