“How Do I Choose The Right Type of Bird Feeder?“
It’s an extremely common question. Especially from beginners who are just discovering how much fun it is to feed wild birds!
The short answer is that there are many types of bird feeders with each one having its own unique purpose. The bird feeder type that is best for you typically comes down to the species of bird you want to see in your backyard.
Today, I have put together a “Bird Feeder Buying Guide.”
- Includes pictures/videos.
To see my current set up, check out this LIVE view of my bird feeding station. I have multiple bird feeders filled with lots of different foods to make sure I attract a wide variety of birds.
*Please consider subscribing to the BWHQ YouTube Channel.* You can expect highlights from the live bird cams, along with videos to help with bird identification. And you get to watch the excitement of these cameras 24/7!
The 7 Types of Bird Feeders
If I were only able to have one bird feeder in my yard, then I would choose a hopper style. Hoppers are perfect for holding a general mix of bird food that appeals to a wide variety of species. If you were starting to create a bird feeding station, a hopper works well as a centerpiece that you can build other feeders around.
- Related: Create a Bird Feeding Station in 7 Simple Steps!
- Related: Bird Seed 101: The 10 Best Types For Wild Birds
Hopper feeders are characterized by a seed chamber that continually dispenses food at the bottom as birds eat, along with a functioning roof to prevent water from ruining your seed. Lastly, this feeder style usually provides some sort of ledge on both sides for birds to perch upon, although this is not a requirement as some hoppers have perch bars instead of a shelf.
Lastly, hoppers feeders can either be hung or mounted permanently to a pole. If you decide to suspend in the air, make sure whatever you hang the feeder from is extremely strong and sturdy because hoppers can get heavy when filled with seed. I hang my hopper from the Squirrel Stopper pole, and it tends to lean to whichever side my hopper is placed!
- Related: My Two Favorite Bird Feeder Poles
2. Tray / Platform Feeders
For a long time, I never included tray feeders in my backyard. I shoved my nose up at them and thought they were too basic. I mean, just pouring some food onto a simple tray? Humans have been to the moon, and this is the best way we have found to feed birds?
Well, I stand corrected. Now I love having tray feeders all over the place, and they are one of the most popular feeders in my yard. They tend to appeal to a WIDE variety of species. Many birds, like Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, enjoy having lots of space to move around as they eat.
Tray/platform feeders come in dozens of different shapes and styles. They can be hung, mounted on a pole, or placed onto the ground. Trays can be added to tube feeders. Some platform feeders have built in roofs installed overhead. Certain trays are plastic, and others are wooden.
Here are TWO different tray feeders that I use in my backyard. And a third tray is featured in the “Tube Feeder” section below (#3). 🙂
I always have this tray sitting on the ground filled with sunflower, peanuts, and corn. It attracts many ground feeding birds along with many species of mammal. Along with having four legs that extend to sit on the ground, it can be easily hung in the air or mounted permanently to a pole.
Below is a LIVE look at this tray feeder in my yard. Do you see anything interesting?
This platform feeder has a clear plastic tray and includes a weather dome to help shield the seed from rain. The dome can also be lowered to help prevent larger birds from eating.
3. Tube Feeders
Tube feeders are what many people picture when they think of feeding birds. As the name suggests, these types of feeders look like a long tube, but with feeding ports and perches spaced out on the tube which allow the birds to eat. Food and seed are filled from the top and slowly lower as it’s consumed through the ports.
In the video of my feeders above, you can see two of my tube feeders on the right. In this specific example, you can see American Goldfinches, House Sparrows, and Northern Cardinals busily eating.
Tubes come in all sizes, from very short to extremely long (I have a tube feeder that is 32 inches long and holds 4 lbs of food!). The material can be metal or clear plastic, and there can be two feeding ports or twelve.
Tube feeders attract many types of birds, except for larger birds. Because of their size, birds like Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, and Mourning Doves have a hard time landing on the small perches of many tube feeders.
But luckily I have a solution that can help transform your tube feeder into the most popular spot in your backyard.
Add a tray to the bottom of your tube feeder!
By adding a tray to the bottom, you provide a place for ALL birds to eat. In a way, you are combining a tube feeder with a tray feeder. The attached tray offers a landing spot for larger birds.
If you do a bit of searching, there are countless combinations of tube feeders and trays available. But the set up that works well for me is a Droll Yankee 20 ” Tube Feeder combined with their 10.5″ tray. The tray is incredibly easy to attach! To see this combination in action check out my LIVE bird cams.
4. Nyjer/Thistle Feeders
Nyjer feeders look very similar to tube feeders, and I almost lumped the two together under one category. In the end, I decided against it because there is one thing that is very different between the two types.
Nyjer feeders are made only to dispense nyjer seed.
Because it’s so small, nyjer seed can fit through openings that other foods can’t, which is why nyjer bird feeders were developed. Nyjer feeders are tube-shaped feeders, but the food ports are tiny so that only nyjer seed can fit through. If you try to put sunflower seeds in a nyjer feeder, you are going to have some hungry birds!
You may also know nyjer seed as “thistle,” which it’s sometimes called, even though it has no relation to actual thistle. Nyjer seed is tiny and black, and is popular to use because it’s a favorite food for goldfinches! A few other birds will also eat nyjer, such as House Finches, chickadees, doves, and House Sparrows.
5. Suet Feeders
In case you don’t know, suet is the hard fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle and other animals. Birds enjoy eating it because it provides them with healthy fats they need for energy. Suet is especially helpful during cold winter months when insects are not available, which are what most birds eat to obtain their fats naturally.
Woodpeckers are typically the most common birds that appear on suet feeders, but other species also enjoy the healthy fats that suet provides, such as wrens and starlings.
