Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The best bird feeders to attract small birds

Cute little chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, and juncos are some of the small birds that you may wish to attract to your bird feeders.

But often larger aggressive birds take over the bird feeders. 

Jays, starlings, grackles, and even doves can come in and drive the small birds away and eat all the bird food.

How can you set up your bird feeders so that you attract small birds, while discouraging larger birds?

It is all about your bird feeders.

I'll give you several ideas for attracting small birds to your backyard feeders. 

The single best bird feeder to attract small birds is the tube style bird feeder.

Other specialty bird feeders that attract primarily small birds include caged bird feeders, upside-down suet feeders, and Niger seed feeders.



Photo of Black-capped Chickadee at upside-down suet feeder
Black-capped Chickadee on upside-down suet feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

Why feed only small birds?


Why feed small birds? Don't you want to feed all the birds that come? There are some good reasons to feed only small birds, or primarily small birds. But mostly, it is just personal preference.

Small birds are active. They often allow close approach. Many are brightly colored. These are such a joy to watch!

Small birds more easily use feeders on your porch or deck. You can hang small bird feeders from the eaves outside your favorite window for observing them.

With their large heads and eyes, they often appear "cute." People are attracted to "cuteness." Thus, many people just like the way small birds look.

At your feeder, small birds don't eat as much as larger birds. This can save you money on bird food. It can also save you some time constantly refilling an empty feeder.

Theoretically, smaller birds may be less messy than larger birds. Of course, that all depends upon how many birds come to your feeders.


Feeders to attract small birds


To attract small birds and discourage larger birds, you must carefully choose your bird feeders and bird food.


Use the weight of large birds against them!

Heavier birds require larger and more sturdy bird feeders. Most don't have strong legs and feet. So they require a shelf or tray to stand on. They need a perch for their feet that tinier and lighter birds don't necessarily need.


Use the size of large birds against them!

Little birds can fit into spaces that large birds cannot. This allows you to choose bird feeders that block large birds that still allow small birds to feed.

Small birds with tiny bills eat smaller seeds than large birds. You can choose some seeds that small birds prefer. 

There are certain seeds and fillers in bird food that you should avoid because they attract larger birds and the smaller birds won't eat.

Choose the correct feeder and food to attract small birds and discourage larger birds.


Tube feeders for small birds


Tube-shaped bird feeders are perfect for small birds!

They are narrow and tall. Large birds have great difficulty perching on them and feeding.

[See my article on 7 kinds of bird feeders.]

Make sure to purchase tube feeders without a feeding tray on the bottom if you want to discourage larger birds. Here is an affiliate link to Amazon's tube feeders.

Here is an example of a tube feeder that I would recommend as perfect for small birds. It is the Droll Yankees Classic, 16 inches tall, with 6 feeding ports.




The best food to put in a tube feeder is black oil sunflower seeds. This is the seed most sought after by birds.

[Read my article on the bird seed that attracts the most birds.]

Tube feeders with black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of chickadees, nuthatches, house finches, and goldfinches.

I like the generally low price of Wagner's black oil sunflower seed if purchasing online. When you visit a store that carries black oil sunflower seed look out for a good deal of less than $1 per pound. I recently bought a 40 pound bag at a farm/hardware store for about half that!




Caged feeders for small birds


Some bird feeders have been designed with a metal cage around them to keep out squirrels. 

Guess what? They also keep out large birds!

Here is an example of a tube feeder in a cage. It is made by Audubon.





The cage will keep out squirrels, but also most starlings, blackbirds, jays, and grackles. However, it will likely also keep out grosbeaks and cardinals.

For this feeder I really like Wagner's Songbird Supreme as the best mixed bird seed for small birds. 

It is 50% sunflower seeds, both in the shell and hulled. It also contains white proso millet. But it doesn't have any filler seed. No red milo. No cracked corn or other seeds that many small birds don't eat.





The combination of sunflower seeds and white millet in Wagner's Songbird Supreme will attract goldfinches, house finches, chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, white-crowned sparrows, and others.

[Read my review of the Wagner's Songbird Supreme and why I like it so much!]


Suet feeders for small birds


The opening photo shows a Black-capped Chickadee on the Nature's Way Upside-Down Suet Feeder.

Many birds are attracted to suet--especially lager birds like jays and starlings. They can quickly consume a suet block.

Upside-down suet feeders make it harder for larger birds to get at the suet. Smaller birds have no trouble hanging upside-down to feed. Woodpeckers, with their strong legs and feet also feed easily from below.

[Read my article on where best to place a suet feeder.]

Small birds love the upside-down suet feeders. They have less competition from larger birds.

Warblers, wrens, bushtits, and other birds that don't eat seeds will also come to the suet feeder. Chickadees and nuthatches love suet, too.

Order your Nature's Way upside-down suet feeder from Amazon on this affiliate link.

I've been purchasing St. Albans Bay suet in the mixed pack of berry and peanut. Birds really seem to love it.





Thistle feeders for small birds

My final suggestion for feeding small birds is to attract goldfinches, siskins, redpolls, and house finches with Niger seed.

Larger birds do not eat Niger seed--it is just too small. Even other smaller birds do not eat it.

Niger seed is fed in special bird feeders known as thistle feeders, thistle socks, and finch feeders.

[Read my article: What is a thistle sock? What is a thistle feeder?]

The thistle feeder I like has a tray under it to catch seeds. These small seeds fall out of a feeder easily, so catching the seeds on the tray is a good way to prevent waste of these rather expensive seeds. 

This Perky Pet Finch Feeder is perfect for Niger seed. It has a metal screen that birds pull the seed through.




Just remember that these seeds spoil easily when wet. So don't put too much seed out at a time.

Something else to keep in mind is that Niger seed does not keep over winter very well. Birds won't eat old Niger seed. So if birds aren't eating your Niger seed it may need replaced with fresh.

I recommend starting with a smaller quantity of Niger seed. This Kaytee brand uses the trademarked name Nyjer.



That's it, then. If you offer black oil sunflower seeds in a tube feeder, perhaps in a cage, you will attract many small birds to your backyard.

Add an upside-down suet feeder and a thistle feeder, and you'll have even more brightly-colored and interesting birds!



Related:

Top 5 ways to get hummingbirds to come to your feeder

From scratch: Setting up your first bird feeder



Saturday, October 24, 2020

My review: Wagner's Songbird Supreme bird food

Wagner's Songbird Supreme is the best mixed bird seed for wild birds. 

Mixed bird seed is composed of several different varieties of seeds. 

(I often prefer just one type of seed to a feeder to attract just certain birds. For instance, Black oil sunflower seeds for finches and chickadees. Or safflower seeds for cardinals. Or Niger seeds for goldfinches.)

But for general bird feeding, all-types of birds welcome, mixed bird seed in a hopper feeder is the simplest way to go.

Wagner's Songbird Supreme Premium Wild Bird Food is my favorite choice for mixed bird seed. It's what I buy. (Purchase through Amazon, here.)

This is the perfect bird seed for setting up your first bird feeder. Read my article on setting up a bird feeder.


Photo of my hand with bird seed
Look at all the sunflower seeds! No filler!


