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Components of a Nature Habitat - Feeders

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Not everyone will be blessed with all sixteen Habitat Components on their property.

This does not mean that introducing as many as possible will not enhance wildlife. The key is to understand each of the components, what they are, how they assist in nature and what wildlife will be assisted by their availability.

Components of a Nature Habitat


The Registry of Nature Habitats - Feeders

Components of a Nature Habitat 



Structural Habitat Component


These are used to provide easy access to supplemental food for wildlife. Does wildlife become dependant on them? No. Some however, may become pests as we will discuss later. You should never at any time feed bears, coyotes, bobcats or any other large mammal! Wildlife will use the feeders for a source of food but will continue to forage for other seeds, insects and nectar. Feeders should be used 12 months of the year. Cold long winters can be very hard on wildlife. Sometimes the feeder is all that is between the animal surviving till spring.

There is another school of thought on feeders. I hear this said by some people who believe that it is more important to stop development than it is to feed wildlife. My belief is that we are far beyond that. Humans are not going to stop developing. Thinking on how we develop is more important. Some of the most common things we do destroys habitat. Feeding wildlife is only replacing the food source we have removed through development.

Feeding wildlife can be very enjoyable and lots of fun. There are many types of feeders and each will attract different birds and small mammals. You need to find out what types of birds are native to your location and purchase feeders to attract them. The bird seeds and food you put out can also be specific to certain birds and will determine which birds (and animals) will come to your feeders.

Some birds want to eat on the ground such as Doves and Juncos, while others prefer eating while hanging upside down, like Woodpeckers! The size of the holes in a feeder and the length of the perches can keep away birds like Starlings while attracting smaller birds.


During the summer, fruit is a favorite food. Oranges or apple halves for thrashers, orioles and robins. Add a plastic cup for grape jelly as a treat for catbirds.

Many birds go nuts for peanuts, pecans and walnuts. There are feeders designed to dispense those treats while keeping other critters at bay. Seed snacks combine nuts and suet dough, molded into blocks or encased in ready-to-hang feeders. There are bulk seed blocks, available in small sizes to fit into a plastic-coated wire basket or large enough to set out on the ground.


This is the active season as baby birds are everywhere. You need to attend feeders more often. Check Hummingbird feeders daily and clean often. Put out fruit for Mockingbirds, Orioles, Catbird and Tanagers. Remember that the Cat is the birds worst enemy. Keep them inside, especially during the summer, as baby birds are virtually defenseless against them.


Fall is an important time for migratory birds. You may see birds visiting your yard that you have not seen all year. They need to build up energy for the long migratory trip they are on. Some birds fly all the way to South America! Keep those feeders out and full of food.


Birds have survived way before humans starting feeding them. But the presence of feeders with fresh food definitely is a benefit and will help them through the long hard winter. A heated bird bath is also a welcomed site to the birds. They will bath year round, even in the winter.

Tips for healthy feeding

  • Shake out feeders before re-filling and remove any old, wet and/or moldy seeds.
  • Keep seed hulls cleaned up and remove hulls from feeders.
  • Disinfect feeders a few times a year with 1/4 cup bleach and 2 gallons of water. Let dry before re-filling with seed.
  • Always keep seed in a cool dry location.
  • Hulled sunflower seeds are best used in tube and hopper feeders.
  • If Racoons, Opossums, Deer and othe critters are a problem, take down feeders at night or put only enough feed in the feeders that the birds finish it by nightfall.
  • Suet is a high energy food that can be used year round. One note of caution. Use only rendered suet in warm temperatures otherwise it will become rancid.
  • Feed year round to attract more species of birds.
  • Use different feeders and different feeds.
  • Change bath water daily to prevent algea growth. Add a mister to the bath.

Wild Birds eat more than bird seed! A LOT more!

Most birds do not eat seeds. The reason these birds will not come to your feeder is that they prefer eating live insects or fish or something else. Birds that eat seeds tend to have heavy, thick bills for cracking seed kernels. Cardinals and Finches are good examples of seed-eating birds.

To attract the other birds, try hanging a suet cake by your bedroom window for the woodpeckers and nuthatches. Put out orange halves for the Orioles. Spread peanut butter on a pine cone and hang it outside your school window. Plant a cherry tree in your side yard. Build a pond and stock it with fish.

