paperclip bird feeder

How to Attract/Deter Birds

How to Attract Birds

  • To attract birds year-round, you must provide them with food, water, and shelter. Shelter includes cover from enemies and the elements plus a place for reproduction and nesting.
  • Bird feeders, birdhouses for cavity nesters, a source of water and various plant materials can make your yard attractive to birds.
  • Feeding can begin at any time. If the homeowner is selective about the birds they want to attract to their yard, several elements must be taken into account: is the bird a fruit-eater, a seed-eater, a nectar-drinker or an insectivore? Does it prefer feeding on the ground or raised off the ground? Is the bird a winter visitor, a year-round visitor or a summer migrant?
  • For winter-feeding, it is best to have the feeder up by September. This will attract chickadees, downy woodpeckers and other birds looking for suitable feeding areas. It is important to be constant. You cannot start feeding them and then stop when it is too cold. This is when these birds need the energy most. Also, if feeding is discontinued and then resumed, birds will be slower to return to the feeder. It is best to continue winter-feeding up until May when new shoots begin to emerge. If that is not possible, the birds will likely adapt.
  • Favourite foods: Always avoid old or mouldy food.
    • Grape jelly, orange halves and nectar solution: Baltimore orioles.
    • Nectar solution: hummingbirds. Buy a dishwasher-safe feeder with red parts (major attractant). Do not use red food colouring because it is toxic to the tiny birds. Keep the feeder about ½ full so that the sugar solution is always fresh. It is best to clean the feeder with hot, soapy water in between each filling. The solution is simple: 1 cup white sugar melted into 4 cups of boiling water. Refrigerate. Place the feeder near (ideally) red, tubular flowers. Bee balm and Oswego tea are known attractants, as well as jewel weed, scarlet sage, salvia species, cardinal flower, coral honeysuckle, and red buckeye. Keep the feeder out of direct sunlight and sheltered from the wind. Also, hang the feeder with a red wire (or cover with wire with red tape) to attract and direct the birds as well as preventing collisions.
    • Fruits such as apples or soaked raisins: robins, orioles, and cardinals.
    • Mealworms: bluebirds, cardinals, catbirds, chickadees, sparrows, and woodpeckers.
    • Small black oil-type sunflower seeds: all small seedeaters.
    • White proso millet: all small seedeaters.
    • Safflower: cardinals, chickadees, house and purple finches, nuthatches, and mourning doves. This is a good seed since it deters grackles, starlings, sparrows and squirrels.
    • Unsalted peanuts: (should only be considered a small part of the diet) blue jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, nuthatches, and chickadees.
    • Combination of seeds: 50% sunflower seeds, 35% white proso millet and 15% finely cracked corn. This combo will attract a wide variety of desirable backyard songbirds.
    • Suet: attractive to insect-eaters such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. Recipe: 3 cups melted suet, 3 cups yellow cornmeal, and 1 cup of chunky peanut butter. Melt the suet in a pan and add the cornmeal and peanut butter. Birdseeds, raisins, rolled oats, dehydrated eggs, bits of apple, brown sugar, honey or syrup can also be added. Avoid ingredients with rich seasoning. Pour the mixture into cupcake papers placed in a muffin pan. When hardened, remove the paper and place the pucks in an onion bag or in a suet feeder. Hang the feeder on a tree or off your other feeder. Make sure that it is in the shade so that is does not melt.
    • Grit: while it is not digested, birds need grit in their gizzard to help breakdown the seeds they eat. It is best to mix it in the seeds or to place it in a tray on the ground. You can use eggshells or crushed limestone. This also provides the bird with extra calcium for the egg-laying season.
    • Bread, popcorn and pastry products: should be avoided as they attract pigeons, sparrows, starlings, and grackles.
  • Solid aboveground feeders will attract the following: cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, finches, woodpeckers, and many others.
  • Hanging feeders will attract chickadees, finches and nuthatches.
  • Ground feeders will attract juncos and sparrows.
  • Place feeders in sheltered locations away from possible predators and with open flight paths. Every year, over 97 million birds collide with windows. The ideal location for a feeder is in an open area but within 10 feet of bushes or trees (cover). If birds strike your windows, place the feeder about 2-3 feet away from the window or else move it farther away and at an angle that decreases the appearance of an open flight path. You can also block the reflection by always having a light on, having light-coloured shades or by hanging strips of aluminium or fabric in front of the window.
  • For an avid birdwatcher, it is best to have several types of feeders catering to different kinds of birds. This will attract the most variety and also decrease competition and aggression among the birds.
  • Good sanitation is necessary. Every once in a while, disinfect the feeder with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Occasionally rake up the spilled seed husks as they can build-up and mould. As well, husks from black sunflower seeds have an alleopathic effect on plants, meaning that they inhibit their growth chemically. If you have these in your birdfeeder, make sure you clean the husks up regularily, as they can readily kill your grass or other plants if they become numerous enough.
  • A birdbath will also attract birds as long as it is kept clean. It should be 1-3 inches deep and a neutral colour. They should also have a roughened bottom so that they birds can have a foothold. For a winter birdbath, consider a water heater.
  • To deter squirrels, place feeders at least 7-8 feet away from any tree limbs or railings. Use squirrel guards as well as food that squirrels do not like (safflower).

How to Deter Certain Birds

European Starling:

  • These birds are attracted by suet, white millet, bakery crumbs, hulled oats, kitchen scraps, cracked corn, chicken feed, cooked rice and corn, canned soaked or dry food, peanut hearts, and to a lesser extend stripped sunflower seeds.
  • They avoid whole kernel corn, hardened suet, thistle, buckwheat, and peanuts in the shell.
  • Try adding feeders in various spots around the yard to lessen competition.
  • Try establishing a special feeding area far from the house with cheaper foods they favor, diverting them from the feeders aimed at more desirable species.
  • They are cavity nesters and prefer open country but cannot invade nests boxes of less than 2 inches in diameter.

Common Grackle:

  • Generally forages off feed from the ground.
  • At the bird feeder, sunflower seeds and corn are it's favorite along with bakery crumbs and kitchen scraps.
  • Scatter these on the ground away from your bird feeders to divert winter flocks from your feeders.