Feeding wild birds

Not being content to feed 6 dogs, 4 cats and 4 horses, I’ve started feeding the birds in my front yard. Two sunflower feeders, a tube feeder with six stations and a tray, and a thistle seed tube feeder. The birds are flocking to the feeders, to the point where I’m topping off each feeder every day because they’re half empty, except for the thistle feeder - I never see birds at that. I also have a suet feeder and rarely see birds on that.

I get a lot of gold finches (5 at one time!), indigo buntings, cardinals and mourning doves, plus the usual assortment of chickadees, sparrows, and little brown birds.

Being new to the bird feeding game, is there anything else I should do? Any tips where to get cheaper feed? I don’t have squirrels - 6 dogs keep them out of the yard. I don’t have to worry about the cats - the two house cats stay inside and the barn cats stay 600 ft away in the barn. I wedged a horse feed pan into the tree with water in it when it was very dry. I put a rock in it to make a ledge so small birds could get a drink without drowning. My sister says I shouldn’t feed the birds because they need to learn to forage for themselves - am I setting my birds up for a lifetime in a welfare state?

Please list your feeding and birdwatching tips, birds seen, etc.


Go down to your local feed & seed store and get a sack of cracked corn/chicken feed. Birds and squirrels love it.

Definitely find a local “feed mill” - they will have the cheapest feed. Still can be an expensive hobby but it’s way cheaper than the grocery store or the pet store or the hardware store feed.

Oh also store it in a varmit-proof container. My dad uses a metal trash can with a tight lid and puts it inside his shed (no raccoons, and no mice). I keep mine where mice can’t get to it in a tub on a shelf. Remember mice can chew through thin plastic, paper and thin wood. And they will.

You mentioned a tree. An important thing to remember is don’t put the feeder out in the open, even on a tree trunk. Put is somewhere where there’s branches around. Otherwise the wild birds you’ll end up feeding will be the hawks that’ll learn your house is a good place to hunt other birds.

Little Nemo - The feeders are hung from branches in the tree, with plenty of cover. The tree itself is so much more alive now that the feeders are up. Birds are constantly flitting about, pushing each other off the feeders and waiting their turn.

ZipperJJ - I go to the feed store regularly, so I’ll be sure to check there. I do store in rodent-proof 9if there is such a thing) containers.


I’ve been feeding the wild birds every morning at my house for probably 5 years. I take a cup 3/4 full of wild bird seed and dump it on a small flat topped bolder in my front yard, spilling it over the sides. They come and clean it up within an hour. I’ve even got a rabbit that stops by and checks it out for whatever reason.

Where is your sister getting that bizarre idea???

Go into any big box store or grocery store, there are shelves groaning under the weight of every kind of bird seed. Birds fly around all day long looking for food, and the birds you see at your feeder don’t hang around there 24/7, those are OTHER birds that look just like ‘your’ birds. (that’s what I’ve been told). I have a pair of cardinals, and now young cardinals, who love the sunflower seed I put out, but if I stopped, they’d still find food in other feeders and in the wild, and I wouldn’t see them any more.

Lots of birds LOVE peanuts. I besieged by a flock of blue jays who scream all morning for me to throw out peanuts. Blackbirds like them (and of course squirrels) and I watched a cardinal with his little seed-eating beak work away at a peanut for a long time!

I have hummingbirds (nectar feeders filled with sugar water, 4 parts water to 1 part sugar boiled and cooled), goldfinches, cardinals, blue jays, red winged blackbirds, mourning doves, chickadees, robins, dozens of goldfinches, every kind of sparrow, and in the early summer an awesome pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks. (I have a window feeder filled with sunflower seed held on with suction cups, which is a PITA to fill, but worth it for the great closeups!).

About the price, all I can suggest is buying big bags of sunflower seed and regular bird seed at a garden supply center or Walmart. You have a lot of feeders, if it gets too costly, you could always take a few down. You’ll still get birds, and it’s not like they’re going to starve if you have two feeders instead of four.

I used to put out a thistle bag for the goldfinches, but the price of thistle seems to have gone up to a ridiculous degree. They do eat the sunflower seeds in the window feeder, so we still see a lot.

Oh, we do have a hawk living nearby, and he swoops in a few times a year. I know he’s there because every single bird just disappears! And sometimes he makes that creepy ‘hawk noise’. He’ll fly through the tree branches to make a strike, sending leaves flying.
Well, hawks gotta eat, too, he’s welcome to a nice fat mourning dove!

We also have a birdbath with a drip feature (don’t leave the saucer part out if there’s any chance of freezing, it will crack), and a little saucer bath on the deck. They get a LOT of use in the summer, and from squirrels, too.

Watching the birds in the garden is one of my favorite things in the whole world. Well worth the price of seed, and occasional mess!

Salinqmind - I think of the mourning doves as toad-birds. They’re sort of dumpy and waddly. The buntings and gold finches are brave and carting.

I think my sister just thinks if you create a dependence in the birds they lose the ability to forage on their own. I live in the country, so there aren’t feeders in every yard.