Suet feeders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The type of suet feeder that you choose for your backyard depends on the style of suet you want to use.
For example, suet is typically purchased in these four common styles:
- Cakes: The most popular variety. The size of 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ fits standard suet feeders.
- Balls: Roughly the size of golf balls that fit in many types of mesh feeders.
- Nuggets: Typically slightly smaller than marbles. Nuggets also can be put in mesh feeders or on tray feeders.
- Plugs: Resemble a small log. Suet plug feeders are typically vertical and made to resemble the side of a tree, so they mimic as close to possible how a woodpecker naturally eats.
Each one of the above suet varieties requires a different type of suet feeder!
For some different ideas on specific suet feeders, try reading this article:
6. Nectar Feeders
The main reason anyone puts up a nectar feeder is simple; they want to attract hummingbirds!
Watching hummingbirds visit your backyard is pretty cool. These small, colorful birds are full of personality and incredibly unique. It’s no wonder everyone wants more in their garden!
Because of their popularity, nectar feeders come in all different shapes, sizes, and construction materials. Some are as simple as a plastic dish with a top (which I think work the best!), others look similar to a bottle (see picture above), and many feeders are so unique and artsy they make better garden decorations than actual hummingbird feeders!
A few things to remember before purchasing a nectar feeder:
- Nectar spoils quickly! You will need to replace it quite often in your feeder, especially during extreme heat.
- Make your own homemade nectar by mixing four parts water to one part table sugar. And don’t use red dye!
- Try a window feeder. It’s a lot of fun to see hummingbirds at your window while enjoying your morning coffee.
Check out specific nectar feeders by reading these two posts:
The 5 Best Feeders For Orioles in 2019 (Coming Soon!)
- Most nectar feeders are made for hummingbirds, but there are also specific nectar feeders designed for orioles. These brightly colored birds also eat nectar, along with fruit and jelly.
7. Specialty & Unique
The types of bird feeders we have covered so far will satisfy most of the birds that visit your backyard.
But we have barely scratched the surface of all the different bird feeder types that are available for purchase. Countless styles would make unique additions to your garden or feed a specific food (such as mealworms).
Here are a few examples of some specialty bird feeders that I own and use during different times throughout the year:
- Perfect for feeding Blue Jays whole peanuts.
- I like this feeder because it’s small, versatile, and easy to hang up in a moments notice. I put everything from mealworms to jelly in it.
- These are blocks of seed held together by a binding agent. Some stores and manufacturers design them to look like creatures such as squirrels, penguins, or owls, which is how I usually buy them.
And here are some other popular categories of feeders:
- It’s a lot of fun to sit in your kitchen and watch birds only a few feet away.
- Stop letting squirrels eat all your food!
- If you can’t beat them, you might as well feed them away from your bird feeders.
But this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the rest of the different types of bird feeders available. Walk into any bird feeding store or search the internet and you will start to understand how many different feeder styles you can choose!
Now that you have learned about the different types of bird feeders and you are ready to purchase, check out my article about the BEST bird feeders in my backyard. It’s organized by the same styles featured in this post.
10 Questions To Ask When Choosing a Bird Feeder
Here are 10 questions that I ask myself before purchasing a new bird feeder. These questions are some suggestions of things I have come across in the past. Please keep in mind that a feeder rarely meets all of the below criteria.
1. What birds am I hoping to attract?
I like to think about how a feeder will fit into my backyard feeding station. What types of bird food will be used? What species does the feeder cater towards?
2. Easy to fill?
This becomes especially important as you obtain more and more feeders. A feeder that is easy to refill is especially beneficial during freezing temperatures!
3. Are the birds visible?
I want to provide my backyard birds with feeders they enjoy using, but I also want to be able to see them myself from the house! I try to think if there are any blind spots where the birds can’t be observed.
4. Easy to clean?
I look for hard to clean areas or if any part of the feeder comes apart to make cleaning easier.
5. Sturdy construction materials?
I want to know what the feeder is made from; is it metal, wood, hard recycled plastic? Or is it some cheap plastic material that will probably break in a few months.
6. Who is the manufacturer?
I have purchased many feeders over the years, and I have had good experiences with certain companies, which makes me more likely to buy from them again. These include Droll Yankees, Woodlink, & Aspects, to name a few. I also like to check if there are any warranties included.
7. Is the feeder squirrel-proof or squirrel resistant?
If squirrels are a problem, this could be the most important question you ask yourself!
8. Is the food kept dry?
It’s nice to walk to my feeding station after a big thunderstorm and see my food is still dry. It’s not possible with every feeder type but is something to think about. Proper drainage is also essential!
9. Will the birds like the feeder?
Maybe this should be the first question you ask? If birds don’t feel comfortable on the perches or trays, then nothing else matters. Some bird feeders opt to look “cute” instead of being functional.
10. Can I easily see the seed level from my house?
If I can avoid walking out to my feeders on a cold winters night to find out that the feeder didn’t need refilling, then that is a good thing!
I have found that as I become more obsessed with my bird feeding station, I keep experimenting with and adding additional feeders. My small backyard shed now has different feeders hanging everywhere, which allows me to adjust quickly to my backyard birds changing needs and preferences.
As you have probably come to realize after reading this article, there are countless styles and varieties of bird feeders that you can select. This fact can make it very challenging for a beginner.
Here is my recommendation for those looking to buy their first feeder; start with a hopper feeder and fill it with a general bird seed blend. If that goes well, then it’s time to add a tray, tube, and nyjer feeder, preferably in that order.
At this point, a nectar feeder for hummingbirds would make a lot of sense. From there, let your imagination run wild because you now have a certified backyard bird feeding station.
And lastly, if you feel the urge to share your birds with the rest of the world, it may be time to consider installing a LIVE bird feeder cam!