Backyard Banquet

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

sunflower and Niger thistle seeds. The latter two types can be used in tubular feeders designed for small birds, like chickadees and goldfinches. Although not as widely sold, peanut hearts and safflower seeds also have their adherents. White proso millet is used by juncos and sparrows that feed on the ground.

Many components of standard wild bird mixes sold in stores are used by relatively few birds. Put out milo, for example, and you won’t have many takers. The cracked corn often found in these mixes may attract nuisance birds, such as house sparrows, starlings and crows. Bread crumbs and other table scraps are especially inviting to these aggressive, less desirable species.

Types of Seed Feeders

The hopper-style feeder is the most common design. It provides birds easy access to seed and protects it from rain and snow.

A feeder can be as simple as an open platform with an edge to reduce seed spillage. Birds that feed on the ground, including juncos, towhees and fox sparrows, will visit open feeders. They also learn that the ground beneath other types of feeders contains spilled seed for them to eat.

Other Foods

If the weather is cool enough to keep it from spoiling, suet (fat trimmed from meat) can be hung in mesh bags for woodpeckers, Carolina wrens and chickadees. Pre-made suet cakes are also available.

Berries, raisins, cut fruit or jelly may attract robins, bluebirds and mockingbirds in winter, plus orioles, tanagers and catbirds in summer. Nectar-consuming birds, including hummingbirds, orioles, tanagers and house finches, may be drawn to specially designed dispensers of sugar water.

Water necessary for bathing and drinking, water may be harder to find than food during freezing weather and droughts. In subfreezing weather, put out water daily at the same time to allow birds to develop a routine, or purchase an immersion-style water heater.


The most common problem at bird feeders is squirrels. You can discourage them to an extent by hanging feeders or placing feeders on posts. A baffle (central disk) around the supporting cable or post can further challenge them. However, they can still jump from eight feet away to the feeder. Squirrel-proof feeders are made of metal to prevent chewing and have counterweights that close the feeder to all but lightweight customers.

Certain flocking birds can become so numerous that they drive off others and reduce the variety of birds. If house sparrows, starlings and grackles become a problem, switch entirely to sunflower

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