Some tips for making bird feeding enjoyable for you — and the birds (2023)

We feed birds because it brings us pleasure and helps create a bond with some of nature's most fascinating creatures.

Carrol and Ethelle Henderson have been feeding birds at their Blaine home for 45 years. This retired biologist who loves watching and photographing birds makes sure his bird feeders are visible from inside windows.

"Feeding the birds is a very comforting and rewarding experience," he says. "It allows us to observe bird behaviors and their activities up close. It's something families can share and enjoy year-round.

"Even if you can't get outside for a hike, you can watch birds coming and going at your feeders. And if you're interested in photography, keep your camera handy — you never know what might show up."

Truth to tell, we feed birds more for our own enjoyment, to bring birds in close, because birds are seldom reliant on feeders. Instead, they continue to find most of their calories out in the natural world.

"There's a lot of variation in bird seed, and it's best to offer quality food in our feeders. The 'junk foods' like red millet and cracked corn found in cheap mixes will bring in house sparrows and other birds that will chase away the songbirds you want to attract," Henderson added.

Feeding birds: Getting started

Many customers of the Cardinal Corner stores in Newport and West St. Paul that Pam Kaufenberg and her sister have run for 35 years come in with questions about getting started in feeding backyard birds.

(Video) Bird Feeding Tips: food and feeders

"I tell them to first get something that will feed many different kinds of birds, either a tray or a hopper feeder, since these have room for more than a few birds at a time. And then they'll want a seed that appeals to a wide variety of birds, so we usually recommend golden safflower.

"All birds — except maybe blue jays — enjoy golden safflower, and squirrels don't seem to like it, a good thing."

She suggests that customers gradually work up to having three or more feeders in close proximity, because this attracts more birds. These might include a hopper feeder, a suet feeder and either peanuts for blue jays or nyger for finches. A source for water is also important to attracting birds.

"You can beat the squirrels by placing feeders on poles at least 10 feet from any structures or trees they could jump from, then by adding a squirrel baffle to feeders hanging from branches or on a feeder pole.

"It's really very easy to feed birds and it's a pleasure, like giving yourself a gift every day."

Getting started: A second view

At Wild Birds Unlimited, the wild bird store on Ford Parkway in St. Paul, Tom Trapp starts new customers out by recommending black oil sunflower seeds, noting that this is the most popular with the most species of birds. Another choice could be a good seed blend or a blend of seeds and fruits.

"The way we look at it, having more kinds of seed is analogous to having a summer barbecue party — the more foods you offer your guests, the happier they are," he notes.

(Video) The BEST Food for Attracting Birds to Your Garden

What kind of feeders? He recommends starting with either a hanging feeder tray, a hanging hopper feeder or a hanging tube, after considering the pros and cons of each. Once familiar with this setup, next steps might be offering nyger seed for finches, and/or suet and/or peanuts in the shell — these last two appeal to many winter birds. Other options are peanut pieces and freeze-dried mealworms.

"And maybe the best tip for winter birds, beyond the food, is to provide open water, either via a heated birdbath or a heating element in an existing birdbath," Trapp says. "This allows birds to drink without having to melt snow in their mouths," which uses up calories they need for basic survival.

Across the calendar

Laura Erickson, well-known author and birder, feeds birds in Duluth in every season. Here are highlights from her feeding regime:

"In winter, I offer seed (mostly sunflower and nyger), suet and peanut butter. In March, as migratory sparrows arrive, I'll scatter white millet on the ground, never more than they'll eat in a day, to avoid rodents and spoilage.

"In early May I put out sugar water, orange pieces and grape jelly for orioles, and keep them out as long as orioles, catbirds and/or thrashers are visiting. I take in the jelly if ants or bees become a problem or if birds are bringing their chicks to the feeders — young birds need protein, not carbs. Early May is also when I set out the hummingbird feeders.

"Since bears can be an issue [in Duluth], I stop offering sunflower seeds after spring migrants have passed through, then offer them again in the fall, but I have to take feeders in at night until winter."

Erickson offers millet again in the fall for migratory sparrows, and keeps the hummingbird feeders up until late in the year. Suet feeders go back up in the autumn and she maintains a tray seed feeder at her second-floor office window year-round, sometimes adding mealworms to the mix.

(Video) Winter Bird Feeding: Tips for Attracting Birds to Your Yard

End window kills

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville sees the damage caused when birds run into windows, something that happens all too often around our homes. Even if a bird seems to recover, it often will fly off to die out of sight, due to a concussion or internal damage.

