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Feeding Birds in Your Backyard (Tips for Beginners)

Interested in attracting a variety of birds to your backyard? Feeding birds can be a simple and enjoyable way to support local wildlife and brighten up your outdoor space.

In this article, we’ll provide helpful tips and insights for beginners looking to learn more about backyard bird feeding. From selecting the right feeders and food to creating a bird-friendly habitat, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started on this rewarding hobby.

Article Highlights

  • Selecting the right bird feeder(s) and offering a variety of bird food to attract diverse bird species
  • Ensuring proper bird feeder placement for safety and visibility
  • Creating a bird-friendly habitat by providing clean water and protecting birds from potential dangers like window collisions and predators

10 Tips for feeding birds in your backyard

In this section, we’ll share 10 essential tips to help you create the perfect backyard setup for feeding birds. These tips will cover various aspects, from selecting suitable bird feeders and food to ensuring the safety and well-being of your feathered friends. By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a lively and diverse bird community right outside your window. 

1. Choosing your bird feeder(s)

Select the right bird feeder to attract a variety of bird species. Consider different types of feeders like tube feeders, platform feeders, and suet feeders.

  • Tube feeders: Ideal for small seeds, attracting finches, chickadees, sparrows and titmice
  • Hopper feeders: Can hold a lot of seed, attracts many species, ideal for larger songbirds like cardinals
  • Caged feeders: best for smaller birds, keeps out squirrels and “bully birds” like blackbirds, grackles and starlings
  • Window feeders: easy installation, no yard space required, see birds up close
  • Nectar feeders: great for hummingbirds and orioles
  • Platform feeders: Suitable for a variety of seeds and grains, ideal for larger birds like cardinals, doves, grosbeaks
  • Suet feeders: Designed for suet cakes, attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, jays, catbirds, starlings
  • Squirrel proof feeders: Designed to keep squirrels from eating the seed and emptying out your feeder
  • Nyjer feeders: made for Nyjer seed, attracts finches and siskins

See some more of our favorite bird feeders here.

2. Buy a variety of bird food

Offering a mix of food types will help attract a wider range of bird species to your backyard. These are the most commonly offered backyard bird foods: 

  • Black oil sunflower seeds – with or without shells, well liked by most species
  • Nyjer seeds – small, oily thistle seed that attracts finches and siskins
  • Safflower seeds – good nutritional alternative to sunflower
  • Orange slices – a seasonal treat to attract orioles and tanagers
  • Nectar – easy to make at home, attracts hummingbirds, orioles, and sugar-lovers
  • Millet –  small seed used as filler in mixes. Liked by sparrows, juncos, doves and cowbirds
  • Peanuts – can be fed in the shell, shelled or in pieces. Liked by woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, and jays
  • Suet cakes – a cake made primarily from animal fat, a great winter energy source. Liked by Carolina wrens, woodpeckers, jays, starlings, catbirds and chickadees
  • Fruit pieces – dried berries and raisins are often included in seed mixtures and suet
  • Cracked corn – scatter on the ground for ground feeding birds. Attracts doves, towhees, quail, turkey, blackbirds
  • Mealworms – live or dried, feed in a dish or tray. Attracts bluebirds, robins, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, thrushes

Buy black oil sunflower seed on Amazon

3. Bird feeder placement

Place bird feeders in a sheltered area away from strong winds and ideally near (within 12 feet) shrubs or trees to provide natural cover and escape routes from predators. Avoid having a hanging feeder within 9 feet of a deck or low hanging branch so squirrels cannot leap onto it. For nectar feeders and fresh fruit, shaded areas are best to slow down spoilage from direct sunlight. 

Avoid high-traffic areas such as near front doors, garages, pool  decks and patios. A quiet spot in the yard is more likely to get good bird traffic than an area where people frequently walk by and constantly spook them.

4. Cleaning the bird feeders

Regularly clean your bird feeders to prevent mold, bacteria, and disease transmission among birds. Disinfect the feeders with a mild bleach solution and rinse thoroughly before refilling. The more often the better, but at least quarterly or semi-annually.

