Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tips to QUICKLY attract birds to your feeder

One reason people give up on feeding birds is that they don't quickly attract birds to their new feeders.

You might say to yourself, "If only I had the right bird food, then birds would come."

Or, perhaps, "If only I had the right bird feeder, then birds would come."

But more is involved.

As with all living things, birds need food, water, shelter. Above all, they must feel safe in order to come and be quickly attracted to your bird feeder. And certain times of year are better than others for attracting birds to feeders.


Photo of birds at bird feeder. Veronica Andrews from Pixabay.

How do you get birds to come to a new feeder? Here is one formula to quickly attract birds to your feeder: 

Put your feeders up in October. Make sure you have fresh bird seed. Fill a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seed. Put a hopper feeder with white proso millet near a tree or large bush for cover and safety.  Place some mixed seeds on a low platform feeder so birds can see it easily.

But even if it's not autumn, and there are no trees growing in your yard, you can still get birds to come to your feeder in a short period of time.


How to quickly attract birds to your feeder

You can get birds to come to your feeder quickly by setting up your bird feeding station properly.

[See my article on setting up your first bird feeder for my recommendations to get started.]

This includes such items as food and feeders. But there is more.

You may not have thought about it before, but birds need to feel safe if they are to use a feeder. The way you set up your feeders and position them in your yard can make a big difference.

You can put some landscaping bushes and trees in your own yard.

But you can't control the landscaping (or lack of it) in your neighborhood. Such surrounding habitat (including neighbors with feeders) have much to do with how soon and how many birds come to your feeders.

I have several recommendations to speed up the time it takes for birds to find and use your feeders.

Let's talk about these recommendations individually.


Quickly attract birds to your bird feeder by offering several kinds of food

It often works best to provide several different kinds of bird seed and food separately, each in their own feeder. Why?

Most birds prefer one type of bird food more than other. So when they come to a feeder with mixed bird seed, they often throw out the seeds they don't like onto the ground. Here they can spoil or just make a mess.

That feeder with all the different kinds of food? Perhaps several species eat from it. Some can be quite aggressive and scare off shier birds.

Place different seeds in different feeders around your yard so that milder birds can eat their favorite seed away from other more boisterous birds that eat different seeds.

Most birds like black oil sunflower seeds. Red finches, chickadees, and goldfinches especially like this seed.

Smaller sparrows and juncos like white proso millet.

Peanuts are a favorite of jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.

[See my article on what bird foods attract what birds.]

Mixed seed often contains inexpensive "filler" seeds to keep the price low. But many of these seeds are not well-liked by most birds. Stick to the three foods above to attract birds more quickly. Avoid any mixed seed with red milo, wheat, or cracked corn listed as the first 3 ingredients.

[See why I like Wagner's Songbird Supreme as the best mixed bird seed.]

How fresh is your bird seed? Seed left over from last season may go bad. Start a new bird feeder or a new bird feeding season with fresh bird seed.


Photo of Black-headed Grosbeak at feeder

Get birds to come to your new feeder by setting up different kinds of feeders placed around your yard

Finches and chickadees like to feed in the tree tops. They pull ripe seeds from cones or seed heads. Thus, they like to eat from tube feeders, perhaps hanging on a tall bird feeder pole or shepherd's hook. So put your black oil sunflower seeds in a tube feeder. 

Larger birds, such as jays, starlings, and blackbirds (even house sparrows) have a difficult time feeding from tube feeders. Thus, these feeders protect your more expensive sunflower seeds from the voracious appetites of larger and flocking birds.

Sparrows, towhees, and juncos like to feed on the ground. They like to hop and kick over leaf litter to find fallen seeds. Provide a low hopper feeder filled with white proso millet for these birds. Or offer a mixed bird seed that contains plenty of millet and black oil sunflower seeds.

[See my article on how high bird feeders should be placed?]

Larger birds, such as cardinals, jays, doves, and others prefer the more open platform feeders. Here you can feed mixed bird seeds with peanuts or other tree nuts, and cracked corn, and striped sunflower seeds.

After your feeders are established, you can add suet feeders and thistle feeders. But these usually take longer to attract birds than the feeders and foods above.

[See my article on different kinds of bird feeders and what birds prefer them.]

If it isn't raining, you may initially place scattered bird seed out on bare patches of ground, patio, or in saucers on top of fence posts or around the yard where birds can see them. Birds find food by sight. They see the food. Then they are attracted to other birds squawking and fighting over food! Once birds find your feeders you don't need to scatter bird seed on the ground anymore.

[See my article: Can you just throw bird seed out on the ground?]


Quickly get birds to use a new feeder by setting it up at the right time of year

When is the best time to set up a bird feeder? Mid to late autumn is the best time to set up a bird feeder. October is good, November farther south. Why?

Birds that breed in the north migrate south in fall. They look for a place to spend the winter. Such a place must have protective vegetation, water, and food. By December birds have stopped moving around. They have selected their winter territory and will stay there until spring.

So it is best to have your feeders set up by early winter, at least.

Birds migrating back north again in the spring will find bird feeders to stop at along the way.

Getting birds to use a new feeder in the summer and early autumn is harder. There is usually an abundance of natural foods, insects, fruits, and seeds. Adult birds that eat seeds often feed insects to their young (finches and goldfinches are the exception in feeding their nestlings seeds).

Not all birds migrate. So you may attract the year-round resident house finches and chickadees with black oil sunflower seeds even in summer.


