American Birding Podcast



Open Mic: Bird Feeding Standards to Live By

At the Mic: Ernie Allison

Ernie Allison is a self-proclaimed bird nerd with a particular interest in environmental conservation. He prefers to spend his time going on nature hikes with his grandkids and tending to his yard. He’s been told that his bird feeders collection is out of control but he wouldn’t have it any other way.


As the temperatures rise I find myself spending increasingly more time sitting on my back porch and watching my bird feeder with a glass of iced tea in hand. I enjoy sitting in the shade and watching the birds eat at my bird feeders and bathe in my bird baths. The more birds that I have in my yard, the happier I am. I have become attached to my backyard companions, so much so that I find myself constantly searching for new ways to attract them into my yard and to care for them.

This has made me wonder what the limits are in terms of feeding the birds and I’m sure many other bird lovers wonder the same thing. How much is too much? How many feeders are too many? Are there specific things I should be avoiding when trying to bring more birds into my yard? My goal has always been to have as many birds frequenting my yard and feeders as possible while keeping their best interests at the forefront of my efforts.  In order to do this, I have a few standards that I follow when feeding wild birds.

Feeder Placement

Where you place your feeder is extremely important. I like to try to make my feeders visible from almost any location in my yard so that I  can enjoy them at all times but there are a few general rules that need to be followed with deciding on feeder placement.

Bird eating

Windows-Take note of any windows or glass doors on your property, whether they are on your house or on a shed. It’s common for many birds leave the feeders and crash into windows. This can result in an extremely injured bird that may never be able to recover. You should place your feeders either as close to the windows as possible or as far away as possible. Placing feeders as close to windows as possible may seem counterintuitive but the idea behind it is that birds will not be able to get up to full speed before hitting the window when they take off. Closer than 6 feet to a window is usually recommended.

Trees and Shrubs- Placing feeders close to trees and shrubs may seem like a good idea but it may actually be putting the birds in danger. Cats and other predators can hide out and attack and unsuspecting bird who happens to be frequenting your feeder. If you happen to have a lot of trees on your property, select your feeder location carefully.

Food Choice and Amount

With obesity being such a hot button issue, it can be easy to get caught up in portion control when it comes to you and your pets.  While portion control is important for you and your pets, it’s really not necessary for wild birds. Some birds may look a little chubby, but their fluffy feathers make it impossible to determine their weight with only a visual inspection. Wild birds are also disciplined in that they only eat until their stomachs are full. Most of them also have a sort of insurance policy against gaining weight in the form of a crop. A crop is just a little pouch near a bird’s gullet that helps to digest food and only allows a certain amount of food to reach their stomachs at any given point in time.

Bird feeder

You should be less concerned with how much you are feeding the birds and pay more attention to what you are feeding them.  Don’t get carried away and put out whatever food you have available just to bring birds into your yard. Just because donuts are treats for us does not mean that you are doing birds a favor by setting them out. Never set out processed foods or breads because many species are unable to digest it. Processed foods and breads are also high in salt which can be extremely bad for birds because they are unable to excrete it the way humans can.

When choosing food for your feeders, you should gravitate towards high quality seeds and fresh produce. Black oil sunflower seeds are usually winners when it comes to satisfying wild birds. They crack easily, are high in protein and fat, and are easy for small birds to handle.

Feeder Maintenance

You need to maintain your bird feeding stations much like you do so in your own kitchen. Dirty and unkempt feeders lead to disease which can kill of birds, sometimes an entire flock, not to mention any other wildlife that may come into contact with it. Throw out any food that has molded or gone stale and give your feeders a good cleaning every now and then. Be sure to stay away from chemicals when cleaning because they may be extremely toxic to birds.

Bird bath

If you want to keep birds frequenting your yard on a regular basis, make sure you avoid letting the feeders become completely empty. When
birds come across an empty feeder, they will move on to the next and that next feeder or source of food may not be in your yard.