CHAPTER 3: Food and Water
- Choose the Correct Food
The first step to attracting any bird is to provide them with the food they prefer. Birds have diets based around varying combinations and types of seeds, fruit, nuts, insects and nectar. Foods that have a blend of seed and nut varieties are likely to please many visiting birds. Check out our bird seed guide for more specifics on food preferences.
Specific food preferences can depend on the size and beak style of a given bird. Research the birds in your area to find out what they like to eat. Fill each of your feeders with varying types of food to accommodate the preferences of many species of songbirds.
Be sure to check your feeders regularly to make sure they are filled. Once the local songbirds realize that your backyard offers a year-round, reliable food source, they will likely take up residence.
- Use Proper Feeders and Waterers
Birds don’t only have preferences when it comes to the type of food they eat, but some may also have preferences to the type of feeders they eat from. Therefore, it is just as important to select the proper feeders, as it is to research food preferences. For example, the types of feeders that are preferred by many of the smaller songbirds may not be sturdy enough for heavier songbirds such as Northern Cardinals.
For large songbirds, it is usually best to avoid lightweight, hanging feeders. Platform feeders and stationary feeders provide more space to perch, so they are better at accommodating larger, full-breasted birds. For small songbirds, tube feeders, window feeders and lightweight hanging feeders are great options.
When choosing, pay attention to perch sizes and locations as well as overall seed capacity of the feeder. If you get many visitors in your yard, feeders with a large capacity will work well. If you only have a few birds visiting certain feeders, it’s better to use smaller models. You want to ensure that seed is used up somewhat quickly so it doesn’t become moldy or bacteria-laden.
To attract the widest variety of songbirds, it’s best to provide several different styles of feeders. This will allow you to accommodate the needs of any bird that visits your yard. Some other things to consider when choosing a feeder are:
- How easy is it to assemble?
- Is it easy to clean?
- Is it sturdy enough to endure squirrels and inclement weather?
- Will it keep the seed dry?
- Determine Ideal Placement
Choosing the ideal placement for your offerings is the last step of the decision-making process when feeding backyard songbirds. Many birds prefer to have protective cover when they feed. For these birds, be sure to place some feeders near trees and shrubbery. Songbirds will enjoy the foliage and feel safer with hiding spots available nearby.
Some birds prefer ground feeding, so placing a tray feeder near the ground is most likely to draw birds such as sparrows, jays, juncos and other ground-feeding species. You could also scatter seed on the ground, though this will likely attract more squirrels. Also, be sure to hang feeders at varying heights with some space between to avoid too much competition.
- Keep it Fresh!
However you choose to “serve” food and water to your backyard visitors, it’s important to keep the sources clean and fresh to prevent the spread of disease. Bird feeders and waterers should be cleaned at least twice a month, or more regularly if you host a large bird population.
To clean, you should empty all old seed or water before cleaning your vessel with soap and tepid water. If possible, soak the feeder for two to three minutes. If the feeder is large, simply use the solution to scrub with a brush. Rinse your feeder thoroughly and allow to air dry before refilling with seed or water.
If you have a birdbath or other stagnant water source, drippers can be added to keep water moving and prevent algae from building up too quickly. Keep in mind, you still need to change the water and clean the birdbath frequently to keep things fresh. In addition to cleaning the vessels themselves, you should also regularly sweep your feeding areas to get rid of old food and droppings.
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