RECIPE INDEX

Feeding Wild Birds

Feeding wild birds is like having pets but without the vet bills!  You can enjoy your avian neighbors at close range if you wish--but this is not a good idea if you also have dogs on a small property: you may wish to have bird feeders in your front yard, provided your dogs don't have access to that area.

Check out our reviews of feeders we have tested with our wild birds . . .

Even more important than a bird feeder is a water dish or bath that the birds can count on for fresh, clean water every day.  This is most important in the summer, but there may be a period between freezing temperatures and snowfall in which birds can't find water to drink.  Heated bird baths can be found and also heated water bowls for dogs that might be used for birds instead; in addition, a heater that can be placed in any bowl is available.  Otherwise, putting out water at frequent intervals and keeping it thawed will be a challenge.
Thanks for lunch!
My birds enjoyed a plant tray I kept filled with water because it had a rolled edge they could perch on.  However, I was concerned that the plastic dish might leech contaminants into the water and searched for a safer alternative.  First, I looked at glazed ceramic bowls with lead-free glazing, but couldn't find a rolled edge for the birds' feet to grip.  Eventually, I found an inexpensive steel pan in a dollar store that the birds adjusted to quickly--once they realised it was slipperier than the bowl they were used to.  Now, I can clean their water dish without worrying; I can blast it with hot water or soak it in bleach as necessary, and I have a few so that I can soak them when it's convenient.
Does this suet make my butt look big?

If you're using a hose to clean a bird bath or drinking bowl, be sure that the hose is lead free.  Make sure that the hose has been running for a time before filling a drinking vessel--and this is important for dogs' water dishes as well!  It's best to use filtered water; birds don't drink a large volume of water so filling their dish from a Britta filter is economical.

When deciding what type of birdseed to buy, consider "beak fit", the size of the birds who live in your area.  Most birds love black-oil sunflower seeds, so this is a safe staple to keep on hand. 

Find the RECIPE INDEX page...

Peanuts are an excellent source of protein and fat for hard-working birds, but whole nuts may be too large for a small bird like a Chickadee--you can chop or crush the nuts using a mortar and pestle or a food processor so that small birds are less likely to drop the nuts while trying to grasp them in their beaks.  If they do drop the nuts, other birds will clean them up; ground-feeding birds like Cardinals are always finding seeds that Chickadees have dropped or tossed aside.

Many birds appreciate whole-wheat bread and popcorn, especially sparrows but also Cardinals and Blue Jays.  Be careful not to put out anything mouldy that you wouldn't eat yourself; birds have a strong sense of taste aversion, so anything that makes them sick may also make them avoid your feeder in the future.

Most wild birds eat insects as well as seeds, so they need protein and fat in their diets that is hard to come by over the winter months.  This is why people put out suet mainly in the winter; in summer, you may wish to put out smaller blocks of suet so that it doesn't have a chance to go rancid.

Male Nuthatch on Suet Basket

Suet requires rendered animal fat; this means that fat must be melted down and allowed to cool, then melted again to achieve a firm consistency at room temperature. If you have an electric grill, it's very handy to collect melted fat from the drip tray and store it in the freezer until you have enough to make suet. I fill a Pyrex custard cup and use that to measure the other ingredients as well. I mix the fat with an equal amount of peanut butter, although the proportions don't need to be exact. If you don't have drippings from meat you've cooked, you can substitute lard.

My Suet Recipe calls for one part fat, one part peanut butter, one part rolled oats, one part cornmeal, and two parts nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. I use rolled oats rather than quick oats because they are more nutritious. Any kind of cornmeal or cracked corn will do; I usually buy the coarse cornmeal. If you have shelled sunflower seeds these can take the place of some of the peanuts, and any nuts left over from baking, like walnuts, are good, or sesame seeds. Probably dill seeds or fennel seeds would be popular with your birds, too! Like us, birds like variety in their diet and will get excited about a new treat you've prepared for them.

 

Some things that you keep on hand for baking can be added to suet, so if you have a bit of nuts or seeds that you want to get rid of, or even dried fruit if you have Cedar Waxwings, it can replace some of the regular ingredients in your suet recipe.  I use mostly peanuts that I chop in the food processor to add to suet.  You can buy commercially prepared suet, but I suspect my birds wouldn't bother with it, having been spoiled by the fresh suet I make myself.

To attract the Goldfinch, you can plant Cosmos, a self-sowing flower, and Echinacea or Coneflower, which comes in purple or white.  Any daisy-like flower that produces a long, narrow seed will probably do.  Avoid removing the brown stocks in the fall, because the seed heads will protrude above the snow in winter for migrating birds to feast upon!

Another option for helping birds to survive the winter and raise their young in summer is to offer live grubs which may be placed in special feeders or incorporated into suet. For Canadians, there is a new company in Windsor, Ontario, that provides live insects for people with exotic pets like lizards and snakes. If you already have reptiles and mealworms, consider sharing some with your avian neighbours!

If you don't relish the thought of keeping bugs in your fridge or basement, freeze-dried grubs retain nutrients well and are inexpensive to ship. If you can keep live insects and don't mind the shipping cost, butterworms make a high-fat supplement for birds that they will really appreciate, especially in winter. In a blizzard, I typically see newcomers to my feeder area who are much smaller and thinner than my regular visitors, especially those born the previous summer. It's a great way to attract rare birds because they will want to nest near you when they discover reliable resources in your yard. If you decide to feed grubs in the summertime, be sure to allow them to warm to room temperature in case they are being fed to hatchlings.

