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How to Attract Birds

From gulls that follow in the wake of ships to crows that stay close behind the plow, birds have been a natural companion of man for ages.

Create the right environment for them around your home today and you will not only help them survive but you will also enjoy their company and entertainment throughout the year. Feeding birds around the calendar is a good choice. Remember that birds have little choice in winter when once they become dependent on your feeding station. Continue to supply them until natural foods are available for them in the spring.

Because they start feeding at sunup, make sure your feeders are ready for business by filling them in the evening. Birds will find your provision for them — shelter, water and food — when you make the effort to welcome them in the following ways.

Natural Shelter and Special Housing Top of Page
Evergreens and hedges near your feeding location will not only provide summer nesting sites, but also places to roost out of the winter winds. If well constructed and sited, nesting boxes to fit species from wood ducks to wrens usually attract tenants interesting to see and a pleasure to hear. Another benefit is provided by a colony of martins, experts at clearing out mosquitos and other night insects. Because martins will also eat dragonflies, another enemy of the mosquito, swifts and swallows may be more welcome as the evening airforce.

Bird Houses — Build or BuyTop of Page
Various styles and sizes of bird houses are available at most nurseries or pet supply shops. Hole size is important and must fit the size of bird you want to attract. Wren houses should have a 1-inch hole while bluebirds require a 1-1/2-inch entrance.

When building your own bird houses, remember to incorporate drainage holes in the floor and air conditioning openings at the top. And make provision for easy cleanout at the end of the season with a trap door or removable bottom.

Water Sends up its Own Signal Top of Page
To birds in flight, your birdbath mirrors the sky and is an easily seen invitation to stop for a drink or a dip. The best designs have a gradual, sloping rim where your guest can wade in, but big flowerpot saucers and container lids may also be used. The most attractive baths include a fountain or dripping water to add some sound and action; robins enjoying a spinning garden sprinkler show the strength of this appeal. Because birds need water in winter too, automatic electric heaters may be used to prevent icing.

Using Plants to Attract Birds
Bending to the ground with loaded seedheads, the yellow sunflower looks like the original golden arches to a great many hungry birds beside the predictable golden finches. Sunflowers are easy to plant year after year, but there are also many shrubs and trees that are natural food sources season after season. Elderberry attracts about as many species as sunflowers, and is an effective feeder from midsummer through fall. As for vines, the trumpet vine can be home for cardinal nests, and provides nectar for hummingbirds. The twining bittersweet sets out attractive berries in the fall that also make attractive dried arrangements for indoors.

Shrubs and Trees for Birds to Feed onTop of Page
The Russian olive tree, flowering dogwood, and juniper trees and shrubs produce fruit that is available to birds all winter. Viburnum, red cedar, hawthorn and holly are also natural food producers for the cold, dark months.

A menu of other trees and shrubs to consider for attracting birds would include wild plum, cherry, crabapple and honeysuckle. Your choice will depend on local climate, soil, and available space in your yard. For specific answers to this important part of your birdlife program, see your nursery center or contact the county office of the Agricultural Extension Service.

Feeders that Welcome Birds — and Keep Them Top of Page
Feeding stations should be placed where you can see them from the house, but also near shrubbery or other bird shelter.Remember the importance of wind shelter in the design of the feeder itself, too. Pole-mounted types, hanging types, window-mounted feeders, ground-level stations like a horizontal windowscreen on legs can all be successful.

Some Feeder Features to Look forTop of Page
Whether you purchase or build a feeder, ease of filling and cleaning, and a protected seed hopper large enough for several day’s use should be a consideration. Unless it is supplied at time of purchase, you might want to build your own hanging screen-table for underneath the popular thistle-seed feeders. It will conserve seed and reduce their sprouting in your yard or garden below.

Here from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Urban Wildlife Research Program is a menu of preferred foods for 17 common birds.

Preferred Foods of Common BirdsTop of Page

American Goldfinch: Sunflower kernels and pieces,
, oil-type sunflower seeds, Niger seeds

Blue Jay: All types of sunflower seeds, and peanut kernels

Catus Wren: Peanut kernels, and Suet/Cakes

Cardinal: All types of sunflower seeds and Safflower

Cedar Waxwing: Bush berries; no seeds

Chickadee: Sunflower kernels and pieces, striped sunflowers, Niger seed, and Safflower

Curved-billed Thrusher: Milet and milo

Dark-eyed Junco: Canary seed, finely cracked corn, and Millet

Evening Greosbeak: All types of sunflower seeds and finely cracked corn

Evening Grosbeak: All types of sunflower seeds and finely cracked corn

Gamble’s Quail: All types of sunflower seeds, Millet, peanut kernels, and milo

Gila Woodpecker: All types of sunflower seeds, peanut kernels, and nectar

House Finch: Striped sunflower seeds, sunflower kernels and pieces, oil type sunflower seeds, Niger seeds, and Safflower

House Sparrow: All types of sunflower seeds, crary seed, finely cracked corn, and millet

Mountain Chickadee: Striped sunflower seeds and oil type sunflower seeds

Mourning Dove: Millet, Niger seeds, oil type sunflower seeds, and Safflower

Nut Hatch: Striped and oil type sunflower seeds, peanut kernels, and Safflower

Purple Finch: All types of sunflower seeds, Niger seeds, and Safflower

Pyrrhuloxia: All types of sunflower seeds and peanut kernels

Red Shafted Flickers: Peanut kernels and Safflower

Scrub Jay: Oil type sunflower seeds, finely carcked corn, and peanut kernels

Song Sparrow: Millet

Tufted Titmouse: Striped and oil type sunflower seeds, peanut kernels, and Safflowers

Verdin: Nectar

Warbler: Insects

Western Bluebird: Insects

White-crowned Sparrow: Sunflower kernels and peices, oil type sunflower, Millet, peanut kernels and hearts, Niger seeds

White-throated Sparrow: Striped sunflower, sunflower kernels and peices, oil type sunflower seeds, Millet, peanut kernels

White-winged Dove: All types of sunflower seeds, Millet, and milo

All types of sunflower seeds, and suet/cakes

Photos Courtesy of…

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Over 1100 bird slides.
Call (607) 254-2450.
Chips Cards, Inc.,
Manufacturers and
producers of collectible
and educational nature
trading cards.
For samples and
product information
call 1-800-837-BIRD.