We need to try to prevent such collisions. The center recommends UV-reflective decals (WindowAlert is a good brand) to make problem windows visible to birds. Feeder placement is important. Remember the "3 or 30" rule: Place feeders 30 feet or more away from windows, or closer than 3 feet, to either give birds time to veer from windows or not pick up enough speed to harm themselves.

Even with precautions like these, birds might still run into your windows, especially if rushing to escape a predator, says Tami Vogel, communications and development director for the center.

If you find a bird lying on the ground or deck after running into glass, it needs medical attention.

"We recommend bringing all injured birds to a licensed rehabilitator," Vogel says. This includes the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center; for those outside the metro area, call the center (651-486-9453) and someone will call back soon with contact information.

Bottom line: Smashing into windows kills hundreds of millions of birds every year, and those of us who feed birds should do everything we can to prevent such strikes, and to get care for any birds that do hit windows.

Keep it clean

(Video) 5 Strategies to Attract Birds to Your Bird Feeder and Yard - Bright Ideas: Episode 13

It's important to keep your feeders clean and the food inside them free of mold. In wet weather, molds and bacteria easily form on birdseed in feeders or on the ground beneath them, and these can be fatal to birds.

After rainfall or snowstorms, check the seed in your feeders to make sure it's not clumping.

If it is, it's wet, and should be tossed in the trash. Then feeders need to be dried and refilled with new seed.

Birds drop a great deal of seed and hulls on the ground under feeders, and this needs to be raked up or swept up regularly. Again, toss this debris in the trash.

Here are some more tips:

Clean feeders using a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water, scrubbing out any corners and crannies. Be sure to rinse well.

Then dry feeders thoroughly — out in the sunlight is best, to kill bacteria.

Use feeders that have domes or roofs to help keep seed dry.

(Video) How to Attract Birds to Your Garden-Tutorial

Clean hummingbird feeders at least weekly before filling with fresh nectar.

Clean out birdbaths daily, and even more often during nesting season (a single bathing robin can turn the water muddy).

St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at


How do I make my bird feeder successful? ›

Top 12 Tips to Attract Birds to Your Feeders
  1. Offer a Variety of Foods to Attract Birds to Feeders. ...
  2. Birds Love Peanuts. ...
  3. Keep Track of Your Visitors. ...
  4. Get Your Neighbors Involved. ...
  5. Use Plants for Shelter Around Feeders. ...
  6. Add Water to Your Landscape. ...
  7. Maintain a Four-Season Habitat. ...
  8. Leave a Little Garden Debris in Winter.
Mar 24, 2021

How do you feed birds properly? ›

Choose feeders with no sharp edges or points; the design should allow birds to perch away from the food to keep it from becoming soiled. Set up more than one feeder and allow ample space between them to avoid crowding. Choose a feeder with drainage holes, and add a plastic dome to keep seed dry.

What attracts birds to a bird feeder? ›

Turns out many birds, just like humans, love peanuts. And this is especially true for many species like woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. So, to attract more birds to your garden, you can add peanut pieces (or some all-natural peanut butter) to your bird feeder.

What food attracts the most birds? ›


How do you get birds close to you? ›

Birds respond best when we are patient. Approaching birds slowly over time and allowing them to become accustomed to our presence and movements is perhaps the most important technique for getting close while they continue to behave naturally. When we give birds time to get used to us, they can be remarkably confiding.

Why do birds not like my bird feeder? ›

There are many possible reasons birds aren't coming to your feeder. Birds don't come to your bird feeder because there is something wrong with your bird food, the feeder, the placement of feeders, the landscaping and safety of your yard, or the time of year.

What do birds like to do for fun? ›

Make sure your bird has room to roam and exercise. Features: Try to vary the landscape of your bird's cage, so that he can explore to keep himself entertained. A variety of perches is nice and the more natural they seem the better. Toys: Like all animals, birds love to play with toys.

Can birds eat chocolate? ›

However, even in very small amounts, chocolate can be toxic to birds. Chocolate contains both theobromine and caffeine which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, increase heart rate, result in hyperactivity, induce tremors and seizures, and even cause death in birds.

Do birds like feeders high or low? ›

Best Bird Feeder Heights

Cardinals and finches (feed at lower levels) – approximately eye level, 5–6 feet. Woodpeckers (feed higher in trees) – 6–10 feet. Hummingbirds (feed from flowering bushes and vines) – 3–6 feet. Sparrows and towhees (ground feeders) – 1–5 feet.

