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Bird Feeding on a Budget
Dear Birdsquatch: I'm on a fixed income now that I'm retired, so I'm watching every penny. I really want to get into bird feeding, but it seems like kind of an expensive hobby. Can you give me any advice on how to attract a lot of birds without breaking the bank?
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Ask Birdsquatch: What do Insect-eating Species Eat in the Winter?
Dear Birdsquatch: What do insect-eating species like bluebirds and phoebes eat in the winter? Here in northern Georgia we can get some very cold winter weather, which I'm sure eliminates most of the insect population, yet I often see eastern bluebirds and eastern phoebes around all winter long.
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Top 10 Foods for Winter Bird Feeding
Winter: 'Tis the season for feeding birds all across North America, especially in those regions where it gets mighty cold and snowy. If you are just getting started in bird feeding, or if you are frustrated by a lack of success in attracting winter birds to your feeders, the first thing you need to determine is whether you are feeding the right foods. If you are not giving the birds what they want, you might not have many birds.
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Ask Birdsquatch: Feeder Hogs
Dear Birdsquatch: It seems like I spend a blue million dollars on birdseed every month. I love the woodpeckers and have a nice variety of them at the feeder—even an occasional red-headed—but the blackbirds and house sparrows are eating me out of house and home. Is there something I can do to attract only woodpeckers and, you know, the sweet little birds like chickadees and cardinals, but not starlings or grackles or house sparrows?
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Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Bird Feeders?
This is a question that birdfeeding enthusiasts have asked themselves and others over the decades. Since backyard bird-feeding exploded as an activity in the early 1980s with the advent of commercially produced feeders and commercially packaged bird seed (along with the development of black-oil sunflower seed as a bird-feeding staple) we’ve all expanded our backyard offerings to include more varieties of seed/food and feeders. But is there such a thing as too many feeders?
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Fall Tip: Save Your Summer Berries for Winter
Here's a handy fall tip: While the weather is still fairly mild (and before our first heavy frost), fill a few bags of grapes and pokeweed and save them in the freezer for the birds. Put them out of the freezer in late January or February when you see that the natural food supply is depleted.
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Deterring Ants and Bees at Nectar Feeders
Ants are a common problem at nectar feeders, but a problem with an easy solution: An ant moat! Ants can't swim, so by hanging an ant moat above your nectar feeder, you block their travel route. While the ant problem is easily resolved, bees at the nectar feeder present a more difficult challenge.
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Establishing a Feeding Station
Whether you're just getting started in backyard bird feeding or looking to revisit your existing feeding program, this quick overview will help point you toward establishing a backyard cafe that's sure to be the talk of the neighborhood (among the birds, anyway).
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Birdsquatch: Bird Feeding and Housing
WBB's very own bigfoot, who knows what birds want more than any mere human, addresses housing and feeding: Is it OK to feed birds in the summer? And when is the right time to put out a birdhouse? Good timing on both answers, big guy!
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Ask Birdsquatch: Suet Dough and Bluebird Boxes
Our tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist answers reader questions about feeding suet dough, why nest boxes might fail, and pizza. Birdsquatch loves pizza.
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Add Mealworms to Your Buffet to Attract New Bird Species!
When the cold weather and dreary days seem to be dragging on, a change in routine can renew your energy. Why not make a change that rejuvenates your backyard birds as well? Mealworms aren't just for bluebirds! Putting out mealworms in addition to your regular offerings can attract cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, sparrows, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, wrens—even the occasional warbler, oriole, vireo, and tanager.
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Peanuts Provide Protein
Peanuts are a vital part of a winter feeding program. They offer a great, high-protein boost to birds weary of cold weather, and help insect-eaters like wrens, woodpeckers, and sometimes even sapsuckers make it through a frigid period, or when ice or deep snow make foraging extra challenging.
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Winter Bird-feeding Tip: Offer Suet Dough in Moderation
When winter weather comes we all want to do everything we can to provide for our backyard birds. High-energy foods such as suet dough are super attractive to a wide array of species. It can also attract creepers, bluebirds, and shy woodland species that do not normally visit our bird feeders. However, it's important that we don't over feed fatty foods because too much of a good thing can cause health problems for our beloved birds.
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Freezing Berries: Storing Summer's Bounty for a Winter’s Day
Here's a tip to attract birds in winter! The late John Trott was a wonderful naturalist, writer, photographer, and teacher—and former contributing photographer to Bird Watcher's Digest—who lived in northern Virginia. When age and weather made it difficult for him to go afield to photograph birds, John would bring the birds close to his house. One of his most successful methods for attracting birds was to offer them foods in winter that they could not find naturally at that season.