Ingredients


Songbird Supreme is 50% sunflower seeds: black oil, striped, and hulled chips. 

Read my article on different kinds of sunflower seeds for birds.

Sunflower seeds are the favorite seeds of almost all seed eating birds. House Finches, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds. These are the birds I most want at my feeder.

For some of the smaller sparrows, it has white proso millet, a favorite of juncos, white-crowned sparrows, and towhees. 

The Songbird Supreme also has a few safflower seeds and peanut kernels

Northern Cardinals love safflower seeds. Chickadees will also eat it. 

Peanuts are a favorite of jays, nuthatches and woodpeckers. (Wagner's product page is here.)

But, really, it is the combination of black oil sunflower seeds and white proso millet that makes this Wagner's Songbird Supreme brand my clear choice for the title of best bird food.

Read my article discussing sunflower seeds and white millet as attracting the most birds.


No wasted bird seed filler!


To save money, many bird seed brands contain filler: cheap seeds and grains that most birds don't eat. It is chicken scratch. If you're feeding a bunch of wild quail and doves on the ground, then, sure, this is what you want. But not in your bird feeder.

Wagner's Songbird Supreme bird food has absolutely no filler! 

Examples of filler seeds you don't want in your bird seed mixture includes cracked corn, wheat, oats, and especially red milo.

Many of the cheap mixed bird seeds contain red milo. Some varieties of bird seed contain up to 40% milo! This seed only favored by the non-native--and very messy--House Sparrows. California Quail and Mourning Doves also eat it. 

Birds often throw milo out on the ground trying to get to something better. Then it sprouts and starts a new mess. 

Read my related article: 14 Tips to keep bird seed from sprouting in your lawn.

No cheap milo in the Songbird Supreme mix. Very nice.

Another cheap filler seed is cracked corn. Jays, doves, and quail like this. Other birds will leave it to last, if they eat it at all. Wagner's Songbird Supreme doesn't have any of this space-waster.

What birds eat cracked corn? Read my article.




Here is a link for the Songbird Supreme: 





Here is a link to a hopper feeder I like: 





Here is a link to some black oil sunflower seed, the one single type of seed that attracts the most birds: 




Saturday, September 26, 2020

Best binoculars under $100 for backyard bird watching

My previous articles on choosing birding binoculars (under $500 here, and under $200 here and then best at any price here) were about outdoor use. 

They concerned themselves with brightness in the woods or early morning overcast. They worried about ruggedness and waterproofing. They demanded wide field of view for finding birds easily in the sky or tree canopy. And they needed the very best optics available for the best most color-accurate view.

Binoculars exclusively for backyard bird watching require only a sharp bright view in normal daylight. Many people also want easy close-focus ability to observe birds at window feeders or to see hummingbirds nearby at feeders on the porch or eaves. 

These binoculars will probably spend most of their time sitting on your window sill waiting for an interesting bird to appear at your feeder.


Photo of woman looking through binoculars Photo by 955165 from Pixabay


This is actually a little bit harder for me to write. I've always been concerned with finding birds in more challenging outdoor circumstances.


Spoiler alert!

If you don't want to read all the details and discussion below, I recommend these as the best binoculars under $100

They all focus very close for bird feeders just outside your window. They are all suitable for eyeglass wearers.

Best binocular under $100:
Bushnell NatureView 8x42  Purchase on Amazon

Best binocular for lowest price:
SkyGenius 8x42  Purchase on Amazon

Best compact binocular under $100:
Vortex Vanquish 8x26  Purchase on Amazon



Birds at feeders are generally fairly near. So you don't need extra-strong magnification.

Birds return all day, so binoculars don't have to be super bright at dawn and dusk. 

Many times the binoculars will be used from inside the house. And even if used outside, if it rains, bird watchers will take the binoculars indoors. Making binoculars waterproof is expensive. If a cheaper pair of binoculars say they are waterproof, then they might have skimped on the optics quality.

This also means that I will look at both porro prism and roof prism designs. Rugged roof prism designs are often better for more expensive binoculars where waterproofing is needed. These have more expensive glass and prisms. But the porro prism design is easier to manufacture. So at lower prices the quality of binocular is more similar between the two styles.

For this type of birding you don't need a rugged armored binocular with large light-gathering lenses. Something smaller and light weight is ample. Some of the compact binoculars, that I usually avoid recommending otherwise, might be good for this purpose. 

There are so very many of these inexpensive binoculars on the market for under $100. How do you get something that's not a toy?

Well, since I don't have this knowledge immediately at my fingertips, I am going to do what you would do. I'm going to Google binoculars under $100 and get a list of all the recommended ones from the websites that pop up.

Then I am also going to search binoculars on Amazon, sort by price, and research each one that is listed. For each pair, I will go to the manufacturer's website to get the exact specifications.

I know what makes a good bird watching binocular, so I'll tell you the advantages of the good ones. I'll tell you which ones you should probably avoid. But, just because I don't recommend them, it doesn't mean they might not be right for you.

These are binoculars for adults. I am going to avoid binoculars made only for children. However, if the binoculars fold so the eyepieces can be used closer together for children's closer set eyes, or farther apart for adults, I'll note that.

I'm going to recommend binoculars with close focus under 10 feet and with eye relief of 15 mm or more for eyeglass wearers. But I'll also be looking for good optical quality, water proofing, and light weight, even though these aren't as essential for backyard bird viewing, perhaps mostly through the window.

Regardless, binoculars under $100 are NOT really high quality binoculars. The lowest priced binocular for outdoor bird watching that I recommend is the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42. It retails for about $175. If you can afford that, please purchase those instead. You won't be sorry. Really excellent quality binoculars sell for over $2000, for comparison.

Fortunately, for occasional use to watch birds at your feeder, or for a pair of binoculars for an outing, you can find decent binoculars for under 100 dollars.

Choosing binoculars by size


I'm going to ask you to stick with bird watching binoculars with a magnification of 7 to 10 power (7x to 10x). Frankly, 7x or 8x is ideal for bird watching binoculars.

Binoculars are often called by their magnification and the size of the large objective lens. These two numbers are referred to as the binocular's size.

A binocular of 7x35 (say, "7 by 35") magnifies 7 times. That means that an object through these binoculars 70 feet away, will look as it would if it was only 10 feet away without binoculars. It makes things look 7 times bigger or 7 times closer. A 10x42 binocular magnifies 10 times.

The 35 part is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. 35 mm is about 1.4 inches across. 50 mm is almost 2 inches. That's the lens on the "big end" of the binoculars.

One useful comparison is that relative brightness can be determined by dividing the lens size by the magnification. This is called the exit pupil. Thus, 7x35 binoculars has an exit pupil of 5 mm. The beam of light that comes out of this binocular eyepiece is 5 mm in diameter. And something near 5 mm will give the brightest view, even in dim light.

A 10x25 binocular has an exit pupil of 2.5 mm. That means that at dusk the view through the binocular will be darker than what your eye sees without a binocular. A 10x50 binocular will have a bright 5 mm exit pupil. You will be able to see fairly well through them at dawn and dusk.

Full sized binoculars are made with this ideal exit pupil: 7x35, 8x40, 10x50, 8x42 (5.25 mm), 10x42 (4.2 mm).

