Backyard Buffet

Feed your feathered friends with suet, nectar, and fruit, or entice them with one of these tasty recipes.

Photo by Edward S Episcopo

The best way to provide food for wildlife is to preserve and restore the local native plant communities that have supported them for thousands of years. However, you can use feeders to supplement the natural food typically provided through native plants. Maintaining feeders is also a great way to observe wildlife up close.

Benefits and Limits of Feeders

Studies have shown that birds rely on natural food sources first and use feeders only to supplement their diets. Wild birds won’t become unnaturally dependent on feeders or starve when you go on vacation. Instead, they use feeders the same way they use a berry-laden shrub: They eat the available food, and then move on to other food sources.

There are a variety of bird feeders available. Tube feeders are popular and can be filled with a variety of seed types to attract different bird species. Platform feeders can be used for birds that normally forage on the ground and don’t like to use a hanging feeder, such as mourning doves and many native sparrows. Hopper feeders have a roof and sides, typically hold a larger volume of seed, and often come in a variety of whimsical designs. Sock feeders, which are made of fine mesh, hold tiny seeds for certain smaller birds, such as American goldfinches, while larger mesh feeders can hold peanuts for other birds, such as blue jays, tufted titmice, or Steller’s jays.

Keep in mind that while some birds may use feeders, almost all species require insects in their diets. This is even true of hummingbirds, which can’t survive on nectar alone. Only about 25 percent of bird species will even use a feeder. Make sure you provide diverse native plant communities to support the year-round food needs of the birds in your area. (For more information about which native plants you should grow, see “Winter’s for the Birds.”)

Solve It with Suet

Suet is a high-energy food source that’s great for birds in winter. It’s rendered, or melted, animal fat. Suet feeders are wire cages that allow birds to cling to the wires and peck at the suet.



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