Bird Feeding

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Photograph of a red-headed woodpecker at a bird feeder
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Watching birds at feeders can increase your bird-ID skills and brighten your day. You can feed birds year-round or just in winter when natural foods are tougher to find. Birds flock to backyard feeders especially when snow or ice covers their natural foods and temperatures fall to extreme lows.

Learn what seeds, feeders, and landscaping choices will attract which birds to your Missouri backyard.

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Food Preferences

Some birds, such as tufted titmice and chickadees, are finicky eaters, whereas mourning doves and white-throated sparrows will eat about any type of seed. Many people start with black-oil sunflower seeds and add other seeds to draw in more species.

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Sunflower Seed and Millet

Black, oil-type sunflower seed and white millet rate best for attracting birds. You can buy these separately or find them in wild bird seed mixes. If buying seed mixes, note that many mixes contain milo and corn, which many backyard birds do not eat.

Safflower Seeds

Not all birds love safflower seed, but tufted titmice and cardinals are among the species that do.

If starlings are a problem at your feeders, you can try putting out safflower seeds since starlings generally do not eat them.

Peanuts

You can feed peanuts either shelled or in the shell. Shelled peanuts will attract woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, titmice, chickadees, and blue jays. There are specialized feeders designed for shelled peanuts.

Peanuts in the shell can be placed in a feeder or on the ground. Blue jays are especially fond of unshelled peanuts and will often stash them or bury them to eat later. Squirrels are also fond of peanuts, so keep that in mind when choosing where to place peanuts.

Learn more about bird seed from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Suet

Suet for birds is generally sold as a block of hardened beef fat with seeds, nuts, or dried fruits mixed in. The blocks fit into specially designed wire cages that can hang from a limb or post. Suet is a high-energy food that attracts many insect-eating birds. It can provide calories to help keep birds warm in winter or meet the high-energy demands of egg-laying during the breeding season.

Woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches are especially fond of suet. Other species that may visit suet feeders include Carolina wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets, and bluebirds.

You can buy blocks of suet at the store or make it yourself. Recipes for suet can be found on many birdwatching websites.

Suet often becomes rancid in warm weather and it can sometimes get melty and rub off on birds’ feathers, so offering suet in the summer is not recommended. Peanut butter is a good substitute for suet in the summer. Mix one part peanut butter with five parts corn meal and stuff the mixture into holes drilled in a hanging log or into the crevices of a large pinecone. This all-season mixture — as well as suet — attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and, occasionally, warblers.

Mealworms

Mealworms can be a great way to attract insect-eating birds that might not otherwise visit your feeders. These include bluebirds and some warbler species.

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Fruit

Orioles and catbirds, and sometimes red-bellied woodpeckers, will come to feeders for oranges and berries. Especially during migration, fruits can provide extra energy to the birds’ regular diet, but serve them cautiously. Oranges can become fermented in warm weather, so it’s important to check them regularly and make sure they aren’t beginning to spoil. You can buy feeders for orioles that are designed to hold half an orange or orange slices.

Nectar

Hummingbirds feed on nectar in flowers and small insects attracted to native plants. You can draw them to your yard by planting native flowers or by putting up a special feeder filled with sugar water.

Learn more about how to attract hummingbirds.

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Feeding Stations

Bird-feeding stations may be as simple as seeds placed on the ground or as complicated as a feeder accessible only to birds of certain weights to keep squirrels away. A plain wooden platform can be erected as a simple feeding station. Some edging around the outside will help keep the seed from falling to the ground. You may like to add a roof and three walls to keep the rain off, or you may prefer the open platform for easy bird access and for the additional brightness for picture taking. A good way to offer sunflower seeds to birds is with a commercially available, clear-plastic cylinder or silo-type feeder.

Different birds have different feeding habits. Some songbirds, such as the dark-eyed junco, white-crowned sparrow, and Harris’s sparrow, prefer to feed directly on the ground. Cardinals and blue jays will feed either on the ground or on a platform feeder. Goldfinches and chickadees also will visit small, plastic feeders that are fixed to the outside of a window by a suction cup.

Where to put your feeders

Remember to locate your feeding station outside a room where you can relax and enjoy the visitors.

Hang feeders in places where birds can see approaching predators and fly to safety. Hawks and house cats are both known to hunt at backyard feeders.

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American Goldfinch on a Birdfeeder
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American goldfinches eating sunflower seeds

Noppadol Paothong

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Be careful of placing feeders near windows where vegetation or sky is reflected. If you hear or see birds hit your window, treat the outside of the window immediately with opaque stickers so the birds know the window is not a pass-through or escape route. Window strikes are the second-largest contributor to wild bird mortality. They are very common — act quickly if you see evidence of strikes. Treating windows is an easy fix! Learn more about how to prevent window strikes from the American Bird Conservancy.

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Year-Round Feeding

Many people enjoy feeding songbirds year-round. In fact, the most crucial times in the life of many birds are in the early spring when naturally occurring seeds are scarcer and also during inclement weather in winter. In the spring and summer, many young birds follow their parents to the feeder. It is fascinating to watch the parents show their young how to crack open the seeds.