Compact binoculars have smaller objective lenses. In daylight they are fine. In dim light they are even dimmer. 8x21 and 8x25 are typical sizes. This is an exit pupil of 2.6 mm and 3.125 mm.

Mid-sized binoculars have objective lenses of about 30 mm, so 8x30 has a 3.75 mm exit pupil.

Good backyard birding binoculars under $100 can be full sized or compact.

NOTE: I don't want to confuse. So in the following reviews I'm only going to provide a link to Amazon if I recommend the binocular. I want to list as many as possible that other websites recommend, so you know I have considered them.

Very high magnification binoculars


More magnification isn't necessarily better. Especially with low-priced binoculars.

There are several binoculars recommended on some websites of 15x, 20x, or even 25x magnification. You can't hold these still in your hand. The view shakes because of tiny movements in your hand muscles. They need to be used on a tripod.

Frankly, it is hard to make good lenses that magnify that large anyway. If they are under $100 they can't be very good binoculars.

If you have a beach house with binoculars mounted on a tripod to look out to sea, then a 15x binocular might be okay. But, then I'd recommend spending a couple hundred dollars and get something better.

For backyard bird watching binoculars, you may wish to avoid the following:

Bushnell Powerview Wide Angle 20x50
Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70
Celestron SkyMaster 25x70

These are huge astronomical binoculars for star viewing. They are not suitable for watching birds at your feeder.

12x binoculars


Normally, I would tell you to avoid these, too. They are just too much magnification.

Hand shake is a problem.

But also, the field of view is narrow so that they are like looking through a straw.

Also, large magnification binoculars are generally poor for eyeglass wearers. The spec is called eye relief. It tells you how far back your eyes should be from the binocular lenses. If you wear eyeglasses while looking through binoculars you want at least 15 millimeters of eye relief. More is better, up to 19 or 20 mm.

Why then do I bother showing these? 

There seem to be many low priced binoculars at this magnification. Rather, what I have found is that there is likely one Chinese manufacturer labeling a single binocular for other brands. 

They have smart phone adapters and their advertising says for adults and kids, and waterproof (they're not). It also says "low light night vision" or something similar. They tout their large 18 mm ocular lenses, which really are rather small. They also offer 10x and 8x binoculars.

Please note that there aren't any expensive birding binoculars at this high magnification. They are all 8x and 10x. That should tell you that 12x isn't desirable for bird watching binoculars.

But maybe they'll be a surprise in here...

Adasion 12x42
Adorrgon 12x42
These are the same binoculars made in China. No website. 

Roof prism binocular. BaK-4 prisms, which is good. Adapter for some phone cameras. They are not waterproof as advertised; not submersible. 

They advertise large ocular size, but 18 mm isn't really all that large. And that doesn't mean all that much anyway. 

There is no specification page. So I cannot tell if these are suitable for eyeglass wearers, how close they focus, or what the field of view is. Not recommended.

Gskyer 12x42
BaK-4 roof prisms. Fully multi-coated optics. Can resist water splashes, but is not waterproof; not submersible. The field of view is 374 feet @ 1000 yards, which must be considered good for 12x. It weighs 30 ounces, which is rather heavy. Phone camera adapter. No close focus or eye relief spec listed. 

Even though Gskyer is a well known telescope manufacturer, these binoculars look like the Chinese ones above. Not recommended. 

Occer 12x25
This compact binocular will have a very dim view. They are suitable for feeder birds only in bright sunlight. 

It will be hard to hold these steady because of the high magnification. Field of view is 273 feet @ 1000 yards, very narrow, like looking through a straw, which is not good. Close focus is only 16.4 feet, so poor for using to view hummingbird feeder on eaves or window bird feeder. 

Again, they say waterproof, but you cannot submerge them or wash them in running water in the sink. Not recommended.


Well, with what I've seen with these, I can safely say to stay away from 12x binoculars for backyard bird watching.

Big heavy 50 mm binoculars



These are probably better for hunting binoculars and spotting distant wildlife. They give bright view in dim pre-daylight conditions. The large objective lenses of 50 mm will make them heavy and cumbersome. 

It is hard for these binoculars to focus closely on window-mounted bird feeders, or hummingbird feeders hung on your eaves. Probably not the right binocular for backyard bird watching.

Bushnell PowerView 10x50
Aluminum chassis. Porro prism design. Less good, BaK-7 prisms. Multi-coated, not fully multi-coated lenses. Close focus of 25 feet is not suitable for viewing birds in your own backyard. Eye relief of 16 mm is just okay for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Bushnell Falcon 10x50
Porro prism binocular. Eye relief of 9 mm is not suitable for bare eye use, much less eyeglass wearers. The field of view is a disappointing 300 feet @ 1000 yards, way too narrow. The close focus distance of 25 feet doesn't allow you to use them to view a hummingbird feeder hanging from the eaves or a window bird feeder. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 7x50
Best BaK-4 porro prisms. Waterproof. Twist up eye cups. No spec sheet on manufacturer's site. "Longer eye relief." Field of view unknown. Close focus distance unknown. Not recommended.

Bushnell Legacy WP 10x50
Best BaK-4 porro prism design. Waterproof. Fully multi-coated lenses. Close focus of 12 feet is not too bad for backyard use. Eye relief is good at 18 mm. Twist up eye cups. Field of view is 341 feet @ 1000 yards, about average for 10x binoculars. Weight is 30.5 ounces, which is heavy. 

Manufacturer says out of stock at this time. (Not the 10-22x zoom model.) These would be okay if you can find them. 

Olympus Trooper 10x50
Cheaper BaK-7 Porro prism. Field of view of 342 feet @ 1000 yards is average for 10x binoculars. Weight 30 ounces. Not recommended.

SkyGenius 10x50
Quite heavy at 28.8 ounces. Porro prism design. Field of view is 367 feet @ 1000 yards, good width for 10x. Rubber fold-down eyecups (say twist up on some ads). Minimum focal distance is 16.4 feet, so only use if bird feeder is way out in your yard. Not recommended.

Full-sized 7x35, 8x40, 8x42, 10x40, 10x42 binoculars


These are the best binocular sizes for generic bird watching. They have the proper magnification and brightness. Some are even waterproof!

Alatino 10x42
Roof prism design. BaK-4 prisms; fully multi-coated optics. Eye relief of 15 mm is a bit short, but usable for eyeglass wearers. The field of view is 362 feet @ 1000 yards. This is good for 10x binoculars. Very light 18.6 ounces. Water resistant; not waterproof or submersible. 

Sadly, I cannot find a close focus spec. View on Amazon.

