Setting up bird feeders in your back yard is like creating a fast-food restaurant for your avian friends. It won’t be their only meal of the day. But it may well become a regular pit stop in their rounds, providing an additional source of protein for them and daily entertainment for you.
You don’t even need a large yard to get into bird feeding.
Dana Hall, who lives in a condominium complex in Rohnert Park, has four feeders around her unit. She first set them up as a way of entertaining her indoor cats who liked to watch through the window. But she found herself increasingly fascinated by the creatures that flocked to her feeders.
“As I saw the kitty enjoying the birds I started learning more about them, about the different kinds of seeds. And then when I would see a pretty bird, or an unusual bird, I’d want to find out what it is so I would Google and try to figure it out,” she said. “It’s kind of like watching fish. It’s relaxing.”
In order to run a popular birdie diner however, you need to understand a few basics, said Tim Stewart, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Rosa, which specializes in supplies to help winged wildlife.
Different birds require different types of feeders or even different seed. Knowing what kind of birds you want to attract — or what kinds frequent your neighborhood — is an important first step in deciding what feeder to buy and in making sure that you draw the customers you want.
He recommends starting out simple with one of three basic feeders. A tube feeder, a tray feeder or a hopper style that you fill and continuously drops down fresh seed as the birds eat it. All will accommodate most of the birds that might show up in your yard.
Visible to birds
It doesn’t really matter much where you place your feeders. The mainly rule of thumb is to place them in an area where they will be seen. Just like a cafe needs good signage to attract customers, your bird feeder will draw no customers if birds can’t spot it flying by.
“We do recommend that feeders and birdhouses be a minimum of 5 feet off the ground if there is a concern about neighborhood cats, because cats can jump,” Stewart said. And birds will naturally be more attracted to feeding sites where there are trees or bushes nearby to escape to when startled.
There are multiple hanging devices now available, from extension poles with crook arms that are freestanding or can be screwed into the ground, to various hooks and arms that can be attached to fences and posts or sides of buildings. There are also feeders with suction cups to attach to windows, and of course, those with simple hangers to hang in trees or from eaves.
Sunflower or millet
As far as feed goes, most birds will fall into one of two camps — sunflower eaters and millet eaters. There are specialty treats advanced backyard hobbyists can get into, like peanuts for woodpeckers and jays or the energy-packed suet.
But for the beginner, Stewart recommends sticking to sunflower or millet or a combination of both.
“Sunflower seeds would be for smaller perching birds like finches and chickadees and titmice. Millet eaters are what we call ground feeders. With a couple of exceptions, they will be bigger, like doves, pigeons and blackbirds. They want to eat either on the ground or on something flat largely because of their size and what they’re designed to do,” Stewart said.