Life is a lottery for birds. Some spend their entire existence preparing to become a delicious dinner. Others must always remain on the lookout for clouds of #5 shot. But a few are more fortunate. These are the pretty birds – the bird feeder birds – to whom we offer free seed just so we can get a better look at them.
Like birds themselves, bird feeders come in all shapes and sizes. Each has its own pros and cons. A bird feeder is hardly a big purchase, but you should know what you’re getting into before you buy a device and the seed you’ll need to fill it. This is the guide to bird feeders.
This is the most basic kind of feeder, and only one step above throwing fistfuls of seed on the ground. A platform feeder doesn’t discriminate. It can attract starlings and house sparrows, but also more desirable guests like blue jays, chickadees and goldfinches. Of course, without some sort of deterrent in place a platform feeder becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet to a squirrel.
As it is little more than a tray, a coverless platform feeder offers no protection against the elements. Rain will quickly rot a platform feeder’s contents, and birds are rather ambivalent about where they deposit their bird dirt. A good platform feeder will have a screened bottom to permit drainage, but even so you shouldn’t put more than a day or two worth of seed in one.
Some people haven’t got big yards to install feeders in, but everyone has got a window. Window feeders mount to glass via suction cups. They drastically reduce the chance of birds thwapping fatally into the windows they’re mounted to, they’re easy to fill, and squirrels have an absolute devil of a time getting at them. Best of all, window feeders require birds to have their breakfast right under your nose, which is why they are highly popular among house cats.
Window feeders share a great drawback with platform feeders: Birds have a nasty habit of doing you-know-what where they eat. Daily cleaning is recommended.
The key benefit to hopper feeders is their size. They not only store a lot of seed, but also attract larger birds that wouldn’t be able to perch on smaller feeders. A well-constructed hopper feeder does a great job of keeping its contents from getting soggy. Unfortunately this is a double-edged sword – they can also trap in moisture that breeds mold and mildew which repulses birds (or makes them sick). Squirrels and chippies will absolutely ransack a poorly guarded hopper feeder, so either learn to appreciate feeding them or put a baffle in place.
Nyjer feeders are specialized for dispensing thistle seed, a favorite among chickadees, goldfinches, doves, redpolls and pine siskins. Larger birds tend to want nothing to do with such tiny seeds, and neither do meddlesome squirrels for that matter. It takes a bird a fair bit of time to extract a nyjer seed’s delicious contents, so you don’t have to refill a nyjer feeder all that often. A nyjer feeder may appear to produce a lot of waste, but the residue that accumulates beneath one is just discarded husks.
Nyjer feeders are commonly available in two styles: plastic tubes with openings accessible only to tiny beaks, and long mesh bags that work just as well. Just take care that mesh nyjer feeders are about as vulnerable to rain as you might imagine!
Orioles are beautiful birds, and they’re also rather picky. The little buggers adore oranges! Orange trees are in short supply throughout the Midwest, so offering halves of the fruit in a specialized feeder is your best bet for attracting orioles to your yard. A good oriole feeder will also have compartments for mealworms and jelly, but take care that oriole treats are as likely to attract flies as they are squirrels.
Suet feeders are commonly used to attract woodpeckers, although several other species enjoy treating themselves to a beakful of pure fat in the wintertime. Grocery stores often sell balls of suet in plastic mesh bags. These are effective, but there is a miniscule chance a bird’s foot might become entangled in them. A specialized cage suet feeder is advisable if you wish to prevent this, and if it’s designed strictly for upside down feeding it will preclude invasive starlings.
By David Scheller