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


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.


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.

Keep bird feeder height at 5 feet to deter 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.

Keep birds safe from Cats by placing bird feeders 5 feet high

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.

Make bird feeders 5 feet high for ideal 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.

Bird feeder height under 5 feet makes Filling and Cleaning easier

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 high 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 low, 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!).


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.

Looking for a hummingbird feeder? I have personally been enjoying the easy-to-clean More Birds brand hummingbird feeder. There are several sizes. I like the smaller Ruby model (Amazon affiliate link). Thank you for supporting this website with your purchases!

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.


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.

Related articles:

Sun or shade? Where to hang hummingbird feeders

Steal your neighbor's hummingbirds with this nectar recipe

Get more hummingbirds with multiple feeders

When to put up and take down your hummingbird feeders in each state

Why hummingbirds aren't coming to your feeders

Top 5 ways to get hummingbirds to come to your feeders

Hummingbirds fighting over feeders?

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.

Secret #1: 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).


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 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. [Edit: Works great for my chickadees and nuthatches; the jays have a hard time getting any--it keeps them away, as I wished.]

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). [Edit: inexpensive and the birds love it--I've reordered several times!]

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.

Secret #2: 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.

Secret #3: 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.

Are you ready for the next part?
What birds come to feeders in the winter?
(More than 40 birds pictured!)

Related: When to stop feeding birds in summer

Related: Birds that come to feeders in summer

Related: Why fall is the best time to set up your bird feeders

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

What kind of birds like to eat cracked corn?

I recently bought some non-messy bird food to try out in my feeders.

This also coincided with my move from San Diego to SW Washington State.

The birds in San Diego (mostly finches) eagerly ate the sunflower seeds and some of the other seeds, but left behind all of the cracked corn.

Here in SW Washington, all the seed was eaten quickly, including the cracked corn.

That makes me ask: What kind of birds eat cracked corn?

Here's what I found out:

Quails, pheasants, and doves like to eat cracked corn. Some birds considered pests also love to eat cracked corn, including house sparrows, cowbirds, and red-winged blackbirds. Most other birds only eat cracked corn if nothing better is available, if at all.

Photo of bird feeder with cracked corn left uneaten
Birds didn't eat the cracked corn in the bird seed mix.

Cracked corn in bird seed

Cracked corn is exactly as it sounds. Dried corn kernels are crushed and broken. It is used as bird food.

As you can see in the above photo, the birds at my feeder ate all the nuts and sunflower seeds and millet from the bird seed mix. They didn't eat the cracked corn, however. It was left behind, uneaten.

So, then, why do bird seed mixes contain cracked corn?

It is true that some birds do eat cracked corn.

However, the main reason that there is cracked corn in bird seed is that it is very cheap compared to other seeds. Yes, corn is a cheap filler.

Many people do choose bird seed with a low price for feeding birds. After all, it does cost money to feed birds. And there are many important places for people's income to go first, before feeding birds.
Especially in the no-mess bird seed I bought, cracked corn is one of a few low-cost totally-edible seeds.

Kinds of birds that eat cracked corn

In my San Diego yard, no birds ate the cracked corn. A few should have, but didn't. Perhaps it was because it was summer.

But when I got to Washington State the same bird seed using the same feeder was gobbled up! What was the difference?

What kinds of birds eat cracked corn?

Photo of Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey. Greg Gillson.

Chicken-like birds love to eat cracked corn

That includes birds such as California Quail, Northern Bobwhite, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Wild Turkeys. These are often found near residential areas. They will eat cracked corn on the ground or from large low platform feeders.

Some forest birds like Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, Dusky Grouse, and Sooty Grouse will eat cracked corn, if you live in such an area.

Desert birds such as Gambel's Quail, Scaled Quail, and Montezuma's Quail will eat cracked corn.

Photo of Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson

Pigeons and Doves love eat cracked corn

That includes the very widespread Mourning Dove. But White-winged Doves in the desert, Band-tailed Pigeons in the mountain West, and Domestic Pigeons in cities eat cracked corn.

There are several other doves in the south that may come to feeders and eat cracked corn. One such is the Common Ground Dove.

Photo of Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird. Greg Gillson.

Blackbirds love to eat cracked corn

Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds really love cracked corn. Other blackbirds such as Brewer's Blackbird and Rusty Blackbirds may visit feeders for cracked corn.