Bushnell Falcon 7x35
Porro prism. Not waterproof. 20 foot close focus is poor for backyard use. Eye relief of 12 mm is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Wide field of view of 420 feet @ 1000 yards is great. Light weight at 21 ounces. Rocker arm rather than focus wheel. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 8x42
Best BaK-4 roof prism design. A true waterproof binocular. Field of view is wide at 409 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 17 mm is good for eyeglass wearers. Weight of 25 ounces is not heavy, not light. The 18 feet close focus isn't very good. Recommended. View on Amazon

Bushnell NatureView 8x42
Best BaK-4 roof prisms. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. Close focus an amazing 5 feet! Wide field of view at 393 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 17.5 mm is good for eyeglass wearers. Light weight at 21.3 ounces. Highly recommended! View on Amazon

Celestron Outland X 10x42
BaK-4 roof prism design. Field of view is narrow, only 294 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus is 15 feet, which is okay, but not great. Eye relief of 14 mm means these are not good for most eyeglass wearers. Fog proof. They say waterproof, but I'm not sure the level. They don't say submersible. Not recommended.

Celestron Outland X 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism design. Field of view 357 feet, which is average. Close focus 13 feet is good for backyard binoculars. Eye relief of 18 mm which is very good for eyeglass wearers. Weight is light at 22 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey Dreamer HD 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism phase corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. Eye relief and close focus specs not listed. Field of view is narrow at 330 feet @ 1000 yards. Not recommended.

Eyeskey Grampus 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism phase corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. 17.5 mm eye relief is suitable for eyeglass wearers. 388 feet @ 1000 yards is wide angle field of view. 22 ounces is fairly light weight. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey 10x42
BaK-4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses. Narrow field of view at 283 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 9 feet is good for hummingbird feeders out the window hanging from eaves. Not waterproof or fog proof. Not recommended.

Eyeskey Eaglet 10x42
BaK-4 prisms. Fully multi-coated. Waterproof. Fog proof. 18.4 mm of eye relief very good for eyeglass wearers. Field of view is 294 feet @ 1000 yards, which is a bit narrow. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Gosky 10x42
Weight of 24.4 ounces is good for the aluminum/magnesium body. These roof prism binoculars have an eye relief of only 12 mm. That means that much of the field of view will be cut off from eyeglass wearers. 

What makes it worse is that the field of view is only 307 feet @ 1000 yards. This will really be like looking through a straw! 

The close focus is over 16 feet. That's too far for using to view a window bird feeder or hummingbird feeder on the eaves. 

The manufacturer's spec sheet says exit pupil of 5 mm, yet 42 mm divided by 10x is clearly an exit pupil of 4.2 mm. Not recommended.

Nikon Aculon A211 10x42
BaK-4 porro prism design. Close focus of 16.4 feet. Field of view only 314 feet @ 1000 yards, which is narrow. Eye relief of 11.6 mm is terrible; not usable with eyeglasses. Not recommended. 

Nikon Akulon A211 7x35
Porro prism design. Amazing field of view at 488 feet @ 1000 yards! Close focus of 16.4 feet which isn't very good for backyard use. Eye relief of 11.8 mm makes these unsuitable for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Nikon Aculon 8x42
Porro prism design. Wide field of view at 420 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus is 16.4 feet, poor for backyard birding where your feeder may be closer than that, and thus will be out of focus unless you back up. The 12 mm of eye relief is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Weighs 26.8 ounces which is mid-weight. Not recommended.

Olympus Trooper 8x40
Porro prim design with lesser BaK-7 prisms. Eye relief is short at 12 mm, so not acceptable for eyeglass wearers. Close focus of 13.1 feet is okay. Field of view is wide at 429 feet, which is nice. Weight of 25 ounces is not light nor overly heavy. Okay if you don't wear eyeglasses. View on Amazon

Cycvis 10x42
Ruggedfix 10x42
Same binoculars
Made in China. No website. No specification page. Not recommended. 

SkyGenius 8x42
Roof prism design. BaK-4 prisms is good. Fully multi-coated optics is what you want, too. Good for eyeglass wearers with 18 mm eye relief. Field of view is 369 feet @ 1000 yards, which is adequate. 26.9 ounces is okay, but not light weight. Focuses as close as 6.6 feet, which is quite good for viewing close birds at a window feeder. 

The Amazon ad says for adults and children. The manufacturers page does not list interpupilary adjustment range. So I can't confirm that is will work for kids. Highly recommended! View on Amazon. 

Wingspan Optics (Polaris) EagleScout 10x42
Wingspan Optics Voyager 10x42
Best quality BaK-4 roof prisms. Waterproof. Lifetime warranty; replaced if ever damaged. 

Field of view is unfortunately narrow at 283 feet @ 1000 yards, but probably okay for backyard use. Close focus of less than 10 feet is good for backyard feeder watching at close range. The 14.8 mm eye relief is quite short, some of the field of view may be cut off for some eyeglass wearers. Fairly light weight at 24 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Compact and mid-sized binoculars


These binoculars are great for viewing birds during daylight hours. They may be a bit dim at dawn and dusk, or under overcast skies. This is because they have a exit pupil of less than 5 mm. In fact, most of these have exit pupils of 2.5 to 4.

They are small and light-weight. So they are easy to hold to look at birds at your feeder. They are easy to slip into a pocket for a stroll, or keep in your car's glove compartment, or take on a bike ride. Of course, they'll look great on your window sill!

Some may fold down narrow enough for a child's close-set eyes. But I haven't considered this for most models.

I reviewed the Occer 12x25 above in the 12x binoculars.

AuroSports 10x25
Another generic binocular made by the unnamed company in China with no website or spec sheet. Says they are waterproof, but they definitely are not. Close focus of 10 feet is okay for backyard birding. Field of view is 362 feet @ 1000 yards which is fairly good for 10x. 

Will give a dark view at dawn and dusk, with an exit pupil of only 2.5 mm. Thus, the advertised "Low Light Night Vision" is meaningless. No specs for eye relief, so can't tell if they are suitable for eyeglass wearers or not. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 8x21
BaK-4 prisms. Waterproof. Field of view 360 feet @ 1000 yards is middle of the road. Close focus 15 feet is meh. Short eye relief of 12 mm means that these are not good for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Celestron Outland X 8x25
BaK-4 prisms. Wide field of view at 430 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus ability is 13.1 feet, which is okay, not great. The eye relief is terrible at 10 mm. That's too short for anyone to use with eyeglasses. Not recommended.

Eschenbach Arena F+ 8x25
BaK-4 prisms with silver rather than the better dielectric mirror coatings. Fully multi-coated. Waterproof. Fog proof. Wide field of view of 400 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 9.8 feet is quite good for viewing hummingbirds and other birds at your window feeders or eaves. 

Eye relief is short at 14.1 mm which means the field of view might by reduced for some eyeglass wearers. Light weight at 19.4 ounces. These fold down to allow children to use them too. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey Shadowhunter 8x32
Roof prism. BaK-4 phse-corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Field of view 388 feet @ 1000 yards is good. Eye relief of 18.5 mm is excellent for eyeglass wearers. Waterproof and fog proof. 21 ounces is a lighter pair of binoculars. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Leupold BX-1 Rogue 8x25
Inverted porro prism design that is very compact. Waterproof. Field of view is fairly narrow at 337 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 14 feet is okay. Eye relief of 15 mm is okay for most eyeglass wearers.  Weight of 12.7 ounces is very light. Recommended. View on Amazon

Nikon Aculon A30 10x25
Roof prism design. Can't find any information on prisms and glass. Very poor narrow field of view of only 262 feet at 1000 yards. Close focus is very good at 8.2 feet. Eye relief of 10.6 mm is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Fold down to small size and suitable for children. Very light weight at 9.7 ounces. Not recommended

Nikon Trailblazer 8x25
Roof prism design. No information on prism and glass materials. Waterproof. Fog proof. Very wide field of view at 429 feet @ 1000 yards. Good close focus of 8.2 feet. Very short eye relief of 10 mm. Very light weight at 9.9 ounces. Good if you don't wear eyeglasses. View on Amazon

Vortex Raptor 8.5x32
Mid-sized porro prism design. Fully multi-coated optics. Waterproof. Eye relief of 14 mm is a bit short, some eyeglass wearers may not be able to see the entire field of view. Speaking of which, the field of view is wide at 390 feet @ 1000 yards. 