Sunflower — The Basic Wildbird Seed
Perhaps the most popular wild bird seed is the sunflower, available as thinshell black oilseed, or striped types, whole or hulled. There is no spring cleanup required with the latter. Periodically, be sure to remove and destroy moldy feed seeds to protect your birds from disease.

Serving up a Power Diet Top of Page
Birds require these types of concentrated high-energy foods for daily activity and for keeping warm on winter nights. Black sunflower oil seeds are preferable to the larger striped seeds for this, and peanut products are another good high-calorie-per-weight alternative. The classic concentrated food is animal suet. This can be fed in a wire mesh cage on the side of a tree or post, in a hanging plastic onion-net bag, or in a hanging log specially bored for plugging with this hard, waxy fat.

The Readymade
Seed Mixes —
Too Much Millet?
Top of Page
Prepared feed mixes make feeding easier, but check them for the proportions of red millet and grain sorghum (milo). These lower the cost of ready-mixed bags but also attract pigeons, blackbirds, and grackles, and may require increased spring cleanup of rejected grains.

Some Common PreferencesTop of Page
High-octane fuel for ground-feeders like doves and juncos should include cracked corn or white millet. For goldfinches or purple finches and pine siskins, hulled sunflower seed or Niger from a vertical tube feeder are top choices. If you mix your own treats for birds, as with peanut butter or suet, remember to include a small fraction of sand to provide grit necessary to these toothless diners. The red-bellied woodpecker is a suet-eater who will also eat cracked corn. Blue jays will go for either corn or sunflower seed, also a favorite of the house sparrow.

HummingbirdsTop of Page

Perhaps the most exciting and colorful gourmets to attract to your home are thehummingbirds. About fifteen kinds enter the United States, mostly in the Southwest, but the Rubythroat can be found almost everywhere east of the Missouri River and across southern Canada.

Migration takes it across the Gulf of Mexico, 500 miles on about 2 grams of fat. A real acrobat, the hummingbird has been clocked at speeds of over 50 miles an hour, yet can hover motionless and fly backwards in its feeding activity. Specialized feeders are required for these guests, and also special food in the form of imitation nectars. Whatever the feeder design, their attraction is in the use of red blossom shapes, with a reward of prepared nectar. If you make your own treat for these feeders, avoid using honey, which can mold easily. One part of sugar to four parts of water by volume, boiled, is a suggested recipe. Have your hummingbird station ready in early spring. Some of their favorite natural fly-ins include honeysuckle, petunias, phlox, nicotiana, azaleas and trumpetvine. They’ll help you keep you yard clear of insects too!

Pest ProblemsTop of Page

You are the innkeeper, and it’s your decision to feed all comers or just the smaller birds. With perch-type feeders, reducing the length of the pegs will make it harder for grackles or cowbirds, for example to get a toehold.
In spite of all your care, it can still be a jungle out there, with the presence of hungry squirrels or predatory cats.

With squirrels, the object is to keep the raider away from the feeding shelf and the seed reserve. Ingenious feeder designs that lock up or trip under the weight of squirrels, and floppy guards that defy the offender when it tries climbing the feeder pole are two types of protection.

The best Niger feeders have seed ports armored with metal shields to protect against gnawing squirrels. Dropping down from a tree branch high overhead, squirrels have even broken feeding stations off their mountings. One response

is to build strong feeders in the first place, be prepared to devise countermeasures, and to enjoy the daily exploits of these wily, four-footed foragers. Another alternative is to set up a squirrel feeding station with ear corn or some other favorite food at a distance from the bird feeder. This, however may also be attractive to raccoons or possums. T. and T. is another solution — trapping and transporting. Box-type traps are humane, but should be opened at a remote destination as soon as possible to release the offender.

If the cat is your own, you can keep it indoors at feeding time.

For neighborhood cats, try to allow as little cover as possible — make it easy for birds to see the danger. And hang feeders high up — cats can leap more than four feet off the ground to bring down their prey.

Now Add to Your EnjoymentTop of Page
Keep a pair of binoculars handy, together with an illustrated guidebook for bird identification. Watch how the goldfinches dress up for spring and look for new visitors passing through as the seasons change. You’ll enjoy these customers more, just knowing how you’ve helped them with a healthful menu at your feeding stations.

Getting StartedTop of Page

  • Pick location
    ·near nesting sites?
    ·protection from wind?
    ·good view from house?
  • Birdhouses for small birds
  • Birdhouses for larger birds
    (bigger than 1-1/2″ hole)
  • Martin houses
  • Hummingbird station
  • Suet cage or log
  • Screen table to catch seed
  • Bird book to identify species
  • Bird seed (see table inside)
  • Squirrel feeder
  • Binoculars
  • Birdbath
  • Bird feeder

Some facts may vary by region. Please check with your local lawn and garden dealer if concerned about possible variations.