Well, it’s a myth, easily googled, that birds do NOT become dependent, rest assured. Bird feeders provide only a small part of their daily food. Those that migrate south for the winter will still be flying south, unlike some Canada geese that stay year round.

I was just chatting up a local lady who complained that the birds are not eating her thistle seeds as well. We are in Texas.

Another woman told us that the birds (Northern goldfinches) that eat thistle are not here now and will be back in the winter (starting around end of Dec) and that they will come along with Purple finches (if you are lucky) and Pine Siskins. She said that right now there are House Finches that like black oil seeds better than thistle and wondered why they sell thistle here this time of year because it is used now in the northern part of the country.

So maybe it’s a regional/seasonal food.

Black oiled sunflower will do for most except hummmers of course.
Woodpeckers here ( Arkansas ) love suet blocks and of course they help in the winter for other birds.
Squirrels here laugh at dogs, they have so many trees close that they do not need to get on the ground… May try the chicken feed near the critter cam and see what wanders in.
This new place is the first time we get any birds to a mixed wild bird food. Last place it just rotted in the feeders, all they would eat was the black oil. ( 160 miles difference but still in Arkansas. )

Would like to have Martins or bats but we are in the wrong place for either.

GusNSpot - I thought bats were universal? My birds are loving the mixed seed, and what some birds drop, the ground feeders eat. Although it is pretty messy under the tree.

I might try a hummer feeder. Is there a time of year that they can be seen more often?

I’m in Tennessee - is there any good online regional bird identification site?


Best price I’ve found for bird seed is Tractor Supply.

My thistle / nyjer feeder only gets used by one pair of gold finches. My neighbor across the street gets swarms of them with the identical feeder and the same seed. /shrug

My first two feeders were destroyed by squirrels the first day; I had to go with squirrel baffles. I also switched from sunflower to safflower seeds; squirrels and sparrows don’t eat it.

And like others have said, the idea that birds will become dependent on your feeder and will not fare well if you stop feeding them is false.

The Baltimore orioles have already left – they migrate early – but you might try feeding them next spring. Around here (north central Iowa) they show up in May. They like grape jelly; you can use a special feeder or just put a dish of jelly on a shelf attached to a tree. The squirrels like it too though, so if you don’t want squirrels, place the feeder where a squirrel can’t reach it.

They also like oranges but oranges get really messy, and expensive.

Our finches ignored the first batch of thistle seed. The seed came with a new tube feeder. We figured maybe the seed was stale so we dumped it and bought fresh, and the finches started showing up.

Mostly we have hummingbirds, four or five at a time, swooping and fighting and chirping. They’re so much fun to watch. It’s amazing, how close they’ll come to us. A friend in Oklahoma says she puts sugar water in a bottle cap, holds it in her palm, and they’ll drink from it.

StGermain, I’m siding with your sister as being against the critter welfare state. The bird food attracts chipmunks, squirrels, mice, woodchucks here in MN. In Wisconsin, owners are told to take down their bird feeders early in the spring due to attracting young bear cubs who need to learn to forage elsewhere. The previous owner of the Wisconsin place gave me a photo of the large bear attracted to their bountiful birdfeeder. Bah hum bug … Birdfood Scrooge here.

Turble - I’ve been to TSC before. I’ll compare their prices with the local feed mill’s.

AuntiePam - How long can you leave the sugarwater solution out? Does it mold? Do you have to color it? Do you slice the oranges?

Vita Beata - I don’t have to worry about bears, so I’m okay there.


Hummingbird nectar doesn’t HAVE to be colored, in fact they say adding red food color could be harmful to them. If you put it in a red hummingbird feeder, or even tie a red ribbon on it, they will find it. You should buy one with an ant guard or ant moat, and you should change the nectar every other day when it’s over 90 degrees. In cooler weather it can go longer, but you really should keep the feeder clean and change nectar. I have one male and three females, and the yard just ain’t big enough for the four of them! They are surprisingly noisy. They will also sit quietly in the tall shrubbery in between forays. We get them in New York from May through September, they always arrive and depart within a day of the last year. To make nectar: bring one part sugar and four parts water to a boil. Turn off, stir to dissolve sugar, let it cool, and store in the refrigerator in a clean 2-liter soda bottle.

Should the hummingbird feeder be located away from the other feeders?

I have a number of honeysuckle and trumpet vines around the farm, so the hummers (if there are any) should have plenty of native feeding opportunities.


I don’t mean to keep presenting myself as an expert on hummingbirds! (there is good information on this topic on eHow.com). I would hang a nectar feeder where I could see the hummingbirds, traditionally near a window, away from the other bird feeders. Some other kinds of birds are attracted to them (not that they will be able to sip the nectar) and might keep the hummers away. Putting two nectar feeders close together will guarantee a war, as the hummers are territorial and aggressive. They just LOVE honeysuckle and trumpet vines, I’ve seen them hit up any kind of flower imaginable, though.

Out in the country, I’ve seen a dozen hummingbirds at a time hitting up the nectar. I have one resplendent male and three females (or maybe juveniles).