Bird Feeding 101

There’s more to birding than just looking out your window (though that’s a good start!). Armed with a minimum number of supplies and minimal knowledge, you can discover an entire world that you never knew existed. Right in your own backyard! Bird feeding is an easy thing to start. You want to make sure you’re feeding somewhere you can watch the birds, and it’s easy to maintain and clean your feeders.

Bird Feeders:
There are many types of bird feeders available. Any one, or a variety of feeders will attract birds to your yard. Deciding should be based on functionality, appearance, maintenance required, and which birds you have seen or would like to see.

Hopper Feeder
This feeder has an enclosed area to store seed that is then dispensed by gravity. A hopper feeder will be visited by a full variety of birds including sparrows, finches, chickadees, jays and other seed eating birds. A quality feeder will have a large roof overhang to keep the seed as dry as possible (don’t forget, we’re talking Vancouver Island rain!). Wet seed can be harmful to the birds so it is important to clean the feeder and remove wet seed regularly. You can fill a hopper feeder with a quality bird seed blend, or separate each type of bird seed with dividers to allow birds to choose their favourite seed, resulting in less waste.

Tray Feeder
This feeder is a flat open tray, it may or may not have a roof. All birds like to use a tray feeder, similar to those visiting a hopper type feeder. Tray feeders are great for viewing the birds at your feeder without any obstacles interfering. A generous overhang will help to keep the seed dry and avoid waste. Some feeders will have a removable tray with drainage for easy cleaning, and others have a mesh floor to allow any moisture to drain and air to circulate through the seed. Any quality seed mix or separate types of seed will attract birds to your tray feeder. This feeder does require filling more frequently than others as it has less seed capacity than a hopper.

Tube or Silo Feeder
This type of feeder is an upright tube with perches down the sides. Tube feeders will attract perching birds such as finches, chickadees, nuthatches, and even woodpeckers. Generally all these birds prefer black oil sunflower seed rather than a mix. We recommend using only the black oil sunflower in these feeders as mixes containing millet will become wet and sticky, making cleaning difficult. Ground feeding birds who prefer millet will visit your tray and hopper feeder. To decrease spilling of the shells and unwanted seed on the ground beneath your feeder, hulled sunflower seed can be used if the feeder is somewhat sheltered from wetness. Finches and woodpeckers do prefer the hulled seeds, or those in the shell.

Suet Feeder 
This feeder is designed to hold suet cakes. They vary in design from a wire cage, to wood, or other ornamental designs. Suet can be purchased in a variety of types and flavours to attract the birds. Suet, being basic beef kidney suet, can also be made at home (though its a little messier than opening a package). The birds attracted to a suet feeder are woodpeckers (including Northern Flickers), as well as chickadees and nuthatches. An advantage of a suet feeder is that they’re low maintenance and minimum mess, though it does limit the variety of birds. 

Hummingbird Feeder
This feeder holds a sugar nectar to attract hummingbirds. They can be found in a large variety of shapes and sizes, in plastic or glass, from simple to artistic. The nectar should never have red food colouring added to it, and only be made using simple white table sugar (no artificial sweeteners, honey or brown sugar). A good feeder will be easy to open, clean and fill. It is important to empty and clean at least weekly, as the birds will not visit a feeder with fermented nectar. The sugar nectar can be purchased in powder form or pre-made, but we recommend making it at home using 1 part white sugar to 3 or 4 parts water. Hummingbird feeders with red on them have been shown to attract the hummingbirds the best, if you’re hummingbird feeder doesn’t have red on it we recommend putting a red ribbon around it until the hummingbirds associate it with food.

Placement of your bird feeder
Now that you have your bird feeder and bird seed, where to hang the feeder to attract the birds? As much as we are placing out bird seed to help the birds, we are also doing it for our enjoyment. So place your feeder in an open area that is easy for the birds to find, and you to see. Birds find food by sight and sound, they have very little smelling capabilities, so when hanging your feeder in a tree try to hang it as far out on the end of the branch for the birds to see it. If it is hung near the trunk of the tree it may be hidden and take longer for the birds to find the feeder. Place your feeder near a shrub or tree so the birds can make a quick escape if threatened by predators.