Birds of a Splendor

Getting Started With Bird Feeders

Or “I don’t have any money now and the backyard birds eat better than I do”

First, my birding saga DOES have a happy ending! Or, it at least has a happy middle, since my journey is ongoing. But keep in mind as you plod through my first weeks as a new birder that my yard now generally has dozens of birds feeding or hanging out, and that we have about a dozen different species who make regular appearances.

 

It took some doing to get there, which I’m about to break down, and there’s still much I want to do, learn and see, but here’s where I got started and how I started attracting backyard birds in Kentucky.

I want to be really clear about how I got into providing food for a bunch of feathered freeloaders – it’s my husband’s fault. As we started putting some landscaping and plants into our garden this spring, he said, casually “oh, and I really want to get some feeders or something and attract Cardinals.”

Never having given any thought to attracting birds to the garden or really to backyard birds at all, I started with the obvious place – google. Armed with the five minutes of research and the information that Cardinals, being larger birds, like bigger seeds in bigger feeders, I used Amazon reviews to purchase this feeder.


Note here please that I’m an Amazon affiliate and clicking on and then purchasing these products will send a percentage of sales my way – you can read more about my policy of linking to affiliated products here.

I also ordered this food blend, supposedly geared to the discerning Cardinal palette. If I’m being honest, it looks (and smells!) like a good trail mix – I was a bit jealous of the birds.

Yum!

Cool, great, all right! I only need to wait for the feeder and seed to arrive and then my yard will be teeming with red birds!

Well, no. Not so much, as it turned out. You probably saw that coming.

I attached the feeder to the side of our back steps, for ease of watching from our living room. The feeder is actually marketed for attachment to the window, but I wanted it to be near the garden plants and trees, as my research said birds prefer to eat near trees, bushes, shrubs and plants that allow them to take cover.

The clear feeder mounted to the underside of our deck

To my own credit, I didn’t really expect to put the feeder up and immediately attract every Kentucky backyard bird to my feeder. I’m a little prone to wry exaggerations. I also did a little more research than suggested – for example, I learned that:

  • Cardinals are ground feeders. They will eat from a feeder because they like a free meal as much as anyone, but it’s not their natural sphere.
  • They prefer feeders that are larger and wider, because they don’t like to be crowded while eating (smart birds).
  • Their red coloring (males) comes from carotenoids in their feathers, the carotenoids come from their food. Nothing to do with feeders, but a cool bit of trivia.
  • Because they are larger birds, they like larger seeds. Makes sense.

Unsurprisingly, scattering sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, nuts and other tidbits on the ground DID bring birds! Sparrows, mostly, to be precise. Since our yard is pretty well covered with flocks of sparrows, that stood to reason.  I didn’t worry about getting the “wrong” birds, though, because birds are curious and social, and seeing a bunch of birds hopping around on the ground makes other birds stop and investigate.  I also realized it would be madness to try and attract cardinals while repelling sparrows and that it was better to simply accept the full bounty of nature.

It actually didn’t take much time before we had our first visiting cardinal – a balding gent (they can molt their head crests, leaving them with a bald, black head) whom we lovingly dubbed “Sir Patrick”. With him, came a lady Cardinal, Beverly – female cardinals are a soft fawn color, with bright orange beaks. They’re not as showy as the boys, but they’re very striking. Cardinals tend to mate for life, and we often saw Sir Patrick hop over to Beverly and gently pass a seed to her.

IMAGE OF SIR PATRICK

It was surprising how delightful I found it to scatter some seed and then watch the birds come – we quickly ended up with another redbird duo (Riker and Troi, respectively) and a juvenile male (Wesley, obviously).

 

Now, that all sounds great! I said I wanted Cardinals, and here was a whole crew of them! Except, they were utterly ignoring the feeder, and they weren’t really hanging around the garden for long. I wasn’t really keen on scattering food everywhere indefinitely, so I wanted to find a feeder they would use. So I went back to Amazon, and I read endless reviews of bird feeders, looking for those that allegedly lured in Cardinals. Eventually, I settled on this feeder:

The filling mechanism is smart and the top is flared to make a built in baffle (fancy name for flared top or lid that keeps squirrels out – these can be part of the feeder design or added to pole or hanging feeders). I scattered seed under it and on top of it. I waited. The reaction was….underwhelming but not totally discouraging. The birds noticed it and explored it. Occasionally, one even perched and ate. But to date, it’s never the crowd pleaser for our birds that it seemed to be for other folks.

With two feeders in our yard, I had to give attention to taking care of them, in order to make sure the birds found them both safe and attractive. It’s really important that any feeder be kept clean and that the food be kept dry and unspoiled. I made sure to pick feeders that had drainage to allow rain to pass through without moldering the seed.  The acryllic feeder has a shallow, removable tray with holes in it, to allow easy cleaning and drainage. The second feeder is all mesh, which lets the seed dry quickly – it also has a very wide roof, which keeps things drier.

So at this point, we’ve got two feeders – one of which has been utterly rejected and one of which I think the birds only use out of pity for me. But, we’ve made some headway, we’ve got regular groups of birds showing up, though at this point it’s mostly starlings and sparrows, a bunch of doves, one mockingbird with a bit of an attitude, and the previously mentioned Cardinals.  The scattered ground food, to which we’d added occasional handfuls of unshelled peanuts, was still much more popular than the feeders.

