Selecting a bird feeder is a bit more complicated than it appears. Your choice of style and where it’s placed can make a big difference in what type of birds show up for dinner.
Some birds prefer to feed on the ground. Mourning doves, sparrows, juncos, and towhees fit in this category. You might see them on a hanging feeder once in a while, but their body shape and vision make ground feeding their top choice.
Cardinals, finches, and Jay’s prefer a table feeder. That’s a stable and open platform. They too will visit a hanging feeder once in a while but probably won’t stay long. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens are tree feeders. They naturally prefer to eat on the side of a tree. Hanging feeders are best for titmice, goldfinches, and chickadees.
Choice of food can also make a big difference in what types of birds accept your dinner invitation. Some like larger seeds, some like different kinds, and some prefer fruit or fat (suet) over seed. We’ll write a separate post on seed types later.
Going off topic for a moment, More important than what birds like are the foods that are harmful or dangerous to birds. Bread and crackers are at the top of this list. They like to eat it, but there’s not enough calories and nutrition in them for their health. Birds need a lot of energy to survive, and bread fills them up without providing enough energy in return. Avoid anything with chocolate too as it’s toxic to them (and dogs too). And be careful with food scraps. Although the birds mike like them, they can also attract predators and vermin.
My personal preference is to avoid bird seed that contains cracked corn, milo, or wheat. These are inexpensive fillers that are often added to bargain seed mixtures. Although some birds will eat them, most will just toss it to the ground. And cracked corn or anything ground tends to cake up when they get wet, making a mess of your feeder and eventually rotting.
Bird Feeder Styles
There are several styles of feeders available to fill these different needs:
Tray or table feeders are simply platforms to hold the seed. Some have a roof, but the sides are open. Many types of birds are wary of roof models; they feel safer when they can see the sky. The downside to tray feeders is that they are open. You might also be feeding mice, squirrels, raccoons, and others.
Hopper feeders hold extra seed inside and are often hung off the ground for protection. The convenience of having extra seed in the hopper has to be balanced with the task of keeping them clean. Seed in the hopper, especially milled or cracked grains, can rot and make a mess. Hopper feeders are the most popular and attract a wide variety of birds including buntings, finches, jay’s, starlings, sparrows, chickadees, grosbeaks, and titmice.
- Window feeders are small, usually plastic, feeders that attach to a window with suction cups. They’re great for viewing but need frequent attention.
Tube feeders are metal or plastic tubes that attract tree feeding birds. Some are screened; others have feeding ports. It’s interesting that some birds eat facing up the tree or feeder while others eat facing down. Tube feeders may have perches or screen webs for holding on to either above or below the feeding ports.
Some birds like thistle or Niger seed that is very fine. There are specialized feeders designed for them.
Suet is fat, and necessary food for some birds who’s diet is based on bugs. A suet feeder is often a wire or mesh cage that holds the suet up off the ground and away from vermin. Mesh onion bags make good suet feeders. My preference is an inexpensive wire cage that contains preformed blocks of fat.