Basics On Bird Feeders

I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing birds outside my house until they started to show up a week after I put up a feeder stand in Durham, North Carolina, where I am renting a town house for three months in order to visit my granddaughters. I was wondering after several days whether any birds would show up but I know from experience it may take a few days for birds to realize there are feeders. When the Eastern bluebirds, Carolina chickadees, house finches and one female purple finch started visiting I was thrilled. I had just returned from 4 days of a bird trip to the North Carolina coast and saw many birds but now having them close by is so enjoyable.
The single feeder station in the photograph has 4 feeders attached. Two have suet-the cage contraption at the top and the other cage hanging. The store-bought suet at the top has red pepper in it to discourage squirrels and raccoons. The hanging suet holder has a cage so only small birds can enter and eat the suet. Therefore that suet doesn’t need to have red pepper. The hanging platform is preferred by some birds. If you use a platform you need a baffle on the pole and you should not have any hanging tree branches that enable squirrels to jump onto the platform. The large hanging feeder is called a squirrel buster because when a squirrel lands on the ring it closes the feeding ports. Birds are much lighter and when they land on the ring they don’t close the ports. The photo with many feeders also dispenses peanuts.
I recommend one kind of seed in each seed feeder. In the squirrel buster I use black oil sunflower seed with shells in North Carolina but in my yard in Port Washington I use sunflower seeds without shells. That’s because when the shells fall on the ground the surrounding plants will suffer because of something in the shells that inhibits their growth. But in this place in North Carolina there are only dead leaves on the ground around the feeders.
I have a separate feeder station in New York for the platform feeders and I use sunflower seeds with shells because those feeders are over lawn and I don’t care if the lawn suffers. If you have several kinds of seed in one feeder, the birds push out the seed they don’t want and that can make a mess even with many birds that like to eat seeds on the ground. I see all types of birds eat the sunflower seeds. There are lists on the Internet indicating which birds like which seeds. From experience I find that sunflower seeds attract many different birds. Suet cakes attract many different birds as well.
I usually have a small water fountain going if there is an outdoors outlet. The sound of water also attracts birds. In winter that may be impractical. I once had a small ceramic fountain crack and break from water freezing in cold weather. Near the feeder station it is useful to have small bushes for birds to shelter in case of predators.
There are some people who think birds should not be fed in warm weather but the parent birds need all the help they can get when feeding young. Another problem could be the spread of disease. Always clean your feeders regularly. Squirrel buster fits in the dishwasher. People have found rats a problem since they are attracted to the seeds. When I see a rat I set out a dish containing cocoa, sugar, water and baking powder. This actually kills rats but doesn’t harm other animals.
If you have any questions contact me at [email protected]. I will be giving a talk on bird identification and I also talk about feeding stations at the Bryant Library in Roslyn on April 13 at 1 pm.

Dark-eyed junco, a common backyard feeder bird, and an uncommon purple finch behind it. 
Different types of feeders, some with designs meant to discourage squirrels.
More feeders (Photos by Peggy Maslow)

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