European Starlings love cracked corn.

Common Grackles eat cracked corn.

Brown-headed Cowbirds will eat cracked corn.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on the ground
Dark-eyed Junco. Greg Gillson.

Some sparrows eat cracked corn

Dark-eyed Juncos love cracked corn.

Chipping Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and Song Sparrows eat cracked corn.

White-crowned Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows sometimes eat cracked corn.

Northern Cardinals will eat cracked corn.

Eastern and Spotted Towhees may eat cracked corn. Canyon and California Towhees will eat cracked corn.

Photo of a House Sparrow on a wire fence
House Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

House Sparrows like to eat cracked corn

These European birds in the Weaver family are not closely related to the native New World Sparrows.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch crawling upside-down on a tree branch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

Nuthatches will eat cracked corn

White-breasted Nuthatches like cracked corn.

Red-breasted Nuthatches aren't as fond of it, but will occasionally eat cracked corn, if the sunflower seeds are gone.

Photo of a House Finch
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

Finches sometimes eat cracked corn

American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have been documented eating cracked corn. But it is a bit large for them.

House Finches and Purple Finches will eat cracked corn, but it's not their favorite.

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

Chickadees sometimes eat cracked corn

Both Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees have been reported doing so. But it's not their favorite.

This should probably be the case for Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, too.

Photo of Steller's Jay in the grass
Steller's Jay. Greg Gillson.

Jays eat cracked corn

Steller's Jays and California Scrub-Jays eat cracked corn.

Blue Jays may eat cracked corn.

Black-billed Magpies and American Crows will eat cracked corn.


Cracked corn is a cheap filler for bird seed mixtures.

Many types of birds will eat cracked corn. But it is not the favorite for most of them. That may mean that they won't eat it as fast. Or they may throw it out on the ground.

The common birds that really love cracked corn are European Starlings, House Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbirds. These 3 are often considered undesirable at bird feeders. They tend to be aggressive and messy. These birds also love sunflower seeds and millet. So it is difficult to discourage them (but see my related articles below).

Three other common feeder birds that like cracked corn fairly well are Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-breasted Nuthatches. But they all like black oil sunflower seeds and hulled sunflowers better.

Do you want to feed cracked corn in your mixed bird seed? Yes, if you want less costly bird seed. No, if you want to feed the birds what they really like and want to discourage House Sparrows, Starlings, and blackbirds.

In San Diego, at my bird feeder, I had mostly House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches. The Mourning Doves and California Towhees had a hard time getting up on my small feeder. Thus, the birds ate the millet and sunflower seeds first, and really didn't eat much of the cracked corn.

On the other hand, when I moved to Washington, there was a small flock of House Sparrows. So they probably ate most of the cracked corn. And other birds ate the rest of the food, including House Finches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and several other species.

Here is the no-mess bird seed with lots of cracked corn that I was discussing at the beginning of the article.

Look for a review of this bird seed in the future.


Get rid of grackles, blackbirds, and starlings from your feeder

What bird seeds do birds really love?

Feeding birds orange halves

10 Fruits that birds love

The best type of sunflowers to feed birds

Feeding birds suet

Friday, September 4, 2020

Absolute best binoculars for bird watching

What makes for the best pair of bird watching binoculars? What are some examples of the best birding binoculars? This article answers those two questions.

The best binoculars for birding are roof prism binoculars with 8x or 10x magnification. The best bird watching binoculars today contain BaK-4 prisms and ED glass lenses. They must have long eye relief, close focus, and very wide field of view. They also must be waterproof, fog proof, and have a good warranty.

Frankly, the best birding binoculars are the best binoculars made. Period.

Examples of the best binoculars for bird watching are the Zwarovski EL 8.5x42, Zeiss Victory SF 8x42, Zeiss Victory SF 10x42, Leica Noctivid 8x42, and others in lower price ranges.

Photo of Greg Gillson watching birds with binoculars

What characteristics do the best bird watching binoculars have?

In this first part I explain some of the characters of binoculars. I explain the materials, construction and the specifications. I explain why these are important for bird watching.

When researching your next pair of birding binoculars, make sure they meet these exacting standards and have these exact materials.

The best binoculars are roof prism binoculars

There are two styles of binoculars, porro prism and roof prism designs. Prisms flip the image right-side up for the viewer. Without prisms the view would be upside down and the barrels would be long like a telescope.

