Bird Feeders: What's the Best Type of Feeder?

Best Bird Feeders for Cardinals and Other Birds

By Catherine Boeckmann
January 19, 2020
How to Select a Bird Feeder

A lot of pleasure comes from attracting birds to our backyards. Different bird feeders attract different types of birds! If you are interested in attracting a variety of birds to your yard, check out these four basic types of feeders—and the feathered friends that they attract!

Bird Feeder Basics

When it comes to basic bird feeders, any simple construction with a flat surface (possibly lipped at the edges) will serve as a bird feeder. Add a simple roof to protect it from the weather. Above all, it must be easy to keep clean.

There are many different types bird feeders out there. Just recognize that getting a bird feeder also means:

  • Bird food. It can be expensive to keep bird feeders filled, so recognize that you’ll need to keep those feeders filled with seed or suet. (If you’re giving/getting a gift, adding bird food is a great idea!) We have a chart on what different types of birds like to eat: Wild Food Bird Preferences.
  • Predator prevention. A bird feeder needs a hook, a pole, and a baffle to keep predators away. See more information below.
  • Squirrels! If you have a lot of squirrels in the area, be ready to feed them, too. To cut down on our “furry bird” consumption, choose metal feeders or designs with thick, sturdy materials that squirrels will be less able to damage. Also, look for feeders designed with doors or hatches that will close when triggered by a squirrel’s weight but not by a lighter birds’ weight.

Four Types of Bird Feeders

If you do wish to cater to a specific kind of feathered friend in your area, consider the following four basic types of feeders:

Platform Feeder

A platform feeder or a bird feeder with a built-in tray will attract the widest variety of seed-eating birds, especially ground-feeding birds like juncos, towhees, and mourning doves. Place it one to three feet above the ground. Note that tray feeders offer limited protection against rain and snow. The best tray feeders have a screened, rather than solid, bottom to promote complete drainage; at the very least, tray feeders should have several drainage holes. Even with drainage, the bottom should be removable for fairly frequent cleaning. Don’t add too much seed at a time—perhaps one or two day’s worth—and shake out the bottom every time you add new seeds.

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House Feeder

Hung from a tree or mounted on a pole, “house”-style feeders with seed hoppers and perches on the side will usually entice grosbeaks, cardinals, and jays. Houses can be harder to clean. While they carry a few days of seed, you also need to be sure it doesn’t get wet and the house is tightly sealed—otherwise, bacteria and fungus can develop, both of which are dangerous to birds. House feeders can be mounted on a pole or suspended. They are squirrel magnets, so a baffle is important if you don’t want to feed the furry birds.

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Tube Feeders

Long, cylindrical tube feeders suspended in the air will bring in an array of small birds, including finches, titmice, sparrows, nuthatches, grosbeaks, siskins, and chickadees.

The tube does a nice job of keeping seed dry, but the seed that collects at the bottom of the tube can be a place for mold and bacteria to grow. When adding new seed to tube feeders, always empty the old seed out first. The tube feeder is usually more squirrel resistant than the platform or house feeder, though nothing is entirely squirrel proof!

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Suet Feeders

Suet feeders attract a variety of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and starlings. Suet cages that open only at the bottom force birds to hang upside down while feeding. This design usually excludes the annoying starlings, which have trouble perching that way.

Suet feeders may be constructed of wire mesh or plastic-coated wire mesh, or be a simply mesh onion bag. They can be nailed or tied to a tree trunk, suspended, or affixed to the side of a hopper feeder.

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Placement of Bird Feeders

1. Avoid Window Strikes. Bird feeders help birds, but they also increase the likelihood of deadly window impacts. Window strikes at people’s homes kill at least 150 million birds each year in the United States. 

It’s important to place any birdfeeder within at least three feet of the nearest window so that birds don’t hurt themselves upon liftoff; or place them more than 30 feet away so that feeding birds have plenty of space to clear the house.

2. Protect from Squirrels and Bully Birds. Squirrels can jump distances of 10 feet or greater, so place feeders 8 to 10 feet away from a tree, roof, fence, or any structure that could be a launching pad for squirrels. Ideally, mount or hang feeders on a smooth metal pole at least six feet high, and prune back any branches or bushes within a 12-foot radius.

Critters including raccoons can climb wooden poles or PVC pipes. Use a smooth metal pipe instead. A ¾-inch conduit pipe is ideal, but any heavy metal pipe that is rust-free will work. Place an 8-foot pipe 2 feet into the ground, so that you have a 6-foot height for your bird feeder. Grease or wax the pole from the ground to about 6 inches from the top with a non-drying automotive grease or carnuba wax.

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You can also place a wire cage around a bird feeder. Squirrels will not fit through small wire openings, but that will not restrict smaller birds from feeding. This is also useful for preventing larger bully birds, such as starlings, grackles, blue jays, and pigeons, from accessing the feeder. Some feeders come equipped with cages, or you can easily add mesh such as chicken wire around an existing feeder. 

3. Protect from the Ground. Get a domed baffle, which is a disk-like object that wraps around the pole about 6 inches below the feeder to prevent access from the ground. The baffles should be at least 15 to 18 inches wide or long to prevent squirrels from reaching around them. Many squirrel baffles are designed to twirl or tilt if a squirrel climbs onto them, keeping the animal off balance and unable to access the feeder.

See an example of a pole kit, hook, and baffle.

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More Notes on Squirrels

For health reasons: Keep the area around the feeder clean and remove debris and spilled seed from the ground. This also ensures that ground-feeding birds do not eat old, contaminated, or rotting seed.

Squirrels are less attracted to nyjer and safflower seed, both of which have a slightly bitter taste. By using these seeds exclusively, you close the squirrel snack bar without eliminating feeding the birds.

See more tips for dealing with troublesome garden squirrels on our Squirrels Pest Page.

When Can You Feed the Birds?

It largely depends on where you live. A feeder attracts feathered friends your way so that you can watch them, but it can also attract a variety of larger animals, like raccoons, skunks, and bears. For this reason, it’s recommended that you not put out bird feeders during the spring and fall in areas where bears are present, as they may see your bird feeders as an easy source of food. Monitor closely during the summer, too, and take down your feeders at the first sign of bears in your area. Consider feeding birds most regularly during the winter months, when other food sources are scarce and bears are hibernating. 

Birds get their food from a variety of sources and migrate on their own schedule, so your feeding doesn’t have much impact overall. Think of it as an “extra” treat or supplement.

However, well-placed bird feeders are especially helpful when a bird’s natural plant food has waned in wintertime, especially when their natural habitat is lacking. In the case of a bad winter storm, your feed could actually make a difference. See how to make your own suet recipe for the birds!

Source: 

The 2005 Old Farmer's Almanac

Reader Comments

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discourage blue jays

I have several of your feeders and love my birds but hate blue jays they are gulpers of all the food I would like to have bird feeder to keep them away they devour all the food in a day can you help? I get so disturbed with them please help

Bird feeder

I would like to know where to buy the feeder that is shown in the very first photo. I have the exact same one but can't find any more like it. I have it sitting on a fence post and it's about 10 years old and would like to replace it

feeding birds, not squirrels

I have found the solution to keeping squirrels out of the bird food. It's called the Squirrel Buster wild bird feeder. It closes from the weight of the rodent(s) and yes it does work. It can be adjusted for the bird weight, ie bluejays, but be careful as they can weigh as much as a small squirrel. I have watched ( and LOL) at the antics of the squirrel trying to find a way to all that yummy seed. I too realize that they need to eat, but they do not need to eat my BIRD seed. I apologize for the advertising, but this really is a great product.

flying squirrels

Has anyone been able to protect feeders from flying squirrels? Even with them being feet away from trees and hanging suspended, they can still launch themselves onto the feeders.

Safflower seed.

Don't kid yourself!!! Chipmunks, and squirrels will come and sit right in my window feeder, which is filled with safflower seed, and have a feast!!! These bushy tailed rats (squirrels) even chewed the metal bottom out of my ceramic bird feeder!!! I will not harm them, but they are incredibly destructive, and yes, I know, they have to eat also?!?!?! Squirrels and chipmunks will scale my brick home, to get to the feeders. No problem for their sharp claws.

Outsmart the squirrels!!!

Avoiding empty feeders from squirrels thievery if you have a pole feeder or a line with feeders suspended...is to twist a metal “old time” slinky child’s toy around the pole or line. Squirrels can’t get a grip nor do they like the shiny metal. Works great for me on both types.. plenty of food for the birds now!!!! The squirrels can seek out seed that falls to the ground!!!
JW

Favorite birds at my backyard feeder

I love my bluejays. I add unshelled peanuts to the bird table and then I call for them with "big blues come on big blues get your peanuts" and here they come.

Bird Boxes

Hi- we rebuilt our outdoor deck this summer with pressure treated wood. We have a lot of scrap left over. Is it safe to build a bird box with this wood, or would it be toxic to the birds? Trying to figure out a use for all this material; maybe planters? But more of a planter where I insert a pot and not directly plant in the planter (due to whatever the would is treated with?). Any help or suggestions welcomed! Thanks

Pesky Squirrels

I have 3 Feeders and A Large Suet Holder, I’m Frustrated with the Squirrels Jumping On My Feedes, I even Have a The Pesky Feeders, What is My Solution? Fed Up!!

Squirrels

The squirrels are destroying my bird feeders. I’ve had plastic, metal & trays. I’ve got baffled around the the posts. I’me even feeding them at another spot. What do I do?

