how do you feed a bird

Sparrows, juncos, and towhees usually feed on the ground, while finches and cardinals feed in shrubs, and chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers feed in trees. To avoid crowding and to attract the greatest variety of species, provide table-like feeders for ground-feeding birds, hopper or tube feeders for shrub and treetop feeders, and suet feeders well off the ground for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.

A diverse mix of seeds will attract the greatest variety of birds. To avoid waste, offer different seeds in different feeders. Black oil sunflower seed appeals to the greatest number of birds. Offer sunflower seeds, nyjer (thistle) seeds, and peanuts in separate feeders. When using blends, choose mixtures containing sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn—the three most popular types of birdseed. Birds that are sunflower specialists will readily eat the sunflower seed and toss the millet and corn to the ground, to be eaten by ground-feeding birds such as sparrows and juncos. Mixtures of peanuts, nuts, and dried fruit attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and titmice. A relatively few species prefer milo, wheat, and oats, which are featured in less expensive blends.

Suet (beef fat) attracts insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. Place the suet in special feeders or net onion bags at least five feet from the ground to keep it out of the reach of dogs. Do not put out suet during hot weather as it can turn rancid; also, dripping fat can damage natural waterproofing on bird feathers.

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 attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and occasionally warblers.

Fruit specialists such as robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds rarely eat birdseed. To attract these birds, soak raisins and currants in water overnight, then place them on a table feeder, or purchase blends with a dried fruit mixture. To attract orioles and tanagers, skewer halved oranges onto a spike near other feeders, or supply nectar feeders.

Make a sugar solution of one part white sugar to four parts water. Boil briefly to sterilize and dissolve sugar crystals; no need to add red food coloring. Feeders must be washed every few days with very hot water and kept scrupulously clean to prevent the growth of mold.

Store seed in metal garbage cans with secure lids to protect it from squirrels and mice. Keep the cans in a cool, dry location; avoid storing in the heat. Damp seeds may grow mold that can be fatal to birds. Overheating can destroy the nutrition and taste of sunflower seeds. For these reasons, it’s best not to keep seed from one winter to the next.

Squirrels are best excluded by placing feeders on a pole in an open area. Pole-mounted feeders should be about five feet off the ground and protected by a cone-shaped baffle (at least 17 inches diameter) or similar obstacle below the feeder. Locate pole-mounted feeders at least 10 feet from the nearest shrub, tree, or other tall structure. Squirrel feeders stocked with blends that are especially attractive to squirrels and chipmunks can reduce competition for high-priced foods offered at bird feeders. Place squirrel feeders far from bird feeders to further reduce competition.

In the United States, approximately one billion birds die each year from flying into windows. Protect birds from collisions by placing feeders within three feet of windows, if possible. Mobiles and opaque decorations hanging outside windows also help to prevent bird strikes. Or attach fruit tree netting outside windows to deflect birds from the glass.

Cats kill hundreds of millions of birds annually in the United States, often pouncing on ground-feeding birds and those dazed by window collisions. Responsible and caring cat owners keep their cats indoors, where they are also safer from traffic, disease, and fights with other animals. Outdoor cats are especially dangerous to birds in the spring when fledglings are on the ground. Bells on cat collars are usually ineffective for deterring predation.

Uneaten seed can become soggy and grow deadly mold. Empty and clean feeders twice a year (spring and fall), or more often if feeders are used during humid summers. Using a long-handled bottlebrush, scrub with dish detergent and rinse with a powerful hose; then soak in a bucket of 10 percent non-chlorine bleach solution, rinse well, and dry in the sun. In early spring, rake up spilled grain and sunflower hulls.

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What if I have to leave town?

Dont worry if you must stop feeding briefly. When you’re not around, wild birds will find other food sources in all but the worst weather, especially in suburban areas where there are other bird feeders nearby. However, if you reside in a remote or rural area, make arrangements for a neighbor to watch over the feeders while you are away for the winter.

Should I feed birds year-round?

Its not necessary. When birds need energy the most, such as during temperature extremes, migration, and in late winter or early spring when natural seed sources are exhausted, bird feeding is most beneficial.

Most birds don’t need your help in the summer. Many birds concentrate on eating insects while they are nesting and raising their young, so feeding is not as important. Avoid filling feeders during the summer as it is crucial for young birds to learn where to find naturally occurring food.

Two exceptions to this rule are hummingbirds and goldfinches. Your goldfinches, who nest later than other birds, can receive nyjer seed until thistles go to seed, and you can provide nectar in feeders for your summer hummers to help fuel their high metabolism.

What bird foods should I offer?

Always keep cats inside, and don’t forget to provide the right food for the season from a clean feeder that is kept a safe distance from windows.

Winter (when natural foods are less abundant)

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds are small and have thin shells that are easy for small birds to crack open. They are high in fat, making them a good source of energy.
  • White Proso Millet: high in protein content
  • Peanuts: Provide in peanut-specific metal mesh feeders in the form of tubes; for peanut hearts, use a feeder with smaller apertures.
  • Commercially produced suet cakes, which come in vegetarian options as well, fit the standard-size suet feeder.
  • To prevent the nyjer seed from spilling out, use a tube feeder with tiny holes for goldfinches.
  • Medium-sized cracked corn is best because finer varieties will soon become mushy and coarser varieties are too big for small-beaked birds to eat.


  • For spring feeding, a variety of birdseed varieties are good options, but you may also think about providing fruit for songbirds. (If you use fruit, make sure to take out any spoiled or leftover pieces.) Moreover, you can provide baked and rinsed crushed eggshells, which give birds like robins calcium.
  • It’s nesting season in the spring, so you can provide natural materials like twigs, small sticks, straw, and other plant materials (e.g., g. moss, bark strips, pine needles, leaves, stems, cottontail fluff, cottonwood down, grass, or yard trimmings (as long as they are free of fertilizer and pesticides) Offer only natural materials, such as acrylic yarn, that birds might naturally come across.
  • Over 90% of songbirds depend on insects to feed their young during the spring and summer breeding seasons. For adult birds, you can still provide feeders, but insects are essential to the survival of nestlings and fledglings. Insecticide use should be completely avoided or drastically reduced as it may hinder adult birds from finding enough insects to feed their young.


Limit to nyjer seed for goldfinches and nectar for hummingbirds (refer to these guidelines).

When giving out feed during the hot and muggy summer months, be sure to keep the seed dry. The seed may release poisons that are toxic to birds if it becomes moldy. To prevent the bird seed from sitting for extended periods of time, try filling feeders halfway or less!


Offer millet, peanuts, peanut butter and suet cakes.


How do you feed birds without a bird feeder?

A wide variety of plants can nurture backyard birds: Nectar-rich flowers like bee balm, salvia and lupine are magnets for hummingbirds. Seed-bearing blooms, including coneflowers and cosmos, attract finches, sparrows, doves and quail.

How do you feed birds by hand?

The birds will eventually eat near your hand. On a day when the feeder is getting low or is completely empty (or you can even take the feed out temporarily), place nuts and seeds in the palm of your hand and wait patiently for a taker. Once a bird lands on your hand, stay still and absolutely quiet.