First Consider Placement
Where do you want to watch your birds? From a kitchen window…a sliding glass door opening on to a deck…a second story window? Pick a location that has year-round easy access. When the weather's bad and birds are most vulnerable, you may be reluctant to fill a feeder that isn't in a convenient spot near a door or accessible window.
Also consider the "mess" factor. Pick a location where discarded seed shells and bird droppings won't be a clean-up problem. Put your feeder where the squirrels can't reach. When hanging your feeders from tree limbs squirrel guards or baffles are useful in preventing squirrels from getting to the feeders. If using a pole to hang your feeder make sure it is at least 10 feet or more from a tree limb or trunk. Squirrels become a problem when they take over a bird feeder, scaring the birds away, and tossing seed all over.
Once you've determined where you're going to put your feeder, you're ready to go shopping! Questions to think about include:
1) How durable is it?
2) Will it keep the seeds dry?
3) How easy is it to clean?
4) How much seed will it hold?
5) How many birds will it feed at one time?
6) Which species will use it?
There are numerous materials used in making bird feeders. You can buy feeders made of cloth, nylon, vinyl, and metal netting; clear, colored and PVC plastic tubes; ceramic and terra cotta; redwood, western cedar, birch, pine and plywood; sheet metal and aluminized steel; glass tubes and bottles.
How long a feeder last depends on how much effort you put into maintain it, the effects of weather, and whether squirrels can get to it.
Water can get into any feeder regardless of how careful you are to protect it. Seeds will spoil when they get damp or wet. Cloth, vinyl, nylon, and metal netting feeders are wonderful but they do not fully protect your seeds. You can improve them by adding a plastic dome. Most wood, plastic, ceramic, and solid metal feeders will keep seeds dry, but water has the potential to get into the feeding portals. Look for feeders and trays with drainage holes.
Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly. Diseases like salmonella can grow in moldy, wet seed and bird droppings in your feeder tray and on the ground below. It's a good idea to move your feeders (just a foot or so) each season to give the ground underneath time to assimilate the seed debris and bird droppings.
A thistle feeder for goldfinches should be cleaned about once a month depending on how often it rains. Feeding hummingbirds and orioles requires cleaning at the very least, weekly, preferably more often (two or three times a week). Sunflower feeders made of plastic, ceramic, and glass are easy to clean. Wash them in a bucket of hot, soapy water fortified with a capful or two of chlorine bleach, rinse, then let them air dry. Use the same regimen with wood feeders, but substitute another disinfectant for the bleach so your wood doesn't fade.
The ideal feeder capacity varies with your situation, and the types of birds you want to attract.
For example, if you feed hummingbirds, big feeders are not always better. One hummingbird will drink about 2 times it body weight (less than an ounce) a day. Early in the season, hummers are territorial and won't share a feeder. A sixteen ounce feeder can be wasteful, or indeed lethal, because nectar can ferment in the hot summer sun. If you see only one hummer in your yard, a two ounce feeder is more than enough. On the other hand, if you live in the southwest, where there are more hummers a sixteen ounce feeder may be big enough.
If you opt for a large volume seed feeder, be sure to protect it from the weather and keep it clean. If after months of use, the birds suddenly abandon your feeder full of seed, it's time for a cleaning.
How Many Birds
If too many birds at your feeder becomes a problem, you can control their numbers by putting out small amounts of seed, by using specialty seed, or by using restrictive feeders.
You can virtually eliminate visits by birds you'd rather not see by offering seeds they won't eat. If you use more than one type of seed, put them in separate feeders. This will reduce wasted seeds, as birds will toss unwanted seeds out of a feeder to get their favorites.
Birds that visit your feeder have very specific preferences. Most prefer sunflower. Some prefer millet. A few prefer peanuts. Some seem to prefer the other grains used in the mixes: corn, milo, or red millet.
Another way to discourage unwanted birds is to use specialty feeders that for the most part, allow only "select" birds to feed. Large birds like trays, platform or house feeders. Encourage small birds with feeders that restrict access to bigger birds. Feeders such as ones with vertical bars and wire mesh will frustrate the larger birds.
Remove perches on tube feeders and you've further selected only those birds capable of clinging (finches, chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers).