The Joys and Trials of a Backyard Birdfeeding


Photo by Forest Simon on Unsplash

By Doug Marrin

If you’re not an outdoorsy person, especially in winter, no worries. You can have a lot of fun making some new feathered friends by putting out a bird feeder and then watching the action from the warm comfort of your home.

When food gets scarce for the avian community, such as in early spring, during a severe winter, or other extreme weather, the birds will rely more on feeders. But do not worry. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources assures us that the frequent flyers stopping in for a bite will not become dependent on a feeder. When you stop feeding, they will find other sources.

When choosing a place for your feeder, habitat, and food quality are what will attract the birds to your avian eatery. Pick a location that you can view 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. Shelters such as evergreens or deciduous shrubs work well by offering protection from predators and wind. Use a metal pole with a metal collar to deter those rascally squirrels.

Feeders and Food

You’ve got decisions to make. Feeders range from the utilitarian and straightforward disposable bag feeders to elaborate metal, wood, plastic, or glass feeders. The feeder that you choose will determine the types of birds you attract.

The food you offer at your fly-by diner will also determine which feathered patrons stop in for a bit. Note: Commercially mixed birdseed is not as effective as foods customized to the birds’ preferences that you want to attract. You’ll most likely end up with a pile of discarded seeds as the birds root around from something they do want to eat. Black oil sunflower seed is a hot commodity in the feeders. It is generally a safe choice as it is the favorite of most birds. The most effective way to attract the largest variety of birds is to provide separate feeders for each food.

Few things shout holidays and winter more than a bright red cardinal in a snowy green pine. Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

Tube Feeders

When filled with black oil sunflower seeds, these 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. 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

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, tree 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 peanuts tube feeder mentioned above.

Suet Feeders

Suet is most commonly used in the winter as it is a high energy food used in those times when food is scarce. 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, juncos, thrushes, kinglets, wrens, starlings, goldfinches, cardinals, jays, and bluebirds.


Birds aren’t the only ones who like bird feeders. Squirrels are fun to watch, but their playful antics will quickly grind down your patience as you realize they are figuring out ways to get to the feeder and its trove of food. Squirrels can be relentless. Already mentioned is the collar that will keep the rodents from climbing up to the feeder. 

However, some squirrels elevate their game to Ninja Warrior competition. I’ve had them leap eight feet from a tree branch onto a feeder. One big gray in our woods will jump up from the ground past the collar onto the pole. When the feeders were closer to the house for the grandkids to watch, the squirrels quickly learned to climb up our window screen and leap from there, much to the kids' delight. I put out spiked corn feeders. The squirrels ate the cob of corn impales on the feeder and then fattened themselves further on sunflower seeds. My only consolation is that the gray is so fat now that it can’t make the jump past the collar.

Deer have caused a lot of bird feeder issues. I learned they love sunflower seeds and have no qualms about licking it out of the feeder while I yell at them a few feet away on the other side of my window. I put up a platform feeder six feet off the ground to feed the crows corn and peanuts. The deer jumped up and kicked at it with their front hooves until the platform came loose. Don’t tell MDNR. Feeding deer is illegal.

Store your birdseed in a metal garbage can. Mice have nothing better to do than spend a night in the garage chewing through a plastic one—that problem I solved. I’m still working on the deer and squirrels.

Courtesy MDNR
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