Close focus of 15 feet isn't the best for window bird feeders. Also suitable for children's more narrow set eyes. Light weight at 17.3 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Vortex Vanquish 8x26
Inverted porro prism design. Fully multi-coated. Field of view is average at 352 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 15 mm is suitable for eyeglass wearers. Close focus of 7.6 feet is excellent for viewing close birds at hummingbird feeders and window feeders. Very light weight at 12.7 ounces. Highly recommended. View on Amazon

Conclusion


There you have it, the results of my research. 

Now, if anybody asks, I will recommend the Bushnell NatureView 8x42 as the best binocular under $100 for backyard bird watching.

If someone wants the cheapest binocular that still is decent for looking out the window at the bird feeder, then the SkyGenius 8x42 is the one for them.

And, if someone wants a small, lightweight binocular for observing birds at the feeder, then the compact Vortex Vanquish 8x26 is the one they want.


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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Is 5 feet really best bird feeder height?

Common wisdom is that bird feeders should be placed 5 feet above the ground. But other heights may be better for your feeders.

This article discusses how high feeders should be above the ground. And it discusses reasons why you might want to place your feeder lower or higher.

Photo of bird feeder placed directly outside a window
Image by Matthew Gollop from Pixabay

Why 5 feet is a good height to place your feeders above the ground


First, let's discuss why you might want to set your bird feeders up so that they are the traditional 5 feet above the ground.

Squirrels


Many people have trouble keeping squirrels out of their bird feeders. It is an ongoing battle for some.

If you have a hanging feeder, you need a baffle over the top.

If you have a pole mounted feeder, you need to place a baffle up the pole, under the feeder.

Either way, squirrels can jump upward over 4 feet. You need to place the feeder 5 feet high so that the squirrels don't jump up on them from the ground.

And squirrels can jump sideways 10 feet. That's amazing! If they can climb a tree or fence or porch roof they can jump to your feeder from a surprising distance.

This is the primary reason to place your feeder 5 feet above the ground.

But not everyone has to contend with squirrels. Thus, there may be no reason to have your feeders 5 feet high.

Cats


Having a raised feeder might help protect your birds from housecats.

Usually, cats prefer to sneak up on birds from behind a dense bush or hiding place at ground level. Then they pounce.

Responsible bird feeding enthusiasts place their bird feeders 8-10 feet away from such a hiding place. That's sideways, not up above the ground.

Having the feeders raised increases their safety from cats. Birds can spot any cats more easily if the bird feeder is raised. Five feet is a good height for this.

If you don't have problem with cats in your neighborhood, then you have some more flexibility. You can choose a bird feeder height that is best for you and your birds.

Viewing height


Sit in your easy chair and look out your living room window. There's a good chance that your head is about 5 feet above the ground. That makes it eye-level with your 5 foot high bird feeder.

This is an excellent reason to have your bird feeder 5 feet above the ground!

However, perhaps you watch birds from an upstairs window. Perhaps you watch birds from behind a sliding glass door. Perhaps your favorite view is out a kitchen window while standing and cooking. If so, then there may be a better height than 5 feet for your bird feeder.

Filling and cleaning


No matter the height of the bird feeder, you must be able to reach it to refill and clean it.

A bird feeder that you cannot reach, or cannot easily reach, is worthless.

Thus, a feeder much higher than 5 feet above the ground would be hard to fill and clean regularly, unless you had some ladder or pulley system. But why? 

On the other hand, if it was a second floor (or higher) balcony, you would still be able to reach it. Birds would be up in the air 15 feet or so from the earth. But they may be only 4 or 5 feet up from your balcony flooring.

At what height do feeder birds naturally feed?


Birds that feed in the tree tops


Finches are seed eating birds that often feed on the pine, fir, and spruce cones high in the tree tops. Thus, they naturally feed quite high.

Purple Finches, Cassin's Finches, Red Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins are such birds.

But they readily descend to feed on other foods and have no problem visiting a bird feeder.

These birds often like to feed on black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders. Here is a good brand of black oil sunflower seeds [Amazon link]. Here is a tube bird feeder I like [Amazon link].

These birds also come to the ground to drink water or take baths.

When frightened, these birds often fly up into the tree tops.

Birds that feed in the mid level of the trees


Many birds feed on the trunk and branches of the trees. Many of these eat insects and seeds.

Such birds include chickadees: Black-capped, Carolina, Mountain, Chestnut-backed and others. Nuthatches feed in the mid-level: White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-capped, and Pygmy. Tufted, Oak, and Bridled Titmouses feed in lower parts of the tree. Also, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and others feed here.

All of these come to feeders and drop to the ground to drink and bathe.

These birds often like mixed seeds from hopper feeders best. My favorite brand of mixed seed that my birds really like is 50% black oil sunflower seeds and no filler [Amazon link]. Here is a hopper feeder I like [Amazon link].


Photo of a chickadee flying from a stump used as a bird feeder
Image by iihumi rakura from Pixabay

Birds that feed mainly on the ground


Several kinds of birds feed primarily on the ground. They often scratch in the dirt looking for weed seeds that have fallen.

Feeder birds that love to eat on the ground include Dark-eyed Juncos. Several sparrows feed on the ground: White-throated, White-crowned, Golden-crowned, American Tree, Chipping, Song, Fox, and others. Towhees, including Eastern, Spotted, California, Canyon, and Abert's feed on the ground. Mourning Doves, California Quail, and other pigeons and chicken-like birds feed on the ground.

Birds that prefer to feed on the ground often fly away low into the bushes when startled.

Ground feeders like to eat smaller mixed seeds from platform feeders.

Birds that feed at any height


Some birds really don't care how high the bird feeder is. 

Northern Cardinals don't have much of a preference. Neither do House Finches or House Sparrows.

Chickadees will feed in tree tops or on the ground, even if they most often stay to middle heights. Most birds will got to where the food is.

Even the ground-loving sparrows will fly up to your balcony to a bird feeder.

How high to place your bird feeders

Where, then, should you place your bird feeders? How high (or low) can you go?

As you might guess from the foregoing, it might be better to have feeders at several heights. It depends upon where you can see them, what predators you may have to worry about, and what they might naturally prefer.

5 foot high bird feeder placement


The traditional 4 or 5 foot tall bird feeder is convenient.

Birds that feed at all levels will use it. It is easy for you to watch the birds. It is easy to clean and refill. It is fairly safe from cats. You can use baffles to try to keep squirrels out.

