Bird Feeder Selection
When the ground is covered with snow and ice,
it's hard to resist just tossing seed out the door. But it's healthier
for the birds to get the their handouts at a feeding station, rather
than off the ground. Regardless of the season, food that sits on the
ground for even a short time is exposed to contamination by dampness,
mold, bacteria, animal droppings, lawn fertilizers and pesticides.
You can start simply with a piece of' scrap wood
elevated a few inches above the ground. Add a few holes for, drainage
and you've built a platform feeder. It won't be long before the birds
There are several factors to consider after
you've decided to feed birds in your backyard.
Where do you want to watch your birds? From a
kitchen window ... a sliding glass door opening onto a deck ... a
Pick a location that is easy to get to. When the
weather is bad and birds are most vulnerable, you may be reluctant to
fill a feeder that is not in a convenient spot near a door or an
accessible window. Also, pick a site where discarded seed shells and
bird droppings won't be a cleanup problem.
Put your feeder where the squirrels can't reach.
Squirrels become a problem when they take over a bird feeder, scaring
the birds away and tossing seed all over. Squirrels have been known to
chew right through plastic and wooden feeders.
If you've seen squirrels in your neighborhood,
it is safe to assume they will visit your feeder. Think long and hard
before you hang anything from a tree limb. Squirrels are incredibly
agile, and any feeder hanging from a tree is likely to become a
In the long run, a squirrel-proof feeder or any
feeder on a pole with a baffle is the least aggravating solution. The
most effective squirrel-proof feeder is the pole-mounted metal "house"
If you must hang a feeder, select a tube
protected with metal mesh. Most plastic "squirrel-proof "
feeders, despite manufacturers' claims, may eventually succumb to the
squirrels. Any wood or plastic feeder can be effective when mounted on
a pole with a plastic or metal baffle, if the pole is at least 10 feet
or more from a tree limb or trunk (squirrels can jump great
Bird feeders are made from a variety of
materials. You can buy disposable plastic bag feeders; feeders made of
cloth, nylon, vinyl and metal netting; clear, lexan, colored and PVC
plastic tubes; ceramic and terra cotta; redwood, western cedar, birch,
pine and plywood; sheet metal and aluminized steel; glass tubes and
How long a feeder lasts depends on how well you
maintain it, the effects of weather, and whether squirrels can get to
it. Water can get into any feeder regardless of how carefully you
protect it. Cloth, vinyl, nylon and metal netting feeders are
inexpensive, but they do not protect your seed from spoiling in damp
or wet weather. Improve them by adding a plastic dome.
Most wood, plastic, ceramic and solid metal
feeders keep seed dry, but water can get into the feeding portals.
Look for feeders with drainage holes in the bottoms of both the feeder
hopper and the seed tray.
Even bowl-type feeders and trays with drainage
holes will clog with seed and bird droppings that can mix with
rainwater and be unhealthy for any animal. Look for shallow plate-like
seed trays to catch dropped seeds while allowing spent seed shells to
When you feed birds, expect bird droppings and a
leftover food mess. While you do not have to wash the feeder daily,
you should clean it at least every few weeks. Diseases like salmonella
can grow in moldy, wet seed and bird droppings in your feeder tray and
on the ground below. Move your feeder a few feet each season to give
the ground underneath time to assimilate the seed debris and bird
The maintenance required to keep your feeder
clean varies according to the type of feeder. A thistle feeder for
goldfinches should be cleaned about once a month depending on how
often it rains. Feeding hummingbirds requires cleaning at the very
least weekly, but preferably two or three times a week. Sunflower and
suet feeders need to be cleaned only once a month.
Plastic, ceramic and glass feeders are easy to
clean. Wash them in a bucket of hot, soapy water fortified with a
capful or two of chlorine bleach. Use the same regimen with wood
feeders, but substitute another disinfectant for the bleach so your
wood won't fade.
The ideal feeder capacity varies with your
situation, and the types of birds you want to attract. If you feed
hummingbirds, big feeders are not always better. One hummingbird will
drink about twice its body weight (less than an ounce) a day. Early in
the season, hummers are territorial and won't share a feeder. A
sixteen-ounce feeder can be wasteful, or even lethal, because
artificial nectar (sugar water) can ferment in the hot summer sun. A
two-ounce feeder is more than enough for one hummer. Increase the size
of your feeder depending on your location and how many hummers you see
in your yard.
If you opt for a large-volume seed feeder,
protect it from the weather and keep it clean. If after months of use,
the birds suddenly abandon your feeder full of seed, it's time for a