how to feed birds in your backyard

During May, we’re celebrating Garden for Wildlife Month by encouraging people to make wildlife habitat in their backyard, balcony, farm, community, or other garden spot. For every spot that becomes a Certified Wildlife Habitat®, we’ll plant a tree to help another habitat. Enjoy these tips to help you on your way to certify!

Below is a quick guide to feeding birds year round. For more resources, check out National Wildlife Federation’s Bird Feeding 101 Tips Page.

In the late spring and throughout the summer, birds have an easier time finding natural food from plants and insects. Still, they will make use of bird feeders year-round and especially benefit from them in the winter.

People who are new to backyard or balcony bird feeding sometimes wonder about what kind of bird feeder to get, where to put it and what seeds to provide. Most of them hold seeds, but others are designed to hold packets of suet or fat and still others provide sugar water or “nectar” — a favorite of hummingbirds.

What size bird feeder?

It’s important to put out feeders with good size capacity and/or use multiple feeders to provide ample food, especially during snow and ice storms. There are many stores in your area that sell excellent bird feeders including bird-specific stores and most lawn and garden centers. You can also visit the National Wildlife Federation’s online backyard store to purchase feeders while also supporting the Federation’s conservation work.

In some areas squirrels will make it their main goal to empty your feeder before the birds get a chance. The good news is there are a number of very effective squirrel proof feeders including a tube feeder surrounded by a cage with spaces the birds can get through but the squirrels can’t. Check out these 10 Tips for Outwitting Squirrels.

Since different birds have different diets, it is beneficial to provide a range of food options. For starters:

  • The most widely used bird seed is black-oil sunflower, which draws a variety of birds to your feeder. Blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, and sparrows love it. Black-oil sunflower seeds are a great place to start if you’re new to backyard birding!
  • The tiny, premium thistle seed, also known as Nyjer, is adored by goldfinches. These birds, along with their cousins the brightly colored buntings and red-hued house finches, are quite lovely to watch. They have a lovely gold color. A specific bird (finch) feeder with smaller holes is needed for thistle seed.
  • For novices, seed mixtures are popular because they draw a wide variety of birds. However, because birds scatter away unwanted seeds, they can be messy. De-hulled “no-mess” seed mixes reduce the amount of mess beneath your feeder. More often than not, ground-feeding birds like doves, juncos, sparrows, or even squirrels will pick them up.
  • Suet, which is essentially a cake made of animal fat, provides birds with a nutritious source of protein, particularly during the winter. For many birds in your yard, suet can be a lifesaver when food is scarce. Suet is frequently served via suet cages after being combined with a few seeds.
  • A hummingbird feeder is needed for nectar, which is colored sugar water. Hummingbirds are the most notable nectar-loving birds. They are a pleasure to watch in your backyard. The oriole is a fruit-eating bird that is becoming less common. It also likes nectar.
  • Smorgasbird: You can feed birds a wide variety of different kinds of food. A lot of birds like peanuts, peanut butter, oranges, cracked corn, millet, and pieces of apple. Even bread crumbs can be attractive.

For more, read Which Bird Seeds Are Best?

In the summer, peanut butter works well in place of suet. Combine one part peanut butter with five parts corn meal, then insert the mixture into the cracks in a large pinecone or the holes drilled in a hanging log. This all-season mixture attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and occasionally warblers.

Uneaten seed can become soggy and grow deadly mold. Clean and empty feeders twice a year in the spring and fall, or more frequently if they are used in the sultry summer months. Scrub with dish soap and rinse with a strong hose while using a long-handled bottlebrush. Soak in a bucket of 10% non-chlorine bleach solution, then thoroughly rinse and let dry in the sun. In early spring, rake up spilled grain and sunflower hulls.

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The widest range of birds will be drawn to a varied blend of seeds. To avoid waste, offer different seeds in different feeders. The most popular sunflower seed among birds is black oil. Provide peanuts, sunflower seeds, and nyjer (thistle) seeds in different feeders. Select blends that contain the three most common types of birdseed: cracked corn, millet, and sunflower seeds. Sunflower-specialist birds will happily consume the sunflower seed, scattering the millet and corn for ground-dwelling birds like juncos and sparrows to nibble on. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and titmice are drawn to peanut, nut, and dried fruit mixtures. Milo, wheat, and oats are preferred by a small number of species and are found in less expensive blends.

Mix one part white sugar to four parts water to make a sugar solution. Sugar crystals can be sterilized and dissolved by briefly boiling them; red food coloring is not necessary. Feeders need to be meticulously cleaned and washed in extremely hot water every few days to stop the growth of mold.

Cleaning Bird Feeders

Your feeders can get a little grimy. More birds may be drawn to backyard feeders during the winter months because there are fewer natural food sources available. During this time, backyard feeders will need to be cleaned with hot water and dried several times.


What is the best food for birds outside?

While birds will devour all three, black oil sunflower seeds are the best buy. They are smaller than gray and striped sunflower seeds, contain the highest percentage of oil (40 percent) and have the thinnest hulls. Ideally, 75 percent of the seeds offered to birds at your feeders should be black oil sunflower seeds.

Do birds tell each other where food is?

They will fly around or survey the area from the tops of trees constantly searching for anything that could be a potential new source of food. Once a bird has found a source of food, it may call to its mate or if there is plenty to go round to other members of its flock.

What is the best food to put out for birds?

The best food for bird tables Fruit, especially bruised apples and pears, will be popular with thrushes and Blackbirds. Household scraps like pastry, cooked rice and breadcrumbs should only be offered in small amounts occasionally.