Woodpecker with suet basket

If you spend a lot of time at your kitchen window cooking or washing dishes, or if you have patio doors and a table where you drink your tea, it’s great to have feeders at close range.  Having bird feeders near your patio makes sitting out more interesting, and the birds will reduce the insect pests in the area.  If you are reliable in providing food, birds will nest nearby and raise their young, bringing the fledglings to your feeder: you could have generations of loyal patrons . . .

The easiest platform feeder to make requires a plant tray with rolled edge, some inexpensive speaker wire, and S-hooks. Cut three lengths of wire and knot a loop at each of the three ends to secure the hooks. Knot the opposite ends of the wire together to form one large loop to hang from the feeder pole. The S-hooks fit under the edge of the tray. A sheltered area is best for an open feeder.

 

When watching birds at close range, they will accept you if you don’t frighten them.  Think of the way a cat looks when it’s about to pounce, and avoid looking like that!  I mean, don’t stare directly at the nearby bird.  If a bird makes eye-to-eye contact with you, lower your gaze. Birds who are familiar with you can be reassured if you blink slowly; this tells them that you’re not planning to charge. They really don’t know that you put the food there for them—you could be resource guarding or hunting, as far as they can tell, not having been socialized with humans.

Having a bird feeder is a great way to teach children about nature and for adults to learn more about the birds in their area.  Other benefits include reduced insect pests.  Over time, you will notice a greater population of birds around your property as a result of helping them to survive the winter and rear their young over the summer.

Find the RECIPE INDEX page...

Finding the Right Feeder

There are many, many different types of bird feeders in the stores these days. You may have heard that the greatest engineering feat of all time is the bra, but I suspect that the bird feeder runs a close second. While attracting the birds you want to see and dispensing their favorite food, the feeder also needs to deter pests that may spread disease.

Squirrels present a problem to birds who want to visit your feeder. Squirrels have been known to rob nests of hatchlings and you may notice that adult birds won't

Squirrel Charm
Sparrows eating bread

allow a squirrel near them. The fact is that squirrels will eat anything, very much like field mice and rats. They are also remarkably athletic and persistent. If you want to feed squirrels, it's best to choose a different location for them.

One fairly effective method of detering squirrels is to use a bird feed that's been treated with capsaicin. It's not a good idea to simply add cayenne powder to bird seed, because although the taste won't bother birds, if the powder gets into their eyes it will cause irritation. There are commercial products that most squirrels will avoid that seem to have been pressure treated with hot sauce. If you're making your own suet, however, feel free to add a few tablespoons of cayenne powder to the warm fat or to add seeds from hot peppers.

 
Most bird feeder designs attempt to deter squirrels, but the squirrels will go to considerable effort for a free meal. The feeder pictured on the right has ports that are supposed to be difficult for squirrels to access. However, a squirrel will manage to get its lower jaw into the port and leave a green smear in its wake. This feeder, known as the Seed Silo by Yule Hyde, has a few problems. You can find it in stores for between $18 and $22. The ports are made of sturdy aluminum, but the tube itself is brittle, thin plastic. As you can see from the photo, a Woodpecker has made short work of it!
Seed Silo Tube Feeder

Another problem with this feeder is that the tubing on the perches comes loose, causing the birds to lose their balance. Eventually a squirrel will gnaw the tubing away. This feeder lasted two months.

I did find a smaller tube feeder with thicker, more flexible plastic and a lovely textured coating on the metal ports that has stood up perfectly. It comes in natural looking colours like green and bronze and has two ports at the bottom. This feeder is easy to fill and all of the small birds use it regularly. Larger birds like Cardinals and Bluejays find it awkward to use, unfortunately. If you place it near a railing, the larger birds will use it, but so will the Squirrels. I'm afraid I had to disturb a Nuthatch while taking this photo of the tube feeder, but it was the camera that alarmed him, not me!

One problem with the design of this feeder is that it can get jammed. One of my Chickadees has learned how to get it flowing again, but using smaller seeds makes a difference.

Tube Feeder
Mesh Bird Feeder Currently, I'm trying out a mesh feeder that looks promising. So far, it seems that birds with large beaks like sparrows find it harder to use than birds with sharp beaks like Chickadees. Only one squirrel has managed to violate it, so far . . . Chickadees and Nuthatches find it easy to scoot around on the mesh and pull out a seed. This is the perfect feeder for black oil sunflower bird feed.
The company that makes this feeder has various sizes and finishes; the feeder above is a medium sized one. I've found that paying a few dollars more for a feeder can get you a much better product. The name of the manufacturer is Beak Bites and their different products are called the Grill, the Roadhouse, Bistro, Café, Snackbar, and Diner. The feeder pictured directly above is the Grill. I find I only have to refill this feeder once a week. The damaged one above called the Seed Silo required filling every day. Chickadee Eating Suet

Happy Birding!

 
RECIPE INDEX
 

Help us continue our research:

Help us continue our research.

 
 
Go to TOP of page ...