Feeding Wild Birds: A Guide to a Happy Backyard

For the nature enthusiast, there’s a simple joy derived from watching the lively antics of birds in our backyards. With their mesmerizing songs and vibrant colors, birds can quickly transform a plain yard into a natural theater. If you’re looking to attract these winged wonders to your space, offering the right kind of food is crucial. Here’s a guide to what you should be feeding wild birds to keep them coming back for more.

1. Seed Selection: The Foundation of Bird Feeding

  • Black-oil Sunflower Seeds: The ultimate bird favorite! This is my go-to bird food.  Sunflower seeds cater to a vast range of birds including finches, cardinals, and chickadees. Black-oil sunflower seeds are especially nutritious and have thin shells, making them easy for most birds to crack.
  • Nyjer (Thistle) Seeds: These tiny black seeds are particularly loved by finches. They’re packed with oil, providing birds with essential fats.
  • Millet: Preferred by sparrows, juncos, and doves, millet is often a major component in mixed birdseed.  This seed is mostly eaten by ground feeders.
  • Safflower Seeds: These seeds are especially enticing to cardinals, grosbeaks, and doves, but they have a taste that squirrels don’t appreciate. So, they’re a good choice if you’re looking to deter pesky squirrels from your feeders.

2. Beyond Seeds: Diversifying the Menu

  • Fruit: Many birds, such as robins, bluebirds, and orioles, enjoy fresh or dried fruits. Offer slices of oranges, apples, or raisins. However, be sure to replace them frequently to avoid mold.
  • Nectar: Hummingbirds and orioles are especially drawn to nectar. To prepare homemade nectar, mix one part sugar to four parts water. Boil the mixture until the sugar dissolves and then let it cool. Remember, don’t add any dyes.
  • Peanuts: Jays, woodpeckers, and even some songbirds appreciate shelled peanuts. Offer them whole, chopped, or in peanut butter form. If using peanut butter, ensure it’s free from added salt or sugars.
  • Mealworms: Robins, bluebirds, and other insect-loving birds relish mealworms. They can be offered live or dried.

3. Seasonal Considerations

The dietary needs of birds can change with the seasons. In colder months, birds require high-fat and high-calorie foods to maintain their energy levels. Foods like suet, a dense, energy-packed food made from animal fat, are ideal for winter feeding. In the spring, when many birds are raising their young, protein-rich offerings like mealworms can be especially appreciated.

4. Safety First

When feeding wild birds, it’s crucial to prioritize their safety:

  • Cleanliness: Ensure feeders are clean to prevent mold and diseases. Regularly scrub and rinse your feeders.
  • Placement: Place feeders in safe spots, away from places where predators like cats can easily pounce.  I have found that birds prefer feeders near trees/shrubs versus out in the open.
  • Avoid Bread: Contrary to popular belief, bread offers little nutritional value to birds and can even be harmful. It can cause malnutrition and other health issues, so it’s best left out of your bird-feeding regimen.
  • Fresh Water: Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing. A birdbath can be a great addition to your yard. Remember to change the water regularly.

In Conclusion

Feeding wild birds can be a rewarding experience that brings life and color to your backyard. By offering a diverse and nutritious range of foods, you’ll not only attract a variety of bird species but also play a role in supporting local wildlife. So, the next time you fill up your feeders, remember these guidelines to ensure your feathered friends stay happy and healthy!