Experts share their favorite backyard bird feeders

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Chad Witko, an outreach biologist in Vernon, Vt., has been a bird watcher since he was 3. His father was a waterfowl hunter and would take birds home to research. His mother helped him put homemade feeders in the garden.

Nate Swick, a bird watcher podcaster in Greensboro, NC, also loved birds as a child. His father was a physics teacher. “We were always out in nature and outdoors,” he says.

Witko, a member of the National Audubon Society, and Swick, a member of the American Birding Association, were ahead of their time, it seems. Birdwatching boomed during the pandemic, with nearly 9,000 new people participating in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s annual Global Big Day to appreciate birds in 2020, the Cornell team said. If you’re interested in joining the growing ranks of ornitophiles, all you need is a feeder, seed, and guide to the birds in your area.

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“Choose the best bird feeder you can afford,” Witko says. Look for one that is waterproof. And you want to prevent squirrels from damaging the food bowl, so look for something that isn’t breakable or chewable. “Solid wood, metal, hardened recycled plastic, and even glass feeders are all excellent choices,” he adds. If you want to attract a variety of birds, use multiple types of feeders. We asked Witko and Swick to share some backyard bird feeder options. These are their choices.

Novice birders should start with a standard tube feeder, Witko says. He loves the Audubon Plastic Wild Bird Feeder ($18.99, acehardware.com). “Hang it on a tree or shepherd’s staff,” he says, and fill it with black sunflower seeds, “one of the best kinds of birdseed you can get.”

Swick also recommends starting with a tube feeder filled with black sunflower seeds. He orders the Droll Yankees ring draw tube feeder ($43.99, target.com). “Tubes of black, greasy, oily food will attract goldfinches and house finches,” he says. This tube is easy to clean by pulling the central rod. All feeders should be cleaned periodically — as often as every one to two weeks — Witko says. Take the feeders apart and wash them with warm, soapy water. Let them air dry before refilling.

“I really like a tray feeder with a hopper feeder on it,” Witko says. “It’s really good to give bigger birds a little space to sit around when they’re eating, like jays and grosbeaks.” He loves Perky-Pet’s Squirrel-Be-Gone II Wild Bird Feeder ($38.99, perkypet.com), which has weight-activated perches that squirrels drop. “You don’t want to buy birdseed and end up just feeding squirrels,” Witko says.

Witko also recommends suet cages, which are good for attracting nuthatches, woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. The Modern Rustic Double Suet Feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited (check the store location for the price, order.wbu.com) makes for two suet cakes, and therefore more birds. Look for suet with seeds and mealworms in it, Witko says.

One way to really get a good view of birds is with a suction cup window feeder like the Birds-I-View window bird feeder ($49.99, nature-anywhere.com). “In the right environment, they can be a great option for young children,” Witko says.

Ground feeds, such as: Duncraft’s Eco-Strong ground platform feeder ($59.95, duncraft.com), can attract sparrows, pigeons and other birds that are less likely to perch on a funnel or thistle feeder, Swick says. This model can hold up to two pounds of seed — he recommends millet — and has metal mesh for drainage to prevent mold growth caused by rain or snow.

And don’t forget the hummingbirds. However, these feeders require a little more maintenance, Witko says, because you need to make the nectar and then change the solution at least once a week (and more often if it’s particularly hot). To make the nectar, mix sugar and water in a 4-to-1 ratio, cook until sugar is dissolved, and refrigerate. The Droll Yankees Happy Eight 2 Hummingbird Feeder ($29.99, target.com) has removable flowers and a brush for easy cleaning.

Lindsey M. Roberts is a freelance writer based in North Carolina.

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