Call of the wild

A good starting feeder is a hopper. It allows for both large and small birds to use the same feeder.

Goldfinchs are one type of bird that eats Thistle/Nyger. The feeders need a spot for the bird to sit as they eat the small seed. (courtesy of MJ Boswell, Wiki commons)

Bird feeding is an easy way to get back to nature

Ever wonder how to get wildlife, especially birds, to come into your yard? Well, maybe it’s time you give bird feeders a try.

Kraig Kelsey, owner of Kelsey’s Wild Bird Store, says bird feeding is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country. 

While the perception may still be that bird feeding is mainly an activity enjoyed by empty nesters with spare time on their hands, Kelsey says that’s changing. Although he has a large base of older customers, he’s seeing growing numbers of young people browsing the store and buying their first bird feeders.

It’s a trend that’s likely to continue, since birdwatching has become one of the most popular hobbies in the nation. 

“You either like it or you don’t like it,” Kelsey says, and increasing people are not just liking it ... they’re lovin’ it. 

Because the Twin Cities is part of Mississippi River Corridor Central Flyway, there’s a more diverse wildlife population here than most metropolitan areas, says Jeannie Kratzer, manager of the wild bird department at Beisswenger’s in New Brighton. The Mississippi is a major corridor for birds migrating to northern Minnesota, Canada and the Artic in the spring, and then heading south to the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and Central and South America every autumn.

Since so many birds use the Mississippi River as a guide during migration season, Twin Citians are able to observe species they normally wouldn’t see during the nesting season. Many of those migrants, everything from colorful purple finches and rose-breasted grosbeaks to hermit thrushes and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, will drop by backyard feeders to fuel up as they journey up north or down south.


Getting started

For people interested in bird feeding, Kelsey recommends starting with one feeder. A common choice is a Nyger (rhymes with tiger) “thistle” hanging feeder. This type of feeder and food attracts goldfinches and house finches year round, and migrating visitors like common redpolls, pine siskins and tree sparrows. 

Because thistle is such a small seed, a feeder needs small holes so the seed doesn’t just fall out. The finches love this food, which needs to be changed every few weeks to maintain its freshness.

Another good choice for someone just starting out is an all-around feeder with a large platform or edge for both big and small birds to stand on. There are tube feeders with trays or hopper feeders. These feeders attract cardinals, bluejays, juncos, chickadees, and a host of migrating sparrows and finches.

Figure out what type of feeder works with your budget. There are a variety of other feeders to pick from including suet and peanut feeders, and feeders designed for certain species like Baltimore orioles and ruby-throated hummingbirds.


Location, location, location

Where you put the feeder is just as important as the feeder itself. Different birds prefer feeders at different heights and locations. 

Wooded areas mean you have to deal with other animals, but also means you may attract more birds.

Squirrel guards and squirrel-proof feeders can prevent the critters from shimmying up the pole and reaching the feeder. 

There also are foods that deter unwanted animals. Because of the bitter taste, most animals like squirrels leave safflower seeds alone.

If placing your feeder in a tree, keep these numbers in mind. Kratzer says squirrels can jump six to eight feet from the trunk of a tree and three feet from a branch. She also recommends keeping the bottom of a feeder five or six feet of the ground to help prevent deer and raccoons from getting at it. 

Hanging a feeder on a deck makes it an easy target for squirrels and raccoons. If you are going to put a feeder on a deck, get a squirrel-proof feeder and a pole that extends the feeder beyond the raccoons’ reach.


Feed maintenance

Kelsey recommends people store their birdseed in a metal container, so mice can’t get at it.

Just like humans, birds prefer fresh foods, and will avoid seeds that have been in feeders for several weeks or months

After heavy rains, the birdseed in feeders can mildew. When that happens, the seeds need to be tossed out. To avoid this, Kelsey suggests taking a feeder down and storing it somewhere dry when thunderstorms are in the forecast.


What do they eat?

Different birds prefer different seeds. An inexpensive option sold at big box retailers is a mixed-seed bag that has an overall yellow appearance because it contains a lot of milo, millet and cracked corn. 

Unfortunately, the birds people want at their feeders don’t eat the  milo and corn. However, this mix is a way to offer seed to those with a tight budget.

One favorite among birds is black oil sunflower seeds.

“That’s like filet mignon steak to the birds,” Kratzer says with a chuckle. Buying this seed by itself is pretty inexpensive as well.

The “steak, potatoes and dessert” seed is a combination of nuts, seeds and fruit. This gives options for both birds with seed cracking beaks and those that eat fruit or insects.

A bird with a wide-shaped beak like a cardinal is a seed-cracking bird. A sharp-pointed beak is for spearing bugs and fruit.

Sugar water can attract hummingbirds in the summer. Grape jelly attracts orioles, and cardinals like safflower. Knowing what feed attracts what birds can help customize what species you see in your yard.

Kelsey recommends getting a field guide so you can identify what birds are in your yard.

Another big part of bird feeding is giving them a fresh source of water. 

More and more folks are finding that backyard bird feeding can be an easy way to enjoy nature and reduce stress. 

Stop by your local garden center, hardware shop or wild bird store to get started.


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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