The traditional style, common even today, are the porro prism binocular design. 

Porro prism binoculars use offset prisms and the body shows the easily-recognized zigzag shape.

These are fairly easy to manufacture, so cost less, and are bright with good depth of field. That's the good.

On the down side, these binoculars can be knocked out of alignment easily if dropped. They are harder to make waterproof. They are often physically larger and bulkier.

Roof prism binoculars have become more popular in the last couple of decades. 

Roof prism binoculars are rather narrow and compact. The eyepieces are more in line with the objective lenses. They have a shape like the letter H.

They are sturdy and the prisms stay in alignment. They are easier to make waterproof and fog proof.

On the downside, roof prism binoculars are harder to manufacture. They need tighter tolerances to align both barrels to focus into one seamless view. The Schmidt-Pechan roof prism design requires special mirror coatings to prevent loss of light and transmit a bright image. All these things makes roof prism binoculars cost a bit more than corresponding porro prism binoculars.

The demand by birders for these rugged and superior binoculars has caused manufacturers to improve their materials and technique. And the prices have fallen. Good news, indeed!

The best general-purpose bird watching binoculars are 8x magnification

I grew up on 7x porro prism binoculars. They have a wide field of view. Still, I wanted the birds to appear larger.

So eventually I bought 10x porro prism binoculars. Birds appeared larger. But they were less bright. The field of view was narrow, so harder to immediately find a bird. And they were heavy to use in the field all day.

When these wore out and the price for the waterproof roof prism binoculars came down, I bought 8x roof prism bins. I have stayed with this magnification ever since.

It doesn't matter whether you have porro or roof prism designs. 8x binoculars are brighter in low light conditions, have a wider field of view, have better eye relief, have closer focus, and are lighter than identical models of 10x binoculars. 8x are better in every way to 10x binoculars,... except for magnification.

When would you use 10x binoculars?

The stronger 10x binoculars would be better in open country. In bright sun you will not notice the difference in brightness. This is only a problem at dawn, dusk, heavy overcast, and in the woods.

If you primarily use binoculars for watching ducks, hawks, and seabirds then 10x can be better. Or if you live in prairie or grassland and don't do much forest birding, then they may be preferable. Long-distance viewing in open country favors more magnification.

If you want more than 10x magnification then you want to buy a spotting scope on a tripod.

The best birding binoculars have exit pupil of 5 or greater

The exit pupil spec is an indication of brightness due to lens size. It is the ratio of objective lens (the "big end") size (in millimeters) to magnification. Thus 7x35, 8x40, and 10x50 all have an exit pupil of 5.0. The popular 8x42 has an exit pupil of 5.25 so gives an even brighter image in low light conditions.

Compact binoculars have smaller objective lenses. They are smaller in size and lighter weight. But 8x24 is an exit pupil of 3.0 and an 8x32 is an exit pupil of 4.0. A popular 10x42 is an exit pupil of 4.2--better, but still not as bright as the 8x42.

Again, you notice this in dim early light, in the woods, or under cloudy skies. You will not see the difference on a bright sunny day or in the store.

The best Schmidt-Pechan roof prism binoculars are made with BaK-4 prisms and have phase coatings and dielectric mirrored surfaces

The most popular style of roof prism binoculars is made with Schmidt-Pechan style of prisms. Unfortunately, because of the index of refraction, they require adding mirror coatings to the prisms. In the past, aluminum or silver mirror coatings were used. This causes a loss of brightness as some of the light bounces around inside the binoculars and doesn't come out to your eyes.

The best prisms today are BaK-4. The best coating for these prisms are dielectric coatings. With this combination, most of the light entering the binoculars comes out to your eyes. This creates a nice bright image.

Roof prism binoculars with Abbe-Koenig style prisms do not lose light on the mirrors, so don't require any coatings. This style is available on some high-end binoculars. They are longer than other binoculars, have larger objective lenses, and are very expensive. They typically come in 8x56 and 10x56 models, which are primarily for wildlife observation at twilight. They might be good for owls, but not general bird watching.

The light path through the prisms on roof prism binoculars cross over each other. This can cause interference with the colors. Phase coatings on the prisms give bright and accurate colors.

