Top 10 Birders’ Questions

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Duncraft has the answers to the most common questions bird lovers have about feeding birds in their yards. Bird feeding is the second most popular hobby in the United States—right behind gardening. Not only the largest supplier of wild bird feeding and housing products, Duncraft is also a vast source of information on bird feeding on Twitter, Facebook and the Duncraft Wild Bird Blog.


1. What’s the best way to clean bird feeders?

Duncraft recommends giving all feeders a good cleaning once a month. Remove any seed and scrub it clean with a mild soap. A feeder brush with a long handle helps with tube feeders. Rinse well with fresh water and let air dry in the sun if possible. Make sure the feeder is completely dry before adding fresh seed.

2. What’s the best way to clean a birdbath?

Scrub bird baths with 10 parts water to one part white vinegar then rinse. The vinegar will help prevent algae growth. Change the water every few days. Bird Bath Protector and Bird Bath Water Cleaner help prevent mineral deposits, stains and algae.

3. Should suet be fed to birds in the summer?

Suet can drip and go rancid in high temperatures. So, for most of the continental U.S., suet feeding in summer is not recommended. However, there are a type of no-melt suet cakes that are labeled “Delight” or “Dough” — these have more grain and less fat and may not drip as easily.

4. Won’t the birds find natural foods in the summer?

Birds only get about 25% of their diet from bird feeders. Birds don’t need to be fed in summer but it’s a great way to attract them into backyards where their bright summer colors can be enjoyed.

5. What is the best feeder to use to attract certain birds?

Most small birds will enjoy a tube feeder, and when outfitted with a seed tray, larger birds will be able to land and enjoy as well. Cardinals and grosbeaks prefer flat platform feeders for their stable perching areas. Orioles like orange nectar, grape and strawberry jellies and orange halves on an oriole feeder. Bluebirds can be fed mealworms in a simple dish feeder.

6. How to stop other species of birds from invading bluebird or purple martin houses.

For martin houses, keeping the entry holes closed until martins are arriving (otherwise sparrows may take up residence). For a bluebird house, make sure that the entry hole has a predator guard to keep raccoons and other predators away. If English sparrows keep building nests in the houses, keep removing them until the bluebirds get a chance to build.

7. Is one variety of seed better than another?

Look for mixes containing a large amount of black oil sunflower seed rather than an overabundance of other unwanted seeds such as wheat and milo. Or just feed black oil seeds alone. It’s the one seed that all seed eating birds love!

8. How to keep Nyjer seed from sprouting on the lawn.

Nyjer seed, formerly called thistle seed, is no way related to the Canadian or other thistle plants. It’s an imported seed and is heat treated when it arrives in the US to sterilize other unwanted foreign seeds. All heat treated seeds become sterile and cannot sprout.  

9. What’s the best way to keep squirrels away from bird feeders?

Squirrels can jump 5 feet vertically and as much as 15 feet horizontally, so keep feeders hung at least 5 feet high and 10-15 feet away from tree limbs, trunks or fences. If squirrels are accessing the feeder from above, try an overhead squirrel baffle. If they’re climbing a bird feeder pole, then use a pole baffle so they can’t get past.

10. How to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders.

Bees seem to be attracted to the color yellow. Try feeders with no yellow on them or a minimum of yellow. Or, yellow areas can be painted with red nail polish. Rinse off any sugar residue on the outside of the feeder before hanging so bees won’t be attracted. Some hummingbird feeders have bee guards or bee guard tips inside the feeding ports so bees and other flying insects can’t get in. Browse the Duncraft Wild Bird Blog for more tips on this subject. Happy Birding!

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  • Sheryl July 1, 2012 at 6:54 am

    How do I keep bears out of my feeders? They prefer the suet and thistle seed.

  • Lorien July 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I just discovered that a black bear destroyed all my birdfeeders in my fenced backyard. No way anything smaller than that could have bent shepherd’s hooks in two and destroyed metal bird feeders as I found them. The bear poop confirmed my hunch. I hung new feeders more than 10 feet off the ground on ropes that I can lower to fill. We shall see how that works. I live adjacent to a state park, so we have tons of wildlife. The bears usually only bother the trash that’s left out by not-so-smart neighbors. I’ve been feeding the birds in my backyard for 18 years. This is the first time I’ve had a bear inside my fence and it is unnerving to say the least. Can’t let my dogs out without being sure nothing else is out there. Good luck and post what works/doesn’t work for you.

  • Trish O August 15, 2012 at 11:12 am

    HELP…..I have 3 hummingbird feeders ( the four flower one, the antique bottle one, don’t know the name of the third) each one of them is covered by wasps. One of the feeders I just bought because it doesn’t have any yellow. But that hasn’t deterred the wasps. Can they hurt the hummers ? they seem to stay away from feeders covered by wasps….N to mention I can’t go on my deck.How can I get rid of the wasps?? Does anyone have a solution. Thanks

  • R. Brune August 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Hello Everyone,

    To the bear question: Please don’t feed the birds if you have bears. Take all your feeders down and remove any seed residue on the ground. The bears are attracted because they smell food.

    To Lorien about the wasps. If you could find the nest and destroy it, that would solve a lot of your problem. You might watch which direction they fly when they’re going back to the nest at night. Otherwise, here’s the original article I wrote about keeping bees and wasps out of feeders. You may get some tips from it.: