How to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
Living in harmony with our fellow feathered friends can be simple and easy. With a little bit of forethought and planning you can create a backyard oasis for you, your family, and the birds. There are tips and tricks you can use to help keep away the birds you do not want in your backyard, and bring the ones into your yard that you love. By paying attention to the layout of the yard, you can help keep the birds away from things like fruit and vegetable gardens. Having a designated place to keep all your feeders allows you to enjoy the birds without the hassle of trying to keep them away from your livelihood.
Birds of all colors, shapes, and sizes can be found in your backyard year round. Your location will greatly impact which birds you will be able to see when, however, the likelihood of bringing in all kinds of birds increases when you know how to feed them. Knowing what kinds of feed they like, what types of feeders they will eat from, and where to place these feeders will help you provide the best food supply for any feathered friend in your backyard.
Supplying a variety of foods is only the first step in attracting a multitude of birds. Different types prefer different seeds, nuts, insects, and fruit so it's always good to do a little research to understand exactly what you should buy for the type of birds you want to see.
Tray Feeders: These are great beginner feeders as they allow you to put multiple forms of food into one feeder. These feeders will help you figure out what kinds of seeds the birds like, as it is easier to see what is being left behind or thrown down to the ground. Tray feeders are also helpful in that bird's diets change with the seasons, and it is easier to provide fruits, nuts, and larger seed in tray feeders. With the changing of seasons you should always check on the feeders and make notes how and when their diet changes. One thing to note is that seed can go bad in tray feeders faster than traditional feeders as the seed is open to the weather 24/7. This means that rain, snow, or heavy winds can ruin newly layed seed in a matter of days. It is important to keep a close eye on these feeders as moldy or wet seed can make birds sick.
Sugar Water Feeders: These feeders are great for attracting hummingbirds and orioles. Special feeders are made to attract each of these types of birds as most feeders cannot be made to accommodate both hummingbirds and orioles at the same time. The problem however, with these feeders is that they are not a source of food for the birds, but rather a sweet treat that provides bursts of energy. Nectar also goes bad in a matter of days, meaning you need to keep changing the nectar if birds are not eating it. Cloudy water can contain germs, mold, and other bacteria that can make birds sick. These feeders will need to be cleaned at least once a week.
Along with the hummingbird and orioles there are 68 other species that can be observed eating nectar, however hummingbird feeders are not meant to accommodate these other breeds. Most do not have perches which causes the larger birds to ruin them. Oriole feeders can accommodate other nectar loving birds, and should be placed away from hummingbird feeders to help negate any bullying or ruined feeders.
Suet Feeders: For those that prefer suet feed you can purchase a variety of suet feeders. These are some of my favorite things to feed birds and I love that I can make them easily at home. Suet tends to be expensive depending on brand and store, however I can make them for practically nothing with peanut butter, lard, and suet (animal fat). Hanging suet feeders upside down is perfect to keep away those birds that are incapable of hanging upside down and eating like the pesky Starling. However, woodpeckers and other suet eaters have the capability to hang upside down and will be able to enjoy the feast.
Homemade Suet Recipe:
- 1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
- 1/2 cup each lard and suet (bacon or pork drippings would work if you do not want to buy suet) Or you can use 1 cup lard OR suet
- 2 cups "quick cooking" oats
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup flour ( I prefer almond or whole wheat; although you can use whatever flour you have on hand)
- 1-2 cups chopped nuts/fruit/seeds/insects
Melt down the peanut butter, lard, and suet. Mix in dry ingredients. Consistency should be similar to that of dough. If it's too runny or loose you can add flour until you reach the right consistency. Add in nuts, fruits, and seeds if desired. Press into molds, tubberware containers, or old suet trays. Freeze until ready to use. It's that easy and the birds love it! This recipe will stay fresh for a few weeks if kept frozen. This particular recipe is also no melt, which is very important for those hot summer days.
I love using old pie tins for my suet because it allows for easier portions of varing sizes. I can also keep larger portions, or the whole tray of smaller pies for our tray feeder during winter when I don't have to worry about rain or the sun ruining larger portions before they can be consumed.
The most common options for feed are mixed seed bags. These bags are available commercially and in many varieties. It is important to remember that not all birds enjoy the same foods, and you will need to take that into consideration when you buy seed. There are other birds such as woodpeckers and orioles that will not eat bird seed and attracting them to your yard will require a different form of food.
The main problem with any of these mixes is that the corn is very popular among squirrels and other rodents. To keep the squirrels from taking all the feed you can buy squirrel feeders and put them a good distance away from the bird feeders or you can make a quick and easy fix by drilling corn cobs into the trunks of trees.
The other issue that mixed bags present is the mess they can make. Using hulled sunflower seeds will help prevent the dreaded outcome of many sunflower plants trying to grow under your feeders. It will also prevent squirrels and jays from stealing them and burying them for later.
Baked Goods & Fruits: These sweet treats can be used to bring additional birds to your feeders. They also provide a great way to bring birds to new feeders. However, these treats have a high spoilage rate and should be removed if not eaten in a few days to prevent molding, growth, and flies. For best results keep these food items in protected feeders as house sparrows, starlings, other animals, and rodents will spot them quickly and could potentially destroy the feeder. Frozen fruit such as blueberries are a favorite among our backyard birds. Frozen fruits also take longer to spoil in my experience. Keep baked goods such as bread to a minimum. Bread does not contain any nutritional value and birds cannot digest it in large quantities.
Suet Mixes: These come in a variety of flavors and will attract a vast variety of different birds. You can also find "hot" mixes that will help deter squirrels from coming to your feeders. Homemade suet mixes for insect eating birds can be made using different recipes with peanut butter and cornbread. Otherwise, you can buy suet mixes available commercially or from some local butchers. Store bought suet mixes fit into commercial suet feeders however they can be melty, messy, and in my experience birds prefer the softer homemade suet mixes compared to the highly refined and hard commercial mixes.
Five Ways to Attract Your Favorite Birds
Knowing the nesting sites, behaviors, and feeding preferences will help you create the perfect backyard oasis for the birds in your yard. Whether you have a landscape of mostly trees, mostly shrubs and lawn, or if you have a small outdoor space, you have options for many different species of birds. Adding a water source, either through a birdbath, pond, or even if you have a backyard stream on your property, will greatly increase the amount of bird varieties you will see. You can also build a small bird garden that will bring in birds attracted to flowers.
- Create perches and hideaways: Birds will often observe and "nest" in a place before coming in to eat. Creating a space for birds to watch and observe before and after eating will give you a better chance of attracting a larger number of birds to your yard. Some species will often fly miles between their nest and food source, so having a nice cool place to rest near your food source is a welcoming place for them.
- Provide moving water: Water can be heard before birds can see a food source. By providing a bird bath, pond, or other water source you are creating a home away from home that will continue to lure birds back to your yard. Birds need water, but without noise they will not know it is available to them. This is especially true of migratory birds. Even something as simple as a small drip will be enough to encourage them to check out your yard.
- Use various forms of food: Be sure to provide a variety of different high quality foods. Birds are social animals and will join in when they see other birds feeding. I always start by feeding the birds that are already in my yard and when new ones come in, I add additional foods they will like. By trying to feed birds that are not currently in your yard, you could lose the birds you already have. Remember to keep the feeders full, as an empty feeder for a few days will encourage birds to look elsewhere. Once birds have left, it could take days or even weeks to re-establish your yard as a feeding ground.
- Provide multiple feeders in safe locations: To bring in a variety of birds place feeders near water and a safe distance from homes and predator hiding places. Finding the perfect spot for your feeders is half the battle when it comes to luring birds to your yard. Too close to the house and you will have birds flying into windows, however if you keep feeders too close to trees, squirrels and other rodents can get to them. Keeping multiple feeders at different heights will also help with bullying and too many birds at any one feeder.
- Have all season appeal: Many birds will stay the winter and require food and water. By ensuring your yard is winter ready, you can know that birds will be coming to you throughout the entire year. Having greenery, warm water, and winter fruits or flowers is a great way to keep the birds close all year round.
Popular Birds of Wisconsin
- Ruby-throated hummingbird: Prefers trees and will sometimes stay to nest. Visits yards with lots of bright tall flowers, but they prefer pink or red. Attract these beautiful creatures by offering sugar water or nectar in feeders.
- Red-headed woodpecker: Prefers birdhouses, dead trees, and will frequent yards with trees and feeders that provide a good variety of foods. Gathers acorns and will accept food from platform feeders if nutmeats, sunflower seeds and cracked corn are available.
- Dark-eyed Junco: A winter favorite in sourthern Wisconsin this beautiful sparrow can be seen in flocks on the ground foraging for dropped seeds. As a general rule Junco's will not go into feeders so having ground cover and plenty of scatttered seed is ideal to keep them around.
- Rose-breasted grosbeak: Preferring to nest in trees and shrubs you can increase the chance of having this colorful appealing bird at your feeders by providing food year round. A constant source of food and water will induce it to stay.
- Northern Cardinal: Will often be seen eating with dark-eye junco's in winter months or in pairs. These beautiful birds are seen year round and enjoy a variety of foods including fruit, nuts, and insects. Once an established food source is made, it is not uncommon to see them multiple times a day for years on end.
We have two separate pairs of Northern Cardinals and a single male that have established our backyard as their feeding grounds. They have been established in our yard for three years now, and their habits have become very predictable.
© 2011 Cholee Clay