Be creative and see what you can attract. Try popped popcorn, peanut hearts, soaked raisins, pieces of fruit like grapes or oranges or apples, fruit seeds (melons, apples), grape jelly (another oriole favorite), cooked potatoes, leftover oatmeal or ready-to-eat cereal. Some birder watchers even go so far as to put out a tray of live mealworms for the Bluebirds!

Accipiters like Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks eat other birds. If one swoops down on your bird feeder and carries off someone for lunch, don't worry about it. That is the way Mother Nature works. The fittest birds will usually survive. If this bothers you, take down your feeders for a few days. The Hawk will move to another location.

Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch as they dart around the feeders. Males become very aggressive and try to drive away other hummingbirds.

You might want to consider having more than one feeder in your yard to provide food for many "hummers" at the same time.

Feed hummingbirds a mixture of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. Boil the water and then mix in the sugar. Let cool. You can store this mixture up to two weeks in your refrigerator. Change the liquid in your feeders every three days. Keep the feeders and tubes clean. Do not add red coloring to the liquid.

Hummingbirds are attracted to red, so tie a red ribbon on the feeder or buy a feeder that is red. Bees are attracted to yellow, so do not buy a feeder with yellow plastic on it.

Feeders that are flat, enclosed saucers (birds sit on the perches) seem to be easier to keep clean than feeders with tubes (bird hovers while feeding).

You can plant flowers in your yard that attract hummingbirds. Red, tube shaped flowers are best. Try Trumpet Vine (Campsis), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia) or Honeysuckle (Loniceria). Check some of the web sites listed at the left side of this page for more ideas.

You would not believe how many books there are about planting gardens to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Types of Feed

Commercial bird seed comes in a variety of mixtures. Cheaper mixtures will contain large amounts of buckwheat, rice, oats, milo, flax, rape seed, cracked corn and canary seed.

What the birds really want to eat is black oil sunflower seeds. To avoid the mess of sunflower hulls, may people decide to spend a bit more and buy the hulled sunflower seeds containing only the "hearts" or "chips" of the sunflower.

If you buy a mixture of seeds, you may find that birds scatter most of the seeds on the ground, trying to get at the sunflower seeds. It is better to place these mixtures on a flat platform feeder, rather than in a hopper type feeder. There will be less waste and fewer seeds will wind up on the ground. Seeds on the ground will attract doves and some birds, but they will also attract mice, raccoons and other critters you may not want at your feeder.

Niger seed is a favorite food of Goldfinches. It resembles small grains of wild rice and has a high fat and protein content. Niger is also known as thistle. Many people think they will be growing thistle weeds in their yard if they offer this seed. In fact, niger is not a thistle at all. It's the seed of the niger plant native to Ethiopia. Niger seed sold as birdseed is heated to prevent it from germinating. Tube type feeders with small openings are used as Niger or "Thistle" feeders.

Types of Feeders

The type of bird feeder you use will determine which birds come to your yard to eat. Do you want hummingbirds, woodpeckers, orioles, chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches or doves?

Maybe your answer is "All of the above". In this case you will need a number of different feeder types!

Hummingbird feeders hold liquid and have very narrow openings.

Platform feeders are simply flat tables raised off the ground. Cardinals like these. Doves will eat from them too if they are not very far off the ground.

Tube feeders are cylindrical tubes with openings up and down the tube -- perfect for Chickadees and Goldfinches. Shorten the perches to keep larger birds away.

Hopper feeders are bins that hold seeds that spill out of the bottom as the birds eat. Many birds will come to these -- including larger birds like Blue Jays, Grackles and Starlings.

Suet feeders are wire or mesh baskets that hold suet or pre-packaged suet cakes. Woodpeckers love these!

Bowl feeders are hanging bowls that typically are covered by a large plastic dome to keep out the rain and snow.

Specialized feeders include pine cones (great for lathering with peanut butter), and sharpened sticks to hold orange halves for Orioles. You can also sprinkle seeds directly on the ground -- but this attracts other critters as well.

Keep your feeders clean!
It is extremely important that you clean your feeders at least once every two weeks. Use a mixture of 2 gallons of water and 1/4 cup of bleach. Let the feeders air-dry before rehanging them. When you refill feeders, shake out damp seeds that may become moldy. Remove hulls from the feeder.