Backyard Bird Feeding - October 14, 2009
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Bird feeding can benefit birds and provide great bird watching opportunities right from your own backyard. The most important time to feed birds is in winter when natural food supplies become scarce. However, additional species will visit feeders during the spring and fall migrations and during summer while nesting. To keep birds coming back to your feeders in any season provide them with the following three essential elements: high-quality bird seed; fresh water for drinking and bathing; and ample cover. Conserving and planting native plants in your landscape can also provide seasonal food and cover.

Choosing a feeder or combination of feeders will depend greatly on the types of birds you would like to attract, the space you have available, and the non-avian species that may be present in your area. Squirrels are the primary competitor for seed and can be challenging to exclude from feeders. Feeders may also attract wood rats and javelinas. Improperly stored seed can also attract mice.

Ground feeders are simple screen-bottomed trays that typically sit several inches off the ground or your deck and help to keep grain or seeds and bird droppings from coming in contact with each other. Ground feeding tables should be placed in open areas at least 10 feet from the nearest tree or shrub to give birds a chance to flee predators. Doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches and cardinals are all likely to visit ground feeders.

Sunflower-seed tube feeders are often the best choice if you only have a single feeder. Hang the feeder at least five feet off the ground and try to position it near a window where you can enjoy the visitors, which are likely to include chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins and purple and house finches.

Suet feeders are popular with titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and other insect feeding birds. Suet is a high energy formulation of animal fat and other ingredients. Suet feeders are an excellent compliment to seed feeders during winter months when insects are less abundant. They can be hung from trees or poles near other feeders. Avoid feeding suet when temperatures rise into the 80-degree range, as it can turn rancid.

Hopper feeders keep several pounds of mixed seed dry and ready for hungry birds. Hopper feeders should be positioned on a pole about five feet off the ground and will draw all the species that tube feeders attract, along with larger birds like jays, grackles, red-winged blackbirds and cardinals.

Thistle (nyjer) feeders are designed to dispense thistle (nyjer) seed, these feeders have tiny holes that make the seed available only to small-beaked finches such as goldfinches, redpolls and pine siskins.

Some large bags of inexpensive bird seed sold at grocery and big box stores contain a large percentage of fillers such as oats, cereal, and “mixed grains”. High quality bird feeds should have a label specifying the ingredients and are usually composed of black oil sunflower seeds, striped sunflower, white proso millet, safflower, and/or raw peanuts. Ground feeding bird seed mixes which attract doves, quail, towhees, and juncos may also contain some cracked corn. Nyjer should be dispensed from a feeder that is specifically designed for it. Some venders also sell “wasteless” bird seed blends that have the shells/hulls removed to make it less messy and 100% edible.

Keep in mind bird feeders also present potential risks to birds such as window collisions, predation, and exposure to disease. If you have multiple feeders, spread them out to prevent crowding and reduce the potential for disease transmission. Feeders and birdbaths should be cleaned twice per month to reduce avian disease transmission. In both cases, use a 9:1 water to bleach mixture (10%). Water in the birdbath should be dumped, debris brushed out, and refilled daily. Clean old seeds and hulls from the ground around feeders.

Relax and observe the birds that visit your feeders – it will likely turn into an obsession. Before you know it, you will be identifying and keeping records of bird species that visit your feeders. For more information on backyard bird feeding, visit the Audubon website at:

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site:

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: October 7, 2009
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