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Bird Feeding Basics

Bird Feeder

A lot of people enjoy watching and listening to the birds in their yard. Here are some tips on how to attract birds to your yard using appropriate bird foods and feeders.

Tools & Materials

Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.

Bird Feeding Preparation

Birds require only three things to encourage them to return to your location: fresh water to drink and to bathe, plenty of cover to nest and to hide and a variety of quality food to eat.

  • Birds can get water from rainwater and dew. Add a convenient water source, like a birdbath or a water feature, to your landscape to attract a larger number and variety of birds.
  • Birds require cover to nest, to hide from predators and to protect them from the weather. Even a small yard with a mixture of trees, shrubs and hedgerows can provide hiding places in summer and storm protection in winter. Nest boxes or birdhouses will encourage birds to stay and raise their families near your home. In addition, birds require protection from their natural enemies, so feeding areas should be out of the reach of cats and other predators.
Before mounting bird feeders in high locations, make sure you have a safe ladder and are comfortable working at heights. If you have questions about bird feeders or feeding, discuss the job with a Lowe's associate, or call a professional for help.

Selecting Bird Food

Feed Storage

Many North American bird species supplement their natural diets with bird seed, suet, fruit and nectar from feeders. Bird feeding can benefit birds and also provides great bird watching from your own backyard.

Different birds are attracted to different kinds of seed, so try offering a variety in separate feeders. Make sure that the seed is compatible with both the feeder and the birds you hope to attract.

Sunflower Seed

Black-oil seed is the preferred seed of many small feeder birds, especially in northern latitudes. Striped sunflower seed is also readily eaten, especially by large-beaked birds. Hulled sunflower seed is consumed by the greatest variety of birds. It attracts jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, finches, goldfinches, northern cardinals, evening grosbeaks, pine grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and grackles.


White millet is the favorite food of most small-beaked ground-feeding birds. Red millet is also readily eaten. Millet attracts quail, doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds.

Cracked Corn

Medium-cracked corn attracts many species of ground-feeding birds, but it's vulnerable to rot, since the interior of the kernel readily soaks up moisture. Feed small amounts mixed with millet on feeding tables or from watertight hopper feeders. Avoid fine-cracked corn, as it quickly turns to mush. Coarse-cracked corn is too large for small-beaked birds. Cracked corn attracts pheasants, quail, doves, crows, jays, sparrows, juncos and towhees.


Cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows and doves readily eat safflower seed. Starlings, house sparrows and squirrels usually find it less appealing than sunflower seed.

Nyjer® (Thistle)

A preferred food of American goldfinches, lesser goldfinches, house finches and common redpolls, nyjer is sometimes called black gold because of its price tag. Don't confuse it with prickly thistle, a pink-flowered weed used by goldfinches to line their nests.

Suet and Bird Puddings (Beef Fat and Seed)

This mixture attracts insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. Place the suet in special feeders or net onion bags at least 5 feet from the ground to keep it out of the reach of animals. Although suet is particularly helpful during cold weather and migration season when birds need extra fat reserves, no melt suet cakes are now available for use in warmer weather.


Whole and crushed peanuts attract woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, titmice, bushtits, nuthatches, brown creepers, wrens, kinglets, northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, starlings, yellow-rumped warblers and pine warblers. Provide these in tube-shaped, metal mesh feeders.

Milo, Wheat and Oats


These agricultural products are frequently mixed into low-priced bird seed blends. Most birds discard them in favor of other food, which leaves them to accumulate under feeders, where they may attract rodents. In the Southwest, however, milo attracts pheasants, quail and doves.

TIPS: Store bird seed and mixes in a cool and dry location in a plastic container. In areas where mice or squirrels might be attracted to the food, use a metal container.

Change hummingbird nectar once a week to keep the food fresh.

Selecting Bird Feeders

Yellow Bird on a Bird Feeder

Choose the kind of feeder that will accommodate the specific types of birds you want to attract or birds native to your area. Choosing more than one feeder will help attract more species and avoid feeder congestion.

