Sunday, February 23, 2020

From scratch: Setting up your first bird feeder

Buying and setting up your first bird feeder should be easy!

In this article I'm going to tell you what to buy and how to set up a simple and easy first bird feeding station.

When you look online for what bird feeders and foods to buy, it is "best bird feeder this," and "choosing the right bird food that." It can be overwhelmingly confusing!

I've written other articles on choosing the best bird foods and bird feeders. This isn't one of them.

This article is for those of you who may be suffering from choice overload and haven't set up a bird feeder yet because there are too many choices and you can't decide which is best.

I'm not going to show you all the options and discuss the pros and cons and make you decide. I'm going to decide for you what kind of bird feeder you should buy! I'm setting up your first backyard bird feeding kit for you. Oh, okay, I may give you an option here and there, but not too many.

"Hey, Greg, set up a bird feeding station for me!" Okay, here is what you get.

Hang bird feeders on shepherd's hook

Photo of bird feeders on shepherd's hook on snowy day in front of homes
Bird feeders on shepherd's hook.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

I want to set up a bird feeding station for you with about 4 different types of bird feeders. For this I am choosing two dual shepherd's hooks. They need to be sturdy and all one solid piece (not hollow) so they don't break or bend easily.

I couldn't find any on Amazon for you to buy and have delivered. You need to drive to Home Depot and get this one yourself. Sorry. Everyone has a Home Depot nearby, don't they? (Actually, they do deliver, but cost is about $55 to do so.)

Vigoro 84-inch traditional double offset shepherd's hook.  Model #844645VG (check on Home Depot website). Price was under $18 each on 2/23/2020. Buy two of these.

Vigoro 84-inch double offset shepherd's hook
(potted plants not included)
Photo stolen from Home Depot product description

The 84 inch pole height includes about 10 inches pushed into the ground. So they are about 6 feet tall. 

The bird feeders hang down a couple of feet. So the bottom of the bird feeders might be 3-5 feet above ground. We don't want to make it easy for raccoons to get to them, or cats to get to the feeding birds. Higher is better; this is a good height.

Shepherd's hooks can be placed out in the yard wherever you have lawn or soil. They can be moved around and last for years. They are quite strong. However, in a strong windstorm you might want to take the feeders down so the pole does not bend.

Buy a tube feeder and black oil sunflower seeds

Most backyard birds love sunflower seeds. And black oil sunflowers are the most nutritious. These are easier for birds to crack open than the striped sunflower seeds.

[You may enjoy my article on what kind of bird seeds birds prefer.]

You will want to keep jays from grabbing a gullet-full of sunflower seeds and flying off to bury them for later. So you will want to place sunflower seeds in tube feeders. 

Tube feeders are especially attractive to the colorful tree-feeding finches. Birds attracted to tube feeders include House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch.

This Droll Yankees Classic tube feeder is 16 inches tall and has 6 feeding ports. It holds up to 1 pound of sunflower seeds. There are larger sizes. But I don't think larger is better. 

And I don't think it is bad for feeders to run out of seed during the day. Let birds come in the morning. First come, first served. They can go out in the neighborhood and find plenty of wild foods later in the day. [Price was under $30 on 2/23/2020.]

Now you need to fill the feeder. 

Black oil sunflower seed is a bit expensive. So buy in bulk to save money. Try to watch for lower price sales of about $1 per pound. Remember, that cheaper bird seed will likely have more chaff (twigs, dirt). This upsets some people. But you are not buying food for human consumption. You need to regularly clean your feeders of this material or any wet or moldy seed.

This Wagner's 25 pound bag of black oil sunflower seed was a good price when I checked. [Just under $25 on 2/23/2020.]

Okay, we've come to the first optional decision. Do you have tree squirrels in your neighborhood? Do you have lots of jays, starlings, grackles, or blackbirds? Would you rather not feed these larger animals that seem to vacuum down your expensive bird seed?

You can buy a tube feeder with a cage around it that keeps out squirrels and larger birds. Not all of them, mind you, but many. This does not keep out smaller chipmunks, cowbirds, and house sparrows, for instance.

The Audubon Squirrel-proof caged tube bird feeder holds 1.25 pounds of seed. I believe that "squirrel-proof" is open to interpretation. But it will slow them down. This feeder blocks out some squirrels and larger birds, while still letting in the smaller birds. If this sounds good, buy this instead of the Droll Yankee tube feeder above. [Under $40 on 2/23/2020.]

Buy a hopper feeder for mixed seeds

Hopper feeders can offer a variety of food sizes, from small seeds to peanut kernels. 

Hopper feeders have a small shelf around them where birds can sit and eat. This allows ground-feeding birds, such as sparrows and doves to eat more easily than tube feeders. 

Backyard birds that like hopper feeders include House Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow. All the birds that eat from tube feeders will also eat from a hopper feeder.

The hopper feeder really is a generic bird feeder.

This Woodlink Going Green Medium is about the right size with a base about 9x10 inches. It has a screen floor to allow bird seed to dry quickly after getting wet. Most of the seed stays up in the hopper and dry until dispensed. It can hold over 3 pounds of seed, and weighs 4 pounds empty. So this is best hung from the lower hook on the shepherd's hook. [Just over $40 on 2/23/2020.]

Next you need some mixed seed for this hopper feeder. The Wagner's Songbird Supreme mixed seed blend is ideal. It doesn't have any cheap filler seeds that many birds don't eat! It contains 50% sunflower seeds. It has most bird's favorite foods. I couldn't find it in a larger bags, though, just 8 pounds. It has a unique Velcro zipper for closing the bag--wonderful! [Just over $12 on 2/23/2020.]

Option! You can save a bit by buying in bulk the Wagner's Greatest Variety seed in a 16 pound bag. This seed is 40% sunflower seeds. It does have a low volume of some filler seed (milo, cracked corn), but also additional nuts and seeds. Perhaps a wider variety of birds will eat this. Try it and see! [Just over $18 on 2/23/2020.]

You should definitely buy a hummingbird feeder next

Hang up hummingbird feeders in March in most of the United States. But if you live along the Pacific coast or southwest, you may have hummingbirds all year.

I prefer a smaller hummingbird feeder that lasts only 3 days. Then I take it down and clean it. Keeping hummingbird feeders clean is so important.

[Read more on why I like smaller hummingbird feeders and how to attract more hummingbirds with them.]

Here is the hummingbird feeder I recommend.

The More Birds Ruby hummingbird feeder is 10 ounces and has 5 feeding ports. There are other sizes on the Amazon page. [Less than $10 on 2/23/2020.]

Make your own hummingbird nectar! 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Stir 1 cup of sugar into 4 cups of warm water in a saucepan. Save extra nectar in a water bottle or other container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. No food coloring. It is not necessary to boil the water; warm tap water is sufficient to dissolve sugar completely.

[Read my article on making your own hummingbird nectar.]

Get a suet feeder for winter

A herd of Bushtits on a suet feeder.
Photo by Greg Gillson

A suet feeder provides fat to keep birds warm in winter. Many insect eaters will visit your backyard feeders for suet. Birds attracted to suet feeders include woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, Bushtits, nuthatches, chickadees, and others.

Suet can melt or go rancid in summer, so suet is primarily a winter food.

I like the design of this Erytlly suet cage. It's dimensions are 5.1x5.5x2 inches. [Less than $8 on 2/23/2020.]

Woodpeckers, with their strong feet, cling to the side or bottom of the cage. Small birds don't have trouble, either. 

But the undesirable starlings and blackbirds, with their weaker feet, have to stand on top of the feeder. I've used a longer chain to hang the feeder. When undesirable heavy birds land on the feeder it spins around and they fall off.

I've been impressed with the St. Albans Bay Suet Plus that I've been buying. It measures 4x4x1 inches, so fits in the suet feeder above. [Less than $15 on 2/23/2020.]

Have you tried a thistle feeder?

The final kind of bird feeder you should buy is a thistle feeder. The simplest is called a thistle sock. It is a simple mesh bag that holds seeds of the niger plant, trademarked as Nyjer. 

Niger seed, also called thistle (it is not a thistle), attracts goldfinches and siskins, and less so House Finches.

[My related articles: What is a thistle sock/thistle feeder?]

C&S Nyjer socks come in a 3-pack (seeds not included). Each bag holds about 8 ounces. Bags eventually get holes or snags. If caught in the rain too often the seed can go bad. [Less than $8 on 2/23/2020.]

I suggest placing a large bowl under the sock when you refill. The seeds are very small and thin and easily spill out. And it is kind of expensive. So catching and saving any spilled seed is a good idea.

You need to buy some Niger seed to fill your thistle socks. Lyric Nyjer had a good price on a 10 pound when I checked. [About $20 on 2/23/2020.]

Niger seed doesn't have a long shelf life. It will not last from one season to the next. If birds stop coming it might be time to buy fresher seed. Don't buy too much at a time.

Buy a bird bath to complete your bird feeding station

Birds need water to drink and to bathe. All birds. That means that any kind of local bird might show up in your bird bath. How fun!

Bird baths quickly show wear and get soiled with algae or mildew. So I suggest starting with a rather inexpensive bird bath and cleaning regularly. "Pretty" bird baths will soon not be looking so good.

This Pure Garden Antique bird bath is made of plastic resin. It is more sturdy than some. To keep it level and stable, weight it down with sand or small gravel. [Just over $30 on 2/23/2020.]

You, know, I built a homemade bird bath with a clay plant saucer stacked on a few pavers. It is inexpensive and low to the ground, which the birds like.

[See my related article: How high off the ground should a bird bath be?]

When you go to Home Depot to pick up the shepherd's hook, you might pick up these saucers, as well. These are what you are looking for on the Home Depot website.

Putting your backyard bird feeding kit together

Here's how I would set up the bird feeders.

Shepherd's hook feeder #1
Tube feeder
Hummingbird feeder (summer) or suet feeder (winter)

Shepherd's hook feeder #2
Hopper feeder
Thistle feeder

Bird bath

What is the cost of this bird feeder setup?

Shepherd's hook 1  $18
Tube feeder  $30
Sunflower seed  $25
Hummingbird feeder  $10
C&H Sugar (10 pound bag)  $6 (Walmart)
Suet feeder  $8
Suet  $8
Cost of first bird feeding station: About $105

Shepherd's hook 2  $18
Hopper feeder  $40
Songbird Supreme mixed seed  $12
Thistle sock  $8
Niger seed  $20
Cost of second bird feeding station: About $98

Bird bath  $35

The approximate cost of setting up the whole bird feeding kit above is about $238. Of course, you don't have to buy every bird feeder and the foods all at one time. Start small and add gradually, if you want. 

And the birds don't mind if you buy a less expensive feeder, or build it yourself.

[I notice some huge price increases at the end of May 2020. I hope prices drop back down soon!]

But this setup will bring the largest variety of birds to your backyard.

Do you have more questions about setting up a bird feeder? They are answered in my article on setting up a bird feeding station in 6 steps

Find out more about the 7 different kinds of bird feeders and the birds they attract

Related: Feeding birds CHEAPLY

Related: QUICKLY attract birds to your feeder

Related: Feeders to attract SMALLER birds


  1. Greg,
    I just moved from the woods to a condo in town with few trees. Want to set up a station so my indoor cats can watch the birds during the day and bring a little nature to our otherwise boring backyard. Loved your informative article with one exception. All of the moving ads. I appreciate the need for the ads however they dominate your site and made it difficult to find YOUR pics. At one point I didn't even think your pictures were loading. I realize this article is over a year old but it is still very relevant. If you are monitoring this feed, please take a look.

    1. Thank you for expressing your concerns. I'll monitor.

  2. This was a very informative article. Thank you.

  3. Great article! Thanks so much! From coastal s. Florida

  4. Rather than double-hook shepherd's hooks, buy TWO single hook and tie them together with plastic zip ties. This makes the hooks more stable--less likely to tilt.
    I've used four shepherd's hooks staked together at 90-degree angles. Use long zip ties, and those marked for "outdoor use" to make a feeding station.
    Also for suet, look for C&S hot pepper suet. This deters squirrels and the birds, especially woodpeckers, seem oblivious to "hot" pepper.
    Rather than Amazon, look online for "Duncraft." The birdfeeder selection is a outstanding. The prices tend to be more than Amazon, but the quality is excellent.


January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:


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