Getting Started in 5 Steps

Get started bird feeding!

by Sundeep Kapur

My quest to become a backyard birder started a few months ago.  I had read books & learned a little bit about birds – I wanted to get more birds into my yard (and keep them there). I set up my feeder and waited for the first bird to fly in, and while it did take a few days (whenever I was looking), the first one was a Cardinal.

What started off as a curiosity, has developed into an intense interest in backyard birding. I have done my best to put together a how-to guide for those wanting to get started. And while I do have a burning desire to learn, I am by no means the expert. So to all enthusiasts who share this passion, please be my mentor and guide.

You need five things to get started with backyard birding, and it is almost in the order listed.

Seed – this is what the birds seek. You can get different types of birds to come to your feeder because of the feed. My first offering to the birds was a seed mix that included sunflower seeds (black oil & gray), sunflower heart chips, Nyjer seed, safflower, & peanuts. The second seed I tried was Nyjer by itself. The mixture got Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, & Finches. I even had the Carolina Wren eating off the ground. The Nyjer seed taught me that there was more than one kind of Finch & the Chickadees absolutely loved this seed. What was amazing was that I could see Goldfinches fly from trees that were a few hundred feet away.

Feeder – I started with two types of feeders – a traditional feeder and one that was covered. I put the mix in the traditional feeder and the Nyjer seed in the covered feeder. The covered feeder gives the smaller birds a safe environment – they come and go without fear. The traditional feeder has birds taking turns. I enjoyed the Chickadees so much that I ended up getting a tube feeder as well. This way they had their own place and didn’t share the covered feeder with the other birds.

Question to my fellow Enthusiasts …. Are bird families (one type of bird) graceful about giving each other an opportunity on the feeder, do they share space or do they force themselves?

Water – I put a birdbath in between my feeders. I first put out a little plastic tub in the summer and filled it about six inches. I had a vision that birds would fly in, immerse themselves in the water, enjoy the relief from the sun, and fly away. I soon learned that birds need a low water level and so I put up a bird bath made of sand coated plastic (it is soft and rough at the same time). It has troughs in it that make it look natural for the birds. I also threw in a few pebbles to allow the small bird an opportunity to go stand in the ‘deep.’ Birds appreciate this water, both to freshen up & to drink.

My question to the experts….Do birds actually need to freshen up in winter?

Location – It took me a few refills to find the ideal spots and I also learned that birds are very good at finding the seed. Place your feeders near trees as they provide a safer environment from the bigger birds in the sky. Don’t hide the feeder in the bushes as it provides camouflage for cats and birds of prey. Squirrels are industrious and they will find a way to get to the seed. I don’t seem to mind them just because they put in a significant amount of effort to get to the top. All my feeders are at five feet above ground. I now also have a bird feeder in my front yard – there are no trees here but I put up a covered feeder to make the birds feel safe. My feeders at the back are about 25 feet apart and it is a treat to watch birds fly between feeders. I also have two feeders in my back porch that are a couple of feet apart – the birds hop, skip, & jump between them – again, this is just as delightful as watching them enjoy the seed.

Patience – I remember waiting for a few days and not having any birds at my feeder. They would fly by my feeders and not notice them. Distressed, I tried sprinkling seed on the ground, I tried whistling, & I even tried to toss seed towards them. I think that I scared them off! Then one morning, I saw a Cardinal fly on to the tube feeder, hopped up and down, tasted the mix, and then brought many more with him. Within a few days, my yard became a delightful site – birds chirping, eating, drinking, & flying back and forth.

The past six months have been an absolute delight. I can tell between types of birds, see what feed works best, I know the difference between some male & female birds, and I really think that they whistle back to me. I know I am just starting off and want to thank my fellow enthusiasts in advance for a great passion and all the help I will be seeking.

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  • Veronica February 28, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Sweet! Brought back memories of my first feeders and visitors!
    I am not an expert, but after a few years of feeding the birds I have learned, in answer to your questions:
    I dont fret about water so much in the heavy winter, everything here freezes except the moving creek in the backyard, which luckily for me takes care of the water if my birdbaths freeze too quickly for me to replenish. Mother nature is out there to assist them, with snow melt off the trees during the day. They will enjoy the bath if it is available, but will find water as needed and the weather dicatates.
    I also see that yes, my bird familys are graceful in sharing the feeder. They take turn among themselves, and other visitors also. The only ones that do not share are the squirrels, even amongst themselves! Unless it is on the ground, and they still chase birds away! Hope this helps answer your questions!

  • Laquita March 12, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Yes, it is fun to read your comments about your first experiences. I am still excited to see the birds arrive each season, as the migrate over (we live in a migration zone and next door to a wooded area, so that brings us lots of different ones at various times.) I learned in reading somewhere that many of the smaller birds will grab a seed then fly off to a tree limb or other perch to crack open its seed and eat. But very quickly, it will be back for another turn. The titmouse, chickadee, nuthatcher, etc. seem to share a turn at the feeders well, as they are coming and going so often. Of course, the larger birds so shew away the smaller ones sometimes…..unless there are openings on the other side.

    Good you have several feeders, for this reason.

    Happy birding!!! It is a delight to collect the names of the ones who appear. Many birders keep a list of the names of birds that they see….and that keeps us thrilled to see a new one!

  • Laquita March 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Also, it is interesting to keep a list of when the various birds appear each year, or season. Some have arrived on the same day or within 2-3 days of the very same date they came the year before!! I am in north AL where they are enroute to So. America or Mexico.