Diluted (5-10%) bleach solution is best, but you can also use the hottest setting of your dishwasher, soap and boiling water, or 10% vinegar solution.

5. Offer clean water year-round

Provide a fresh water source like a birdbath or shallow dish for drinking and bathing, ensuring it is cleaned regularly to prevent algae and bacteria buildup.

Moving water attracts birds, so when possible add a small dripper or fountain, or build your own simple bird bath fountain using our guide

If freezing occurs during the winter where you live, you can purchase heated birdbaths or de-icers. 

6. Prevent window collisions

Sadly, millions of birds die every year from window collisions. Depending on the lighting, glass can create all sorts of optical illusions for birds that just don’t realize there is a hard obstacle in their path. Apply decals, window films and tapes, or screens on the outside of your windows to help birds see the glass and avoid collisions.

7. Keep cats indoors

Did you know cats are the number one killer of songbirds? We don’t blame the cats, it is just in their nature to be bird-hunting machines. Protect backyard birds by keeping cats indoors or using a cat-safe outdoor enclosure. 

If you have a lot of strays in your neighborhood, make sure your feeders are hung high and use a baffle to prevent cats from climbing the pole. Remove shrubs from around the base of feeders so they are less likely to be able to sneak up on ground feeding birds. 

8. Use squirrel baffles

Squirrels can be fun to watch and there is nothing wrong with feeding them if you want to. However many choose to keep squirrels away from their bird feeders because they can eat all your seed very quickly.

Not to mention the damage they can cause with their sharp teeth. They’ll chew right through plastic if you give them enough time!

You can buy feeder poles with baffles included like the one linked to below, but it’s also easy to buy a squirrel baffle only and add it to an existing bird feeder pole. 

Squirrel proof feeders can be helpful too. Usually these feeders are weight-activated and close shut when a squirrel puts their weight on it. 

Buy the Squirrel Stopper bird feeder pole on Amazon

9. Be consistent with refills

Maintain a consistent supply of food, especially during harsh weather conditions when natural food sources may be scarce. Birds are more likely to return again and again to a feeder they know always has food.

They don’t want to waste time an energy returning to a feeder that isn’t providing food. A day or two break from feeding isn’t a big deal, but a week or more might mean many birds take your feeder off their daily route. 

You can always start back up feeding the birds after an absence, but be aware it may take them a long time to return. 

10. Create a bird-friendly habitat

Feeders and baths are great, but we know birds don’t rely on people alone. If you can make your yard an attractive natural environment it will attract many types of bird species all year round.

Planting native trees, shrubs and flowers can be of huge benefit. These can provide shelter from the weather and places to nest. Native plants also promote insects, and birds eat a lot of insects. You may even get to see insect eating species hunting in your trees and bushes that won’t visit feeders for seeds. 

Many birds also eat native berries and fruits, especially in the fall and winter when insect prey is harder to find. Native plants that produce fruits at different times of the year can help feed birds year round. 

cardinal at hanging feeder
Image: PilotBrent |

Commonly asked questions about feeding birds

The following table shows some quick examples of common birds seen at feeders. 

Common Name Appearance Seeds (at feeders) Region
Northern Cardinal Bright red, black mask Sunflower seeds, safflower seeds Eastern and Central US
Blue Jay Blue, white, black markings, crest Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet Eastern US
Mourning Dove Soft gray-brown, black spots on wings Millet, sunflower seeds, cracked corn Throughout US
House Sparrow Brown, black streaks, gray head Sunflower seeds, millet Throughout US
American Goldfinch Bright yellow, black wings and cap (in breeding season) Sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds Throughout US
Black-capped Chickadee Black cap, white cheeks, gray back Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet Northern US
Tufted Titmouse Gray, black forehead, crest Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet Eastern US
White-breasted Nuthatch Blue-gray, white belly, black cap Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet Eastern US
Downy Woodpecker Black and white, red patch on head (males) Sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet Throughout US

Should I feed birds year-round?

