Wildlife can not exist without the four components that comprise their habitat: food, water, shelter, and space. Your property may not be large enough to provide all of the habitat needs for the kind of wildlife you wish to attract. However, you can offer one or more of these habitat components, even in a small backyard environment. Providing a variety of feeding stations will give wildlife, both residential and migratory, added incentive to visit your property. The more habitat components you provide, the more wildlife species you will likely attract. Wildlife feeders provide a supplement to the natural foods already available from nearby trees, shrubs, and flowers. Therefore, planting trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and groundcovers will increase the chances that wildlife will frequent your yard. For example, a bird feeder that is next to a sheltering evergreen shrub will attract more species than one that is not. This chapter explains how to provide feeding stations for wildlife in your backyard. For information on providing cover for wildlife in your backyard refer to the chapter on Homes for Wildlife, and the other chapters in this section.
Wildlife feeders can provide an opportunity to view wildlife from the comfort of your home. The most popular types of wildlife feeders are those for backyard birds. Because this is the most common type of wildlife feeding, there are a wide variety of feeders to choose from. However, feeders can also be provided for other species such as pheasants, bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, butterflies, and moths. When food supplies are scarce, such as in the very early spring or during bouts of severe weather, wildlife will rely more on your feeders. Do not worry that the animals will become dependent on your feeders. If you have to stop feeding for a month or so, they will find alternate sources.
The combination of habitat diversity and the quality of available food are what will attract and keep songbirds at your backyard feeders. Pick a location that can be seen from your house, where the seed hulls and bird droppings won't be a problem, and that you can easily access year-round for filling and cleaning. If possible, locate the feeders near shelter such as evergreen or deciduous shrubbery that will provide protection from predators and winter winds. Placing a discarded Christmas tree near the feeding stations may help with this winter component. It is best to place hanging bird feeders on a metal pole rather than on a tree limb, as this will help you to deter squirrel problems. Locating feeding stations in several areas in the yard reduces crowding and lessens the chance for avian diseases that can kill birds. Providing a water source in addition to feeders will also help to attract birds to an area. Water that is dripping or splashing is especially attractive to birds. There is no best time to start feeding birds. Once food is presented and the birds find it, they will visit year-round.
Tube feeders are cylindrical tubes with several slots for feeding. When filled with black oil sunflower seeds, the tube feeders will attract goldfinches, chickadees, purple and house finches, woodpeckers, nut-hatches, titmice, redpolls, and pine siskins. Adding a tray to this feeder will attract larger species that can not perch on the small feeding holes, such as cardinals, jays, crossbills, mourning doves, and white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. A tube feeder containing Niger thistle seed with a tray will attract goldfinches, chickadees, redpolls, pine siskins, purple and house finches, white-throated sparrows, song sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos. In addition, if the tube feeder is an up-side-down feeder (has feeding holes below the perches), only goldfinches will use it. When filled with peanuts, a tube feeder with a tray will attract cardinals, chickadees, grackles, house finches, titmice, house sparrows, starlings, mourning doves, white-throated sparrows, jays, and juncos.
Tray or platform feeders are open feeders that can either be on the ground or raised up on a stand, and have a lip around the edges to help hold seed on the tray. This type of feeder provides easy access for many species of birds. When filled with black oil sunflower seed it is a very general feeder and will attract most backyard bird species. When filled with millet the platform feeder will attract doves, house sparrows, blackbirds, juncos, cowbirds, towhees, chipping, field, and tree sparrows, and white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. When filled with corn the platform feeder may attract starlings, house sparrows, grackles, jays, juncos, doves, white-throated sparrows, bobwhite quail, pheasants, and grouse. When filled with peanuts the platform feeder will attract the same species as those attracted to a tube feeder of peanuts mentioned above. Adding grit to platform feeders will aid birds in digestion as they use it in their crop for grinding food.
Suet feeders contain suet cakes that are made from animal fat generally derived from beef, pork, or deer. It can be set out as just suet, or mixed with seed, dried fruit, or other foods. Suet is most commonly used in the winter as it is a high energy food used in those times when food is the most scarce. There are several ways of displaying suet. It can be placed in a simple hanging bag such as an old onion or potato sack. Or, it can be placed in a feeder that is rectangular and has a grid-like pattern across it for feeding access. This feeder can either be laid out, or suspended. Suet feeders will attract chickadees, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, white- and red-breasted nuthatches, and pileated woodpeckers. A hanging suet feeder will also attract wrens, kinglets, thrashers, creepers, cardinals, and starlings. A feeder containing peanut butter suet will attract woodpeckers, junkos, thrushes, kinglets, wrens, starlings, goldfinches, cardinals, jays, and bluebirds. Suet feeders with access only through the bottom will make it difficult for starlings to feed as they can not hang up-side-down very well.
