The Bird Feeder's Handbook, plus Build Your Own Platform Feeder

A practical guide to selecting the right style of feeder and bird food for your backyard. Also includes instructions and diagram to make your own platform feeder.


| December/January 1992



bird feeder

Hanging a bird feeder in your backyard is a wonderful way to enjoy nature up close.

PHOTO: FOTOLIA/CLAUDIAK

Many people worry that the moment they put up a bird feeder, that's it—their backyard birds will become completely dependent on them. They figure the birds will starve if they go away on vacation or are bed-ridden with the flu for a week, particularly during the brutal wintertime. According to recent studies from University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University, it's a big myth. Both schools prove conclusively that even the most feeder-habituated birds forage for at least 80 percent of their diet. Regardless of the season, supplemental feeding has hardly any impact on birds at all. The real reason for setting up a backyard feeder is to enjoy good bird watching. By learning how to pick the right feeder, where to place it, and what to feed them, you'll be able to admire the birds of your choice year-round.

Types of Bird Feeders

Bird-feeder designs range from the general, which attract a wide variety of birds, to the highly specific, which attract one or two types of birds. Although a general bird feeder does a reasonably good job, it does feed birds that you may not want in your yard or that may scare off those you do want. A highly specific feeder, on the other hand, may leave out birds that you would never know about. Why not put up both kinds? A well-stocked backyard (from the birds' point of view) would have a large, all-purpose feeder as well as a suet basket, and a feeder designed specifically for small, clinging birds such as nuthatches and chickadees.

Platform Feeders  

Platform feeders, also called table feeders, are flat, uncovered surfaces, with a rim around the edges. Raised slightly off the ground, these feeders attract ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves. One advantage of this feeder is that birds can easily be photographed without the intrusive sight of the feeder in the picture. The biggest drawback is that they are completely helpless against squirrel attacks and the seeds are constantly exposed to wind and rain.

Traditional Feeders  

These attractive feeders made of wood are designed to resemble a house with a peaked roof, and usually have a plastic-sided hopper to hold the seeds. A narrow gap between the bottom edges of the hopper sides and the platform makes up the bottom of the feeder, allowing access to the seed. When buying these feeders, look for solid, untreated wood (preferably red cedar) held together with glue and screws. Be sure the hopper panels are made of tough plastic and that the seed opening is no larger than half an inch. If the opening is any larger, small birds can push their heads in and get stuck.





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