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Suet Feeder Types
If you're looking to add a new suet feeder to your backyard feeding station, there are many considerations. Which ones are the most affordable? Which ones are best for the birds you want to attract? Find tips from the staff of Watching Backyard Birds!
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Suet Tips and Tricks
Suet is the dense, white fat that collects around the kidneys and loins of cattle. It is often sold in grocery stores at the meat counter—raw. It's fine—and very affordable—to offer chunks of raw suet to birds, but it spoils quickly, so plan to offer small bits often. Raw suet melts easily, too, so in bright sun, it can become a putrifying mess.
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Suet in Summer
Suet is a high-energy treat for so many bird species, and can bring in some birds that aren't interested in seeds. During cool or cold weather, it's easy and convenient to load a cake into a suet feeder and refill when empty. Birds can continue to enjoy the nutritional benefits of suet through the hottest days of summer, but it must be offered more cautiously, and usually, in smaller quantities.
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Bird Feeding Tip: Try Sunflower Hearts
If I were to pick only one food to offer at my feeding station, it would be sunflower hearts. Yes, they're expensive, but a bag of sunflower hearts (no shells, just the meat of the seed) lasts more than three times as long as a bag of seeds with shells.
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Are Birds Attracted to Peanut Butter?
When I was in college, my biology instructor, while showing us how to set live traps for small mammals, referred to peanut butter as "the universal bait." "You can catch anything from an elephant to a shrew with peanut butter," he stated.
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Winter Bird Feeding Tip: The Benefits of Suet
Feed your birds suet. While most humans don’t want a lot of fat in their diet, for birds in winter, fat is an excellent source of energy. Suet is, simply, fat. More specifically, it’s the fat that forms around the kidneys of beef cattle. Butchers remove this stuff, and back when every neighborhood had a butcher shop, they used to give it away to bird watchers. Then grocery stores got smart and started selling suet.
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Scatter Seed in Sheltered Places
As the weather turns cold and snowy, not all birds will venture to your feeder. Some prefer to skulk in the thickets, brambles, and other secure places. To better accommodate these species, consider tossing a few handfuls of mixed seed, sunflower bits, peanuts, or cracked corn under your deck, in your hedges and bushes, or even along the edge of a wooded area.
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Suet Dough in Moderation
When winter weather comes we all want to do everything we can to provide for our backyard birds. But sometimes our offerings can be too much of a good thing. It's important that we don't over feed fatty foods because too much of a good thing can cause health problems for our beloved birds.
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Helping My Pileated Woodpeckers: How to Add a Tail Prop to a Suet Cage
WBB contributor Bob Heltman noted that the pileated woodpeckers visiting his suet feeder would fold themselves into a "C" shape when partaking from the offerings in the metal mesh cage. The birds looked awkward and uncomfortable. He began to wonder if a board attached to the suet holder would give a more comfortable perch for these big birds.
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Backyard Tip: Crushed Eggshells Are for the Birds
When you make your breakfast eggs, save the eggshells! We can hear you asking: "What? Why?" The answer is they are a great addition to your bird-feeding program.
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Making a Good Match: Bird Seed and Bird Feeders
Would you frequent a restaurant that served your sandwich on the floor and dog food on the table? That's the human equivalent of offering birds inexpensive mixed seed in a hanging feeder. Cheap birdseed mixes usually contain a high proportion of milo, wheat, millet, and cracked corn. Such ingredients are fine for many ground-feeding birds, such as doves, blackbirds, quail, and sparrows, but not the favorite foods of birds that naturally eat above the ground, such as chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and grosbeaks.
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How Much Seed in a Pound of Seed?
Hulled sunflower seed (which means "without hulls") is often sold as sunflower chips, sunflower hearts, or no-mess sunflower seeds. It is very convenient, and attracts a wide variety of species to your feeder, but is pricy compared with black-oil sunflower seeds in the shell. Or is it?
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Don't Cut Evening Primrose!
The seeds of evening primrose can be a valuable food source for birds in cold climates throughout North America. Each flower produces hundreds of seeds, and when the flower dies, it holds on to some and drops others. The stalks of dead evening primrose are "Eat Here" signs to songbirds, marking a likely food source at the base.
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Don't Throw Away Your Pumpkin Seeds!
As you scrape out pumpkin guts for a pie or jack-o'-lantern, don't throw away the seeds! Don't even compost them! Squash seeds of any sort, including pumpkins, are a high protein treat for birds.
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Going Nuts!
Peanuts out of their shells are a great attractant for chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers. Feed them in a mesh onion bag, in a wire suet feeder, or in a feeder specifically designed for offering shelled peanuts to wild birds.
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Five Tips for Welcoming Native Sparrows to Your Yard
Winter can bring more northerly sparrows into your yard. Here's how you can make your yard more inviting for native sparrows.
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Attention, Readers and Web Visitors!
We're taking an informal survey of our readers: Are you noticing a reduced number of northern cardinals at your feeders? Several staffers here at BWD/WBB headquarters are finding very few cardinals at their feeders. Please share your cardinal report with us! Are your cardinal numbers lower, higher, or about the same as last year? And please tell us where you're located.
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Building the World's Largest Bird Feeder
As a science teacher, I am always looking for ways to get people interested in science and the natural world, so I periodically invite groups down to my "camp" in Keister, West Virginia, on the Greenbrier River. Because my students and friends showed an interest in birds, I put up a small feeder filled with sunflower seed. Sure enough, the feeder attracted birds—so many, in fact, that I had to refill the feeder a couple of times a week.
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Six Chicken-like Birds You Can Attract to Your Backyard
You may not think of turkeys, quail, and other upland gamebirds as backyard birds, but in many areas of North America, birders can easily lure these species to their backyard feeding stations.
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Supplying Skulkers and Wallflowers
Winter may be the best time of year for backyard feeding stations, as wild food sources become scarcer. In our yard in northwestern West Virginia, we also take an extra step that is often undervalued: We spread some handfuls of mixed seed on the ground in sheltered spots where we know skulking birds hide.
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All About Nyjer Seed
Nyjer, or thistle seed, is that tiny, black, oil-rich seed best known for attracting goldfinches to backyards across North America. Nyjer is typically offered in special tube feeders with tiny slots or in mesh sock feeders. Here are a few things that every feeding station manager should know about this popular backyard food.
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Keep Your Feeding Station Clean!
Research on the impact of bird feeding has shown that feeders can sometimes be a source of disease for the birds visiting them. There is good news, too: With minimal effort, it's easy to provide a safe, healthy feeding station for birds.
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Establishing a Feeding Station
Whether you're just getting started in backyard bird feeding or looking to revisit your existing feeding program, this quick overview will help point you toward establishing a backyard cafe that's sure to be the talk of the neighborhood (among the birds, anyway).
Continue reading »
What Foods for What Birds?
Our bird feeding chart provides general food preferences for the most common feeder birds of North America. Although there are no guaranteed methods for attracting certain birds to your feeders, the presence of water, adaquate habitat or cover, and the birds' preferred foods will enhance the attractiveness of your yard. Foods are listed in approximate order of preference.
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The Latest Comments

  • Has anyone heard of a Carolina wren opening doors? Our cat brought us a wren late last night, thought it was a goner but put it in our parakeet's old cage that has the sliding vertical doors. The wren gained strength, started to bop around the cage. We wanted to release it in the morning to make sure we could see it escape to safety. I put the cage in a quiet bathroom and went to bed. I woke up to the sound of fluttering wings. Sure enough the wren somehow got out, crept under the bathroom door and was trying to get out. I caught it with a light blanket and released it outside. It promptly flew away, very strong. I went back to the cage and am just dumbfounded and impressed, no way out unless it somehow pried the doors open. I was just relieved that it was ok. I can't believe it survived being carried around and batted about like a toy by the cat!Thoughts?
    by Beth Andries, Wed, 27 Sep 2017
  • cool
    by Luke Tansey, Sat, 16 Sep 2017
  • how can i get Caterpillar and other insects at home or buy them etc etc etc for my quails any suggestions earliest res thanks in advance
    by asif, Mon, 11 Sep 2017
  • I use Brita (filtered) water, cane sugar (hoping it's nonGMO). Heat water in pan, prep sugar in a glass, heat-proof measuring cup. 1 cup sugar, add hot water to make 2 cups total or so. Stir. Cool. Store in jar (glass or plastic) in fridge. Add to mix to feeder as needed, add more water to make ~3 parts water, ~1 part sugar. maybe more sugar as birds arrive I spring, more water in summer when it's hot. I make it concentrated 1 to 1 so it's easier store.
    by Debby Stark, Fri, 16 Jun 2017
  • Keep forgetting to do this. I like the roof idea!
    by AppalachiaTori, Wed, 24 May 2017
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