Backyard bird feeding, homesteading


It was a cold morning and I had just come in from filling the backyard bird feeders. I stoked the fire and poured myself a cup of coffee. I make my way to the window and wait. Soon the birds will begin arriving and my mind will become at ease… Troubles will soon melt away.

Backyard Bird Feeding as a Hobby

There is no question that Americans love to feed birds. Estimates suggest that over 55 million of us do just that. With so many folks offering seeds to our wild feathered friends you can easily see how 3-5 billion dollars annually is spent just on seed, millions more on bird feeding accessories, like feeders, bird houses, bird baths, et cetera.

But why do we do it? There are many reasons why, but the overall consensus is nothing more than relaxation. As we watch the birds at the feeders our souls transform into something that we all need. We can transfix our minds on the feeders for hours on end or just for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter how long because the end result is the same. We become calm, relaxed, our troubles vanish during our viewing pleasure. Could it get any better than that?

backyard bird feeding
Northern Cardinals, House Finches, and an American Goldfinch appreciate the seed in snowy weather.
How to Start Backyard Bird Feeding on the Homestead

Getting started in becoming a backyard bird feeder is about as simple as it can get. Simply buying a feeder and some seeds will attract birds to your yard, but to attract the most birds and a variety of species, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of your feeders.

First, I suggest that you get a bird book to get a general idea of the birds in your area. The book will also give you information on when the birds are in your location, like a summer resident, a winter resident, during migration only, et cetera. Identifying new birds at your feeders is quite exciting and having a bird book nearby will make the identification process go much smoother.

Painted Bunting

Since we are moving into the fall and winter season, the time to get all your feeders located is a top priority. Many folks do not feed during the summer months only because birds have a more natural selection to choose from. Bugs, insects, and berries are the more preferred food source during the warmer months. Sure, you can still feed during the summer months, you just will not get the numbers as you would in winter.  And as those summer food sources dwindle with the changing weather, birds will begin working the seeds at your feeders. So, don’t get discouraged early on if the birds don’t show up, they will be there soon.

Also keep in mind that as the summer breeding season comes to a close, the brightly colored males of summer will soon be taking on their winter colors, thus becoming drab in color. Take for example the brightly colored goldfinches, their glorious golden feathers will become a dusky yellow. But there are a few, like Northern Cardinals and Bluejays (in my part of the country) that hold on to their red and blue during the winter months.

What Kind of Backyard Bird Feeders Should You Use?

While there are a good number of commercial feeders out there I prefer to make my own. Using old pieces of lumber, I can construct simple platform feeders in a variety of sizes. I can locate the feeders on posts, tree limbs, just about anywhere I can attach them. If at all possible I will also use more natural forms of feeders like old tree stumps, hollowed tree limbs, and the like. It all depends on how far you want to go with it and what kind of eye appeal you would like with your feeders. Birds will be attracted to either level you choose. Keep in mind that if you do build your own feeders just make sure you have some type of drainage from rain, snow, and

Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

other precipitation. Without proper drainage, the seeds could spoil due to the excess moisture. You could either drill some drainage holes or off-set your sidewalls, so the water will run out. Simple fix either way.

Another neat feeder to try, one specially made for woodpeckers, is what I like to call the “Woodpecker Tree”. Find an old dead tree limb and place several inches in the ground, or deep enough to keep it sturdy and upright. Drill several shallow holes in the limb. Here you can now stuff with suet (or beef fat of which we will talk about here shortly). Most woodpecker species will love this extra protein source, and nuthatches love it too.

What are the Best Backyard Bird Feeding Foods?

What are the best seeds that will attract the most birds? Well, this can be a hot topic. I feed only two varieties and that is black oil sunflower and thistle (or Nyjer) seed. I believe these attract the most bird species and will offer almost zero in wasted seed. Mixed-seed bags offer a variety of seeds in the one bag, however, most of it will go to waste as the birds pick out the tastiest varieties, like the sunflowers, for example, and will kick out the rest. To get the most out of your bird-seed purchase, I suggest you stick with the sunflower and thistle.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole eating an orange.

Beef suet and beef fat can be described as the same thing but technically they are not. Beef fat is simple trimmings from a cut of beef. Beef suet is actually a long gob of fat that comes from the kidney. Kidney fat is sweeter and will actually render down easier than regular beef fat. It is hard to find good kidney fat and the best location to find and purchase this would be from a slaughterhouse. These days you can purchase packaged suet cakes from your local bird seed source. Many birds are attracted to suet but your biggest visitor to these tasty blocks of fat will be the woodpeckers.

Many folks make their own suet blocks by melting down beef fat and pouring the mixture in cupcake pans. Here you can add seeds for an extra attractant and once the mixture cools and hardens you now have your own blocks that you can place anywhere. For the store-bought cakes, they have special cages that they are placed in. You could also get some wire mesh and roll up your own cages to drop in the fat, or your rendered cakes, and simply hang on a tree limb somewhere.

Attracting More Birds to Your Backyard Bird Feeders
Left to Right: & Kentucky Warbler (male), Indigo Bunting (male) & Worm-eating Warbler
Left to Right: & Kentucky Warbler (male), Indigo Bunting (male) & Worm-eating Warbler.       Photo by Bettina Arrigoni

What else can you do at your backyard feeding station to attract more birds? Well, if you don’t mind some added timber to your yard you can add a few brush piles. These brush piles are nothing more than what they suggest. Here, birds can use them for cover and escape routes from predators. Other wildlife in your yard will love them too, especially rabbits.  Place a few throughout your yard but do not place directly under or near the feeders. Predators, like a neighborhood cat, for example, can use them as cover for an ambush point if to close to where the birds are feeding.

A water source can also be very vital during the winter months. Some folks believe that birds will not use the bird bath in winter, but the opposite is true. They love fresh water in the winter. If you can keep it from freezing, I think you will be delighted in the results.

Why Backyard Bird Feeding?
Blue Jays
Blue Jays on a homemade feeder

There are many who will travel outside their homes to watch birds and you just might be one of those. And there are those who do not consider themselves “true birders”, preferring to watch from the safety and comfort of their homes. Both, however, are one and the same, some just prefer to extend their search.

We all do it for the same reasons. Birds are relaxing, soothing, calming, how ever you want to describe them. It’s a simple pleasure and you can keep your feeding activities as small or elaborate as you want them to be.

When the snow is coming down and the fire is rolling and the coffee hot, could there be any greater pleasure than watching happy birds as they flit about your feeders? Why not start backyard bird feeding on the homestead this weekend?




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