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Feeding Wild Birds

by James B. “Jim” Kea
Area Extension Forestry Agent – now retired
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

Feeding wild birds is one of the fastest growing outdoor related activities in the United States. This is because nearly anyone can do it no matter where they live and it can be done from indoors.
An important consideration in feeding birds, is what kind of birds you want to attract. Sunflower seeds are very attractive to the species that many people prefer to attract, including cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, and finches. The tube of seed, hanging feeders, or platform feeders work well for these species. Feeds heavy in millets work best for those birds that feed on the ground such as juncos, towhees, and some species of sparrows.

To attract woodpeckers, use suet (beef fat) in wire baskets attached to trees or a hanging suet log. Unfortunately this will also attract starlings.

Although once you have started a feeding program, it is recommended to be sure to keep the feeder full or feed available. However, if the feeder does become empty, birds will not starve. Wild birds depend on more than one food source, and are resourceful enough to find alternate feeding areas. Feeders do help birds get through the stressful winter cold, and can be particularly important during times when ice covers most native food sources.

For full enjoyment of feeding wild birds, it is a good idea to have a variety of feeders and feeds available. Also, it is not necessary to quit feeding birds once spring arrives. Birds will come to feeders year-round. It is enjoyable to see fledglings come to the feeders in the spring. It may take birds a few days to find a new feeder. Scatter seed on the ground and be patient.

A number of common landscape plants such as dogwood, nandina, and pyracantha will also attract song birds to your yard or woodlot. More detailed information on attracting song birds to your woodlot or yard is available in the Stewardship Notes: Songbirds and Nesting Boxes which, along with other wildlife notes are available from the county Extension Center. Another Soil Conservation Service publication entitled Invite Birds to Your Home is also available in limited numbers from the NRCS office (formerly SCS).

Revised 2/16/2006.