The best birding binoculars all have BaK-4 prisms with dielectric and phase coatings. That is, unless you have the Abbe-Koenig style, which doesn't need them.

The lenses on the best binoculars are made of Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass

What happens when white light goes through a prism? It breaks into a rainbow of colors. To a lesser degree this happens with lenses, too.

If nothing is done to correct it, you may notice a purple fringe or perhaps a yellow-green fringe around high contrast objects. This is called chromatic aberrations.

For instance, if you look at an electric wire against the bright sky, you may notice this chromatic aberration on the edges of the wire. This is especially true at the very edges of your binocular field of view. ED glass virtually eliminates this phenomenon, edge-to-edge.

You want your birding binoculars to have ED glass.

The best binoculars have all glass-to-air surfaces fully multi-coated

Anti-reflective lens coatings reduce light reflections off the glass. More light goes through the binoculars. The image is clear and bright, even in dim light conditions.

Not just coated, multi-coated.

Not just some surfaces, fully multi-coated.

The best binoculars have long eye relief

Long eye relief is necessary if you use eyeglasses with binoculars.

If you don't wear eyeglasses (yet) then you extend the eyecups, pushing your eyes farther from the eyepiece lenses. If you wear eyeglasses then you push the eyecups in, shortening them. Your glasses are already making a larger gap between your pupils and the eyepiece lenses.

The best binoculars have eyecups that twist in and out with multiple stops, and don't accidentally move easily. Cheaper binoculars have fold-down rubber eyecups.

Eye relief is measured in millimeters. Choose binoculars with eye relief of at least 17 millimeters. Otherwise, with eyeglasses, you will not see the entire field of view. The binocular image will vignette. That is, the edges of the image will fade to black prematurely, less than what it should be.

Eye relief less than 15.5 mm is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. At all. This is a problem for many compact binoculars.

Longer eye relief is better, 17-20 mm is ideal.

The best binoculars for bird watching focus very closely

The close focus specification tells you how closely the binoculars focus.

Birding binoculars should focus to at least 8-10 feet. That way you don't have to back up to view a bird near you in a bush. Close focus binoculars will allow you to view hummingbirds out the window without backing into the next room.

If you also want to view butterflies in a puddle at your feet, you want close focus of 5-6 feet, or less.

The best birding binoculars have a very wide field of view (FOV)

For me, this is one of the most important specs on a bird watching binocular.

A wide field of view gives a picture-window panorama, not a view through a straw.

A wide field of view on an 8x binocular is over 390 feet @ 1000 yards. For 10x binoculars that is reduced to 360 feet minimum.

A wide field of view allows you to quickly find a bird when you raise your binoculars. No searching around this way and that looking for it.

Another advantage of the wide view is to notice birds adjacent to the one you are observing. You'll be able to observe more of the bird's interactions with other birds or the environment.

Following warblers hopping through the tree tops with binoculars can be frustrating. They keep jumping out of view and you have to find them again. This trouble is reduced by having a wide field of view. Even if they fly-hop 3 to 5 feet you are still able to follow them, because they never leave the image view.

The best bird watching binoculars are waterproof and fog proof.

Birding binoculars must be available to use in the worst weather. If it rains, you must not be concerned that your binoculars will get water in them.

And don't be concerned if you place your binoculars in the bottom of the boat. Waterproof binoculars should be able to stay in water up to 3 feet deep for at least 10 minutes. I wouldn't recommend it, but it gives you peace of mind knowing that you could swamp your boat and the binoculars would not be ruined.

Waterproof binoculars can even be rinsed off in the sink after a salty day on the beach. Just don't run a strong stream of water that may force its way in. Better to just use a damp rag, to be safe.

Such binoculars are sealed against water. But they also are filled with dry nitrogen or argon gas. This prevents any fogging on the inside of the binoculars, when going from hot to cold.

The best binoculars have a lifetime no-fault warranty

The more expensive binoculars have better warranties.

All binoculars come with a warranty against manufacturing defects of at least a year. But as the price increases, you may find that your binocular will be repaired or replaced for free as the result of any accident.

As long as your binoculars aren't lost or stolen these better warranties apply.

Photo of binoculars
8x42 roof prism binoculars, Nikon Monarch 7.

What are some examples of the best binoculars for bird watching?

