Feeding Birds 101: Everything You NEED To Get Started Today!
So you want to start feeding birds?
I couldn’t be happier and more excited for you!
Feeding wild birds is one of the MOST rewarding activities you can do in your backyard. Not only is the hobby beneficial for birds, but it provides many benefits for humans!
Table of Contents:
And luckily you have come to the right place.
Today, you are going to read my extensive guide about bird feeding!
I have tried to cover everything you need to know to get started and included links to other guides on Bird Watching HQ when relevant.
The 3 Items You MUST HAVE For Feeding Birds.
#1. Bird Feeders
If you want to feed the birds, you MUST purchase at least one bird feeder. And my guess is that you probably won’t stop there, and soon your backyard will have multiple types of feeders trying to attract as many different species as possible.
Do you want to see the bird feeders I’m using?
Just click PLAY below. I have installed a LIVE camera that streams my bird feeding station.
***Watch all of my LIVE animal cameras HERE
Even though there are hundreds of unique feeders available, there are only a few different types and most typically fall into one of the following categories.
- 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 or perch on both sides for birds to land upon.
- 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.
Trays & Platforms:
- These are one of the most popular feeders in my yard and 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 can be hung, mounted on a pole, or placed onto the ground and can be added to tube feeders.
Nyjer (Thistle) Feeders:
- This type of feeder looks similar to a tube feeder, except they are modified to only dispense nyjer seed, which is a tiny, black seed that only a few birds (such as goldfinches) will eat!
- Come in a wide range of styles, but they are all designed to feed suet.
- These are used to attract birds that drink nectar, such as hummingbirds and orioles.
The 7 Types of Bird Feeders You NEED To Know About!
- This post goes into a lot more detail about each type of bird feeder listed above and will help determine which options you should purchase first.
The 14 Best Bird Feeders In My Backyard!
- Check out this post if you want to see the specific bird feeders that are working best for me.
#2: Birdseed and Food
It doesn’t take a bird feeding expert to know that an empty feeder is not going to attract many birds.
To keep your birds happy, you need to keep your feeders full of delicious birdseed and food!
The great news is that in addition to purchasing food online, a surprisingly large amount of retail stores sell birdseed, including hardware, grocery, and pet stores.
But sadly, you have to be very careful when shopping for bird food! Many retailers lure you in with super CHEAP prices and get you to buy a 50-pound bag of “General Birdseed” mix that has beautiful pictures of cardinals and finches on the bag.
The problem is that most of the time, these CHEAP mixes are full of food that most pretty songbirds WON’T eat. Just like at the (human) grocery store, feeding birds requires you to become well-versed at reading labels.
Look for birdseed that contains the following:
- Millet (but not too much)
In general, avoid mixes that contain the following:
- Milo or sorghum
- This seed is the biggest offender! Few birds eat the stuff, and that list includes House Sparrows and European Starlings, which are birds most people try to avoid at their feeders.
- Canary Seed
- Wheat and other grains.
The above photo was taken off a label on a “cheap” bag of birdseed. Notice the first ingredient is milo, which most birds do not eat!
Bird Seed 101: The 10 Best Types For Wild Birds
- To learn WAY more about bird food and what to feed in your backyard, please read this article!
Safflower Seed 101: The Miracle Food!
- Safflower is a popular food choice in your backyard because of the birds and mammals that DON’T eat it!
#3: Bird Feeder Pole
The next thing you need for bird feeding is to hang your feeders. Let’s be honest; they won’t do much good laying on the ground! (Unless of course you are using a ground tray feeder. 🙂 )
There are various ways you can hang your feeders, such as suspending them from a tree, wire, or deck. But the MOST POPULAR choice is installing a bird feeder pole in your backyard!
Here are a few bird feeder pole ideas to get you started:
A. Shepherds Hook: View Price - Amazon
If you are starting and looking for an inexpensive way to hang the feeders, buying a cheap shepherds hook will get the job done. They can usually hold one to two small feeders.
A shepherds hook is what I started with, but as I became addicted to feeding birds and started adding more feeders, I had to upgrade my pole quickly and ended up with the…
B. Squirrel Stopper Pole and Baffle Set:
Compare Prices of the Squirrel Stopper Pole!
- JCS Wildlife *Use code BWHQ to receive 10% off!*
If you don’t want to build a bird feeder pole, then purchasing a pre-made option is incredibly helpful!
I used the Squirrel Stopper Pole for a few years. It was easy to install (took about 45 minutes), looked lovely in my backyard, and was able to hang up to 8 bird feeders at once.
The best part about the pole is that it includes a spring-loaded baffle on the pole that SQUIRRELS CAN’T GET PAST (see video below!). If you weren’t aware, keeping squirrels off your bird feeder is one of the biggest challenges that hobbyists face.
In all the time I had the Squirrel Stopper, no squirrel ever came close to climbing up the pole!
The only reason that I got rid of the Squirrel Stopper Pole is that I was using many heavy bird feeders, and they were starting to make the pole tilt. I had to find a sturdier option.
C. DIY Bird Feeder Pole:
Many bird feeding enthusiasts decide to build their own feeder pole, including myself.
As you can imagine, there are lots of different DIY plans online. Seriously, just check out Pinterest!
Here is briefly what I did:
- Bought a 10 foot long, 4×4 inch post from the hardware store.
- At the top, drilled two holes and inserted poles to hang feeders from.
- Dug a hole 30-inches into the ground, then inserted the post and surrounded with concrete.
- Check out the video below of the installation as viewed from the Bird Feeder Cam.
The Two Best Bird Feeder Poles – Squirrel Proof, Sturdy, & Stylish
The BEST Squirrel Baffles For ANY Situation (11 Ideas!)
10 Additional Tips for Bird Feeding Success!
Now that you have a bird feeder filled with delicious food and hung from a sturdy, squirrel-proof pole, it’s time to move onto this section! 🙂
In no particular order, I am going to list tips, tricks, and advice that will help decrease your learning curve as you strive to attract more wildlife to your backyard! Where appropriate, I have linked to helpful products or other articles that I have written on Bird Watching HQ.
If you are still yearning for more information after reading the below tips, I want to recommend two books that will help you learn more. I reference both of them ALL THE TIME!
The Joy Of Bird Feeding by Jim Carpenter
- Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips by Deborah Martin
Tip #1: Provide A Source of Water.
Providing a fresh source of water in your backyard will attract the widest variety of birds.
That’s because, just like us, ALL species of birds need to drink water.
It doesn’t matter whether their food sources come from meat, seeds, nectar, or bugs!
If you have a stream, lake, or another source of fresh water in your backyard, then you are one of the lucky few that probably don’t need to read this section.
Here is what the rest of us should do:
Buy a bird bath!
Putting a birdbath in your backyard is the easiest and best way to provide a place that birds can drink and bathe.
But buying a birdbath, filling it with water, and placing in your yard is easy.
The hardest part of a birdbath is the constant maintenance!
Birds love having fresh water so much that typically within a few days they have made the water in your bird bath pretty gross. You will have to commit to changing the water every few days along with cleaning with a scrub brush every few weeks.
You have been warned!
The Bird Bath Buying Guide: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE Purchasing
- There are hundreds of bird baths to choose from, and it can be overwhelming trying to find one. Try reading this article to help narrow your selection:
The 6 BEST Heated Bird Baths To Try This Winter
- You will be amazed at what might show up at your heated bird bath during the cold, winter months. For example, here is a video of a Red-shouldered Hawk that came down for a drink.
Tip #2: Prepare To Battle Squirrels.
Anyone that has been feeding birds for more than a week has war stories to tell about their battle against the squirrels.
These acrobatic rodents are persistent and very determined to climb onto your bird feeders to eat, (even though there is typically plenty of food on the ground for them).
Most backyard birders would agree they don’t mind the squirrels, as long as they stay on the ground. Once they get onto your feeders, they can spend hours up there and not let any birds come into feed.
From squirrel proof bird feeders to baffles to hot pepper food to feeder placement, many strategies have been used to try and stop squirrels. What works best for you is going to come down to your specific yard and set-up.
I have written a few posts that go in-depth on ways to stop squirrels. Please check them out for more information!
8 Effective Ways To Keep Squirrels Off Your Bird Feeders
The 6 Best Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders (Stop Wasting Food!)
Tip #3: Stop Bully Birds From Taking Over Your Feeders!
It sounds a bit silly at first.
Why would you want to stop certain birds from eating at your feeders? Don’t we want to feed all birds?
Well, it’s complicated, especially in urban areas.
The problem is the fact that once certain species of birds discover the delicious food you are offering, they DON’T LEAVE! They arrive in giant flocks to eat all the birdseed, but worst of all they can be aggressive and will scare away and intimidate many smaller species.
For example, view the massive amounts of House Sparrows, which are non-native to North America, that can overrun my feeders:
Hence the reason we call them BULLY BIRDS!
And no one likes a bully. 🙁
The birds listed below are the biggest offenders, along with details on how to stop them from taking over your feeding station.
Blackbirds (includes European Starlings, which are THE WORST!)
Tip #4: Clean Your Feeders Regularly.
As your feeders become popular, it’s common to have hundreds of visitors each day. Unfortunately, all of these birds have the potential to bring different bacteria and diseases, not too mention the amount of fecal matter that can accumulate.
Every so often, you need to complete a thorough cleaning of your feeders using a 10% bleach solution and a scrub brush.
To be honest, this is an area where I struggle! It’s easy to keep putting this chore off, and I’m ashamed to say that sometimes months go by without conducting a proper cleaning!
One thing that helped was buying a 5-gallon bucket dedicated to feeder cleaning. Inside the bucket, I place other needed supplies, such as scrub brushes and bleach. Now when it’s time to clean my feeders at least everything is conveniently located.
Tip #5: Clean Underneath Your Feeders Regularly.
Do you enjoy the smell of a dirty barn?
If so, then I have good news; you never have to clean the shells and other waste underneath your bird feeders! 🙂
If I don’t keep up with cleaning the ground below my feeders, it starts to SMELL TERRIBLE! Especially when it gets wet and hot.
At least every few weeks, I recommend you rake up all the shells, husks, uneaten seeds, and other waste that has started to accumulate. This chore should only take a few minutes and is vital to a healthy, active feeding station.
Here is a short video of me cleaning underneath my bird feeders!
To help prevent a mess, you can use “No Waste” birdseed.
“No Waste” birdseed is food that doesn’t include a shell or husk, such as sunflower kernels, shelled peanuts, and corn. It’s more expensive by weight, but you have to remember you are not paying for all the shells, and everything you buy will be eaten.
Tip #6: Choose WHERE You Store Your Bird Food Wisely.
I have two recommendations when it comes to storing your birdseed:
1. Try to find a location close to where you are feeding birds. I have my food in a small garden shed that is only about 20 yards away from the feeders. You will appreciate the convenience when you are refilling, especially when it’s raining or extremely cold!
2. Make sure your storage area is dry! I hope this is self-explanatory. If your food gets wet, then it will rot and go bad quickly.
I highly recommend buying a durable seed scoop! It makes life much easier when refilling your feeders! My favorite one is THIS SCOOP made by Droll Yankees. View Price - Amazon
Tip #7: Choose HOW You Store Your Bird Food Wisely.
I have found that it’s worth spending a bit of money to buy adequate storage bins and buckets for your bird food. You want to find something that rodents can’t chew through, like metal or hard plastic, and INCLUDES a lid that fits tightly to prevent water and critters.
Most of my food is stored in either of these products:
A. 20-Gallon Steel Garbage Can With Lid: View Price - Amazon
- These cans hold a lot of food and luckily don’t take up much floor space. I can fit a 50-lb bag of black-oil sunflower in one of these. Currently, I have four of these cans that store my corn, sunflower, and peanuts.
- I have multiple 5-gallon buckets, and they are great for storing bird food, especially seed that comes in smaller bags. Usually, I have safflower, nyjer, and sunflower kernels stored in my 5-gallon buckets. The plastic is extremely hard, and I have had no problems with mice, squirrels, or chipmunks chewing through to get to the seed.
*I included links to buy metal trash cans and 5-gallon buckets on Amazon, but it’s MUCH CHEAPER to buy them from your local hardware store if you can find them!
Tip #8: Include Perching and Hiding Spots.
To attract the most amount of birds, you want to make sure there are areas in your yard for birds to land, perch, and hide.
These spots could include brush, shrubs, tree’s, or fences.
Birds like to feel safe and have a quick getaway in case of predators, like hawks and cats. Many birds (such as cardinals) will hang out in shrubs or trees around your feeders until they feel comfortable enough to come out and eat.