You can place bird feeders on a pole, on a fence, or hang them from a tree or other tall structure.

Ground level bird feeders


You can feed some birds right on the ground. A cement patio might be perfect for juncos in the winter.

You may use a tree stump as a feeder, or put a bird feeder on a low stump.

There are low platform bird feeders you can purchase, too.

I've written an article about feeding birds on the ground.

Higher bird feeders


Finch feeders should be hung higher, rather than lower.

Living as I do, now, in Washington State among the towering fir trees, I imagine a very high bird feeder.

I see and hear Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, and Purple Finches in the tree tops. But only the siskins descend to the feeders right now. In winter the others will visit.

What if I was 40 years younger and climbed the tall Douglas fir up 80 feet and attached a pulley and rope? Then I could attach one of those bird seed bells and raise it high in the tree! It might cause birds to come down to the porch feeders that just fly overhead now.

Okay, that's probably unrealistic.

But what about a bird feeder high in a fire lookout tower? In the window of a down town high rise? On the 3rd story apartment balcony?

Really, if you have a window or balcony, no matter how high, you can probably feed birds at your level.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

25 tips: Where to hang your hummingbird feeder

Are you happy with where your hummingbird feeder was hanging this spring?

Did your hummingbird feeder bring lots of hummingbirds to your yard? Was it easy to see from inside your home?

Here are 25 tips to help you decide the best place to hang your hummingbird feeder (or feeders!).

Preview:

Hang your hummingbird feeder so the hummingbirds can easily find it. Place it so it has both sun and shade. Its location should be near to protective cover. And it must be where you can see it easily from inside your home. You may hang your hummingbird feeder from a shepherds hook in the middle of your lawn, to a tree branch, attach it to a window using a suction cup feeder, or hang it from the eaves.

Photo of hummingbird feeder

There are two parts of this article. 

The first part discusses in general where hummingbird feeders should be placed within your landscaping to provide the safest feeder for the hummingbirds and the most joy for you.

The second part of the article discusses specific physical structures from which to hang your hummingbird feeders.

Part 1: Considerations for hummingbird feeder placement


Tip 1: Hummingbird feeders should be easy for the birds to find


Especially first thing in the spring, your feeders should be highly visible. Thus, any passing hummingbirds will see your feeders and come to them to drink. 

Hang your feeders high and in the open. Once hummingbirds are visiting regularly, you may move them to a more secluded or shaded location.

You may also place bright red, orange, and yellow ribbons or decorations to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Tip 2: Set up hummingbird feeders within 10-15 feet of cover


So they are safe from predators, hang hummingbird feeders near a bush or tree where they can take cover.

Even if your feeders are placed out in the middle of the lawn, they should still be near some protective cover. If safety is too far away the hummingbirds may not visit the feeder regularly, or stay for long.

Tip 3: Hummingbirds like a tall survey perch nearby


The dominant hummingbird keeps vigilant watch over the feeder. He or she usually chooses a perch high up with a commanding view. It can be a tree branch, fence line, wire, or bird feeder pole.

From there this bird chases away any interlopers. There is always a dominant hummingbird at a feeder that chases the others away. Or, at least, chases them. The more hummingbirds at the feeder the less successful is this bully bird at chasing any single one of the birds away.

You can even add a perch, called a hummingbird swing (link takes you to Amazon). Place the perch within 5 or 6 feet of the feeder and the dominant hummingbird will sit there all day when not chasing other hummingbirds. The best part is, you can place this swing where you'll have a good view from your home!

Tip 4: Hang the hummingbird feeder where you can see it!


The purpose of a hummingbird feeder is to attract hummingbirds into view!

Many people hang the hummingbird feeder at a location where there is already a hook. But that may not be the best place to see the feeder from inside your home.

Where will you be looking outside during the early part of the day? That's the best place to put the feeder.

What about the evening? What room will you be in? The window for that room will be another good location for a feeder.

Tip 5: Hummingbird feeder placement: morning sun, afternoon shade


That's the main idea. 

Hummingbirds may be cold in the morning and want to feed in the warm sun.

Afternoon sun can cause the nectar to go bad more quickly.

I wrote another whole article on where to hang a hummingbird feeder, in sun or shade. You should check out that article for more ideas about this topic specifically.

Tip 7: Photographing hummingbirds at feeders


To photograph hummingbirds at your feeder you want them close. You want them with sunlight on them from the front. That's hard to do from inside your home.

If you hang a feeder right outside the window, the hummingbird will either be in the shade or be a silhouette looking right into the sun.

So to photograph hummingbirds in the morning sun, place the feeder on the south side of your house. It should be out maybe 5 or 6 feet away from the window and perhaps a bit to the west edge of the window.

Photographing hummingbirds through a window often distorts the image slightly. There are also reflections back. So place the camera against the glass. Better, open the window, if possible for your own personal hummingbird photo blind.

Tip 8: Hummingbird feeders must be easy to get down to clean and refill


Wherever you hang your hummingbird feeders, it should be easy and convenient to reach. Feeders will empty and need cleaned every 3-5 days in summer.

Clean hummingbird feeders are essential to attract lots of hummingbirds. If it is hard to take them down, then you won't. They will hang there empty or with cloudy nectar that the hummingbirds refuse to drink.

Tip 9: Hummingbird feeder must be placed away from cats


Can can jump quite high. But jumping cats are not the main threat that hummingbirds face. Rather it is cats pouncing from a hiding place that often leads to bird deaths.

So keep any bushes that are dense to the ground away from low hanging hummingbird feeders. Any place a cat can hide and pounce should be removed to at least 8 feet away.

Or, you may simply hang your hummingbird feeder up 5 feet off the ground.

Tip 10: Hummingbird feeders should be placed so they are safe from windows


Birds don't understand windows. If it is clear they think they can fly through it. Or, they are confused by the reflection into thinking it is sky.

There are two distances from windows to place your bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders.

Place your feeders far from your home to prevent window collisions. Several sources recommend placing feeders at least 30 feet away from windows to prevent bird collisions. Other experts recommend at least 10 feet away.

The second location for bird feeders is within 3 feet of the window. Why so close? Birds can more easily see a window if they are near it to start. If they do hit the window, they aren't flying fast enough to hurt themselves. They see their own reflection and have time to veer off from a direct head-on collision.

You may place decals on the window so birds recognize that there is something there. The shape of the decals don't matter as much as having something for their eyes to focus on at the same plane as the glass. Then they can more easily see the window glass itself, rather than looking through.

Tip 11: Place hummingbird feeders away from other bird feeders


Give hummingbirds some privacy away from the rambunctious activity of other birds at the seed feeders.

Hummingbird feeders can be near other bird feeders, but hummingbirds visit more often when other birds do not startle them away.

The hummingbirds will feel safer with a bit of space between them and other birds at seed feeders.

Tip 12: The spacing of multiple hummingbird feeders


There are two lines of thought about how close together to place multiple hummingbird feeders.

Since there is always a dominant bully hummingbird at the main feeder, some people recommend hanging a second feeder around the corner, out of sight from the first feeder. Less dominant birds can feed there unmolested.