Get birds to use a new feeder by setting up staging perches

Have you observed that most birds do not fly directly to a bird feeder?

Birds usually approach more cautiously. They fly to a safe perch near and often above the feeder to check it out first. 

The feeder is so exposed! The birds want to make sure there aren't any hawks or cats or other dangers there at the feeder before they visit to eat.

These way stops to the feeder are called staging perches. 

Finches and jays may use fences and electrical wires as staging perches. Other birds may prefer lower perches where they can approach unseen. Thus, a dense low tree or bush often works well as a staging perch. 

If your yard is bare, you may consider planting willows. They grow very quickly from free cuttings. In 3 years it can be quite dense.


Photo of White-crowned Sparrow at bird bath


Quickly attract birds to your bird feeders by adding water

Birds need water to drink and bathe year-round, not just summer. In fact, birds may get dehydrated in winter when all water is frozen!

Nothing attracts birds like the sound of dripping water! If you can make or buy a fountain, bubbler or dripper for your bird bath, you will soon have birds!

And even birds that don't come to feeders will come to bird baths. Remember, birds attract birds. Get any birds comfortable with coming into your yard, and they'll soon attract others.


Attract birds to your feeders by placing feeders correctly within your landscaping

Birds want a safe place to flee from the feeders when they perceive danger. Thus, feeders are best placed within 10-15 feet of such refuge.

You may place a feeder below such a tree or even hanging from it, if sturdy.

Many birds do like to feed low or on the ground. However, don't place a low feeder too near a low dense bush where a cat could hide and spring out. 

But other birds like to feed higher and more in the open.

And, you have to balance all this with being able to see the bird feeder from your window!

[See my article that answers questions about setting up bird feeders and bird feeding.]


How long does it take to attract birds to a new feeder?

It takes about 2-14 days to attract the first birds to a new feeder. 

It can take longer in summer, as we discussed above. 

And, if you live in an urban or new residential neighborhood lacking large trees and mature landscaping, it can take months to attract larger numbers of birds to your bird feeder. 

But now you have the tools to quickly attract whatever birds may be present.



Recommendations

I like the following feeders and foods for quickly attracting birds to your feeder. These links all take you to Amazon where you may purchase them. I earn a small affiliate commission from your purchase, with no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this web site with your purchases.

Droll Yankees 16-inch Tube feeder

Hopper feeder

Platform feeder

Black oil sunflower seed

White proso millet

Wagner's Songbird Supreme mixed bird seed

Wagner's Greatest Variety mixed bird seed



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Feeding winter birds in Indiana

You've decided to start feeding wild birds this winter and want to know how to get started. Welcome!

Or, perhaps you've been feeding backyard birds but are looking for new ideas. Wonderful!

Maybe a certain bird at your feeder has attracted your interest. You want to know what it is. You've come to the right place!

I've written this article to address all these scenarios.

This article tells why and how to set up a bird feeder in Indiana in the winter. I'll also show you photos of the common feeder birds in Indiana that you can look for at your own backyard feeder! I will give brief identification tips. I will tell you what foods and what type of feeders attract each species.

Winters are cold and frigid in Indiana. Most days are below freezing. Snow is frequent.

I understand that ice skating and ice fishing are popular winter time activities in Indiana. 

How about I recommend a warmer winter past time? Backyard bird feeding and watching!

You don't need special clothes to watch birds from your window. And you're not as likely to get skunked as you might when ice fishing.




In this article
Why feed winter birds in Indiana?
What birds come to feeders in winter in Indiana?
Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Indiana
Related articles




Photo of bird feeder. Veronica Andrews from Pixabay.

Why feed winter birds in Indiana?

Indiana is positioned ideally for winter bird watching.

Indiana is in the Mississippi flyway. Many birds migrate north and south through this region. On the other hand, there are many birds, also, that live year-round in the area.

The state's northern latitude means there is a good turn-over over birds between summer and winter.

And the snowy weather means that birds are hungry and quickly attracted to feeders in winter.

By feeding birds and managing your landscaping to attract wildlife, you can help these wonderful creatures to survive the sometimes harsh Indiana winters.

We all need more connection to nature. And what better way than birds? They are active during the day. There are many interesting varieties and colors. Many are not overly fearful of human activity, thus they are easy to observe. Many are easily attracted to our backyards.

These wild creatures are the perfect antidote to the stress and hubbub of modern living. Don't watch the depressing news. Relax and watch the birds at your feeders!

Feeding and watching winter birds in Indiana can bring you joy.


What birds come to feeders in winter in Indiana?

Simply by providing a couple different types of seed or nuts, you can attract a score of birds to your feeders.

Most of the backyard birds in winter in Indiana are seed eaters or omnivores. Most of the insect eaters and fruit eaters have all migrated southward, if they can't switch to plant material. 

So with little effort you can attract these feathered balls of energy into your view. Every day.

Of course, you can feed and watch birds without knowing their names. 

But there is something exciting about having a new species come to your feeder. Watching for something new and different keeps your interest. It provides incentive to refill your feeders on those less-than-ideal-weather days.

You can even track the coming and going of some birds through the year.

If you start identifying the winter birds at your feeder, something else may happen. You may start watching birds in your backyard all year long. When you get to that spot in your bird watching, you'll want to check out my article: What birds are in my backyard in Indiana? It discusses the most common backyard birds throughout the year--even those that don't come to feeders. I'll link to that article again at the end, so you can keep reading here and visit afterward.

Pretty soon you may want to travel to other locales and habitats to add new species to your list. Now you're hooked on bird watching!