Though pleased with the initial results, I ultimately want more birds, more types of birds and for the birds to hang around in the yard more. As we moved forward with some landscaping and planting in the yard, I started making efforts to plant things that would also attract birds – more on that in a future post, but it’s worth mentioning that much can be done to attract birds with foliage, in addition to feeders and water.

Do you feed birds? How did you attract birds to your yard? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Gold Medal – How to Attract Goldfinches

Look at these golden beauties! Who wouldn’t want them all over their garden!

We started our birding odyssey with two feeders to draw the cardinals who already lurked in our neighborhood to our yard – then we added water to lure in more birds, and get them to spend more time in the yard.We also worked on garden plans to include plants likely to attract and appeal to birds (LINK)

That led to a regular crowd of birds, which was neat, but I wanted to attract new species of birds I had never seen in our yard, or even in our neighborhood – I decided to start with goldfinches, because they’re SO pretty and utterly charming.

Goldfinches love to snack at seed feeders and they also love seed rich flowers, like coneflowers and black eyed susans. Their favorite nosh is Nyjer seed, a fine, imported thistle seed, though they also enjoy other small seeds. Successful backyard birders who offered Nyjer seed could boast of feeders covered in flocks of goldfinches, and since I wanted finches, I needed the Nyjer.  Our other two bird feeders were intended for larger food (sunflower seeds and nuts), so I started my journey to finchdom by adding a third feeder, one especially for fine Nyjer seed.

I bought this feeder, and this Nyjer seed, on Amazon, and it’s been excellent. Note here please that I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and any purchases you make from Amazon by clicking on one of my links will cause Amazon to share a part of the sale with me. More information in my Affiliate Policy.

Purchase your own finch feeder on Amazon.com

 

It’s a long tube (hence the name) made from fine mesh. Finches are clingy – they like to hang around in all kinds of positions while they eat (this is super entertaining to watch), and the fine mesh allows for maximum feeding surface with minimal seed spillage. Seed conservation is important because finches like to hang out in larger flocks and nyjer seed is pricey!

 

The feeder and seed arrived, I filled the feeder (I recommend using a funnel, the seed is very, very fine) put them near a patch of black eyed susans, figuring their seed cones and bright color might help.  There’s some unofficial belief that goldfinches are drawn to yellow flowers, and I figured I’d take any help I could get, especially since I’d seen Mr. Goldfinch on the susans a couple of times.

The new feeder brought in some new birds – I did not realize it at first, but it was already drawing finches! House finches, whose females are a drab brown and who I mistook for one of the endless varieties of sparrows. It wasn’t until I saw a few male house finches, seen below with their charming red heads, that I realized what species they were.

 

The new bird activity was exciting, especially a couple days later, when a lone male goldfinch paused briefly on a clump of black-eyed susans and contemplated the new tube feeder! He was practically glowing, such a bright yellow that he seemed almost fake. He lingered for a moment, looked at the crowded feeder and went on his way. I was so excited to have seen him, and for him to have seen the feeder – I crossed my fingers that he’d come back soon, and bring some pals.

He made a couple more fleeting visits over the next week, never staying long. I began to worry I’d never get the goldfinches to sample the nyjer, and decided I’d better try some things to get their attention and appetites.

 

Like my other feeders, I sprinkled some seed on the ground under it to help attract attention. Annoyingly, the first takers were pigeons, and irritatingly, one of the cardinals – obviously, the birds weren’t paying attention to which seed and feeder they were supposed to like! However, the big birds quickly got tired of trying to perch on the little feeder and went back to the other options.

I had a good week of feeding house finchces, with occasional glimpses of the goldfinch, and I enjoyed having these funny and sociable birds around. Still, I wanted to see the goldfinch enjoying that thistle seed with his drabber cousins and nothing seemed to be enticing him to do more than flit through for a few seconds. In a final gambit, I moved the nyjer feeder a little further from the other feeders, to see if getting a bit more space would make the difference, since he seemed put off by the crowds.

 

 

 

It must have worked because the very next day, I snuck out to the yard with my newly refurbished dslr to try my hand at being a birder paparazzi and there was the goldfinch, on the nyjer feeder, happily snacking away. What a treat for my first time out with the big camera! He obliged me by sticking around and eating for several minutes. And to my great delight, he brought his lady friend around a couple of days later. These days, there are usually 2-4 goldfinches all over the feeder, and they’ve taken to hanging around and singing in our trees in between meals.

So, to bullet,here’s five tips for attracting goldfinches to my feeder:

1 – Put out a feeder for smaller seeds, and one for Nyjer seeds, to give two Finch-preferred food options.

2 – Provide some space between the feeders. It took moving the Nyjer feeder about 12 feet away from the other feeders and the birdbath to give the goldfinches a less crowded feeding area before they started using the feeder.

3 – Use bright colored flowers, especially those with seed cones, to attract their attention. Goldfinches like bright colors and perching on the flowers to snack on their seeds.

4 – Be sure to keep the feeders full – Finch like to perch all kinds of crazy ways while they eat, and a long tube full of seed gives the most room for the largest number of birds to eat.

5 – Keep bigger birds out of the finches way by putting larger feeders with larger seeds out. Just be sure to leave plenty of room (at least 10 feet) between the feeders.