Bird Feeders for Beginners

two bird feeders outdoors in winter with leaf-less trees behind it

This time of year is very difficult for our non-migrating bird population, most plants that provide winter food, like Bayberry and Viburnums, have been picked over and are now barren. Providing a bird feeder gives extra food security for our feathered friends and is a rewarding pastime for you.

There are different types of feeders, and each provide a different niche. One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is “What kind of birds am I hoping to attract?” This will tell you what style of bird feeder to get and what kind of feed to buy.

Tray feeders (or platform feeders) are flat platforms which allow birds and other wildlife to move around while eating. They can be placed on the ground to cater to rabbits, raccoons, and birds or placed on poles or hung to keep to the birds and squirrels. This type of feeder is accessible to all kinds of animals. Some feeders have covers that protect the feed from rain and snow, but others will need to be emptied after getting wet.

If you want as many different species of birds, but not squirrels, hoppers are the go-to choice for you. Hoppers consist of a platform with walls and a roof. The seed is protected from rain, snow, and wind. The seeds is deposited from the bottom, near the platform where birds perch. Size varies, but some feeders can hold several days worth of food. Many models have a lever with a weight limit, which makes it impossible for squirrels to pillage the seed.

Tube feeders are also used by a lot of different species, but the size of the perches often excludes larger birds like grackles and jays. Most have multiple perches and ports along a central tube for the birds to eat from. Many tube feeders have trays attached at the bottom for larger birds to perch. If you only want small birds near the feed, there are caged tube feeders that prevent squirrels and medium-sized birds from getting close.

If you want to feed only a select number of species, there are nyjar feeders for finches and chickadees, peanut wreaths for blue jays and grackles, and suet feeders for woodpeckers, jays, and other insect-eating birds.

Regardless of what style of feeder you are interested in, there are several questions to consider before purchasing a new feeder. Is it easy to clean? Can water drain from the bottom? Is it easy to fill? Is it well-built? Consider what challenges each feeder may have, and buy one that fits your lifestyle.   

– Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Plant Collections Curator