Let's start with the more common feeder birds you can expect in Indiana in winter.


Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch on tree branch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

White-breasted Nuthatch 

This active little bird crawls up, down, over, and under, tree trunks and main branches.

These birds live in deciduous and mixed woods in the East, oaks and pine-oak woodlands in the West. They are found from central Canada southward into Mexico. 

White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

Nuthatches are small plump birds with big heads and very short square tails. The bill is medium length (about as long as the head) and pointed. Legs are short, feet large and strong.

These birds are gray or blue-gray above, with a thin black strip over the top of the head. The underparts and side of the head and face is white. They often show some rusty along the flank and under the tail.

White-breasted Nuthatches love black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and tree nuts from any kind of feeder. They also eat suet.


Photo of Northern Cardinal in snow shower
Northern Cardinal. tlparadis from Pixabay.

Northern Cardinal 

The male cardinal's image, if not the bird itself, is probably the most well-known bird in the United States.

These birds are found in woodlands and backyards in the Eastern US west to North Dakota, Texas and Arizona.

Northern Cardinals are year-round residents in Indiana.

These are fairly large plump birds. The have a huge conical bill. The tail is full and rounded. The crest is obvious.

Males are bright scarlet red with black face and orange bill. Females are tan or gray with red highlights, but otherwise have the obvious bill and crest and dark face.

Northern Cardinals eat larger seeds, including sunflower and safflower seeds, especially from platform feeders and the ground.


Photo of Dark-eyed Junco feeding on ground with red leaves
Dark-eyed Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco 

When these "snowbirds" arrive at your feeders, winter is nigh.

These birds live in conifer and mixed woodlands across Canada and in the mountains of both eastern and western United States. In winter they descend to the lowlands and south across most of the US, mostly abandoning Canada.

Dark-eyed Juncos are winter visitors to Indiana.

These are small plump birds with large heads. The conical bills are small.

The form found in the eastern US (sometimes called Slate-colored Junco) is rather dark gray throughout with a white belly. Females are browner on the back. Both genders sport flashing white outer tail feathers. Bill and legs are pink.

Dark-eyed Juncos like small mixed seeds, including white proso millet, from low platform feeders, but are more likely on the ground.


Photo of Downy Woodpecker on suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Downy Woodpecker 

These little woodpeckers are common backyard visitors across the United States.

These woodpeckers are residents across Alaska, Canada, and most of the United States except the deserts.

Downy Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are small stocky birds with short tails, short legs. The bill is pointed and rather small compared to other woodpeckers.

The black-and-white plumage is similar to many other woodpeckers. The have black wings with white spots. The back and under parts are white. The tail is black with white outer tail feathers. The head is white with black crown, black ear patch, and black lateral throat stripe. Males have a small red spot on the back of the head.

Downy Woodpeckers eat suet and peanuts.


Photo of American Tree Sparrow in blackberry bramble
American Tree Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

American Tree Sparrow 

This northern bird is not well-known, except as a rare feeder visitor in winter.

These birds breed where scattered trees give way to tundra, across Alaska and northern Canada. They winter in weedy fields across most of the northern United States.

American Tree Sparrows winter throughout Indiana.

These are rather small sparrows, medium in build.

These birds are rather pale gray with rufous highlights. The back is brown with dark stripes. The wing is reddish brown with two white wing bars. The head is gray with rusty orange crown. The gray breast has a large dark spot in the center. The bicolored bill is dark above and yellow below. The legs are pink.

American Tree Sparrows eat small mixed seeds, including white proso millet, on platform feeders or the ground.


Photo of Carolina Wren on stump
Carolina Wren. theSOARnet from Pixabay.

Carolina Wren

These loud songsters may be in your yard year-round, but perhaps only visit your feeder in winter.

These brush-loving birds are common in the East and Southeast. Populations expand northward after mild winters, but retract after harsh winters.

Carolina Wrens are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are plump birds on longer legs. They have a larger head with long curved bill. The tail is long and full.

These birds are brown above, with black bars on the wing and tail. They have a long white eyebrow stripe. The under parts are rich buffy.

Carolina Wrens come to suet feeders in winter.


Photo of Blue Jay in bird bath
Blue Jay. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Blue Jay 

This is such a well-known bird that many other jays and bluebirds get called "blue jays" by those who aren't familiar with the differences.

These birds live in deciduous woodlands, especially those containing oaks or other nut trees. They are found east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada southward.

Blue Jays are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are medium large backyard birds with a large crested head and ample tail. They have a long pointed and stout bill.

Generally, they are blue above and pale gray below. The crest and back are blue. The wings and tail are blue with black bars. There is a big patch of white in the wing and also on the tail corners. The white face is enclosed by a black necklace that goes across the chest and over the back of the neck.

Blue Jays are fond of nuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds at hopper feeders. They also love suet.


Photo of American Goldfinch in teasel
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.

American Goldfinch 

The bright yellow males of summer with their black cap, wings, and tail are well known. The dull brown winter plumage can be confusing.

These birds live in weedy grasslands with sparse trees. They breed from southern Canada to the mid-latitudes of the Unites States. In winter they migrate south to winter throughout the US.

American Goldfinches are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are small birds with small round heads and a short forked tail. The bill is conical, but short.

In winter the bright yellow and black plumage gives way to a pale brown body color with yellow throat. Wings are dark brown with wide pale wing bars.

American Goldfinches love Niger seed from thistle feeders. They also eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders.


