Birds are amazing! Their beauty, grace, and song bring us joy and amusement as well as peace and tranquility. With all the uncertainty in our world, birds bring us closer to the awe-inspiring power of nature and its gift of life on earth.
For me, I found my passion for birding during the Pandemic Lockdown when I decided to put up a window bird feeder to attract some colorful visitors, and I found them to be entertaining companions! As an empty nester, they became my extended family, so I wanted to not only feed and observe them, but also protect them from harm.
Ultimately, birds are not just for our entertainment. We must be capable stewards of our new friends to help them thrive!
As I added additional feeders and learned and experimented with my new birding hobby, I admittedly made many mistakes! The purpose of this article is to share my experiences with you, so hopefully, you can ramp your learning curve to attract more birds more quickly and become a better and more responsible birder in the process.
Here are some of the top mistakes beginners can make:
1. Buying seed with corn and millet.
These cheap fillers/additives can attract unwanted visitors like squirrels, mice, deer, Crows, Blue Jays and Cowbirds to your feeder. Much of the filler goes
uneaten anyway.. Try to find seed with black oil sunflower and safflower as the primary ingredients. And sunflower and safflower are favorites for attracting Cardinals! Adding peanuts and pecans will entice additional species to visit.
My favorite to use is Cole’s Special Feeder Bird Seed It has premium ingredients without the
filler. Wild Birds Unlimited also has some good options if you have a local store near you.
Or you can offer dried mealworms to attract insect-loving birds such as Bluebirds, Wrens, and even Cardinals. See this blog for information on using mealworms to attract Bluebirds to your backyard. My favorite is the Hartotempt brand. Or you can provide both seed and mealworms side by side (not mixed together as they don’t seem to like it mixed) to attract the widest variety of bird species!
2. Using pesticides. This is especially important if you provide mealworms as insect-eating birds (like Bluebirds, Wrens, Warblers, some Sparrows) will find and eat insects that have been sprayed with unfortunate and likely deadly results. Through attracting them, these insect-loving birds will clean out pests in and around your yard! Let them take care of your insects naturally!
3. Buying cheap bird feeders that are difficult to clean and maintain. Most experienced birders have found it is worth the extra investment to buy a good, dishwasher-safe, UV resistant (anti-yellowing) durable feeder that will last longer and be easier to clean than cheap alternatives. This makes them less expensive over time, which is preferable to unceremoniously tossing them in the garbage bin at the end of a single season. Your birds are worth it!
Bird feeders, if not cleaned regularly, can quickly become breeding grounds for disease and
bacteria. There are only a few feeders that are dishwasher safe which makes cleaning them
much easier! Most window feeders, as an example, have trays with glued together pieces of
acrylic that will literally fall apart in a dishwasher. I recommend the ClearView Deluxe Window
Bird Feeder for its great safety features – For more information click here -
4. Buying one large bird feeder. I call these “Set it and Forget it Feeders.” Instead buy a few smaller ones. A large feeder is more difficult to clean (especially if larger than a regular sized bucket for cleaning/soaking/disinfecting) and bully birds can more easily dominate a single feeder.
Seed that festers in a feeder for long periods of time has a higher chance of absorbing moisture and spoiling which can breed diseases.
Providing multiple smaller feeders allow you to space them out a bit, and you can even use different feed to attract different species. Bully birds will have a difficult time trying to lock down multiple feeders, so other smaller species will be more comfortable visiting.
5. Not cleaning feeder(s) regularly. Unfortunately, thousands of birds die annually from diseases like Salmonella. Many people are unaware that their good intentions may be killing the birds they love!
Experts believe the main culprits for bird diseases are poorly maintained bird feeders and bird baths. Clean your feeder(s) bi-weekly or at least monthly with a 9:1 water to bleach solution (first clean and remove debris, soak in the solution a minimum of 10 minutes, rinse thoroughly as even small traces of bleach can be dangerous to birds, and dry completely before refilling.
Or better yet, if your feeder is dishwasher-safe like ClearView Deluxe, rinse outside, then place in your empty dishwasher (top rack only by itself) on a sanitize cycle. But first confirm your feeder is dishwasher-safe, otherwise it will likely rust, deform, fall apart, or get cloudy/hazy from the heat, chemicals, and detergents.
For more information on how to clean a bird feeder using the traditional bleach method, see
this YouTube video.
Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every time you refill them or at least weekly as sugar water is an ideal breeding ground for dangerous microbes that can harm the little ones.
6. Not considering window bird strikes.
When you attract feathered friends to your yard and
bring them closer to your living space, bird strikes can occur, and it’s just an awful feeling when it happens! I strongly recommend using window decals or other mediation techniques.
7. Not considering squirrels. Squirrels are amazing athletes and the bane of many new birders! And they love bird seed! They will clean out your feeder regularly seemingly just because they can. Consider buying a pole with a squirrel baffle or a squirrel-proof feeder.
Window bird feeders work well if they are placed above 4-5 feet without platforms to leap from nearby.
Cardinals love in particular) as the squirrels don’t seem to care for these options but the birds
don’t seem to be bothered.
8. If attracting hummingbirds, not replacing nectar at least weekly and more frequently if it is in direct sunlight. Hummer feeders should be cleaned every time the nectar is replaced as sugar water is an ideal mixture for mold and bacteria to grow quickly. I don’t recommend store-bought nectar with red coloring and chemical preservatives. It is easy to make your own by using 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. You can make double nectar batches and store the remainder in your refrigerator for a second refill.
9. Failing to provide a water source. Safe and clean water sources are critical for birds. They need water, too! Unfortunately, they may not have access to sanitary alternatives. Find a feeder that effectively separates the seed from the water, so it stays cleaner, and/or purchase a shallow bird bath and regularly replace the water.
For colder months, consider buying a bird bath heater to keep liquid water available or a
window bird feeder that will receive residual heat from your window.
10. Taking feeders down for the winter. Keeping your feeder well supplied during winter is critical for birds, as reliable food sources are scarcest during these cold few months. It can literally be the difference for some birds’ winter survival. Suet is a great complement to regular feed during the winter as it is high in fat content.
Birding provides a great lifetime of entertainment and enjoyment. You can do your part by providing a safe and sanitary environment where they can survive and thrive. Join the cause for bird health!