Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Attract birds to your backyard: Part 3: Styles of bird feeders


In Part 1 we discussed making your backyard attractive to birds with natural food and water. In Part 2 we discussed landscaping to create protective shelter and breeding habitat.

Next week we'll discuss the different kinds of bird foods and the birds they attract.

Now, though, we will discuss the different styles of bird feeders.

When you think of a bird feeder, perhaps the type above comes to mind. It is a tube-style seed feeder. They are preferred by finches, such as this Pine Siskin. Finches feed in the trees, so they like these kind of feeders that mimic (to a degree) the type of feeding these birds favor.

Importantly, these feeder discourage (but don't totally eliminate) larger birds, such as jays, Starlings, and House Sparrows, and squirrels. These unwanted feeder visitors are considered pests or just piggy--the jays will gulp down a bunch of food then carry it off to bury it. Then they soon return, emptying your feeder quickly.

Sparrows, including favorites such as towhees and juncos, however, like to feed on the ground or a raised flat surface. For these birds, and others, a tray feeder works best. These can be covered with a roof or uncovered. They can be as simple as this flat stump sprinkled with bird seed that has attracted this Song Sparrow.


My wife and I had success building a tray feeder using an open weave plastic--similar to a placemat--in a wooden frame. We attached this to our cedar fence with shelf brackets. The open weave allowed rain to drain, and keep the seed fresh longer. It detached and washed off easily.

Tray feeders will allow you to offer the birds something besides just seeds (wait until next week for more details of different foods you can offer).

Here is another example of a Black-headed Grosbeak using a very small open mesh metal tray feeder that attaches to a mounting pole:



An adaptation to a tray feeder is a hopper-style feeder. These are covered bins of seed, with a tray at the bottom. Birds pull seeds from the bottom and the tray is refilled automatically. These are more protected from the rain. Here is an example.



A specialized seed feeder is a thistle feeder. Shown below is one made of open wire mesh. These are especially for goldfinches and siskins, though, as you can see below, this female House Finch also joins the Lesser Goldfinch at this thistle feeder.

Another type of thistle feeder is called a thistle sock. The birds pull small seeds (usually niger seed, not thistle) that stick out from an open-weave fabric bag--just like weed seeds sticking out from my socks after walking through a weedy field in late summer. Again, the metal mesh dries out more quickly so the seed does not mildew as quickly in wet climes--and is easily cleaned.



That covers the seed feeders.

Pictured below is a suet feeder, in this case the suet (rendered beef fat) is in a suet cage. Suet is a food that provides protein. Once the temperature rises above 60 degrees F, the suet can spoil quickly, so this is primarily a winter food only.

You will note this suet cage is on a long chain. Doesn't this swing around wildly knocking birds off? Yes, and that is exactly why. European Starlings love suet. If allowed, a small flock will eat the suet block in a few minutes. However, Starlings have very weak feet. They must stand on top of the suet cage and bend over to eat it. This causes a starling merry-go-round! They still get some suet, but often are somewhat deterred.

Other birds, including large flickers, just fly up and hang on to the side of the suet cage to eat.



The final feeder style we will consider is the nectar feeder, perhaps best known as hummingbird feeder, though other birds may drink nectar, too.



Finally, you can buy all of these feeder types with suction cups that will attach these feeders directly to your windows. Smaller birds (chickadees, hummingbirds) easily become accustomed to your presence and will quickly move from a regular feeder to a nearby window feeder.

All feeders need cleaned periodically, or food will spoil, rodents will be attracted, birds may get diseases.

Soap and water works to clean cloudy hummingbird solution (bacteria). A weak bleach solution is needed for black mildew or mold, which can develop in a day in summer heat, or 4 or 5 days in cold weather. The trick is to only fill the feeder with the amount of nectar consumed before going bad. When you purchase a hummingbird feeder, choose one that can be disassmbled completely when cleaning, and buy a small bottle brush, too.

Part 1
Part 4