Photo of House Sparrow at feeder
House Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

House Sparrow 

These city birds sometimes form large noisy and messy flocks at feeders.

These birds are found in city and residential areas, as well as livestock farms, from Canada to Mexico.

House Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

Plump birds with short legs, medium-short tails and large flat heads with big conical bills.

Brown above and gray below. Females have a broad pale eyebrow. Males have gray crown, chestnut ear patch and black mask and throat (only a scruffy black chin in winter). Adult males have black bill, females and young males have pale bill.

House Sparrows like smaller mixed seed, especially the red milo, wheat, and cracked corn found in cheap bird seed. They prefer hopper feeders. (Thus, to discourage these birds, feed black oil sunflower seed from tube feeders.)


Photo of House Finch in tree top
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

House Finch 

This is the most likely red finch at your feeder in the United States, especially if you live in town.

More widespread in their native canyonland range of the West, in the East, where introduced, these birds prefer residential areas over wild spaces. They are residents from extreme southern Canada into Mexico.

House Finches are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These birds are small with fairly long body and round head. The tail is notched or slightly forked.

They are dusty brown above. The underparts are covered with broad brown streaks. Males have a red forehead, upper breast, and rump. The bills are conical, with a curved upper bill.

House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders.


Photo of Song Sparrow on bush
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Song Sparrow 

These birds are rather shy at your feeder. They may prefer to look for seeds under your hedge or on the ground below your feeder. Or they may sneak onto the feeder when there are no other birds feeding.

These birds love brushy tangles and hedges, from marshes to forest clearings, but also residential areas. They breed from southern Alaska, across Canada and much of the United States. In winter they are found across the US, including Texas and the Gulf coast, where they are absent in summer.

Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are small round birds with a long rounded-tip tail.

These are gray above with both light and dark brown stripes. The head is striped with brown on a gray background, The under parts are white with wide streaks on the upper breast that often converge on the center of the breast.

Song Sparrows love small mixed seeds from low platform feeders or feed on the ground under the feeders.


Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker on tree trunk
Red-bellied Woodpecker. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Red-bellied Woodpecker 

These eastern woodpeckers commonly visit bird feeders in winter.

These birds live in woodlands, parks, and residential areas with larger trees. Found in the eastern United States, west to the Dakotas and Texas.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These are medium-sized birds, smaller than a robin. They are stocky with short tails and large heads and long pointed bill. Legs are short, feet strong.

The body and head is pale. The back and wings are barred black-and-white. The back of the head is red, extending over the crown on males. In flight birds show white primary wing patches and white rump.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat suet. They also come to platform feeders for peanuts, nuts, and sunflower seeds.


Photo of Tufted Titmouse on bird feeder
Tufted Titmouse. Anne773 from Pixabay.

Tufted Titmouse 

These birds are a bit less active than chickadees, but are very similar in habits.

These birds are found in deciduous woods and parks. They are found throughout the East, and west to Minnesota and eastern Texas.

Tufted Titmouses are year-round residents throughout Indiana.

These birds are plump with a big head and thick tail. They have a stout short bill and short, rather inconspicuous crest.

These birds are blue-gray above and pale gray below. They have a peach cast to the flanks, The forehead is black.

Tufted Titmouses like peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds from hopper feeders.


Photo of Mourning Dove on tree stump
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson.

Mourning Dove 

Besides coming to your bird feeder, in spring these birds nest on shelfs on porches and in carports.

Found in a wide variety of open habitats, including residential areas and woods along streams. Breed across southern Canada southward into Mexico. In winter birds retreat from Canada and the northern Great Plains.

Mourning Doves are year-round residents in Indiana.

These fairly large birds are quite plump with a large breast. They have a small round head on thin neck. Their tail is very long and pointed. Legs are short. The bill is small and rather thin, slightly hooked at the tip.

The back and wings of these birds is gray and brown. The wing coverts have large black spots. The under parts are more pinkish. The tail has white outer feathers.

Mourning Doves eat a wide variety of grains and seeds, including cracked corn, sunflower seeds, and millet, from a platform feeder.


Photo of Carolina Chickadee on bird feeder
Carolina Chickadee. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Carolina Chickadee 

These chickadees replace the Black-capped Chickadees in the southeastern United States.

These chickadees live in deciduous woods and residential areas. They are resident in the Southeast United States, north to New Jersey, west to southern Nebraska and the Texas panhandle, and south to northern Florida.

Carolina Chickadees are resident year-round in the south half of Indiana. In the northern third of Indiana they are replaced by Black-capped Chickadees. There is some overlap.

These are small plump birds with big heads and long active tails. The bills are short and stout. The legs and feet strong.

These birds have gray back, wings, and tail. The under parts are pale. The white face is offset by black cap and black bib. The wings are rather plain gray; Black-capped has white feather edges more obvious on the wing edges. Voice is also different; please see Cornell's online field guide for more details.

Carolina Chickadees love black oil sunflower seeds from tube or hopper feeders.


Setting up a winter bird feeding station in Indiana

Usually I recommend having two feeders, usually a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds for the finches and chickadees, and a hopper feeder with mixed seed for the sparrows and other birds.

However, I think a larger hopper feeder with a good quality mixed seed that is 50% sunflower seeds would attract the most of the expected birds. I recommend Wagner's Songbird Supreme.

All birds will come to a hopper feeder. And that Wagner's mixed seed will attract most of the species shown above.

I'd also set up a suet feeder. It provides needed calories for those cold winters! Birds that will come to the suet includes wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, jays, and nuthatches.