Some birds, such as the Baltimore oriole and the ruby-throated hummingbird, are only found in Missouri in the summer for breeding season and leave in the fall for the winter. Orioles may be attracted to the feeding stations with fruit. Hummingbirds come to special feeders filled with sugar water mimicking nectar.

Bird-Feeding Myths

You may have heard that it's important to continue feeding once you start it. However, no research indicates that during normal weather birds will starve if feeding is stopped for a time. Birds often visit many feeding stations in a neighborhood. You will be amazed at how fast birds discover new feeding stations. Their natural curiosity and mobility ensure their success at making the rounds.

Another myth is that feeding birds will prevent them from migrating. Birds know when to begin migration based on other triggers, like changes in day length.

Keeping Feeders Clean

Wash feeders regularly to prevent the spread of diseases between birds.

Hummingbird feeders should be washed every week or two to keep mold and bacteria from building up. During hot, humid summer weeks, wash feeders every 2–3 days — and replace the sugar water just as frequently. It is especially important to check the small openings through which the hummingbirds drink to make sure there is no black mold.

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Other Tips

Provide Water

To increase the popularity of your feeding station, provide water — especially during drought or when the temperature stays below freezing for several days. Carolina wrens and bluebirds may be enticed to feeding stations during the winter, too, if water is available.

Add a bird bath to your yard. Replace the water every day or two to keep the water fresh and clean. Birds often leave feces or feathers in the water, which can grow bacteria that can spread to other birds. Wash the bird bath every week or two with a weak vinegar-water solution (nine parts water to one part vinegar). To keep water from freezing in winter, you can get a heater to place in the bird bath or find affordable heated bird baths.

Landscape with Native Plants

In addition to selecting the right seed for your bird-feeding stations, you can attract more birds to your yard with native plants that provide cover and additional seeds and insects. Quite often in new housing developments, trees and shrubs for nesting, perching, and escaping predators are in short supply. Birds need places to perch overnight and vantage points from which they can view the feeder and also watch for potential predators. Evergreens offer valuable, year-round cover from the weather in addition to secluded nesting sites.

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Displaying 1 - 21 of 21
Date: Thursday, February 1, 2024 8:00 am - Thursday, February 29, 2024 5:00 pm
Location: Cape Girardeau Nature Center
Calling all agents! In this Agents of Discovery mission, traverse both inside and outside the nature center as you complete challenges and learn all about birds! Using the app and mission prompts, complete challenges and answer questions as you walk through the nature center to complete the mission. Best of luck, agents!
Date: Saturday, March 2, 2024 10:00 am - Saturday, March 2, 2024 2:00 pm
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Eastern bluebirds are actively searching for sites to nest and raise their young this time of year. Stop by anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to discover our state bird’s lifecycle and other interesting facts through exploration tables, activities, and crafts. No registration required. All ages
Registration period: January 24 - March 8
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2024 9:30 am - Saturday, March 9, 2024 11:00 am
Location: St. Louis Regional Office/Busch Memorial CA
Purple martins will be arriving back from South America any day. They are already moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. East of the Rocky Mountains they have become almost totally dependent on housing provided by humans. Come and learn how you can help conserve these beautiful swallows that are native to Missouri. We will discuss strategies for attracting purple martins and ensuring they return each year to your housing. The final part of the time will be spent outside observing and discussing the features found in the purple martin house behind the Busch Visitor’s Center.
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2024 10:00 am - Saturday, March 9, 2024 2:00 pm
Location: Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
Walk-in (all ages) The state bird of Missouri is often associated with cheerfulness! Some say its song sounds like "Cheer Cheerful Charmer." Perhaps that is why the Eastern bluebird is commonly thought of as a symbol of happiness. Join us at the Discovery Center as we learn to identify, foster and monitor Missouri's beautiful state bird! If accommodations are needed, please e-mail the instructor at least one week prior to the program.
Registration period: February 2 - March 9
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2024 10:30 am - Saturday, March 9, 2024 11:30 am
Location: Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
Registration required (adults) Bluebirds are year-round residents in Missouri who usually begin nesting the first half of March. Perfect timing for this project! Would you like to help increase the local bluebird population while having many hours of enjoyment watching our beautiful state bird? Register and build a bluebird nesting box of your own! If accommodations are needed, please e-mail the instructor after registering and at least one week prior to the program.
Registration period: February 2 - March 9
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2024 12:30 pm - Saturday, March 9, 2024 1:30 pm
Location: Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
Registration required (ages 12+) Bluebirds are year-round residents in Missouri who usually begin nesting the first half of March. Perfect timing for this project! Would you like to help increase the local bluebird population while having many hours of enjoyment watching our beautiful state bird? Register and build a bluebird nesting box of your own! Children must be registered to attend this program. Parents may attend to assist their child without registering. If accommodations are needed, please e-mail the instructor after registering and at least one week prior to the program.
Registration period: March 1 - March 13
Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2024 1:00 pm - Wednesday, March 13, 2024 4:30 pm
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Ducks, geese, and swans are some of the more colorful and interesting to watch birds in Missouri. Discover where to find and how to identify common Missouri waterfowl. After the classroom portion of the program, we will venture out to Binder Lake (west side of Jefferson City) to spot some ducks, geese, and swans. Runge will provide round-trip transportation and binoculars (feel free to bring your own). Make sure to dress for the weather. Registration required. Ages 13+
Date: Saturday, March 16, 2024 10:00 am - Saturday, March 16, 2024 2:00 pm
Location: Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
Walk-in (ages 6+) Most people are surprised to learn they can see an American white pelican right here near Kansas City. Every spring and fall thousands of the great white birds with seven foot wingspans migrate from the gulf coast to northern breeding grounds stopping for rest and refueling at area lakes and rivers. Learn about pelicans at this natural history program and discover where you can see a flock close to Kansas City this March. Kids will make a crafty pelican hatband to take home. If accommodations are needed, please e-mail the instructor at least one week prior to the program.
Date: Monday, March 18, 2024 6:30 pm - Monday, March 18, 2024 8:30 pm
Location: Online only
Registration required by visiting bit.ly/winterlearning2024 (all ages) Join this talk to learn how you can help migratory birds make their journey safer. Learn about Johnson County Community College's bird strike study and lessons learned over the last six years. This talk will also cover the effects of light pollution and its relation to window strikes, as well as many ways you can mitigate these issues at home and work. Led by Krystal Anton from Johnson County Community College.
Registration period: February 6 - March 21
Date: Friday, March 22, 2024 10:00 am - Friday, March 22, 2024 11:00 am
Location: Tower Grove Park-Stone Shelter

