Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Feeding birds can provide entertainment and enjoyment for people of all ages. You can attract birds to your backyard throughout the year but the most important time to help the birds is during the winter. Cold temperatures and snow limit the food available and put extra demands on birds to keep warm. In the spring and summer, birds feed on insects which are plentiful. Feeding should be restricted to feeders and not simply thrown on the ground.
Once you begin feeding during the winter, don't stop. Birds become dependent on a food source and may not locate an alternative once you stop feeding. There are a variety of seeds and foods that attract birds. The development of black oil sunflower seeds revolutionized bird feeding. It is the single favorite and most nutritious food for birds. Adding specialty foods to feeders will attract even a wider variety of birds. In the summer, for example, sugar water attracts hummingbirds. Fruit brings northern orioles, waxwings, blue jays, and thrashers. Meal worms can lure in bluebirds. In the spring and fall, thistle seed will attract the Harris' sparrow and red-breasted nuthatch. A mixture of black sunflower and thistle attracts evening grosbeaks, red polls, and pine siskens during the winter. Niger thistle attracts purple, house, and goldfinches all year long. Suet will be utilized regularly by woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.
Placement of your feeder is as important as what feed you put in it. First, consider where you want to watch your birds. Is it by a window, on a glass door, or on the second story? Pick a location that is easily accessible for filling with food and out of the wind. Also consider the mess that empty and spilled seeds will cause below the feeder. Finally, keeping unwanted predators such as stray cats away from your feeder is important. Cats kill millions of songbirds annually and should be prevented from climbing near feeders. Locate your feeder at least 4-5 feet away,from overhanging tree limbs, fencing, or other structures.
This practice may also prevent squirrels from climbing on the feeder. The addition of a predator guard on the support pole may also prevent unwanted visitors. If squirrels still persist at a feeder, lure them to the other side of the yard with an easily accessible tray of peanuts.
Check your feeder for cleanliness if you use a tray or platform type. A dirty feeder may cause disease or discourage birds from coming. If you have trouble attracting birds, try adding a water source. Local bird populations will fluctuate, however, and birds absent for a period of time should not concern you.
Added attractions to your backyard can be lured in with additional types of feeders. The barrel type feeder described is excellent for attracting deer, turkey, pheasants, and cottontail rabbits if filled with corn, sunflower, and oats. You may also attract wood ducks or other waterfowl if you are located in the appropriate area.