I recommend a bird bath for a source of liquid water--especially in the frozen winter. I don't have a recommendation for a bird bath heater, but do recommend you think about providing one.

You may find the best of these foods and feeders on my recommended product page. Also, see the article below on my recommended bird feeder setup.



These related articles should answer your questions on setting up a bird feeder and get you started viewing and identifying your backyard birds: 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Best ways to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing!

In some areas of the United States and Canada hummingbirds live year-round. Yes, even in some areas that occasionally freeze or have snow in winter.

For instance, Anna's Hummingbirds are resident from British Columbia, Canada, south through Washington State, Oregon, California and Arizona. While winters are generally mild, freezing weather (and snow in the northern parts) may occur in winter, or as a surprise in spring.

A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may winter in the Southeast, on either on the Atlantic or Gulf coast lines. Winter may have some freezing weather and snow, especially northward and inland.

Other hummingbirds may live in winter in desert lands from southern California, across Arizona, to Texas. Overnight lows may reach to freezing. Rarely, a few days of freezing weather may occur.

It is important that during these times that hummingbird feeders be kept clean, full, and liquid!

But how can you keep the sugar water of your hummingbird nectar from freezing?

The simplest and best way to keep your hummingbird feeder from freezing is by bringing them indoors at night. Other ideas for keeping your hummingbird feeders warm include heating with incandescent light or wrapping with a pipe heating cable. 

More ideas follow.

Photo of a frozen hummingbird feeder on a frosty day
Oh no! My hummingbirds woke up to a frozen feeder!

Dealing with frozen hummingbird feeders

There are a few ways to deal with frozen feeders. You can let them thaw out on their own. You can thaw them yourself. Or you can prevent them from freezing in the first place.

Ignore frozen hummingbird feeders

Perhaps the most common way to deal with frozen feeders is to ignore them.

If nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, but daytime temperatures rise to above freezing, then frozen hummingbird feeders will thaw out on their own during the day.

In fact, hummingbird nectar, with a ratio of one part sugar to 4 parts water, will remain liquid down to 27F (-2.8C).

Despite their diminutive size, hummingbirds are quite hardy and can handle freezing weather for a day or two. If your hummingbird feeder freezes overnight, your hummingbirds are likely to be just fine. 

Prolonged freezing weather, though, requires some action on your part.

Thaw frozen hummingbird feeders

Recently, several days of snowy weather meant that my hummingbird feeders would freeze in a couple of hours. 

What did I do? I brought the feeder in at night. Then I put it out first thing in the morning. The hummingbirds would have liked me to put it out sooner--they were buzzing and snapping around me as I hung it.

The feeder froze again before noon. So I brought it in and let it thaw, before putting it out again for the afternoon feeding time (dusk).

Hummingbirds feed most actively at sunrise and again just before dark. Make sure they have liquid hummingbird nectar at these two critical times.


A warning about microwaving frozen hummingbird feeders

It might seem easy to stick smaller hummingbird feeders in the microwave. And it is--I tried it. But be careful. I microwaved for only 15 seconds at a time, for 45 seconds total, checking temperature between.

First, I removed the metal hanging hook. No metal should be placed in a microwave!

Second, I knew that the air trapped in the feeder would expand greatly when heated, pushing out the liquid. Fortunately, even though I had an inverted feeder style, it has a saucer at the bottom. Thus, the expanded air didn't cause the nectar to be forced out and spill. I set an 8x8 inch Tupperware container under it, just in case.

Third, make sure it isn't hot! You may burn yourself. Don't microwave until the ice is completely gone. Leave some and it will cool any hot spots. Let the feeder water reach room temperature before putting it out for the hummingbirds again.

Don't microwave your hummingbird feeder. Microwaving cold glass could cause it to crack, shatter or expel hot sugary steam. You may melt the plastic feeder parts. There, that's my safety warning.


Switch out frozen feeders

This is probably the most common and safe way to keep hummingbird feeders thawed.

Purchase two feeders and switch them out every couple of hours during freezing weather.

Having two feeders in spring and summer will often bring far more hummingbirds to your backyard than just one feeder. So having two hummingbird feeders is reasonable. They aren't expensive.

I really like the small 10 ounce More Birds Ruby hummingbird feeder, available on Amazon. It is easy to clean and doesn't leak or drip. Mine has lasted several years. It has endured baking San Diego summers and freezing Washington State winters (see opening photo).

Partially fill two hummingbird feeders with nectar. Put out one feeder at a time. When the first freezes, switch it out with one that has warm liquid from inside your home. Check back a few hours later. If necessary, switch them out again. Keep this up during the cold snap.

Remember, though, keep the hummingbird nectar fresh. Just as in summer, regularly empty and clean your feeders. Don't top off feeders. Always clean when refilling.


Hang your hummingbird feeder near the porch light

You know, this used to work quite well. 

Hang your feeder on a hook near (but not touching!) a porch light. 

It was a little easier when the light was in the porch ceiling. Then you could suspend the feeder from a ceiling hook or even just a nail.

For a wall mounted porch light, use a shelf bracket to suspend your feeder from the wall above the light.

But that was when everyone used incandescent bulbs that put off a significant amount of heat.

Most lights these days are cooler fluorescent or LED. So this trick no longer works!


Novelty incandescent light strings

The strings of lights used for holiday or just decoration are often still incandescent. They glow when electricity is forced through a thin wire. The wires get so hot they give off light. 

These strings of novelty lights can be wrapped safely around the hummingbird feeder and keep them warm in freezing weather.

