How to Attract Birds

Today, we have a guest blog from Sawyer, who just began participating in Project FeederWatch (PFW) as well! Sawyer has been discovering some of the habitat needs of birds (food, water, cover/shelter, and space). Have you been teaching about habitat? Would your family like to know more about your local habitat and how it supports the birds that live there?  I've found that participating in a citizen science project like PFW or eBird can be a great way to connect to the local environment and birds in a fun and educational way.

Sawyer has great advice about how you and your family might be able to attrract birds to your yard!

Jennifer Fee
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Project FeederWatch
by Sawyer Brand

I have just started Project FeederWatch, which you‘ve probably read about at Birdsleuth or this blog. Participants are supposed to put water, shelter, and food out for the birds and then count the species that show up. This blog post will help not only participants, but also those who want to attract birds just for the fun of it. For those of you who want to participate in Project FeederWatch but aren’t already enrolled, go to

The first of many things I have learned from Project FeederWatch is: too close to the house will scare away birds. After one week of the feeder being a foot away from my bedroom window, I realized that at least 5 feet should be between the house and the feeders. So I then put it 6 feet away from the sliding glass door in my living room. Still no birds. Never be afraid to ask for help. The employees working in a store like Wild Bird’s Unlimited are there to help new and inexperienced birders. I asked the woman who worked there, and she said I had the wrong kind of food for my feeder.

I moved the feeders (including a new one) to a tree 15 yards away from my kitchen window. That was only a few days ago. The songbirds probably haven’t noticed it yet but Jen says to be patient.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder.Courtesy Martin Cathrae, Flickr

 Another good thing to have is a hummingbird feeder. The hummingbirds are so pretty and cute. They have some really nice feeders; mine is glass with iron flowers and ivy covering it.. Be sure to make your own hummingbird nectar with 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. The kind bought in a store has red dye in it which is unnecessary and can be harmful to the birds. If you think the red will help attract the hummingbirds, just put a bit of red tape on your feeder.


There are many different types of feeders. Each is fitted for different birds and feed. The four categories are platform feeders, house feeders (also called hopper feeders), tube feeder and suet cages. Here’s a little description of each:
  • Platform feeders are just a platform on a pole, usually with some kind of cover.
  • House(or hopper): House, or hopper, feeders are the traditional feeder: a house with a platform under it. Also on a pole or sometimes a line.
  • Tube: A tube feeder is what it sounds like….a tube. With little perches and openings for the birds.
    A Downey Woodpecker on a suet cage. Photo courtesy Photofarmer, Flickr
  • Suet Cages: a suet cage is an iron cage which can opened and inside is a suet block. Suet is the fat around a cow’s bladder (gross, right?), and seeds are mixed into the fat; luckily enough all you have to do is put in in the cage. That’s it. Then wash your hands. You can get suet and the feeders at hardware stores or feed stores along with all the rest of the supplies.

The food depends on what type of bird you have. In my case, I live an hour north of San Francisco. I get western bluebirds, house finches, and American robins around the house. I think I also see cliff swallows, but I’m not sure. That’s what makes Project FeederWatch so fun! I’ll be finding out who lives in the woods around my house, and I”ll have to figure out what types of birds I’m looking at. For some help in recognizing what shows up at your feeder, here‘s a website: All About Birds:  What type of birds do you have?


Bird baths, dishes, and drippers. Water isn’t just for drinking. It’s also for washing. Here’s a brief description of them all:
  • Purchased bird bath: buying a bird bath at a store can be fun. They have pretty designs, but really a bird bath is just a dish filled with water. Usually it’s raised off the ground on a stand, though it’s been found that birds like them better when they are closer to the ground.
  • Dish: A dish is a dish. Only this one is filled with water and raised slightly, like on a platform three bricks wide and two bricks deep. Put sticks in it so that the birds can perch without getting wet. This is especially important in winter.
  • Dripper: birds love these. You can buy them or just use a 12 oz soda bottle turned upside down over a bird bath or dish, filled with water and with a hole punched into the top. Therefore, it drips onto the water. A bird shower, as it were.

Birds also want protection. From the elements, and from predators. A brush pile is a good choice. That way the small song birds can get into the pile but not the hawk or the cat. Place the brush piles near your feeder to protect the guests who show up!

Here are your first facts about how to attract birds. In my next blog, we’ll talk more in depth about cats and other predators and extra treats you can make for the birds.

Until next time, happy birding!


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