A Guide to Backyard Bird Feeding

By Lauren Pharr | December 1, 2020

Birdwatching is a wonderful activity for researchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Nature provides us with a sense of calm and peace, and also brings wonders to a curious mind at work.

Backyard birdwatching is a hobby for all ages and is practiced widely. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 88% (41 million) of birders are backyard birders. Although there is no right way to “backyard bird,” there are many valuable tips to follow when wanting to attract birds to your backyard—one of those tips involves bird feeders.

Red bird at birdfeeder
A male Northern cardinal and some chipping sparrows enjoying a tube feeder.


The species of birds you want to attract to your backyard will determine the types of feeders you use, and most importantly, the types of food you provide.

In this article, I will provide you with some useful tips and resources about bird feeders, types of food, and the birds they will attract. I will also highlight safe practices for keeping your backyard feeders clean.

Types of Feeders

When it comes to the appropriate feeder, remember it is always best to go for durable feeders versus decorative.

Tube Feeders

Long tube feeders help keep seeds dry and offer lots of room for multiple ports, which provide plenty of space for many birds to eat at once. Sunflower and mixed seeds are perfect to add to tube feeders.

Platform Feeder

A platform feeder is great for larger seeds such as mixed millet and sunflower seeds, and also provides very open access for ground feeding birds such as Mourning Doves and Chipping Sparrows. You can also place your fruit or mealworms in platform feeders.

Hummingbird Feeders

Hummingbirds get their own spotlight here. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, which is why most hummingbird feeders are red. You can easily make your own hummingbird nectar by remembering the simple ratio 4:1 or four parts water to one part sugar. Also, there is absolutely no reason to add red dye to the mixture. Although not scientifically proven, licensed wildlife rehabilitators have suggested that red dyes are linked to

Red feeder with hummingbird
A male ruby-throated hummingbird at a hummingbird feeder.

causing harmful effects to hummingbirds. Your hummingbirds will absolutely love the clear sugar water as is, I promise.

Types of Food

The type of food you choose to supply will determine the types of birds you attract. Birds love all different types of fruits, seeds, and insects.

Fruit Eaters

To attract fruit eaters such as waxwings or grosbeaks, you can leave out bright fruits like oranges, diced apples, melons and grapes. You can even try dried fruit, such as raisins or currants.

Invertebrate Eaters

To attract invertebrate eaters such as bluebirds, you can provide mealworms.

Seed Eaters

Your common backyard seed eaters such as house and song sparrows, northern flickers, and chickadees will all benefit from black sunflower, white millet, and thistle. For good quality seed, buy these seeds separately and mix them together instead of buying an pre-mixed bag of seed. Finally, we cannot forget the woodpeckers and nuthatches who love a good suet cake, which is just a frozen cake of suet with the seed mixed in.

Suet feeder
A male downy woodpecker enjoying a suet feeder.


A Clean Feeder Equals a Happy Bird

Be sure to clean your bird feeders regularly. For tube, platform, and suet feeders, be sure and wash them out at least once every two weeks with warm water and soap. This will rid it of any mold or bird droppings. These containments can cause harm and spread infectious diseases amongst the bird population. Once your feeder has been cleaned thoroughly, let it dry completely before refilling again.

For hummingbird feeders, the process is similar, however, there is a big difference in the time period. As hummingbird feeders sit outside for long periods of time, especially in the heat, bacteria can form and insects such as ants can accumulate. Bacteria is proven to be detrimental to hummingbirds, so you want to make sure that these feeders are cleaned in a timely manner. Clean your hummingbird feeder every 3-5 days. I personally clean my feeder every 3rd day. I have noticed an increase in my hummingbird population due to a constant clean feeder.

I hope that these feeder tips will help increase the beauty of birds in your backyard. Follow these and I guarantee that your backyard birds will thank you and stay around for a long time.

Additional Resources

Read my full article, “Tips for Attracting Backyard Songbirds”  as featured on the Cincinnati Zoo Blog.

Listen as the conversation of Backyard birds continues with Dr. Stephanie Schuttler on her podcast-The Fancy Scientist: A Material Girl Living in a Sustainable World Podcast; “Bird Basics with Ornithologist Lauren Pharr.”

For backyard birders or those who would like to get into backyard birding, learn more about my favorite bird guides-“Sibley Guides.”

About the Author

Lauren Pharr

Lauren D. Pharr is a current Graduate Research Assistant at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lauren is also an Ornithologist and Science Communicator, having written and contributed to pieces for The Cincinnati Zoo, WIRED Magazine, and Discover Magazine. To learn more about Lauren and follow her research, visit her Instagram, Twitter, and website: www.lpharr.com

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