Backyard Birding

goldfinchesWhat is Backyard Birding?

Generally, a backyard birder can be defined as someone who enjoys seeing wild birds in their garden or patio.  A recent Fish & Wildlife  study estimates that there are 42 million U.S. backyard birders, with the average birder being 35-55+ years old, better than average income and education, and 54% being female.  Joining the ranks of backyard birders is easy, as the basic components of backyard birding are providing a variety of bird food and bird feeders, fresh water and bird houses or shelter.

Backyard Birding & Bird Feeding

Successful backyard birding begins with a properly placed and regularly stocked birdfeeder, bird feeder, or bird table. Attracting birds depends upon the type of bird seed offered, as different birds prefer different types of bird food.

Most common backyard birders supply bird seed mixes containing seeds such as millet, sunflower, safflower or thistle (or nyjer) to seed-eating birds.  Black-Oil Sunflower seed is especially popular, as it is a favorite of the popular songbird – the cardinal.  Some seed mixes also contain dried fruit and nuts.  Other wild bird food includes suet (mix of fat and seed, fruits, nuts, grubs or worms), dried fruit and insects.

Types of feeders

hopper-feederMost backyard birding enthusiasts use seed feeders, which include tubes, hoppers and platforms.  These feeders will attract many songbirds such as cardinals, finches, and chickadees.   There are  seed feeders designed to dispense larger sunflower-sized foods, and there are “thistle feeders” with smaller openings to dispense the tiny thistle (or nyjer) seed, a favorite of goldfinches.

Hummingbird feeders dispense a sugar solution to hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors (like flowers) and their feeders generally have red, orange or yellow accents to aid attraction.

Oriole feeders, commonly colored orange, supply birds such as the Baltimore Oriole a supply of sugar solution like the hummingbird feeder.  Orioles and some other birds also will feed from fruits like halved oranges or grapes, or fruit foods such as grape jelly.

A suet feeder is a cage that holds a cake or block of suet to feed birds such as woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches, and many other species of insect eaters. Suet logs, wooden logs with holes drilled out and filled with suet are also good choices for backyard birders. Suet is high in fat which helps to keep birds warm and nourished during the cold winter.

Many backyard birding enthusiasts provide a variety of feeders and bird food in order to attract a variety of songbirds to their garden or patio.  The most successful backyard birders keep their feeders well stocked with bird food, especially during the winter months when the supply of natural food is low.

Backyard Birding & Bird Baths

A birdbath that is shallow enough for birds to perch in,  safe from predators (especially cats), clean, and replenished often with clean water can attract more birds than a feeder.   The birdbath should be located in a place that is free of places that a predator can hide, and have adequate room for a frightened bird to easily escape to  if disturbed or attacked.  Birds prefer moving water or motion in their water, and will be especially attracted to a fountain or bird bath equipped with a “water wiggler”.

Backyard Birding & Bird Houses

custom-built-birdhouseA nest box, nestbox, nest platform, bird house or birdhouse provides wild birds (and sometimes squirrels) a location to build their nest and care for their broods.  Some birds are cavity nesters, and prefer to nest inside a box or hollowed tree limb (House Sparrow, wren, Black-Capped Chickadee, nuthatch, Red-Bellied Woodpecker) and some birds prefer to nest in an open area, such as on a platform, branch or downspout.  Platform nesting birds include American Robins, Mourning Doves, Red-Tailed Hawk and Barn Swallow.

Birdhouses are designed in different sizes to suit different species of birds, with very small boxes attracting birds like wrens, and very large bird houses attracting ducks and owls.  Some birdhouses are very complex and detailed, such as the custom birdhouses built by New England Birdhouse that are scale model architectural replicas of real houses.   Nest boxes may also contain nest box cameras, which allow the nesting activity inside the birdhouse to be monitored.

All birdhouses must have an appropriately sized entry hole for the bird likely to nest in it, proper ventilation and drainage and an easily accessible clean out area.  Nestboxes must be cleaned after each season (usually in the fall) to remove old nest material and parasites


Special thanks to Bill Askenburg of New England Birdhouse his contribution of this informative article on backyard birding. Bill specializes in fine architectural bird houses and feeders, offering handcrafted custom and stock replica bird houses and backyard birding supplies and garden decor. For more information or articles be sure to visit his visit blog.



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