Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding

A world-renowned ornithologist shows how, with the right combination of feeder and food, your backyard can be a refuge for birds and a stage for watching their colorful antics.

More than a hundred bird species supplement their natural diets with foods offered at feeders. They often rely most heavily on feeders in winter, when food is scarce. Additionally, some species will take advantage of backyard refueling stations during spring and fall migrations; others will stop by while nesting during the summer. Selecting a specific feeder design and a variety of foods can set the table for a greater diversity of birds. Choosing more than one will prevent crowding at your backyard buffet. Keep birds coming back with three essential ingredients: the right mix of quality seed and other foods, a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing, and ample cover from native plants. Follow this guide and watch the birds flock to your feeders.

1. Tube feeder

If you hang just one feeder, this should be it. Choose a model with metal ports around the seed dispensers to deter squirrels. Hang it at least 5 feet off the ground, and 3 feet (or 30-plus feet) from a window to avoid bird collisions.

Seed types: black oil sunflower, mixed seed, safflower, peanuts

Birds: Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins, purple and house finches

2. Hopper feeder

With these feeders you can keep an abundant supply of seed dry and ready for visiting birds. The weight of the arriving birds triggers the release of seeds. Position this feeder on a pole about 5 feet off the ground, or hang it from a tree branch.

Seed types: safflower, sunflower, cracked corn

Birds: attracts all the species that visit tube feeders, plus larger birds like cardinals, jays, grackles, red-winged blackbirds

3. Suet feeder

Hang suet in mesh onion bags or purchase a cage feeder. You can make your own suet “pudding” by grinding suet and adding seeds. Create homemade suet feeders by packing the mixture into the crevices of large pine cones.

Seed types: suet and bird puddings

Birds: woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees; occasionally wrens, creepers, warblers

4. Thistle feeder

These feeders make seed available only to small-beaked finches. Hang them from a tree or place on a 5-foot pole near other feeders.

Seed types: nyjer (a.k.a. thistle) seed

Birds: goldfinches, redpolls, pine siskins

5. Ground feeder

A simple screen-bottomed tray that typically sits several inches off the ground or on a deck. Some have covers to keep out snow; others may have wire mesh to keep out squirrels and large birds like crows. Place at least 10 feet from trees or shrubs to give birds a chance to escape predators.

Seed types: mix of cracked corn, milo, millet; also sunflower seed, mixed seed, wheat, oat

Birds: doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches