Skip to main content

When all the seed and suet cakes and other bird food used to feed wild birds in Oklahoma are added up for a year, it's thought to total more than $113 million! Get the most out of your feeder with these tips:

Food Sources and Feeders

Seeds are the favorite food of many bird species. Research has shown the top grain choices for birds are black-oil, striped, or hulled sunflower seeds; peanuts; and white proso millet and niger thistle seed. Many people put out the commercial seed mixes that are widely available in supermarkets or feed stores. Although some of these seed mixes offer a desirable mix of the preferred seeds, many substitute less desired – and less expensive – seed types. When buying mixes, select those that contain high concentrations of sunflower and millet, while staying clear of high concentrations of fillers like wheat, buckwheat, milo, and hulled oats. Though they may be less expensive at the checkout counter, these filler grains are shunned by most songbirds. The preferred seeds will be selectively eaten and the remainder will end up on the ground, attracting European starlings, house sparrows, and mice, and sprouting weeds under your feeder.

Try putting feeders in several locations and at different heights in your habitat to satisfy the different eating styles of birds. Feeders should be located in and around areas that are easily visible from your house or other viewing locations. 

Easter bluebird, photo by Kelly Adams/ODWC

Eastern bluebird.

Birds should have quick access to brushy cover no more than 15 feet from a feeding station. This will allow them adequate time to escape predators. However, refrain from placing feeders in or right next to dense cover, because ats and other stalking predators may use this cover to ambush birds.

A varied backyard feeding program might include:

  • Providing sunflower seeds, peanuts, and fruit on platform or hopper feeders about 4 feet off the ground. Also, different seed types can be offered via tube-type feeders. Cardinals, finches, and grosbeaks will readily feed from these types of feeding stations.
  • Offering thistle or finch mixes, which are highly desirable to finches and pine siskins. Due to its expense compared to other seed types, thistle should be dispensed from a hanging tube feeder and not placed in a platform or hopper feeder.
  • Spreading millet and cracked corn on the ground to attract doves, towhees, juncos, quail, and sparrows. Spread these foods away from brush to attract doves and near brush to attract towhees. This is especially attractive to migrant and wintering birds in fall, winter, and spring. If mice, rats, or cats are a neighborhood problem, don’t feed on the ground.
  • Suspending or attaching a suet feeder from a tree limb to feed insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers and bluebirds. Warm temperatures will turn suet rancid, however, so rather than feed suet or other animal fat-based foods in the summer, you might consider putting out a mixture of one-part lard, one-part peanut butter, and two-parts cornmeal. 

Bird Feeder-Related Diseases

To combat bird feeder-related diseases, all feeders should be cleaned out at least once a year. Two major diseases occur at bird feeders: aspergillosis and salmonella, both of which can be controlled by proper bird feeding sanitation. Also, periodically clean the area directly under feeders or rotate feeding sites, since disease-causing fungi can remain in the soil for several months.

Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus that occurs in moldy food. Bird inhaling the fungus spores will suffer pneumonia or bronchitis. To prevent aspergillosis, make sure your seed is clean and free of mold. After any wet weather, tip the feeder over and look for any seeds that cling to the bottom or sides. If they cling, they have become wet and should be replaced.

Salmonella poisoning usually occurs after flocking birds such as red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, pine siskins, and goldfinches congregate in an area. The bacteria is shed in the birds’ feces and can remain active on contaminated soil, vegetation, or the feeding station for several months. Birds suffering from salmonella poisoning become lethargic and may die of pneumonia.

If you observe birds dying at your feeders, stop feeding for ten days, disinfect all feeders, change the seed, and clean the areas beneath your feeders. Use a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach to clean your feeders. You may want to contact your neighbors to learn if they have seen any sick birds. Once you resume feeding, most of the infected birds will have dispersed and your clean feeders should be disease-free.

Successful Bird Feeding Tips

  1. Use at least eight to 12 feeders placed in two to three clusters to attract the greatest diversity of bird species. Place feeders at varying heights.
  2. Keep spillage and waste to a minimum. Put out food less often if it is going to waste.
  3. Provide protective cover from predators. Place the feeder 10 – 15 feet from a brush pile or thick shrubbery that can serve as excellent escape cover.
  4. Place the feeder where it can be easily seen and enjoyed from a patio, window, or porch.
  5. Clean feeders and ground areas underneath them regularly.
  6. Protect food from inclement weather. Wet, moldy grain is unhealthy for birds.

This content originally appeared in the Wildlife Department’s “Landscaping for Wildlife” guide. The full guide can be viewed here.