To have a successful bird-feeding experience, you'll want to choose the best locations for your feeders. Finding the best spots requires a bit more consideration than you might expect. You'll want to think about the types of birds you want to attract and place feeders for the birds' maximum comfort and safety. You may also be able to "tweak" your landscape, making your backyard even more attractive to birds. Read on for general recommendations, how to help birds avoid cats and other threats and how location can help prevent competition from the bird-feeding enthusiast's greatest nemesis—the squirrel.
Obviously, you'll want to place the feeders where you can view the birds. A location where you can easily access the feeders for cleaning, refilling and maintenance is ideal. To avoid unduly disturbing the birds, keep feeders away from areas where pets or children play.
When using multiple bird feeders, University of Florida wildlife specialists recommend placing them in various locations throughout your yard. Some birds prefer to feed near vegetative cover and some prefer feeding in more open areas; a diversity of locations will encourage a more diverse population of birds. In addition, multiple locations will help spread out the birds; if aggressive birds are crowding a particular feeder, less aggressive species will have a chance to feed at other locations.
Placing feeders at different heights will also help attract a variety of species. Audubon experts recommend low platform feeders for ground-feeding birds, hopper or tube feeders for shrub and treetop feeders and suet feeders located well off the ground for woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.
Example of ground feeders:
Shrub/mid-height feeders include:
Examples of tree feeders:
Window collisions cause millions of bird deaths each year. Birds can see the outdoors reflected in windows and fly into them when startled. Male birds also may see themselves reflected in the window and attack, thinking they see a rival bird.
To help prevent this, you'll want to locate feeders either very close or far away from windows, especially large picture windows. Millikin University and Cornell University experts say moving bird feeders to within three feet of a window greatly reduces the number of fatal collisions associated with bird-feeding activities. Birds that take off as little as six feet from a window could be flying at top speed in a collision. Otherwise, place feeders away from windows or consider using decals to help birds see them better; Milikin experts recommend using several decals on large windows.
You'll want to place your feeders at least 15 feet from bushes or other cover. This is close enough to give birds an escape route if attacked from overhead by a predator bird. At the same time, 15 feet is enough distance to prevent cats from hiding in bushes and pouncing on birds at the feeder.
The common household cat may be the most serious predator of songbirds. Cats kill millions of birds every year. Merely placing a bell on a cat's collar won't prevent it from killing birds. University of Florida wildlife specialists recommend that you keep cats inside, or at least keep them inside in the mornings, when birds do most of their feeding. Don't feed stray cats and discourage them from lingering on your property.
Squirrels display an uncanny ability to find their way into bird feeders. Placing feeders at least 10 to 15 feet away from trees or limbs where squirrels could jump onto the feeders will help cut down on problems. In areas with a lot of squirrels, it's probably advisable to purchase squirrel-proof feeders or use a squirrel baffle on pole-mounted feeders. Note: If you store your bird food outside, use metal containers; squirrels can chew through plastic and wood.
Place hummingbird feeders in a shady spot to help the nectar solution from spoiling too quickly in the hot sun. Also, choose a spot that's not too windy to avoid spills.
You can modify your landscape to enhance the attractiveness of your feeder locations. A landscape with a diversity of plant species and heights will generally attract more birds than large swaths of open lawn. Plants provide cover, perches and nesting areas for birds. Ground-feeding birds may appreciate loosely stacked brush piles near feeders for cover. You may even consider converting part of your lawn to natural meadow grasses and plants or allowing parts of your land to go to natural vegetation, which will provide additional food and cover for birds. When planning landscaping projects, use plants native to your area.
In addition, a water source or birdbath will provide opportunities for birds to drink and bathe, and birdhouses may help attract many birds that will then eat at your feeders.
For more tips on landscaping and other questions about feeding your backyard feathered friends, consult your local Cooperative Extension service, feed supply store or chapter of the Audubon Society.