But if you want lots of hummingbirds, set up lots of feeders rather close together! While the dominant hummingbird chases one other hummingbird away, the others can get in for a drink. The bully gets tired of chasing and shares the feeder. 

Usually, though, with several feeders hanging closely, everybody is chasing everybody. It's wild!

Tip 13: Give hummingbird feeders enough space for the birds to fly around the feeder


Hummingbirds often feed while in flight. So they don't want the feeder to be crowded too close to other objects. 

Keep feeders a foot away from any posts or walls or plants or other feeders.

Likewise, hummingbirds may be cautious about approaching hummingbird feeders that are hidden in a bush. Hang the feeder outside bushes, with some open space around them.

Tip 14: Don't let plants touch the hummingbird feeder!


Related to the previous tip is this one. Keep plants trimmed away from the hummingbird feeder.

Why? Ants crawl up the plants to reach the feeder. This defeats the purpose of the ant moat. Always use and keep water in the ant moat.

Tip 15: Hang your hummingbird feeder out of the wind


Wind causes the hummingbird feeder to sway and leak. Leaking hummingbird feeders attract ants and bees.

Ants attracted to hummingbird feeders will soon make their way into your house! That's not what you want.

If the hummingbird feeder is out on a bird feeder pole in the yard a ways, ants are less of a problem for your house. But ants can quickly cause hummingbird nectar to go bad.

Tip 16: Hang your hummingbird feeder so that it doesn't drip on anything important


You don't want any leaks of sugar water that you may step in. 

You don't want the hummingbird feeder dripping on your picnic table, BBQ, air conditioner, or decorations.

I wrote an article on keeping bees from feeders. It also discusses different kinds of feeders, including hummingbird feeders that don't drip.

Tip 17: Hang hummingbird feeders in your flower garden


Hummingbird feeders imitate the nectar of flowers! Thus, it only makes sense to attract hummingbirds with blooming flowers.

Choose a combination of flowers that bloom early and late in the season. That way there are always some flowers when hummingbirds are present.

Hummingbirds prefer flowers with trumpet-shaped blossoms. Check with your local nursery for native flowers that do well in your region.

Planting flowers hummingbirds love is the best way to attract hummingbirds to your backyard.

Part 2: Different places to hang a hummingbird feeder


This section discusses attaching and hanging hummingbird feeders to physical objects.

Tip 18: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a pole or shepherd's hook


This is the most obvious way to hang a hummingbird feeder.

Using a bird feeder pole has the advantage of placing the feeder exactly where you want within your yard.

Home Depot sells an 84-inch tall, dual offset shepherd's hook that my wife and I really like for hanging all our bird feeders. It inserts into the ground a foot or more. Thus the feeders hang above 5 feet. See this shepherd's hook on Home Depot website.

Tip 19: Hang a hummingbird feeder from the eaves


Do your eaves have hooks for hanging flower baskets? Perfect! Hang flowers on some of the hooks. Place a hummingbird feeder between them on another hook!

This is the fastest way to get hummingbirds to find your feeders in the spring!

If you don't have hooks for hanging flower baskets, well, why not? Get some today!

Tip 20: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a window awning


This location for hanging a hummingbird feeder has several advantages. The feeder will receive low morning light, yet be protected from hot noon weather. It may receive some protection from strong winds, too. And it is protected from rain.

Best of all, a bird feeder hanging from an awning is always visible outside the window!

Tip 21: Hang hummingbird feeders from the rain gutters


If your roof doesn't lend itself to hanging hummingbird feeders from the eaves, then try the gutters!

Bend a stiff metal coat hanger so that the feeder hangs from the gutters. Nothing heavy should hang from the gutters, but a light-weight feeder should be no problem.

Tip 22: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a wall with a shelf bracket


You can screw a shelf bracket into the siding of your home to hang a hummingbird feeder. You might want to caulk with a silicone sealant to keep out moisture from the screw holes.

Careful, though! Keep the shelf bracket above head height so no one hits their head on the bracket sticking out.

Tip 23: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a wooden fence with a shelf bracket


You can hang a hummingbird feeder from a fence post or the upper wooden rail with a shelf bracket.

You can also use a C-clamp to attach an arm to the top of the pickets. See examples at Amazon.

Careful, though, to plan this in an area where no one will run into the arm. It should not be along a footpath, for instance. The bracket will be right at head level!

Tip 24: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a tree


You may hang a feeder from a tree limb. I suggest a low tree limb so that the feeder does not swing wildly on its hanger. A higher limb may require a cord or thin rope.

You may attach a shelf bracket to the trunk of the tree. Attach with wood screws--longer for thick bark.

Be sure to use an ant moat, as ants tend to live in trees at certain times of year.

Tip 25: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a gazebo or shed


Use the same mounting method as for hanging feeders from eaves, gutters, or siding explained above.

Tip 26: Buy a window hummingbird feeder with suction cups


Window feeders bring the birds right up to you!

Window attached hummingbird feeders are generally smaller volume. That is because the sugar water is heavy. And the suction cups can only hold a lighter weight feeder.

The suction cups tend to pop off the window after a time. Make sure the window is clean and dry when you attach the suction cups. Then they'll stay longer.

Here is a page from Amazon showing the different types of window feeders with suction cups.

Notice there are two types. 

Either the hummingbird feeder itself attaches to the window with suction cups. 

Or, the hanger can have the suction cups and you can use a regular hanging bird feeder. Then you can hang any type of bird feeder to your window!

Tip 27: Hang a hummingbird feeder from a wooden deck railing with an extension arm


There are extension arms sold with C-clamps to attach hummingbird feeders to the railing of your deck. These may also work to attach the arm to the upper rail of a wooden fence. Some even work on metal railings. See a selection of different bird feeder arms and clamps at Amazon.

Tip 28: Hang your bird feeder from a covered porch or deck


Just like your house, you may hang hummingbird feeders from the eaves or from the gutters, as explained above.

There.

Uh-oh, I went past 25! Oh well, a couple of bonus ideas for you.

Did I miss any locations? Leave a note in the comments to benefit others.



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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Secrets to feeding birds in winter

Recently I moved from the San Diego area to the Cascade mountains of southwestern Washington State. 

My winter bird feeding experience is about to change!

The forest is hot and dry now in September, and fires are raging across the state. But the rains will start up in a month. Six weeks after that we can expect some snow. Rain and snow will alternate all winter, perhaps into April.

If you, like me, will have a snowy winter, how do we feed birds in winter? Here's the secret:

To best feed wild birds in winter you need to provide high-energy foods such as black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. You need to remove snow and ice from the bird feeder. And you need to provide liquid water for birds to drink.

Image by Daniela Viskova from Pixaby.

The best foods for winter bird feeding


The first secret for successful winter bird feeding is providing the right food.

Birds need fatty, high-energy, food in winter. Here are the foods birds like best in winter.

Sunflower seeds


The "oil" in black oil sunflower seeds indicate that these have higher fat content than striped sunflower seeds. This is what birds want and need in winter. Most seed eating birds love black oil sunflower seeds more than anything else. The black oil sunflower seeds are smaller and have thinner shells than the striped sunflower seeds. So birds can get them open easier.

