Bird Feeding Tips: How to Successfully Manage Backyard Bird-Feeding Stations

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When you place feeders at different heights you provide feeding options for birds that are too shy to eat directly from the ground.
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From seeds and suet to plants and feeding stations, "Secrets of Bacyard Bird-Feeding Success" teaches readers easy, practical, and low-cost ways to entice birds into stopping by regularly, along with tips on specific types of bird-friendly fare, such as nuts, nectar, berries, and even bugs!

The following is an excerpt from “Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success” by Deborah L. Martin. The excerpt is from Chapter 8: Feeding Station Features.

Put Feeders on the (Right) Level

Almost as important as what birds eat is the question of where they eat it. In natural settings, multiple species are able to live in the same area, because they occupy different niches within the broader habitat. Tanagers and warblers feed on insects high in the treetops; catbirds and wrens dine at shrub level on insects, seeds, and fruits; and robins hunt for worms and juncos for seeds at ground level.

When we put up feeders to invite birds into our yards, we ask the birds to ignore these instinctive protocols in favor of perching side by side at a tray of seeds. Not every species will adapt readily to dining in artificially arranged conditions, which is why only certain birds routinely visit feeders. The more you do to offer foods in situations similar to those in which birds feed in nature, the more birds will be attracted to your foods and feeders.

To appeal to the greatest variety of birds, place your feeders at different sites and arrange them at different heights. Place several feeding trays or platforms on the ground, then set up one or two feeders a few inches above ground level. Arrange some feeders a foot or two off the ground, and hang other feeders higher up in trees. (Place ground-level feeders in an open area away from bushes and plants, so that predators can’t sneak up on the birds.)

When you create multiple feeding sites, you give ground-feeding birds all the room they need to eat in comfort. And by adding feeders at several different heights, you provide feeding options for birds that are too shy to feed directly on the ground. Make dining convenient for your feathered friends. A ground feeder makes eating easy for cardinals, while nuthatches prefer raised platform feeders. Titmice like any feeder that’s set off the ground, and chickadees visit all kinds of feeders, including hanging types.

Feeder/Feeding Station Do’s and Don’ts

When you’re first setting up a backyard feeding area, or when you add a new feeder to an existing feeding station, be patient. Birds need to get used to a new feeder, even if they’re already using other ones in your yard. They’re wild creatures with natural feeding instincts, so if they choose berries, nuts, seeds, or other wild foods over the sunflower seeds you’ve just put out in a fancy new feeder, don’t worry that your efforts have been wasted. Eventually that feeder will get plenty of use, as soon as the birds get used to it, when the seasons change, or both.

When you’re setting up a feeding station, start out small and give the birds time to find and accept the new source of food. One seed feeder and one suet feeder are enough to start with. You can add more as time goes by, if you want. You may find that keeping even a few feeders filled and clean takes more of your time than you expected. Or you may be so happy with the birds you’re seeing and learning about that you want to start adding more. Either way, be thoughtful about each feeder you install, and consider your own ability and willingness to maintain it as well as the needs and preferences of the birds that will visit it.

Feeding-Station Success

Whether you’re putting up one feeder or several, you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure that both you and the birds get the most out of your efforts. Here are some things to consider before you plant a post or mount a hanger.

Choose the right site. Location is so important. Even when feeders are in an open area, many birds use nearby trees and shrubs as cover from predators. Avoid placing feeders in overly exposed sites like the middle of a barren yard–birds will mostly ignore feeders placed out in the open, and the contents of the feeders will spoil more quickly as the sun heats them up.

Check the traffic. Pick a spot that’s away from areas with a lot of people, pet, or vehicle activity. Birds won’t feed at a spot where they are repeatedly disturbed.

Keep your eyes on the prize. While you’re considering the exposure and activity levels of potential feeder locations, don’t forget to select a spot where you can see the feeder and its visitors, preferably from a window you look out of frequently from inside your home.

Choose the right height. Mount or hang feeders high enough so that cats can’t easily jump onto them, and so you don’t have to worry about bumping into them when you’re mowing or taking care of your lawn. At the same time, keep reasonably easy access for cleaning and refilling in mind.

Mix things up. Vary the styles of feeders and place them at varying heights. A basic feeding station might have one high feeder (5 to 6 feet off the ground), one or two feeders at a few inches to 3 feet off the ground, and one feeder at ground level.

Cater to different tastes. Although black-oil sunflower seed is popular with the greatest variety of birds, you’ll enjoy more diversity at your feeders if you serve other foods, too. Think of your feeders as a sort of bird buffet, with one feeder of black-oil sunflower, one containing white millet, perhaps a tube of nyjer seed, and one or more feeders holding some form of suet.

Secure your investments. Buy or make feeders with covers that help shield their contents from the elements. Mount feeders so that ports and feeding trays are facing away from prevailing winds. Use swivel hooks to support hanging feeders, to keep them from swinging excessively in strong winds and spilling their contents or blowing down. Use sturdy poles for pole-mounted feeders and regularly check that the pole is firmly in the ground and that the feeders it holds are securely fastened to it.

Reprinted from “Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success” by Deborah L. Martin. Copyright (c) 2011 by Deborah L. Martin. By permission of Rodale, Inc. Available wherever books are sold.

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