How To Keep Your Own Backyard Bird Feeder


A great way to start learning about our feathered friends is with a backyard bird feeder. Birds come to you, and you can get to know them before trying to identify them in the parks. But don't just wing it; follow these tips for keeping a great backyard bird feeder.

Birds at feeder at the Frick Environmental Center. Photo by Harold Rickenbacker.
Location, location, location

Birds are more likely to frequent a feeder that is in a convenient and safe location, so take some time to find a great spot for both you and the birds. Remember that the feeder is as much for your enjoyment as the birds’. 

Be mindful of windows. A good feeder spot is within view of a window so that you can keep an eye on your visitors, but windows can be dangerous for birds. The reflection from windows can trick birds into thinking that it is an open space to fly and they will crash into the glass. The safest spot for a feeder is either closer than three feet or farther than 30 feet from a window. There are even feeders that stick right onto windows! 

A location near a shrub or tree gives the birds a sheltered spot to rest in while they're not eating. They’ll be safer from predators, and will use up less energy flying back and forth to the feeder.

A carolina chickadee. Photo by Melissa McMasters

Give it time

It might take a while for birds to find your feeder. Don’t give up on them! News of a new bird feeder spreads by word of beak, and sometimes it takes a while for word to get out. To speed things up a bit you can spread some bird seed around under the feeder, or even use a trail of seed to draw birds from another food source.

Once they find your feeder, be ready to refill a lot -- birds have big appetites! While you wait, pay attention to the bird seed. If it becomes waterlogged or moldy, make sure to replace it.

A clean feeder is a healthy feeder

Regular cleaning is an important part of having a bird feeder. Birds, just like people, can get sick. And just like you wouldn’t want to drink out of a glass that was just used by someone with a cold, birds can get sick from sharing a feeder with a sick bird.

While it's unclear whether feeders increase the spread of disease compared to natural feed sources, you can make sure you don’t become a vector by periodically cleaning your bird feeder. Different feeders have recommended ways to clean them -- some are even dishwasher safe.

Cardinal. Photo by Melissa McMasters

Birds do not become dependent on feeders

To maintain body weight and energy, especially in the winter, birds need to eat and eat and eat. They are burning more calories keeping themselves warm in the winter and consume more food to replace them. Stocking a feeder helps supplement their diet, and they treat it as they would any other food source weather that is a bush or a bird feeder. When the feeder runs out, they just move on to the next source. So don’t worry if it takes you a while to refill, it just might take a while for birds to come back from the food they’ve moved on to. An extended period of snow or ice is a time that birds may rely more heavily on feeders, so it is recommended to keep them full during these times.

Keep learning!

Young Naturalists summer 2014 green gray teenage boy binocular scan look (Renee Rosensteel) HTL-730141-edited.jpgBinocular lending library. We're excited to announce that you can now borrow a pair of binoculars free of charge from the Frick Environmental Center! During building hours on Saturdays and Sundays, we have a limited amount of binoculars that you can borrow while you visit Frick Park. Included with the binoculars are a brief guide to using binoculars and pictures of some of the more common birds in our parks.

Great Backyard Bird Count. Every February, you can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Learn about birds, participate in citizen science, and be a part of this national event at home.

Make your own bird feeder. Click here to learn how to make your own bagel bird feeder!