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Birds like to eat. They like to eat so much that you’ll forever lay to rest the phrase “eats like a bird.” Birds actually consume as much as twice their weight in seeds and insects every day. They may have no problem finding plenty of food in summer. But in winter when natural food is scarce, the birds need extra help.
Birds are colorful, fun to watch, and by supplying them with a regular source of food you may encourage them to remain year round, providing the best and safest control available for pests such as moths, wasps, ants, aphids, mosquitoes, and grubs.
If you’ve been thinking about feeding birds, now’s the time to do it. With our plans you can build a feeder to attract most of the common and even some of the rarer birds.
Of course, not everyone will have the same species in his or her backyard. West of the Rockies, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pine Siskin, and Bushtit will find your banquet. In the East, Tufted Titmouse, Cardinal and Blue Jay are common. Bobwhite, Hermit Thrush, and Redbellied Woodpecker frequent the Southeast, while the Southwest hosts California Quail, Plain Titmouse, and Scrub Jay.
Habitat will also determine what kinds of birds you’ll entertain. Rural and wooded areas will attract woodpeckers and titmice, while urban and suburban areas will tend toward cardinals, jays, and House Sparrows. No matter where you live, it’s crucial that once you’ve begun to feed them in the winter, don’t stop, because the birds will come to depend on finding food in your backyard.
Like people, birds have preferences for certain foods. Some, like goldfinches, cardinals, and House Finches, will dive into a pile of sunflower seeds but turn up their beaks at cracked corn. Birds that normally eat insects—nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers—often change their diets to seeds in winter. It’s important to fill your feeder with the correct seed if you want to attract more than just snow.
Seeds aren’t the only food attractive to birds. Insect-eaters such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches like suet, which is available at most meat counters and often is free. Soapy beef suet is best, but remember to remove it during extended periods of warm weather since it spoils quickly. One large chunk should last the winter. Pieces of fruit (orange halves, raisins, cherries) are appealing to woodpeckers in winter and tanagers and orioles in summer.
Also, because birds lack teeth and need some coarse material to grind their food, some type of grit is necessary to round out your feeding program. Without grit, most birds can actually starve at even the best stocked feeders. Commercial grit is available, usually crushed oyster shells.
Location of the feeder is as important as the seed you put into it. The type of feeder you use will determine where to place it. All feeders should allow you to see the birds easily. Sheltered areas are best not only because birds won’t tolerate strong winds, but a hanging feeder may be blown about and lose much of its seed.
All feeders should be at least 5 feet from the ground and 10 feet from the nearest tree or overhanging branch. With the exception of the window feeder, stations should also be placed 10 feet from any buildings. This discourages squirrels, which are fond of seed and able to get at almost anything. It’s also best to place the feeder 15 feet away from brush or thick bushes since you don’t want to offer your feathered guests as fast food for a hungry cat.
You’ve made a feeder, hung it in its proper place, and loaded it with seeds birds dream about, but there are no birds. Be patient. Your feeder won’t be an immediate success, but as Northern birds’ food grows scarce, many will move south to their wintering grounds—your backyard. Harsh Northern winters often force certain species farther south than usual. This can produce a larger variety at your feeder.
Most likely, the less cautious sparrows and starlings will be the first guests, but others like cardinals, chickadees, and jays will soon follow. Since you’ll want the birds to find your feeder before cold weather sets in, September is a good time to start stocking it with food. Some people stock their feeders all year, while others stop in April or May or whenever natural food becomes available for the birds.
Feeding birds doesn’t come without its share of frustrations. Squirrels can be an ever-present problem around even the best located feeders. To deter these pests from hogging your station, place cobs of corn or peanuts in the shell for them around your property, far from all feeders.
Also annoying are starlings and House Sparrows. Once you’ve attracted these aggressive gluttons, it’s hard to get rid of them. By using sunflower seeds only, they will avoid the feeder, but so will some of the more desirable species. Unlike most birds, starlings feed late in the morning and early in the afternoon. By putting out a small amount of seed early in the morning and, if necessary, again in late afternoon, you’ll give the preferred birds a head start.
💡You may be alarmed to find an occasional hawk grabbing your favorite junco. There’s very little you can do to discourage them. But remember, hawks are an important part of the balance of nature, and they are protected by law. They actually strengthen bird populations by feeding on weaker and slower birds and can be a thrill to have as visitors.
Other than refilling, your feeder needs no maintenance. Our stations are made of decay-resistant redwood and will provide years of trouble-free feeding. Don’t use commercial stains, sealers, or paints on your feeders. They contain chemicals that are harmful to the birds.
Keep your feeders and feeding area clean. Seed spilled on the ground will provide food for ground-feeding birds, but don’t let it accumulate because it can become moldy or attract rodents. Deep snow should be cleared from underneath feeders to make ground seeds accessible to juncos, sparrows and towhees that feed there.
Since different birds feed at different heights, use more than one feeder to attract several species. A well-balanced program includes a platform feeder 5 feet from the ground, a window feeder, and a hanging feeder 5 to 8 feet high.
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Projects and Plans
This feeder was designed to keep both the seed and birds dry during feeding. The aluminum screen allows any water to drain through immediately and the removable roof section is joined to the top with a ship lap joint that makes refilling easy while keeping water out. A grit tray and suet holder are positioned on each end and the feeder is hung from two eyebolts so it will be balanced to prevent seed loss.
To build it, begin by cutting all parts to the sizes given in the materials list. Then nail the sides to the seed diverter and one of the acrylic support rails. Next, nail the peak and other support rail to the fixed roof panel. Join all base parts and rout the rabbet for the screen; staple the screen in place. Join the roof to the sides, slide the acrylic panels in place and glue the filler blocks into the bottom of the grooves so the acrylic rests 1⁄4 in. above the screen.
Screw the feeder to the base as shown, then slide the removable roof in place and install the roof pins. Hang the feeder with aviation cable as shown.
Some birds prefer an open platform feeder. But when seed is exposed to rain and snow, the moisture can cause rot. This feeder features an aluminum screen tray that provides great drainage and can be removed for cleaning. (Because birds can stick to cold surfaces, it is wise to coat the screen with vegetable shortening during severe cold snaps.) Also featured are built-in grit trays and sharpened dowels for adding corncobs, baked goods, and fruit to the feeder sides. The dowels should be removed when not in use to prevent injury to playing children.
Begin building by cutting all the parts to the size given in the materials list, then assemble with glue and nails. To make the squirrel baffle, transfer the drawing pattern onto aluminum and cut the shape with tin snips. Then bend the aluminum into a cone as shown and drill the rivet holes. Install the rivets, and attach the baffle to the pipe with the hose clamp. Add the pipe flange, then prime and paint the pipe and baffle. Attach the feeder.
This feeder was designed for great bird viewing, and you’ll never have to leave your house to fill it. The fixed acrylic panel lets you see when to add seed, and because it’s slanted, rain and snow run off easily. The two dowel perches are spaced to allow small birds to enter while frustrating larger birds and squirrels.
To build it, begin by cutting the sides to rough size. Then establish the angle of the windowsill where you want to hang the feeder. Draw a matching angle on the sides and cut out the notches. Cut the saw kerf grooves for the acrylic on the table saw then glue in the bottom filler blocks to create stopped grooves.
Assemble the feeder case as shown.
Cut the acrylic to size and attach the lower support to it with a few dabs of epoxy cement. Slide the panel in place. You should have a 1⁄8-in. gap between feeder sides and the ends of the lower support strip to allow for water runoff. Install the upper support strip, shape it and finish-sand the feeder.