The following lists some of the best binoculars for bird watching at various prices. This isn't all of them. But these are the standards with which to compare.

You should always purchase the best you can afford. This is especially true at the lower prices. However, you won't be disappointed with any of these.

The lowest priced Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42 compares very favorably with more expensive brands. I was very impressed with the optics on these. They lack a lifetime no-fault warranty, and may not be as sturdy as the more expensive models. But they are real binoculars, not "toys."

The "best of the best" birding binoculars

These are the very best birding binoculars money can buy. These are the Porsches and Lamborghinis of the binocular world. They are very well constructed with magnesium bodies, so are heavier than some of the less expensive options.

They have a price tag of over $2000.

Swarovski EL 42 8.5x42

FOV 399 ft, Close focus 4.9(?) ft, Exit Pupil 4.9 mm, Eye Relief 20 mm, Weight 29.5 oz.

Comment: A little extra magnification compared to the typical 8x42. The spec on the manufacturer's page says a close focus of 10.8 feet. That surely can't be correct? Other sources say 4.9 feet. Verify before you buy!

MSRP $2388

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Zeiss Victory SF 8x42

FOV 444 ft, Close Focus 4.9 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 18 mm, Weight 27.5 oz

Comment: The field of view is outstanding!

MSRP $2699

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Zeiss Victory SF 10x42

FOV 360 ft, Close Focus 4.9 ft, Exit Pupil 4.2 mm, Eye Relief 18 mm, Weight 27.5 oz

Comment: Notice field of view is reduced on 10x compared to 8x model. This is still excellent, though, for 10x.

MSRP $2749

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Leica Noctivid 8x42

FOV 443 ft, Close Focus 6.2 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 19 mm, Weight 30.3 oz

Comment: Excellent wide field of view.

MSRP $2699

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Excellent bird watching binoculars about $1000

These are just one step down from the premium binoculars above.

Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42

FOV 384 ft, Close Focus 6.6 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 18 mm, Weight 28 oz

Comment: I would prefer a field of view over 400 feet.

MSRP $999

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Leica Trinovid HD 8x42

FOV 372 ft, Close Focus 5.9 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 17 mm, Weight 25.8 oz

Comment: This field of view is not as wide as I prefer. The eye relief as also at the minimum for eyeglass wearers.

MSRP $949

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Affordable binoculars about $500

These binoculars are great binoculars. Most bird watchers could not tell these apart from the more expensive brands above. Yet they are in a reasonable price range for many more people.

Vortex Viper HD 8x42

FOV 409 ft, Close Focus 6.5 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 18 mm, Weight 24.5 oz

Comment: Excellent specs! (These are often available online for under $500!)

MSRP $639

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Vortex Viper 10x42

FOV 341 ft, Close Focus 6.5 ft, Exit Pupil 4.2 mm, Eye Relief 17 mm, Weight 24.9 oz

Comment: These are excellent specs for 10x binoculars.

MSRP $649

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Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 ATB

FOV 420 ft, Close Focus 8.2 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 17.1 mm, Weight 22.9 oz

Comment: Excellent field of view! Light weight.

MSRP $479

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Read my review of these binoculars!

Bushnell Engage EDX 8x42

FOV 426 ft, Close Focus 6 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 ft, Eye Relief 19 mm, Weight 23.5 oz

Comment: Excellent specs! Make sure to get the EDX model, for ED glass, scratch-resistant lens coatings, and dielectric prism mirrors.

MSRP $343

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Binoculars for Birdwatching from Bushnell

Bushnell Engage EDX 10x42

FOV 340 ft, Close Focus 8 ft, Exit Pupil 4.2 mm, Eye Relief 18 mm, Weight 23.5 oz

Comment: Not bad specs for 10x binocular.

MSRP $363

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Binoculars for Birdwatching from Bushnell

Budget binoculars

These are very good binoculars. They are the lowest price you should pay for true birding binoculars. I was impressed with these. I highly recommend these binoculars as the best under $200.

I have actually started using these as my primary birding binoculars. Good birding optics don't have to be expensive!

Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42

FOV 393 ft, Close Focus 6.5 ft, Exit Pupil 5.25 mm, Eye Relief 17.8 mm, Weight 24.9 oz

Comment: All excellent specs! Great optical performance, too. Read my review!

MSRP $177

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Best budget birding binoculars: Celestron Nature DX ED

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