Where is the best place to put bird feeder? ›

Feeders close to natural shelter such as trees or shrubs offer resting places for birds between feeding bouts and a quick refuge if a hawk flies through. Evergreens are ideal—their thick foliage buffers winter winds and offers year-round hiding places from predators.

What attracts birds fast? ›

Attracting Birds
  • Provide water year-round. A simple birdbath is a great start. ...
  • Install native plants. ...
  • Eliminate insecticides in your yard. ...
  • Keep dead trees. ...
  • Put out nesting boxes. ...
  • Build a brush pile in a corner of your yard. ...
  • Offer food in feeders. ...
  • Remove invasive plants from your wildlife habitat.

What scents attract birds? ›

What Smells Do Birds Like?
  • Bird Poop & Nests. Birds are known to be attracted to their own droppings and areas with evidence of nesting. ...
  • The Smell of Food. Birds love the smell of food or at least the smell of stuff that indicates the presence of food.
Feb 1, 2022

How do you impress a bird? ›

Mix sugar & pinch of salt with water and leave it for your winged friends. Provide food in succession all year around by introducing various species of plants. Birds are fond of pollen, seeds, berries, insects and nectar. Large flowers like Hibiscus, Datura particularly attract large birds.

What do birds enjoy eating? ›

Some eat seeds, berries, fruit, insects, other birds, eggs, small mammals, fish, buds, larvae, aquatic invertebrates, acorns and other nuts, aquatic vegetation, grain, dead animals, garbage, and much more…

Where do birds like being touched? ›

To help your bird build a healthy bond with both you and other people, keep caresses and petting limited to the head or feet only, and ask others to do the same. The reason for this is that birds' sexual organs are located directly under the wings on a bird's back.

How do birds bond with humans? ›

Sometimes birds shake their tails to show their feeling of love to humans. They also sleep on you or on your arm, which means that they love you and have huge trust in you. Birds flap wings, their feathers without flying when you come to them. More than that, they don't fly when you come closer to them.

How do I make birds feel safe at my feeder? ›

Make sure your birds stay healthy in 2018 and beyond with these eight helpful tips!
  1. Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space. ...
  2. Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. ...
  3. Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. ...
  4. Clean and disinfect feeders regularly.
Dec 28, 2017

What time of day do birds feed? ›

Typically birds like to eat early in the morning so that is when they will be looking for food. Your bird feeder should be full at dawn so the birds will find it first thing when they are searching. If you don't want to get up before dawn to fill your bird feeder you can fill it the night before.

How do you get birds to come to your hand? ›

Have a chair of some sort, and offer in your hand something especially tasty like sunflower seeds or unsalted peanuts. Prop your cupped hand in a position you can sustain for several minutes, and wait. It helps to not fill other feeders so what you are offering is the only food around.

How do you make a bird happy? ›

An Enriching Bird Cage

Place plenty of entertainment in the cage, such as perches and toys. Switch things out periodically, so your bird is sufficiently stimulated. Exercise your bird. Provide as much time out of the cage as possible.

What do birds like the best? ›

Black oil sunflower seed appeals to the greatest number of birds. Offer sunflower seeds, nyjer (thistle) seeds, and peanuts in separate feeders. When using blends, choose mixtures containing sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn—the three most popular types of birdseed.

How do birds make us happy? ›

A new study conducted by German researchers found that hearing and seeing birds can increase overall life satisfaction. A new study conducted by German researchers found that hearing and seeing birds can increase overall life satisfaction.

Can birds eat ice cream? ›

Can I Feed Ice Cream to My Pet Parrot? Pet parrots can eat ice cream in moderation. Be sure to only offer plain vanilla ice cream and avoid over-feeding them with sugary treats. As a pet bird owner, it's your responsibility to provide your bird with a healthy diet that is full of nutritious foods.

What can birds not drink? ›

Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and soda are tempting to share with your bird, but even a few sips of these beverages can be extremely hazardous to your feathered pal. Caffeine may cause increased heart rate, arrhythmias, hyperactivity and even cardiac arrest in birds.

Can birds eat popcorn? ›

It's also perfectly safe to feed popped popcorn to your backyard birds. However, you must ensure that you don't add any salt, flavorings, oil or butter to the popcorn. If you want to pop some corn for the local birds, do so in an air popper instead.

Where do birds like being pet the most? ›

Even if a bird's sexual organs aren't located in the areas of their back and beneath their wings, most birds still prefer being pet on the head and neck. Start petting your bird gently at their beak so they can get to know you and start trusting you.

Can birds eat oatmeal? ›

Yes, birds can eat porridge oats, but they need to be dry – cooked (or wet) and they will stick to and set around birds' beaks.