Here are ads for a couple of examples from Amazon. I earn a small commission if you purchase. Thank you.







A utility light

You need a utility light anyway, don't you? They are handy for working under the sink, under the house, or in the garage or shed. They are good for outside emergencies at night.

Utility lights are also good for keeping a hummingbird feeder warm during freezing weather. Hang the utility light near (but not touching!) the hummingbird feeder.

Again, though, some lights are going to cool LED. So if you can't get a hot incandescent bulb try this:

Click on this link for 75 Watt infrared bulbs (will take you to Amazon) to use with hanging utility light. These bulbs cast more heat than light, that they give off in a warm orange glow.



Wrap your hummingbird feeder with pipe heating cable

This one might require some ingenuity, experimentation and duct tape!

The pipe heating cable below is a 3 foot length. It has a thermostat to automatically turn on and off when temperatures cool and warm around the freezing point.

You may even find some other uses for it around your home this winter!






When do your hummingbirds arrive and depart? 

I wrote this popular article that gives the hummingbird season for each state. It tells you when to put up your hummingbird feeders in spring and when to take your hummingbird feeders down again in fall.




Monday, March 8, 2021

Comparison: No mess and waste free bird seed

Let's face it. Feeding birds can be messy. Those of us who feed birds regularly look for ways to make it less messy.

Is it worth it to buy the more expensive bird seed advertised as "no mess" or "waste-free"? What does that even mean? And how well do bird seed brands that say these words deliver on their promise?

This article discusses those questions. Plus, I give you my impressions of a few brands I have tried.


Photo of bird seed in feeder
Kaytee Waste-Free seed in my feeder

Bird seed can make a mess in one of 3 ways

1) Seeds may have inedible hard outer shells. Birds crack open the shell to reach the meaty kernel inside. The outer hulls drop off the feeder to the ground below.

2) Not all birds like all seeds or foods. Birds will eat their favorite first and throw the rest out of the feeder and onto the ground.

3) Excited birds at the feeder may accidentally knock out uneaten seeds. Spilled seeds that don't get eaten may sprout in the spring (or immediately).

If birds prefer one type of seed, and throw out the others, then why combine them? Offer one type of seed in each feeder. However, if you want to purchase just one bag of bird food, then you may want mixed seed. If so, you may try those labeled as "no mess" or waste-free."


Of course, birds also make a mess by leaving their droppings wherever they are concentrated to eat. So birds on the porch, deck, or patio may still be messy, even if the food itself is not.




In this article


  • What does no mess and waste free and no shell bird seed mean?
  • Ingredients in popular brands of no mess and waste free bird seed
  • What is the best no mess and waste free bird seed?
  • My review of some no mess bird seed brands I tried
  • I made my own no mess bird seed!




What does "no mess" and "waste-free" and "no shell" bird seed mean?


What do these terms mean to you? I bet it is different from what it means to bird seed providers!

1. Do these words mean that there are no inedible shells on any of the seeds to make a mess? 

Not usually.

2. Do these words mean that the seeds will not germinate and grow a weedy mess under the feeder?

Rarely.


Companies advertise bird seed as "no mess" and "waste-free" and even "shell free" if they contain hulled sunflower seeds (kernels, hearts, or broken chips) rather than whole sunflower seeds in the shell. They often add peanut or tree nut pieces or cracked corn.


However, these companies vary in whether they offer white proso millet with shells or hulled

True, the shells of white proso millet are very small. But they can still make a mess. 

And these millet seeds with the shells on will readily sprout if spilled onto the ground from the feeder. 

If you want truly waste free and no shells, then you want the ingredient list to say "hulled white proso millet." If it just says "white proso millet" then it still has the shells on and will germinate and sprout under your feeders.

Alternatively, look for no mess bird seed without any millet. Juncos, towhees and ground-feeding sparrows love millet. But it is not a favorite of finches or chickadees or nuthatches or cardinals.


Two cautions about bird seed with hulls removed--the no mess type. 

This kind of bird seed doesn't last as long as those with the shells intact. It has a shorter shelf life. It can get stale if stored a long time. It needs to be fresh.

Also, it will go bad much more quickly if wet. So clean uneaten seed from your feeders after rain or snow melt. If it is gummy and clumps together, it is bad. The birds won't eat it.

So don't over-fill the feeder. Let it go empty every couple of days. This will help with the mess, too. Sparrows on the ground will search for uneaten seeds, rather than go up to the feeder for more easy access.


Ingredients in popular brands of no mess and waste-free bird seed

The following table lists the brand and the main ingredients. I tell whether it is shell-free. I tell whether it is safe from sprouting under the feeder if spilled. The red letters indicate the ingredients that make the seed NOT truly waste free and no mess and shell free.

Full details follow the table.


Brand Shell
free
Sprout
free
Sunflower
kernels
White
Millet
Crack
Corn
Peanut Tree
nut
Dried
Fruit
Filler
Audubon Park     X X       X
Country Blends X X X X X       X
Global Harvest     W X   X      
Kaytee Nut & Fruit X X X   X   X X  
Kaytee Nut & Raisin X X X   X X X X X
Kaytee Ultimate     X X X X     X
Kaytee Waste Free     X X X X     X
Lyric Delight X X X     X X    
Lyric Fine Tunes X X X H   X X    
Lyric Woodpecker X X X   X X X X  
Brand Shell
free
Sprout
free
Sunflower
kernels
White
Millet
Crack
Corn
Peanut Tree
nut
Dried
Fruit
Filler
Meadow Ridge Farms X X X   X X     
Morning Song     X X X X     X
Pendleton  
X H X       S 
Pour Joy X X X H X X      
Schoen Farms     X   X       X
Valley Farms  X X X   W X X X  
Wagner's Gourmet X X X   X X X    
Wagner's Shell Free     X X X X

X
Wild Delight X X X     X X    


The following are details for the table above.

