Whether you are new to bird feeding this year or have many seasons of experience feeding our wild, feathered friends, it is easy to become intimidated by the wide range and styles of bird feeders, equipment and choices.
While there are many great feeder styles and options available, the good news is, it is not necessary to spend a great deal of money. In fact, it is not necessary to spend a dime.
The type of feeder or set up you install helps to determine the variety of songbirds and others that will visit your food source.
Some birds prefer a platform feeder, while others prefer to simply feed upon the ground. Other birds are more attracted to suet blocks, while others prefer hanging, sock style or tube feeders.
There is no right or wrong way to set up a bird feeding location or station on your property. Whatever you provide, the birds will find it.
Once you begin to feed the birds, you will need to make a decision as to whether or not you wish to keep pest species, such as squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, starlings, house sparrows and grackles away from your feeding location.
Many backyard wildlife enthusiasts encourage all of these critters to come to their feeders. Others wish to focus only on certain species or types of birds.
Many species of birds, especially during fall and winter, feed upon the ground. For these species, ground feeding is their natural habit and preference. Some of these include juncos, cardinals, mourning doves, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, fox sparrows, hermit thrush and others.
For these ground feeders, a simple platform, board or open area is all that is needed. Simply provide a food source such as bird seed, corn, meal worms, fruit and other items, and the birds will come.
Many species that feed upon the ground are also attracted to platform style feeders. These are flat, horizontal feeders, open at the top, but raised above ground level.
Depending on your feeding location, these can be placed at just about any height and be effective. Ideally, since most backyard bird lovers want to observe the birds in action, having platform feeders at window height is a great idea.
Hopper style feeders are similar to platform feeders but with a supply hopper for keeping food available and dry. Any bird that will fit onto the feeding platforms on each side of the hopper will feed from this style of feeder. Even some larger birds will attempt to squeeze in.
Tube style or sock feeders are an excellent choice for providing thistle seed and smaller morsels to winter finches, chickadees, nuthatches and others. Providing thistle seed gives a high energy food for goldfinches, house finches, pine siskin, redpolls, and other interesting winter birds.
The mesh, sock style feeders, especially, are effective in keeping away birds that many consider pests, such as red winged blackbirds, starlings and house sparrows.
Suet feeders are versatile and can be mounted just about anywhere, including hanging tree branches, fence and deck posts, plants hooks and fences.
A variety of birds are attracted to suet feeders for the high energy boost they provide during the cold weather.
Woodpeckers, of course, are especially drawn to suet, even the largest, the crow-sized pileated woodpecker. Robins, bluebirds, waxwings and other fruit-eating birds that may remain in the area are also drawn to suet during cold snaps. Providing suet cakes that have fruit and other morsels mixed in provides an added boost for these birds.
Of course, once spring arrives, you may also want to consider feeders or setups for orioles, hummingbirds and other specialized feeders that return with the warmth of May.
It isn't necessary to go out and spend a lot of money on any of these feeder styles. Simply setting up a board, dish, milk jug, or tuna can and providing these types of foods will draw in the birds.
You can also experiment making your own suet cakes and other bird treats at home using common backyard elements and kitchen ingredients.
The most important part is that you are having fun. Don't make bird feeding a chore, or work. Don't set up a system that is too much or too elaborate for you to take care of and enjoy maintaining.
Feeding and watching birds should be a adventure filled with joy, warmth, education and amazement. Once you make it a chore, you've taken away all the fun.
You'll find that your birds will train you on their own feeding schedule. They may start to squeal or call to alert you that feeders are empty. They may even follow you out to the feeders as you fill them. Lucky backyard birders are able to instill so much trust in some of our colorful songbirds that they may even feed right from your hand.
Bird feeding season is heating up. Make the most of it this fall and winter season and enjoy for a lifetime to come.