Birding is a great activity for all ages! At this beginning birding for children class, we’ll learn some common backyard birds and how to identify them. We’ll also learn how to use binoculars, and even go on a short walk to the Robert and Martha Gaddy Wild Bird Garden to practice our new birding skills!

We will meet at the Stone Shelter. The program will take place outdoors, so please dress accordingly. All supplies will be provided.

This program is designed for children ages 5+.

Registration period: February 23 - March 23
Date: Saturday, March 23, 2024 10:00 am - Saturday, March 23, 2024 1:00 pm
Location: Online only
Virtual Webex! Spring is nearly here, and the toms will beginning strutting soon. That can only mean one thing! Spring turkey season is just around the corner! Through the generations, Missourians have enjoyed pursuing these large elusive birds. Join us as we explore the basics of turkey hunting, including calling, scouting, locations, equipment, techniques and more. This program is appropriate for adults and family's with children ages 9 and above. Children 9-15 must be accompanied by a participating adult. Webex virtual program link will be sent within 24 hours of program start date.
Registration period: February 23 - March 23
Date: Saturday, March 23, 2024 10:00 am - Saturday, March 23, 2024 1:00 pm
Location: Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center
Spring is nearly here, and the toms will beginning strutting soon. That can only mean one thing! Spring turkey season is just around the corner! Through the generations, Missourians have enjoyed pursuing these large elusive birds. Join us as we explore the basics of turkey hunting, including calling, scouting, locations, equipment, techniques and more. This program is appropriate for adults and family's with children ages 9 and above. Children 9-15 must be accompanied by a participating adult.
Date: Saturday, March 23, 2024 11:00 am - Saturday, March 23, 2024 12:00 pm
Location: Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center
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Date: Saturday, March 23, 2024 1:30 pm - Saturday, March 23, 2024 2:30 pm
Location: Cape Girardeau Nature Center
Come learn about the birds traveling through, and returning to, Missouri with the spring weather at our discovery table. We’ll talk about some of the birds you could see soon with the warm weather at your local feeders. Ask our naturalist any questions you may have about some of the returning birds and when will you be able to see your favorites again.
Registration period: December 15 - March 26
Date: Tuesday, March 26, 2024 2:00 pm - Tuesday, March 26, 2024 2:30 pm
Location: Online only
March is a busy time for bluebird parents. From finding a nesting location, to building a nest, and defending their home, these busy birds are easy to spot. Join us as we learn more about the interesting lives of Missouri’s state bird and what we can do to help them catch a break. Please ensure your MDC account includes an accurate email address so that you can receive a link to the virtual program.
Registration period: March 1 - March 29
Date: Friday, March 29, 2024 6:00 pm - Friday, March 29, 2024 8:30 pm
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Location: Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
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Registration period: April 1 - April 18
Date: Thursday, April 18, 2024 8:00 am - Thursday, April 18, 2024 10:00 am
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Join MDC naturalists and area birders as we discover the avian life that calls Runge home. These short birding walks are for all experience-levels. We will gather near the front doors of the nature center. Binoculars and field guides will be provided for those that need them. Registration preferred. Ages 8+
Registration period: April 1 - April 26
Date: Friday, April 26, 2024 8:00 am - Friday, April 26, 2024 10:00 am
Location: Runge Conservation Nature Center
Join MDC naturalists and area birders as we discover the avian life that calls Runge home. These short birding walks are for all experience-levels. We will gather near the front doors of the nature center. Binoculars and field guides will be provided for those that need them. Registration preferred. Ages 8+