Maryland's Wild Acres
Creating a Wild Backyard - Feeding Wild Birds
Feeding the birds that visit your home is one of the most rewarding ways to attract and observe wildlife. Starting a feeding hobby will take a little time, an investment in a feeder or two and food to go in them. The trick to feeding is choosing the right combination of foods and feeders to attract the birds you want to see.
What and How to Feed Wild Birds
Bird species have certain tastes when it comes to the food they eat and how it is presented to them. By tailoring the foods you offer to your favorite birds, you increase your chances of attracting them. Seeds for birds are readily available to wild bird lovers. The best seeds to buy are those that most birds eat. Choices of seed for birds fall into seven main categories:
Black Oil Sunflower
Black oil sunflower seed is rich in fats and proteins needed by a variety of birds. Chickadees, doves, finches, goldfinches, grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, nuthatches, Pine Siskins, titmice and woodpeckers all enjoy black oil sunflower seed.
Common Seed Mixes
These mixes attract a variety of non-native birds including European Starlings, House Sparrows and pigeons. Many of these mixes also contain a substantial amount of red milo which only a few species of bird in the southwest eat.
Also known as sunflower hearts, hulled sunflower is chopped up pieces of sunflower seeds without the coats. Chickadees, Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos, doves, finches, goldfinches, grosbeaks, nuthatches, Pine Siskins, titmice and woodpeckers all like hulled sunflower seed.
Nyjer (formerly known as thistle)
Nyjer is an imported seed that comes from African daisies, not thistles. It is a favorite of Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos, doves, finches, goldfinches, Indigo Buntings and Pine Siskins.
Safflower is generally found in higher end bird seed mixes. Northern Cardinals, Doves, Purple Finches and titmice all forage on safflower while “feeder hogs” like grackles and starlings tend to avoid it.
Striped sunflower seeds are a favorite of many birds and people. Chickadees, doves, grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers all eat striped sunflower seed.
White Proso Millet
Both sunflower and millet can be found in mixes or can be fed separately. Most sparrows prefer millet and are not particular about where they eat. Dark-eyed Juncos, doves, Indigo Buntings and towhees also enjoy white millet.
Commercial suet cakes or fresh suet mixed with sunflower and other seed will make a favored treat for cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. Most commercially available varieties don't melt in the sun, and the best times to feed suet are in the fall and winter months. Suet is the fat that surrounds the kidneys of beef cattle. Many food stores will carry it, if requested. One word of caution concerning raw suet: it can go rancid in the sun, so only offer it on cold winter days. If you live in an area with black bears, then it is best to only offer suet when the black bears are hibernating.
Oranges, apples, grapes, and fruit cocktails can attract a variety of bird species to your backyard, including seed eating birds like tanagers. Only fresh fruit should be offered to birds as many dried fruits have added sugars that are harmful to birds. Fresh fruit can be placed on railings, nailed to trees or hung from branches. Be sure to clean fruit feeders every few days and remove any moldy fruit that may be left. Orange slices are an excellent attractant for Baltimore Orioles in the spring, but be careful of ants and wasps which might also enjoy fruit offerings.
Mealworms might not be so appetizing to us, but to many species of birds, mealworms are a very tasty meal. Mealworms provide an excellent source of protein, calcium and vitamins. Bluebirds, in particular, can really benefit from mealworm supplements in the winter and during early spring. Mealworms can be offered in special feeders or on platforms.
Nectar, a sugar solution, is a favorite food of hummingbirds. Attracting these tiny, colorful birds is a highlight in any bird lover's experience. Nectar can be bought in packages, or it can be made at home. To make hummingbird nectar, take one part sugar and add it to four parts water. Bring the solution to a boil to kill any potential fungi or bacteria. Be sure to change your nectar solution and thoroughly clean your nectar feeders every two to three days. The fungus and bacteria that accumulate in nectar feeders can kill hummingbirds.
In Maryland, there is only one native species of hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. This bird is found in Maryland only during the warmer months. Occasionally, species like the Rufous hummingbird will migrate through our state.
Types of Feeders
Bird feeders come in lots of shapes and sizes and are fashioned to supply foods that attract particular groups of birds. If you are a home carpenter or craftsperson, then you can make bird feeders out of a variety of materials from wood to old plastic soda bottles.
Hopper feeders are designed to look like houses. They typically have 4 walls and a roof to keep seeds clean and dry. Hopper feeders can come in elaborate designs and can have squirrel-proofing features. Hopper feeders are generally designed to hold larger seeds and feed larger birds.
Platform feeders can be easily made from treated plywood with raised edges and will draw in those birds that feed on the ground some or all of the time. Cardinals, blue jays, juncos, sparrows and mourning doves will flock to a mixture of millet, sunflower, cracked corn, and peanut kernels in this type of feeder.
Platform feeders can also be used to offer mealworms and fruit to birds. Platform feeders are best used when mounted on poles that have predator baffles on them.
Tube feeders are especially attractive to smaller birds and are comprised of a plastic or glass tube filled with seeds. Tube bird feeders are designed to keep seed clean and dry. Tube feeders with metal feeding ports are better for areas with more squirrel traffic. Some types of tube feeders are specially designed to hold small seeds like Nyjer seeds.
Bird Feeding Tips
Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!
For Additional Information, Contact:
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
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Natural Resources Biologist II
Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service
MD Dept of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave., E-1
Annapolis MD 21401