September 27, 2007
One of the easiest ways to draw birds to your backyard is to add bird feeders. The ideal bird feeder is built well enough to hold up under severe weather and keep the seeds protected and dry. Though preferred by many for their looks, wooden bird feeders usually are not good at protecting the seed. Plastic and metal feeders can be built more tightly ensuring the seed is better protected. The seed area should have a large enough capacity so that refilling it does not become a daily chore. Though depending on the quality of seed you use this may be an unattainable goal. Most feeders fall into one of three categories: tray feeders, hopper feeders, and tube feeders. Certain birds prefer particular types of feeders.
Tray or Platform Feeder
A tray or platform feeder is defined as any flat, raised surface in which birdseed is spread. Tray feeders attract most feeder birds. A drawback of the tray or platform feeder is that they do not offer protection against other seed eating creatures such as squirrels, and it also does not offer protection against the elements. When buying a tray or platform feeder make sure there are enough drainage holes to allow for proper drainage. Since these feeders are not protected from rain and snow, improper drainage will cause water to sit stagnantly in the feeder. Keeping the seed relatively dry is important. Tray feeders or platform feeders suspended or placed away from the ground attract traditional feeder birds such as cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and finches. When these same feeders are placed near the ground on short poles or short feeder legs they attract birds that prefer to eat on the ground. These ground birds include juncos, doves, and sparrows.
House or Hopper Feeder
A hopper feeder is essentially a platform feeder with the addition of walls and a roof. Generally hopper feeders are made out of wood. Seed is usually gravity feed into the tray by hoppers. Most hopper feeders hold a large amount of seed. The hopper design protects seed from the elements a little bit better then a standard platform feeder. They aren’t really weatherproof though, and it is important to check to make sure that your birdseed remains as dry as possible. Hopper feeders protect against the elements a little better but they still tend to attract feeder pests like the squirrel. Platform feeders attract almost all species of feeder birds. The species of birds that come to hopper feeders can range from small birds like chickadees and finches to larger birds such a jays.
Tube feeders are hollow cylinders with multiple feeding ports and perches. They are generally made out of plastic. While doing a good job at keeping seed dry, tube feeders are also pretty good at discouraging squirrels. It is important to note that it is very easy for squirrels to chew away plastic around the ports so that it can access the seed inside the cylinder. It is a good idea to buy a tube feeder with metal reinforced feeding ports. The type of birds attracted to a tube feeder depend on the size of the perches under the feeding ports. The shorter perches attract only small birds such as finches since the large bird such as jays can’t feed easily on the smaller perches. Larger perches attract both small and large birds.
A thistle feeder is a specialized tube feeder. The ports on these feeders are extra-small to dispense thistle seeds. Also known as niger seed, thistle seed is a favorite of finches. Thistle socks are an alternative thistle seed dispenser. These thistle socks are made of cloth with small holes that are large enough for finches to pull the seed through.
Suet is animal fat that when consumed by birds provides them with a high energy source. This is especially a good item to put out during the winter time when higher energy sources will help birds maintain their body heat better. Many times suet will contain treats for the birds you hope to attract. Some commercial suet contains peanuts for the peanut loving birds, other suet contains berries and fruit, and some suet contains mealworms. Since suet is soft when manufactured it can be formed into many different shapes. Often it will be shaped like a bell or a ball. These unique shapes are sometimes surrounded by mesh so that they can be hung. However the most common shape of suet is square so that it fits specialized suet feeders. These are usually wire-mesh cages that are vinyl coated to prevent rusting. These cages are often attached to a wood roof and a wood floor. Some bird feeder manufactures now place suet cages on the side of hopper feeders since birds like both suet and seed.
Hummingbird feeders provide a food source to the non-seed eating hummingbirds. Their food source is a liquid mixture made up of water and sugar. These feeders are sometimes bottle or tube feeders with a small hole are the bottom to provide a drinking spot for the hummingbirds. Other hummingbirds feeders are more of a tray like feeder and have many small holes leading to the hummingbird nectar. Since hummingbirds associate flowers with providing them with their food, most hummingbird feeders will have small red flowers surrounding each hole. Make sure when buying a hummingbird feeder that it is easy to take apart and clean. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned at least once a week. In the warm summer months these feeders should be cleaned more often.
Peanut feeders are built to hold peanuts for the peanut loving birds such as jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. These feeders are usually wire-mesh cylinders.
Some birds prefer a different food source that you can provide. A mealworm feeder is essentially a small tray feeder that can hold mealworms. Mealworms are a particular favorite of the bluebirds and robins.