Hulled sunflower seeds, often sold as sunflower kernels or chips, are primarily made from striped sunflowers. Birds love them--but not as much as black oil sunflower seeds. They are very easy to eat, since the shell is off. So birds with smaller bills like them better.

Peanut halves


Peanuts are a great source of fat and protein. Just what birds need to keep warm on those cold winter days (and nights)! Dry roasted and unsalted peanuts will make birds happy and keep them healthy.

Squirrels love peanuts, too. You may have to set up a separate whole peanut (in the shell) supply to keep those pesky, but entertaining, squirrels out of the bird feeders (may not work, though).

Millet


White proso millet provides carbohydrates for energy. It is a small seed that many sparrows and juncos prefer to sunflower seeds. 

These seeds are best offered on a platform feeder or hopper feeder with tray for the birds to stand on. The birds that like millet best are ground feeders. They will like a low feeder.

Warning: a similar small seed is red milo. It is a major component of cheaply-priced bird seed. Most birds will not eat milo. Read your bird seed ingredients label carefully before purchasing.

Niger seed


This small seed is sold as "thistle" or under the trademark Nyjer®. This seed is a favorite of the small finches. Goldfinches and Pine Siskins really love Niger seed!

Niger seed is fed in special finch feeders or thistle socks. These have small mesh that the birds pull the seeds from.

The seed will not last over from one season to the next. It also molds rather easily if left out in the rain too long. When the small finches aren't eating it anymore, then it is time to throw out the old and start fresh. For this reason, I recommend buying it in small amounts until you know how much your birds eat on a regular basis.

Suet


Suet is rendered beef fat. You might not think that seed eating and insect eating birds would eat animal fat. But they love it! Especially in winter.

Think of a suet block as a big juicy grub. The birds that find it have hit the motherload!

Suet is often formed into a block and fed in a special suet cage. To keep starlings and blackbirds from eating it all, feed suet on a special upside-down suet feeder. Check out an upside-down suet feeder at Amazon.

Plain suet is fine. But often it is sold in a variety pack. It can have bird seed, fruit, nuts, and even mealworms melted into it and hardened. Different additives will attract different birds. I recently bought (but have not yet received, a low-priced variety pack of suet from Amazon).

Look for me to write a review of the feeder and suet in the future.

Some suet alternatives are made with peanut butter. Some is spreadable and called Bark Butter®. It is spread onto tree bark.

Mixed bird seed


Don't buy cheap mixed bird seed for feeding birds in winter!

Specifically, stay away from bird seed with red milo and cracked corn. These are two seeds and grains that many birds will not eat.

Make sure any mixed seed you feed to birds in winter is mostly sunflower seeds and white proso millet. See my article on why.

Photo of handful of bird seed
Wagner's Songbird Supreme

I recommend Wagner's Songbird Supreme. Look at that seed in my hand! It is 50% sunflower seeds--black oil, striped, and chips! It also contains safflower seeds, white proso millet, and peanuts. No cheap fillers. At all. It is good all year round, but especially good for feeding birds in winter. Buy Wagner's Songbird Supreme through this Amazon affiliate link. Thank you.

Keep your winter bird feeders full and snow-free


The next secret to feeding birds in winter is to make sure that food is always available to the birds.

One way to do this is to make sure your feeders are always full. Birds can suffer in harsh winter weather. I learned recently that for many species, males out-compete females for food. Thus backyard feeders are very important for making sure that the females get enough to eat in winter.

Having larger capacity feeders can help. Food will last all through the day. And, perhaps, you don't have to fill the feeders as often, perhaps the bird food will last for several days.

Having more than one feeder allows one to accidentally go empty, yet the other will still have food.

A second way to make sure that food is always available is to keep the bird feeders free of snow and ice.

You may sweep or shovel or trample the snow under the feeder to expose the ground. Bird seed often falls to the ground under the feeder. Some birds prefer to feed there, on the ground.

Purchase hopper or platform bird feeders with large overhanging roofs to keep them from filling with snow. And, if you notice the bird feeders are covered with snow, bundle up and go clean off the snow.

Tube feeders don't fill with snow like the other feeders. But not all birds feed from tube feeders. And check that the feeding ports are clear of frozen ice or that large nuts or seeds aren't blocking it. In rainy weather the bird seed sometimes gums up at the feeding ports and needs to be cleaned out.

Provide drinking water for birds in winter


The final secret to feeding birds in winter is to provide water.

Birds need to drink every day. Eating snow uses far more calories to keep warm than drinking cold liquid water.

In some areas where it warms above freezing during the day, a bit of ice on the bird bath in the morning isn't a problem. But if you get a week of sunny freezing weather, birds need to be supplied with liquid water. You can get up and pour some warm water into the bird bath on those frozen mornings. (Earlier is better for the birds.)

On the other hand, if you live where snow is on the ground for long stretches during the winter, you need a heated bird bath. These can be pedestal types, or mount on the deck. 

They can be a bit on the expensive side. But I like the look of this small heated bird bath bowl that sits on the ground, that Amazon advertises. It is fairly inexpensive.

Some common winter birds and what to feed them


Here are some of the most common birds in winter in the United States. I give a general idea of where they may be found. I tell what their favorite food is in winter, and what bird feeder they prefer.

Common winter birds throughout most of the United States


Photo of Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco: Millet on ground or low platform feeder.

Mourning Dove: Black oil sunflower seeds on platform feeder.

Downy Woodpecker: Suet on suet feeder.

House Finch: Black oil sunflower seeds on tube feeder.

American Goldfinch: Niger seed on thistle feeder.

White-breasted Nuthatch: Black oil sunflower seed on any feeder.

White-crowned Sparrow: Millet on ground or low platform feeder.


Common winter birds in the northern United States


Photo of Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson.

Black-capped Chickadee: Black oil sunflower seed on any feeder.

Evening Grosbeak: Black oil sunflower seed on hopper feeder.

Pine Siskin: Niger seed on thistle feeder.

Purple Finch: Black oil sunflower seed on tube feeder.


Common winter birds in the eastern United States


Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Image by tlparadis from Pixbay

Northern Cardinal: Safflower seed or black oil sunflower seeds on hopper or platform feeder.

Blue Jay: Peanuts from platform feeder.

Red-bellied Woodpecker: Peanuts from platform feeder or suet from suet feeder.

Tufted Titmouse: Black oil sunflower seeds from any feeder.

Carolina Chickadee: Black oil sunflower seeds from any feeder.

White-throated Sparrow: Millet and black oil sunflower seeds from platform or hopper feeder.

Eastern Towhee: Millet from platform feeder.


Common winter birds in the western United States


Photo of Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

California Scrub-Jay: Peanuts from platform feeder.

Steller's Jay: Peanuts from platform feeder.

Golden-crowned Sparrow: Black oil sunflower seed from hopper feeder.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: Black oil sunflower seed from hopper or tube feeder.

Spotted Towhee: Millet from platform feeder.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee: Black oil sunflower seed from hopper or tube feeder.

Lesser Goldfinch: Niger seed from thistle feeder.

Bushtit: Suet from suet feeder.



Please visit my index page for more articles on backyard birds and feeding birds in winter for each state.


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