Pesky squirrels

We have had squirrel problems for years. They climb the poles, jump from trees, gobble all the seed, and are a terrible nuisance. Our solution was to put the feeder on an extra tall shepherd hook with a large tin baffle that my husband constructed under the feeder -- simply a large piece of tin with a hole in the middle. It's heavy, so we actually had to use 2 shepherd hooks to stabile everything. The feeder is also far enough away from trees and the back shed roof so they can't jump far enough to reach the sunflower seeds, although they have tried without success. And the baffle is wide enough so they can't get around it although they climb the pole trying, but can't. Sure has made bird feeding more pleasant and less expensive not to lose all the sunflower seeds to greedy squirrels.
We do have a ground platform where the squirrels and chipmunks can nibble on the bird seed along with the mourning doves, sparrows, etc.

I was camping and feeding

I was camping and feeding blue jays bits of bread. They ate me out of house and home. I made a bird feeder out of a branch of cypress with plenty of pine cones on it. It sat long-ways so I secured an empty sardines can on it and hung it in a tree. I put the bits of bread in the can and they loved it. Voila! No more feeding them all that bread like I did before.

i saw a hawk in a tree last

i saw a hawk in a tree last nite then noticed there were no birds ,how do i get the hawk away?? i know hummingbird food can sour but can it ever be so sugary??

1) It’s natural for hawks to

The Editors's picture

1) It’s natural for hawks to become attracted to birds at the feeder. Even though it is a hard thing to see a hawk kill a bird, it is doing what it needs to in order to survive, and will not catch more than it needs. Often, it will catch the weak, old, or sick birds rather than the healthy ones.
To protect the songbirds, try the following:
Place feeders under an opaque cover, if it doesn’t have one already, so that birds aren’t easily seen by air.
Locate your feeder within 10 feet of shelter for songbirds, such as shrubs, brush piles, or thickly leaved trees (but not so close that a ground predator might have access to pounce on birds at the feeder).
Remove any birdfeeder in the area for 10 to 14 days. The songbirds will move off for a while, and the hawk may move on to another territory. Replace the feeder afterward. (Repeat as needed.)
Eliminate dead branches of tall trees, which are perch sites for the hawks.
Hawks are protected by state and federal laws, and should not be harmed; contact a licensed professional if you need further help.

2) Yes, hummingbird water can have too much sugar in it. Not only would that not mimic flower nectar, it might cause harm to the birds. Pay close attention to the proportions mentioned in a hummingbird food recipe. Also, do not add red food coloring, artificial sweeteners, or honey to the liquid. Use four parts water to one part white sugar; boil (do not microwave) it for 1 to 2 minutes. Let it cool before adding to the feeder. Any cloudy liquid in the feeder should be replaced immediately; the feeder cleaned before adding the new food. In hot weather, you should change the food daily; otherwise, if the liquid stays clear, every 2 or 3 days should be OK.

I love feeding my birds.

I love feeding my birds. Enjoy your bird feeders, but don't forget the ground feeders too! Happy Spring.

I hung my finch feeder right

I hung my finch feeder right next to the new bird houses I made for small birds.. I made no perches and starlings cant land and try to take small birds nests.. I love feeding and watchin birds, but birds havent been feedin as much this spring or winter as far as that goes.. Mild winter I guess..

We have robins,blackbirds,

We have robins,blackbirds, and occasionally we get cardinals. The problem is that I got a lot of squirrels that get the food. What can I do to stop them from eating the seed.

I usually just try to

I usually just try to accommodate the squirrels also. Throw out nuts, berries, large bread chunks, cereal etc and they leave the bird food alone

I eliminated squirrel problem

I eliminated squirrel problem by using metal pole and and a squirrel guard from Menards (or Home Depot has?)--its a metal dome under feeder and over metal pole--squirrels cant climb metal--can use metal furnace pipe around pole also

I used a metal pole and

I used a metal pole and spread Vaseline on the pole. Squirrels couldn't climb.

I strung a wire between two

I strung a wire between two trees about 8 ft. off the ground. I put the wire thru some old water hose where it wrapped around the trees so-as not to hurt the trees. I also slipped several small 18" pieces of bamboo onto the wire for spacers. I hung bird feeders from the wire between the bamboo spacers. Without the spacers, the feeders tend to slide together. Squirrels can't walk on the wire or jump to the feeders.

Use safflower seeds.

Use safflower seeds. Cardinals love them but squirrels and chipmunks dont like them.

We have a lot of blue jays

We have a lot of blue jays around our house but the magpies take their food. Any suggestions?

Put out more food. Seriously,

Put out more food. Seriously, I don't mean to be flippant. I have found that several feeders plus a variety of foods pretty much takes care of everybody. TOFA has great suggestions for feeders and foods.

Hi, I enjoy all forms of

Hi,
I enjoy all forms of nature but birds are what I see and enjoy the most. I see all types of woodpeckers but an occaisional pileated is a special treat. Chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, goldfinches, cardinals, robins, grackles. I'm probably forgetting some but that's what comes to mind. I get a few hummingbirds.