Most of us start watching birds close to home, at a window or in our backyard. One more way to see more birds is to make your home and backyard more attractive to them. The key is to provide the basic necessities for birds: food, water, and shelter.
A bird feeder set up during the winter is an excellent way to attract lots of different types of birds to your yard. It's also a wonderful way for children to get to see nature up close and provide a valuable food source for birds, at a time when harsh weather causes many bird fatalities.
A common bird feeder set up is the pole feeder. Wild Birds Unlimited have a unique system with multiple hooks for different types of feeders and a squirrel baffle. The thistle nyjer feeder is excellent for goldfinches and the tube feeder attracts larger finches such as House finches. The tube feeder is squirrel proof as well. Lastly, there is the dinner bell, that can attract finches, sparrows, buntings, cardinals and blue jays.
Bird feeders come in many shapes and sizes but it's best to start simply. Birds will come to a platform or window shelf, but a tube feeder or hopper feeder like the one below need to be replenished less often. During winter you can place lumps of suet in a wire container outside. It will attract chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Try replacing the suet with a sandwich made with peanut butter, especially during warmer months. When they find it, your birds will come back to it.
Try to find a location for your bird feeder that is not only near one of your windows, so you can enjoy seeing the different types of birds but also close to shelter such as trees and bushes. Hawks will often attack birds at feeders and so there should be cover that birds can fly to in order to escape. You may need to set the feeder out of jumping distance for squirrels, that may try to jump on to the feeder from a nearby tree. If you place a feeder near your windows, make sure to put window decals on the windows to prevent birds flying in to the windows if being chased by a hawk.
It is important to regularly clean your feeders and remove old seed. Particularly, in wet weather, seed can become a breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella. Wash your hands thoroughly after use and try to keep young children away from touching the feeder itself.
Use warm soapy water in a bucket and a scrubbing brush that is set aside strictly to clean your feeders. You can also use a solution of vinegar and water to sterilize the feeder. 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar. Let it soak for a few hours.
If you see birds (especially finches) with swollen eyes and are moving sluggishly, you may have a sick bird that could cause an outbreak of a virus at your feeder. Take your feeder down, wash and sterilize it and leave it down for a few weeks. You want to prevent the virus spreading to other birds and busy feeders can pass a virus from one bird to the next very easily.
Keep cats indoors! If you are attracting birds to your yard with food, please keep your cats away. Not only can cats become sick from eating a diseased bird but can decimate bird populations. It's safer for your cat to be indoors.