Do birds prefer light or dark? ›

This study suggests not only that urban birds can get used to the lights of the city, but also that birds actually prefer to have – at least a little – light at night.

Can you use Dawn dish soap on bird feeders? ›

Mild soap: We recommend Seventh Generation Dish Liquid and Dawn Ultra. But any dish soap should work. Bleach: To properly sanitize your bird feeder, you'll need to use a disinfectant such as bleach.

What colors do birds don't like? ›

White creates feelings of danger within birds so therefore they avoid it. On the other hand, bugs are attracted to colors like white and yellow. Blues and greens aren't as vivid to them and they tend to stay away from these colored objects.

What color houses do birds like? ›

In general, natural camouflaged colors such as gray, dull green, brown, or tan help the house blend into its environment and keep nesting birds safe from predators. If the house will be mounted in a colorful flower garden, however, choose more colorful paints that coordinate with nearby floral hues.

Should you let bird feeders go empty? ›

Leave Feeders Empty For A Few Days

Not only does this encourage birds to go elsewhere but it also takes away a valuable source of food that your backyard birds depend on. So why is leaving feeders empty for a few days before refilling them fine? First, birds will not starve.

Should you keep bird feeders full? ›

Ideally, it is best to refill feeders right away, but not just to feed the birds. By refilling feeders quickly, backyard birders can realize many benefits. Reliably full feeders keep birds visiting frequently because they recognize the feeder as a good food source.

When should you stop putting bird feeder out? ›

Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, leaving your feeders up year-round is not a problem as long as you keep a few things in mind: If bears live near you, you should not keep feeders up during the warmer months.

Do birds pick a favorite person? ›

The individual your bird will prefer is the one he will go to, hand feed from, cuddle with, and play with. People not interested in him will either be ignored or he may try to bite them.

Do birds like fans blowing on them? ›

Some birds become spooked or just plain annoyed when a fan's breeze hits them straight on. If you run a fan, see how your bird reacts, and adjust accordingly. Ceiling fans are a great way to cool down a room, but pet bird owners need to be especially careful when they are in use.

How do birds flirt? ›

Touching and Preening: While most bird species preen their feathers several times a day to keep them healthy, preening can also be used in courtship. Mutual preening or allopreening is used in courtship to bond mating pairs.

How long does it take for birds to get used to a bird feeder? ›

It may take several weeks before the birds find and begin feeding regularly from a new feeder. Before making any changes, try waiting at least two weeks to give the birds enough time to discover your feeder.

How long does it take for birds to get used to a feeder? ›

It can take as long as as a few months for birds to visit a new feeder, so do not get discouraged if you add a feeder to your garden and it is not immediately visited. Keep it filled and change the seed as necessary to prevent mold or staleness.

What liquid do you put in a bird feeder? ›

Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water (for example, 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water) until the sugar is dissolved. Do not add red dye. Fill your hummingbird feeders with the sugar water and place outside. Extra sugar water can be stored in a refrigerator.

How do I get birds to notice my new feeder? ›

Spread some seed on the top of the feeder, on a nearby platform, or on the ground near the feeder to draw more attention to the location as a new and valuable feeding spot. Temporarily remove other feeders offering similar seed to limit the choices birds have of where to feed.

How often should you change the water in a bird feeder? ›

Change sugar water at least every 3 to 5 days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation, and more frequently during hot weather. Clean feeders at least once a week with hot water and a bottle brush.

How often should you change the food in a bird feeder? ›

Change the seed in a dry seed feeder every 5-7 days to avoid mold, bacteria, or bugs in the feeders and always wash your hands after handling bird supplies and feeders.

Should I fill my bird feeder everyday? ›

Refill your feeders only once per day.

Birds are very skillful at finding food. Natural food sources come and go during the year, so birds are always looking for new supplies. Birds are unlikely to starve if you stop feeding birds in your backyard. They'll look elsewhere.

Can I use Clorox wipes on bird feeder? ›

Clorox wipes are handy for tube feeder ports and hard to reach spots. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly before refilling. Keeping the ground below the feeders maintained is also a good idea. A significant build-up of shells and seed can present problems, again, worse when it's wet.

Can you use peanut butter to make a bird feeder? ›

Spread the peanut butter onto the cardboard roll using a knife. If your peanut butter is thick and a little tricky to spread, you may have to get your fingers messy and use them too. Make sure the peanut butter is spread thickly to cover the cardboard roll, otherwise the seed will not stick well.


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