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7 Tips for Feeding Garden Birds in Spring

Spring is a particularly wonderful time for bird watching – the bay birds are about to arrive! You have probably noticed the increase in bird activity in your neighborhood. In spring, not only the year-round resident birds are visiting your feeders, but our long-awaited migratory birds are also busy fattening up before heading to their breeding grounds. You don’t need to feed the birds year-round, but bird feeding is most helpful at times when the birds need the most energy, such as the migration, early spring, etc. We have summarized 7 tips to help you feed the lovely feathered creatures in your garden.

1. Choose Appropriate Feeders

To attract the greatest variety of birds to your garden, the best way is to provide several feeders and offer a variety of food. In order to decide on suitable bird feeders, you need to research the types of birds in your area. The ideal bird feeder is sturdy enough to withstand extreme weather, tight enough to keep seeds dry, and most importantly, easy to assemble and keep clean. Here are the most common bird feeders:

1) Tray Feeder

This is the simplest type of bird feeder. Any seeds, fruits, peanuts, shell worms, small suet nuggets, etc., whatever you have can be placed on it. The tray feeder attracts the widest variety of seed-eating birds, including pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows, but grosbeaks and native sparrows. But most tray feeders offer no protection against rain and snow, and no excellent drainage, so seeds may become wet and fungi and bacteria may thrive. You should use a tray feeder that has a screened, rather than solid, bottom to promote complete drainage.

2) Hopper Feeder

The hopper or ‘house’ feeder attracts finches, bluejays, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice most. The hopper can hold the seeds for days! It can hold a large amount of food like sunflower seeds to ensure that birds have a constant food supply. The container is closed, which protects seeds from rain and bird droppings, so the foods are kept clean and sanitary. And it’s also a really good option to fend off predators, like squirrels. The hopper feeder is usually mounted on a pole.

3) Tube Feeder

If smaller birds are your favorites, this is an excellent choice. It’s a kind of cylindrical feeder that has tiny feeding holes to accommodate smaller seeds, such as Nyjer. The tube feeder often has small perches above the feeding ports from which the birds can feed hanging upside down. It attracts smaller birds such as finches, titmice, and chickadees while excluding large species such as grackles and jays.

4) Suet Feeder

The suet feeder is normally constructed of wire or plastic mesh and can be nailed or tied to a tree trunk. Suet is made from animal fat can be easily digested and metabolized by many birds, and because of its high calories, it can provide them with the energy they need to cope with harsh weather, while the suet mixtures usually consist of suet and other ingredients like peanut butter, seed, and cracked corn. Suet feeders often attract a variety of woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, thrushes, creepers, and thrashers.

2. Offer a Variety of Seeds

Springtime is when birds are most active. A wide variety of colorful songbirds are coming back home. They have exerted a lot of energy during their migrations and will need to refuel before starting breeding. But keeping in mind that birds have their preferences, the feeding of birds is not a one-size-fits-all table spread.

1) Sunflower Seeds

All types of sunflower seeds are great for backyard birds, and they fit well in a variety of feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds are the most common bird seeds. They have very thin shells, easy for virtually all seed-eating birds to crack open, and they have a high-fat content, extremely valuable for migratory birds. They are most favored by chickadees, house sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, pigeons, and goldfinches.

2) Nyjer Seeds

Nyjer seeds are one of the most popular bird seeds for goldfinch, purple finch, red bird, pine tit, and quail. These seeds are especially rich in oil and many Nyjer-loving birds are also called clingy birds because of their habit of clinging to the sides of feeders and feeding upside down. However, due to their small size, Nyjer seeds can be easily spilled or blown away by the wind. Mesh tube feeders are best for this expensive seed.

3) Suet

Suet is the year-round favorite of woodpeckers, but other birds like tanagers, warblers, thrushes, and kinglets also enjoy this energetic treat in spring. It is generally made from rendered animal fat which is easily digested and metabolized by many birds, while the suet cake is made from suet or a thick substitute mixed with other ingredients, such as corn meal, peanuts, fruits, or even dried insects.

4) Fruit

Fruit such as grapes, apples, pears, and berries is a good food source for garden birds in the spring, particularly for ground-feeding birds. Birds will happily eat those that have over-ripened or even the damaged ones that we might not eat. The most familiar birds that regularly eat fruit include grosbeaks, robins, orioles, thrashers, waxwings, and tanagers. But remember to remove any pesticides on the skin, cut it up into small chunks, and put it in a ground feeder or a suet cage. Since fruit is also appealing to squirrels, raccoons, and other animals, certain baffles and guards might be needed.

3. Place the Feeders on Different Levels

Many birds will feed at more than one level, but some species have preferences. Mourning doves, sparrows, juncos, and towhees typically feed on the ground level, while finches and cardinals feel more conformable with the table level, like in the shrubs, while chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers would love hanging feeders that are hung at least 5 feet above the ground. And other species like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens usually feed in trees. To attract the widest variety of species, you can put your feeders at an appropriate level to attract specific kinds of birds you would like to observe.

4. Avoid Window Collision

Every year, approximately one billion birds die from crashing into windows. Bird collisions with windows are very common, especially when a feeder is in the wrong place. The most dangerous place to place a bird feeder is 15 to 30 feet from a window, where collisions are more likely. Actually, putting a window bird feeder could not cause any harm since it is close enough to the glass that the birds can’t catch enough speed to do any damage when they fly away. On the opposite, you can protect birds from collisions by placing feeders within three feet of windows. Window feeders are beneficial because they allow you to see birds up close without startling them, and notice when the bird feeder needs to be refilled.

5. Discourage Squirrels from Bird Feeders

Squirrel infestation is always a headache for birdwatchers for it’s always challenging to deter these formidable enemies without reducing the attractiveness of a bird feeder. One of the most effective ways to discourage squirrels is to relocate your bird feeders and hang your feeders on a metal pole in an open area at a relatively high level away from trees, roofs, etc. Or use a squirrel baffle to deter those greedy gobblers. Another trick is to choose your bird seeds wisely. Squirrels are less attracted to nyjer and safflower seeds for their bitter tastes. And they detest any strong flavor like peppers, so you can blend some dehydrated cayenne peppers or other similar spices into the bird seed.

6. Keep Predators at Bay

Keep cats indoors as much as possible. If they do go outside, put a bell collar on them as a warning to birds, or try to avoid letting them out during peak bird feeding time. Stray cats are especially dangerous to birds in the spring when fledglings are on the ground. So do not feed or they might linger in your yard and prey on birds. To protect birds from becoming prey, try adding wire fencing around the feeder. Small birds will still be able to get through it, but larger predators will be kept at bay. And remember to use feeders without perches because perches on feeders can act like handles for squirrels or raccoons, or landing spots for hawks.

7. Provide Water Source

Water features are another great way to make your backyard more attractive to nesting birds. Though the majority of birds can get enough hydration from food, they still need fresh water for drinking and bathing. A basic birdbath is fine, and you can use a birdbath fountain as well, not just for the water, but for the sound of splashing that attracts more birds. During the summer, it’s important to empty and refill water basins every 2-3 days. This keeps you from being bitten by insects and helps prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. In addition, it’s strongly discouraged to use a heated bath or chemicals to dissolve the ice in cold weather, because warm bathing and defrosting chemicals will only put your little friends at risk of hypothermia. And you need to place the birdbath about 10 feet from shrubs or other covers that predators may use.

If you’re interested in other birding techniques, please be sure to check out Feathering the Nest: Expert Tips for Creating a Backyard Bird Sanctuary to get started. This article is composed by Ryan Castillo, Marketing Manager at REDFIN. He reached out to many bird experts and authorities, including us to share some tips on how to design and maintain a backyard bird sanctuary. Hope you enjoy it!

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