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!

 

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