For Birds: Experts Share Their Favorite Feeders
By Lindsey M. Roberts
Special for the Washington Post
Chad Witko, a community biologist in Vernon, Vermont, has been an ornithologist since he was 3 years old. His father was a waterfowl hunter and brought birds home to examine. His mother helped him put homemade bird feeders in the yard.
Nate Swick, a birding podcaster in Greensboro, North Carolina, also loved birds as a child. His father was a science teacher. “We were always in nature and outdoors,” he says.
Witko of the National Audubon Society and Swick of the American Birding Association were ahead of their time, it seems. Birdwatching has exploded during the pandemic, with nearly 9,000 new people joining the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s annual Big World Day to Enjoy Birds in 2020, according to the Cornell team. If you want to join the growing ranks of birdwatchers, all you need is a bird feeder, seeds, and a guide to the birds in your area.
“Choose the best bird feeder you can afford,” says Witko. Look for one that is waterproof. And you want to keep squirrels from damaging the feeder, so look for something that isn’t breakable or chewable. “Solid wood, metal, hardened recycled plastic, and even glass feeders are all great choices,” he adds. If you want to attract a variety of birds, use several types of feeders. We asked Witko and Swick to share some backyard bird feeder options. Here are their picks.
• Budding birders should start with a basic feeding tube, says Witko. He likes the Audubon Wild Bird Plastic Feeding Tube ($18.99, acehardware.com). “Hang it from a tree or a shepherd’s crook,” he says, and fill it with black sunflower seeds, “one of the best kinds of birdseed you can get.”
• Swick also recommends starting with a feeding tube filled with black sunflower seeds. He recommends the Droll Yankees Ring Tube Charger ($43.99, target.com). “Tubes containing black, greasy, oily food will attract goldfinches and house finches,” he says.
This tube is easy to clean by pulling the central rod. All feeders should be cleaned periodically — as often as every one to two weeks — says Witko. Take the feeders apart and wash them with soap and hot water. Let them air dry before filling them.
• “I really like a tray loader with a hopper loader on top,” says Witko. “It’s really good for allowing larger birds to have a little space to sit when they’re eating, like jays and grosbeaks.” He likes the Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone II Wild Bird Feeder ($38.99, perkypet.com), which has weight-activated perches that drop squirrels. “You don’t want to buy birdseed and end up feeding squirrels,” Witko says.
• Witko also recommends suet cages, ideal for attracting nuthatches, woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. The Modern Rustic Double Feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited (check store location for price, order.wbu.com) allows for two suet cakes, and therefore more birds. Look for suet with seeds and mealworms inside, says Witko.
• One way to get a really good view of the birds is to use a suction cup window feeder, like the Birds-I-View Window Feeder ($49.99, nature-anywhere.com). “In the right setting, they can be a great option for young children,” says Witko.
• Ground feeders, such as Duncraft’s Eco-Strong Ground Feeding Platform ($59.95, duncraft.com), may attract sparrows, doves and other birds that are less likely to sit on a hopper or thistle feeder, says Swick. This model holds up to 2 pounds of seed — he recommends millet — and has a wire mesh for drainage to prevent mold growth caused by rain or snow.
• And don’t forget the hummingbirds. These feeders do require a bit more maintenance though, says Witko, because you have to prepare the nectar and then change the solution at least once a week (and more frequently if it’s particularly hot). To make the nectar, mix sugar and water in a 4 to 1 ratio, boil until the sugar dissolves, then refrigerate. The Droll Yankees Happy Eight 2 Hummingbird Feeder ($29.99, target.com) has removable flowers and a brush for easy cleaning.