Yes absolutely! If you want to choose one season to feed birds, winter would be the best. This is the time of year where it is typically hardest to find food, and birds need energy to stay warm. However if you are able to, you can feed birds all year round.

If you are concerned that having food out will prevent birds from migrating at their usual time, don’t worry. Birds mainly take their migratory cue from hours of daylight. They are incredibly in-tune with the changing of the seasons and won’t be persuaded away from migrating just because there is still food available to them. 

What if I have to leave town?

If you need to leave town, try to arrange for a neighbor or friend to refill the feeders during your absence if you want to maintain consistency. A few days shouldn’t make a big impact, but if you will be gone a week or more you may want to consider it. 

Alternatively, you can use larger-capacity feeders that hold more seed and last longer between refills.

If you are feeding nectar or fruits that spoil quickly, you should either take them down before you leave or arrange for someone to clean and refill them for you. You don’t want to leave hummingbird nectar out if you will be gone long enough for it to spoil while you are away. 

Don’t worry, the birds have plenty of food sources besides your yard! 

Should I offer different food at different times of the year?

You don’t have to switch things up. Offering seed all year is perfectly fine. However if you want to take things to the next level and try and attract some new species, adjusting the types of food you offer based on the season can help.


  • Offer protein-rich foods like mealworms, suet, and peanuts to support nesting birds.
  • Put hummingbird feeders out as they arrive back from their wintering grounds


  • Provide fruits, nectar, and seeds to cater to a variety of species.
  • You may want to avoid suet during this season since the heat can make it gooey and melty


  • Offer high-energy seeds and nuts, like sunflower seeds and peanuts, to help birds prepare for migration or winter.
  • Scatter seeds on the ground as migrating flocks pass by


  • Supply high-fat foods such as suet, black oil sunflower seeds, and peanuts to help birds maintain energy during cold months.

Are any human foods unsafe for birds?

There are some foods from your own kitchen that are safe for birds, but the rule of thumb is to be very careful. Always do research first.  

Avoid offering birds the following human foods, as they can be harmful:

  • Chocolate
  • Fruit Pits & Apple seeds
  • Nuts that have been salted or seasoned
  • Uncooked beans
  • Avocado
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

How can I attract specific bird species to my backyard?

Tailor the food you offer, feeder type, and habitat to the preferences of the species you want to attract. Research their preferred diet, nesting requirements, and preferred types of vegetation.

It also helps to check a range map to make sure they can be found where you live, and see if they are only present during certain seasons.

We have a few guides here to help you get started:

Can feeding birds lead to them becoming dependent on human-provided food?

Birds typically use feeders as supplementary food sources and still forage for natural food. They tend to have territories in which they circulate, visiting different feeders as well as gathering insects, seeds and fruits from natural sources.

While studies are still ongoing about the impact of humans offering easily accessible food, so far data indicates that birds do not develop an unhealthy reliance on human-provided food. 

How do I know if I’m feeding the birds too much or too little?

Monitor the bird activity in your backyard. If the food is gone within a few hours, consider adding more feeders or increasing the amount of food. If the food remains uneaten for a long time, reduce the amount you offer.

How can I protect bird food from spoilage or contamination?

Store bird food in a cool, dry, and airtight container to prevent spoilage. Don’t stockpile too much birdseed just because you hit a sale. If you can’t use up your supply within a few months, don’t purchase more.

Even sealed seed can dry out or spoil when it gets too old. Clean feeders regularly to prevent mold and bacteria buildup, especially tube feeders which may trap water.

How can I prevent squirrels from eating the bird food?

Depending on how squirrels are accessing your food, there are several techniques you can use to keep them away. Use squirrel-proof feeders, hang from a squirrel-proof pole, install squirrel baffles, or hang feeders on a thin wire that is difficult for squirrels to climb. Offer food that squirrels find less appealing, like safflower seeds or Nyjer seeds.

This guy loves his suet! (image: