Jul 19, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2013

Establishing a Feeding Station

American goldfinches swamp thistle sock feeders at a reader's backyard feeding station.
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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).

Location, Location, Location

First, you must decide where to set up your feeding station. You may not have too many options here, depending on the size of your property. Of course, the whole point of having feeders is to bring the birds closer in for you to enjoy, so be sure that your feeders are easily viewed from inside your home. To avoid accidental window collisions, keep the feeders at least 20 feet away from the house. There should also be some good protective cover within 10 to 15 feet of the station, in case of predators. If you do not have any natural cover, build some brush piles.

Variety

The key to a successful feeding program is variety. Mix things up. Different types of birds prefer different types of feeders. The feeders' positions are also important. Sparrows, doves, and towhees prefer to feed near the ground, while chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers will readily come to a feeder positioned several feet above the ground. Birds also vary in their food preferences. To attract the greatest variety of species, your feeding station should consist of several types of feeders positioned at various levels, chock-full of the appropriate foods.

Feeder Types

Hopper feeder. This is probably the most popular feeder style, and is definitely one that you want to include in your station. Hopper feeders are well suited for most types of food (sunflower, safflower, seed mixes, mealworms, etc.) and they attract a variety of species. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens, grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows, finches, and occasionally larger birds like doves, jays, and grackles, all come to hopper feeders. This type of feeder can be hung from a sturdy tree branch or mounted on a pole or post.

Tube feeder. Another common feeder type is the tube feeder. These feeders are, of course, shaped like tubes and have multiple feeding ports, allowing several birds to feed at the same time. The short perches are ideal for smaller birds, including chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, and finches. Tube feeders are ideal for sunflower or safflower seed—less so for mixed seed or millet. You can hang a tube feeder from a tree or nail, or mount it on a pole.

Thistle feeder. This is simply a specialized tube feeder designed for thistle (Nyjer) seed. The seed ports are just large enough for the tiny thistle seed to come through. Thistle socks are also great—these are mesh feeders that attract goldfinches, chickadees, and other small, thistle-loving birds.

Platform feeder. This one is for the ground-loving birds. A platform feeder is simply a flat surface where doves, towhees, cardinals, juncos, and sparrows can feed close to the ground. You may choose to purchase a platform feeder from a manufacturer or simply build one yourself. You may also skip the feeder entirely and offer scattered mixed seed directly on the ground.

Suet feeder. This fatty backyard favorite attracts woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, creepers, wrens, kinglets, bluebirds, warblers, and more. On a very cold day, you may even catch an American kestrel or red-shouldered hawk eating suet. Your feeding station is not complete without it. You can choose to offer pure beef suet or store-manufactured suet cakes.

Specialty feeders. In addition to these basic feeder types, consider adding peanut feeders, nectar feeders, fruit feeders, and more to attract an even wider variety of birds. Try some of these suggestions and then try your own ideas to see what types of birds you can attract to your own backyard.

What Foods for What Birds?

This chart provides the general food preferences for the most common feeder birds of North America. Attract warblers, tanagers, hummingbirds, and more »

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