In general, the ingredient list below is from most to least quantity. The first listed ingredient is the one with the most seeds--the main ingredient.

I prefer sunflower seeds as the first main ingredient that most birds prefer. Then I like white proso millet as the second ingredient for sparrows and ground feeding birds. Then, as a third ingredient, I prefer peanuts and tree nuts for nuthatches, woodpeckers, and jays. Dried fruit is a nice final touch. I don't want a large percentage of cracked corn--not enough songbirds eat it, mostly jays, doves, quail. 

I don't want any red milo, wheat, oats, red millet, canary seed, rape seed, or flax, because few birds eat it and most of these small seeds readily sprout under the bird feeder if kicked out by the birds. These last items are "cheap filler" that are found in the inexpensive mixed bird seed.


Audubon Park No Waste Blend

Ingredients: white proso millet, sunflower chips, red millet, peanut pieces. 

Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Few birds eat red millet.


Country Blends No Milo No Mess

Ingredients: white proso millet, cracked corn, black oil sunflower seed, wheat. 

The whole sunflower seeds are very sparse. This is mostly millet and corn. Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Few birds eat wheat.


Global Harvest No Waste Blend

Ingredients: white proso millet, sunflower chips. peanut pieces.

Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground.


Kaytee Ultra Waste Free Nut and Fruit Blend

Ingredients: hulled sunflower, cracked corn, shelled nuts, dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries and apples.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Kaytee Waste Free Nut and Raisin

Ingredients: hulled sunflower seeds, peanuts, raisins, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cracked corn, ground wheat, oats, corn meal, soybean meal, flax seeds, dried whole eggs, soy oil, dried beet pulp, salt, algae meal, more....

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.

I don't get why there is so much extra in this. It would have been great if they would have stopped with the hulled sunflower seeds through the cracked corn. It will get gummy and possibly go bad quickly if it gets wet. 


Kaytee Ultimate No Mess Wild Bird Food

Ingredients: hulled sunflower seeds, white millet, cracked corn, peanuts, canary seed, calcium carbonate.

Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Canary seed is tiny and will sprout if spilled on the ground.

I like that sunflower seeds and millet are the first two ingredients. Calcium carbonate is a dietary supplement that birds need.


Kaytee Waste Free Bird Seed Blend

Ingredients: hulled sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn, peanuts, canary seed.

Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Canary seed is tiny and will sprout if spilled on the ground.


Lyric Delight High Protein No Waste Wild Bird Mix

Ingredients: shelled peanuts, sunflower kernels, pecans, pistachios, shelled pumpkin seeds.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Lyric Fine Tunes No Waste Bird Seed Mix

Ingredients: peanut pieces, pistachio pieces, almond pieces, sunflower kernels, hulled white proso millet, shelled pumpkin seed pieces.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Lyric Woodpecker No Waste Mix

Ingredients: shelled peanuts, sunflower kernels, corn, pecans, pistachio, shelled pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, raisins.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Meadow Ridge Farms No Grow No Shell Wild Bird Seed Mix

Ingredients: peanut hearts, sunflower hearts, cracked corn

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.

Jays, squirrels, and woodpeckers.


Morning Song Clean and Free Wild Bird Food (Less Mess)

Ingredients: chipped sunflowers, white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts, canary seed, red millet.

Millet has small shells and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Canary seed is tiny and will sprout if spilled on the ground. Few birds eat red millet.


Pendleton Turf Supply Wild Bird, No Mess Mix

Ingredients: sunflower chips, hulled millet, cracked corn, Nutrasaff.

Nutrasaff is a special thin-shelled safflower seed. The shell is 40% thinner than regular safflower seed. Birds are also supposed to like it more. I'm not sure if it will sprout if spilled.


Pour Joy No Mess No Waste Shell-Free Blend

Ingredients: hulled sunflower hearts and chips, peanut pieces, hulled white millet, cracked corn.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Schoen Farms Less Mess Wild Bird Food Mix

Ingredients: sunflower kernels, canary seed, red millet, cracked corn, wheat.

Canary seed and millet will sprout if spilled. Few birds eat canary seed, red millet, and wheat.


Valley Farms Woodpecker Mix No Mess No Waste

Ingredients: peanut kernels, assorted tree nuts, sunflower hearts, whole corn, shelled pumpkin seeds, raisins.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled. Few birds eat whole corn kernels.


Wagner's Gourmet Waste Free Wild Bird Food

Ingredients: sunflower chips, peanut pieces, cracked corn, tree nuts, pumpkin seeds.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


Wagner's Shell Free Blend Wild Bird Food

Ingredients: white millet, cracked corn, red millet, sunflower kernels, peanut kernels.

The millet still has the shells on and will readily sprout if spilled on the ground.


Wild Delight Deck, Porch N' Patio No Waste Bird Food

Ingredients: sunflower kernels, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds.

No shells and will not germinate and sprout if spilled.


What is the best "no mess" and "waste free" bird seed?

Based on the ingredients above I choose these bird seeds as the best of the no mess (or "less mess") variety.

For truly no shells, no sprout, then choose no mess bird seed with either no millet, or hulled millet, along with the hulled sunflower seeds and chips.

I already mentioned that I want sunflower seeds as the first ingredient.


Pour Joy No Mess No Waste Shell-Free Blend

This bird seed contains sunflower chips as the first ingredient. The second ingredient is hulled white proso millet. The third ingredient is peanut pieces. The final ingredient is cracked corn. Perfect! This is the ingredient ratio that will bring the most birds to my feeder.



Kaytee Ultra Waste Free Nut and Fruit Blend

This bird seed has a great ingredient list. I don't like cracked corn as being second on the list, as I don't want a whole lot of this grain, eaten primarily by jays and pigeons. However, I love the nuts and all the dried fruits offered.



Wagner's Gourmet Waste Free Wild Bird Food

Nice. Sunflower chips, peanut pieces, cracked corn, tree nuts and pumpkin seeds. All good stuff.



Runners up:


Pendleton Turf Supply Wild Bird, No Mess Mix

I'm interested in the NutraSaff, also known as Golden Safflower. It is a hybrid safflower seed with very thin shells. Cardinals eat safflower seed. But other birds are supposed to like the NutraSaff, too. I'm not sure if the NutraSaff will sprout if it spills. 

The first ingredients are sunflower chips, hulled millet, and cracked corn.



Wild Delight Deck, Porch N' Patio No Waste Bird Food

Sunflower kernels, peanuts, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds. No millet, so this is truly no mess.



Now, finally, let's look at the brands with white proso millet, even if it isn't hulled. Can we be honest and call it "less mess," rather than no mess?


Kaytee Waste Free Bird Seed Blend

Sunflower chips, white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts, canary seed. This is a good ingredient list.



Kaytee Ultimate No Mess Wild Bird Food

This is the same as they Kaytee blend above, except it also has calcium carbonate, a mineral supplement. 



My review of some no mess and waste free bird seed I tried

The first no mess bird seed I tried was...

Wild Delight Deck, Porch N' Patio Wild Bird Food, 5 pounds, $14.99

Sunflower kernels, peanuts, pistachios, hulled pumpkin seed.

The birds seemed to really like this. I was still in San Diego when I tried this. I had mostly House Finches and Mourning Doves in summer.

This had no waste.

My biggest complaint was the large seeds and peanuts. They kept getting stuck in feeder port. Every couple of days I had to take a fork or other pointy object to dislodge the item to unclog the feeder port.

I was using a glass and metal bird feeder with the Stokes label. The bird feeder is pictured at the head of this article. If you like it, here is an affiliate link to what I believe is the same feeder model on Amazon.


Kaytee Ultimate No Mess Wild Bird Food, 9.75 pounds, $17.99

Hulled sunflower, white millet, cracked corn, peanuts, canary grass seed, calcium carbonate.

Millet and canary grass left small shells behind. I don't notice, too much, though. The shells were so small and light that they blew away.

The opening photo is this bird seed in my yard in San Diego.

It had smaller pieces, so didn't plug up the feeder ports as did the Wild Delight bird food.

While in San Diego my complaint was that the birds didn't eat the cracked corn--at least, not until the sunflower seeds were long gone. 

Then I only had a family of House Finches, a few Lesser Goldfinches, and a Mourning Dove as my "regulars." I suspect that only the dove ate the cracked corn. 

Can you imagine the large dove perched up on the shelf of that small bird feeder? A California Towhee pair were also in the yard, but I rarely saw them up high on the feeder. They spent most of their time on the ground.

I brought the same feeder and remaining seed with me to Washington State in the fall when I moved. 

Guess what?

The birds ate it all up! Birds were more numerous and included Steller's Jays and House Sparrows that eat cracked corn. Red-breasted Nuthatches snatched up all the peanuts before the jays could get them! House Finches and American Goldfinches, and Chickadees (both Black-capped and Chestnut-backed) ate the sunflower seeds. This food didn't last long!


Photo of bulk millet and sunflower chips


I made my own no mess bird seed!

Well, I made the "less mess" version with hulled sunflower seeds and white proso millet.

You can make your own mixed seed, too!

My own mix: Sunflower chips, 10 pounds, my cost in November 2020 was $25.99 & White millet bulk, 10 pounds, my cost in November 2020 was $18.99. Those links lead to Amazon. 

20 pounds for $45. That's a good savings.

[As an Amazon Affiliate, if you use the links on my site to purchase something from Amazon on the day you visit, I will earn a percentage of everything you buy, with no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!]


Photo of bulk bird seed

I mixed it and stored it in plastic ware.

I mixed the seed about 50/50. However, I could have used 2 parts millet to 1 part sunflower seeds.

If you added unsalted peanuts (Amazon) and maybe some raisins, that would make it perfect!

Why these two ingredients? Read my article on why sunflower seeds and white proso millet are the perfect combination!

Most birds eat sunflower seeds. However, the House Finches actually like whole black oil sunflower seeds better than just the kernels and chips out of the shell. [I have a daughter that as a child loved corn-on-the-cob, but couldn't stand canned corn. I wonder if that's the same?]

The Dark-eyed Juncos, Pine Siskins, House Sparrows, and Spotted Towhees ate the millet.

House Finches, American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Steller's Jays ate the hulled sunflower seeds.

It's kind of fun to experiment with different foods!




Related:

14 tips to keep bird seed from sprouting in your lawn

How do you feed birds without making a mess?

Setting up your first bird feeder




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As an Amazon Associate I earn commissions from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support.

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