Nectar feeders are glass and plastic feeders that contain a sugar water solution that can be made at home (four parts boiling water to one part sugar), or purchased commercially. These feeders are most popularly used to attract hummingbirds. However, other birds that have been known to feed on nectar include orioles, tanagers, cardinals, finches, woodpeckers, and thrushes. These birds will not eat out of feeders made specifically for hummingbirds, as they need larger perches. However, there are also feeders made with these perches.
Many birds will feed on fruit, such as an orange half, if it is simply placed out on a ledge or speared on a tree limb. Birds that are attracted to fruit are orioles, tanagers, mockingbirds, thrashers, bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, jays, starlings, thrushes, cedar waxwings, and yellow-breasted chats. These birds may also eat grape jelly if it is placed out on small trays. Feeding with fruit is usually done in the summer.
After you have set up your feeders you may find that you have unwanted guests. One such problem is that of other animals eating out of, and sometimes monopolizing, the feeders. Squirrels are the biggest culprits when it comes to taking over bird feeders, as they scare off birds when they are at the feeders, and often end up destroying the feeder by gnawing right through it. The simplest solution to the squirrel problem is to place the feeder on a pole away from houses and nearby tree limbs, and place a baffle on the pole. A baffle is a smooth metal sleeve or cone that prevents climbing. The most effective squirrel-proof feeder is the pole-mounted metal house type with a perch that closes the feeder when something as heavy as a squirrel sits on it. You may also want to place feeders specifically for squirrels among your other feeders, as this will deter them from the bird feeders. Other seed snatchers include chipmunks, rats, and mice. Reducing seed spillage under the feeder by avoiding mixed bird seed will deter them. Also, storing your seed in metal garbage cans will eliminate consumption of stored food.
Another problem encountered at feeders is that of predators. Avoid placing the feeders in an area that has a lot of ground cover as this provides good places for mammalian predators to hide. Cats pose a serious threat to backyard birds, especially to nestlings, fledglings, and roosting birds, as they are not natural predators. When a cat is present in your yard you are not likely to see many birds at your feeders. If possible, keep cats indoors, or use a belled collar to warn birds. Other predators that you may see that do not present a problem are the Cooper's hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk. These birds are natural predators and play an important part in the natural community. Do not be concerned about the occasional kill these birds may make. Observing all birds in their natural behaviors is one of the joys of feeding them.
A serious problem encountered at many feeders that can easily be avoided, is that of avian diseases. When feeders are not properly maintained they become havens for bacteria. Several precautions can be taken to ensure that the birds visiting your feeders remain healthy. Avoid crowding the birds in a small space, as overcrowding facilitates the spread of diseases. Keep the feeders clean of waste and food droppings. Feeders should be cleaned once or twice a month with a mixture of warm soapy water and a capful or two of household bleach. Clean more often during humid summer months and cool, wet weather to avoid food spoilage.
Other Wildlife Feeders
Spike Corn Feeders
Many people view squirrels as a nuisance to their bird feeders. However, there are those that enjoy their playful antics and would like to see more of them in their yards. Squirrels can be fed by placing ears of corn on spikes that are fastened to trees or platforms. If the ears are not attached, the squirrels will carry them away. Pheasants and deer may also use this type of feeder, especially if you live near agricultural land.
Log and Stump Feeders
A log or a large diameter branch laid horizontally, either on the ground or slightly raised can be used as a feeding station for squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, deer, and various birds. One way to present food on this feeder is to create hollowed spots on the top side of the log and fill them with seed, corn, peanuts, or suet. Other options include placing spiked corn cobs or fruit on the top of the log. These methods can also be used in the same way on the top of a tree stump. Drilled holes on the side of a dead tree that are filed with suet may attract woodpeckers.
Butterfly and Moth Feeders
You will attract many butterflies and moths by planting wildflowers. However, supplemental feeders will increase the likelihood that they will frequent your area. Butterflies can be fed by simply placing a small plastic kitchen sponge in a sugar solution in a shallow bowl. They will land on the sponge and lap the solution through the holes just as they would from a flower. Moths are slightly more difficult to feed. There are several "brews" that when painted on a tree at night will attract moths. One such brew calls for mashed fermented peaches and sugar. Another such brew calls for four pounds sugar, one bottle of stale beer, and some cheap rum. A third recipe consists of fermented bananas, dried apricots, and brown sugar. Checking the trees at night with a flashlight will allow you to spot the moths.
In summary, the more habitat components you have available in your yard, the more wildlife species you will attract. There are many ways that you can add the important habitat component of food to your yard. To supplement the natural food components in your area, you can add wildlife feeders to your yard. These feeders, if properly implemented and maintained, will provide you with the opportunity to view wildlife and learn about their natural behaviors.
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Last Revised: May 5, 2000