What if your yard doesn’t have natural perching areas?
My recommendation is to do some landscaping around your yard with native trees, shrubs, and flowers. Native plants not only provide perching and hiding areas, but they also attract more insects than exotic species, which offers a natural food source for birds.
RELATED: 28 Common Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds (Native & Easy To Grow)
RELATED: How To Attract Birds: The DEFINITIVE Guide
Tip #9: Location, location, location.
Deciding where you are going to feed the birds in your yard is an important decision.
Here are some things that I try to think about and consider when finding an ideal location!
A. Place feeders 10 feet away from your house OR within 3 feet.
The goal of using these distance recommendations is to prevent birds from colliding with your windows. Most collisions happen when birds get frightened and fly off quickly from your feeding station.
If the feeding station is at least 10 feet away from your home, birds typically have time to realize they are heading straight for a window and veer in a different direction.
On the flip side, if the feeding station is very close (within 3 feet) to your house, then birds don’t have space to get enough momentum where they can hurt themselves on the window.
If you are still having an issue with collisions, try placing decals made by WindowAlert on your windows. View Price - Amazon
B. Try To Find A Quiet Place Near Trees or Shrubs
If possible, put your bird feeders in an area of your yard that is not visited frequently.
It also helps to be near some trees or shrubs, because they will provide hiding places that will make birds feel comfortable as they approach and provide safety from predators. Birds are not going to be comfortable flying to the middle of a barren yard that offers no protection.
I also try to find shade for my bird feeders. Just like us, birds will appreciate being out of the direct sun! A shady spot will also help nectar last longer and suet not melt.
C. But don’t place your bird feeding station too close to a tree or fence.
It needs to be far enough away from anything that squirrels could use as a launchpad to access the food!
D. Lastly, keep yourself in mind!
- Can you easily see the birds and feeders from your preferred window, patio, or deck?
- Are the feeders easily accessible to fill and clean? I put my feeding station near a shed that stores my bird food, which makes refilling convenient.
Tip #10: Bird Feeding Requires LOTS Of Dedication!
Want to know what I hate seeing?
Empty bird feeders.
If you walk around your neighborhood long enough, you’re bound to see them.
They are a sure sign of someone that got excited about feeding birds, went and bought all the correct equipment, filled their feeders, attracted some beautiful birds…
And then gave up. 🙁
To be fair, they probably didn’t consciously give up, but they had no idea how much dedication and commitment you need for bird feeding.
For example, I check on my feeders and birdbath every single day to see what needs re-filled. Even when I am out of town, one of our neighbor’s daughters comes over to help.
Other weekly chores include going to the store to buy bird food or cleaning something (either raking the ground, sweeping out the shed or bleaching a feeder). And this doesn’t include the time I spend writing about feeding birds on Bird Watching HQ, managing the live cams, and then finally having time actually to enjoy watching my feeding station!
So please only start feeding birds if you DEDICATED to the hobby.
Buy a plant instead. 🙂
My Final Thoughts on Feeding Birds.
Bird feeding has brought me so much joy in my life. I can’t walk past the kitchen without taking a quick look outside at one of the many feeders scattered around our yard.
Personally, seeing the natural beauty of a Northern Cardinal, the impressive speed of a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the intelligence of a Blue Jay, or one of many other fascinating things that happen daily in my backyard makes feeding the birds incredibly rewarding and fun.
I have young children, and I love that the animals we continuously see in our backyard have helped develop an interest in nature for them.
If you were debating on whether you want to start this enjoyable hobby, I hope I have inspired you! And who knows, maybe one day you will decide to set up your own live cameras and broadcast your birds to the world!
Good luck! Please come back often to share how things are going.
I find that as long as I keep a dedicated feeder with black sunflower seeds for the squirrels, they will leave the other bird feeder alone. You’re right though you must feed them consistently or they will invade the other feeders.
Hi, Scott, Thank you for all the good information. I am wondering if you might write a post about your observations on the traffic at your feeder. Do you see more birds at first light? Mid day? When it is cold? When a storm is brewing. Migrations? (Are you in a migration fly way?). That sort of information. It seems to me we get most of our ‘business’ in the early morning and then it drops off during winter before storms and in spring when the birds are nesting. Just wondering what you think. Best, J.