In the United States, approximately 1 billion birds die from flying into windows each year. Reduce the risk of bird collisions by placing the feeder less than 3 feet from a window or more than 30 feet away. Mobiles, opaque decorations and fruit tree netting outside windows also helps to deflect birds from the glass.

Additionally, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds annually in the United States, often pouncing on ground-feeding birds and those dazed by window collisions. Responsible and caring cat owners keep their cats indoors, where they're also safer from traffic, disease and fights with other animals. Outdoor cats are especially dangerous to birds in the spring when fledglings are on the ground. Bells on cat collars are usually ineffective for deterring predation.

Ground Feeders

These simple, screen-bottomed trays typically sit several inches off the ground or your deck and help to keep grain or seeds and bird droppings from coming in contact with each other. Some feeders have covers to keep out snow; others may have wire mesh to keep out squirrels and large birds like crows. Ground feeding tables should be placed in open areas at least 10 feet from the nearest tree or shrub to give birds a chance to flee predators. Doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches and cardinals are all likely to visit ground feeders. Avoid using ground feeders if cats are likely to pounce from nearby shrubs.

Sunflower and Seed-Tube Feeders

If you're going to put out just one feeder, this is your best choice. Be sure to select a model with metal ports around the seed dispensers to protect the feeder from nibbling squirrels and house sparrows. Hang the feeder at least 5 feet off the ground, and try to position it near a window where you can enjoy the visitors, which are likely to
include chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins and, purple and house finches. Reduce the risk of bird collisions by placing the feeder less than 3 feet from a window or more than 30 feet away.

Suet Feeders

Suet is popular with titmice,
 chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Wrens, creepers
and warblers will also 
occasionally peck at suet. 
While you can hang suet
 chunks in a mesh onion bag,
you can also purchase cage
feeders. Some people like 
to make their own suet
 puddings by grinding
 the suet and adding 
seeds and create
 homemade suet feeders by 
packing the mixture into the 
crevices of large pine cones. Suet feeders can be hung from trees, from poles near other feeders or from a wire stretched between trees.

Hopper Feeders

Hopper feeders keep several pounds of mixed seed dry and ready for hungry birds. Birds 
hopping on the feeder trigger the release of
 seeds. Hopper feeders should be positioned on
 a pole about 5 feet off the ground, or hung from a tree branch, and will draw all the species that tube feeders attract, along with larger birds, like jays, grackles, redwinged blackbirds and cardinals.

Nyjer® Feeders

Especially designed to dispense nyjer (thistle) seed, these feeders have tiny holes that make the seed available only to small-beaked finches, such as goldfinches, redpolls and pine siskins. Hang your thistle 
feeder from a tree or place it on a 5-foot pole near other feeders. Squirrel
 baffles will help to 
protect the feeder.

TIPS: Make sure the selected feeder is maintained year-round, especially in harsh winter climates that make natural food sources hard to find. Birds typically burn more calories in winter to stay warm. For example, chickadees have to eat 20 times more in winter than in summer.

Mount hummingbird feeders in the shade to help prevent the food from spoiling and within 3 feet of a window for best viewing. The birds will quickly get comfortable enough to feed and be watched up close. Keeping a feeder near your house also reduces injuries to birds caused by flying into the reflective window since they can't build up enough speed to hurt themselves.

are best excluded by placing feeders on a
pole in an open area. Pole-mounted feeders should be about 5 feet off the ground and protected by a cone-shaped baffle (at least 17 inches  in diameter) or similar obstacle below the feeder. Locate pole-mounted feeders at least 10 feet from the nearest shrub, tree or other tall structure. Squirrel feeders stocked with blends that are especially attractive to squirrels and chipmunks can reduce competition for high-priced foods offered at bird feeders. Locate squirrel feeders far from bird feeders to further reduce competition.