Feeding birds is a popular backyard activity in Florida--a 1985 survey revealed that 66 percent of all respondents had fed birds or other wildlife around their homes in the past year. There's certainly no easier place to introduce children and adults alike to the joys of bird-watching than at a backyard feeder. Just offer food under reasonably sanitary conditions, and you needn't worry about ill effects of supplemental feeding on local bird populations. Let variety be your guide when you set up a bird feeding station. You'll find that each species strongly prefers certain foods and feeding situations.

feeding station

Seeds are a favorite with many birds because of their high protein and fat content. Studies have shown that the top grain choices for birds are oil, striped and hulled sunflower seeds; fine cracked corn; white proso millet; and niger (thistle) seed. Use separate feeders for different kinds of grain to reduce competition at feeders and prevent grain loss. Avoid most commercial seed mixes. They are usually wasteful, because the birds pick out only the grains they prefer; the rest ends up on the ground and sprouts. You may be able to eliminate some nuisance species if you keep their preferred food items out of your feeders. Milo and hulled oats attract starlings. Wheat is preferred by brown-headed cowbirds and house sparrows. Consult our references if you'd like to learn more about individual bird species' feeding preferences.

Try placing several kinds of feeders at various heights and locations in your garden to accommodate the different eating styles of your birds. A varied backyard feeding program might include:

  • millet and cracked corn on the ground for doves, towhees, sparrows and quail (unless cats, mice or rats are a problem)
  • sunflower seeds, mixed grains and fruit offered on platform or hopper feeders three or four feet off the ground for perching birds like cardinals, finches and grosbeaks
  • a suet feeder suspended or attached to a tree limb

It may attract at least 12 different species of birds on a year-round basis. Raw suet will become rancid quickly, so use the suet cake recipe below and place the feeder in a shady location.

Remember to locate your feeders in spots that are easily visible from your house. Be certain that birds have access to thick shrub or tree cover in which to escape predators within 10 to 20 feet of the feeder. However, don't place feeders in the middle of dense shrubbery; these locations can work against the birds and in favor of a stalking cat. Windows can be another hazard to birds frequenting feeders. Bird collisions with windows usually result from confusing scenic reflections and seemingly open passageways. You can cut down on these accidents by hanging a mobile or using stained glass or the silhouette of a hawk to break up reflections on the windows.

REMEMBER, birds will readily visit backyard feeders, even in relatively barren habitat. However, permanent increases in local bird populations will only occur as your landscape (their habitat) grows in richness and diversity.

Recipe for Suet Cake

1 cup ground suet
1 cup smooth peanut butter 2-3 cups yellow corn meal
1/2 cup enriched white or whole wheat flour

(1) Melt suet in saucepan.
(2) Add peanut butter, stirring until melted and blended. (3) In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
(4) When the suet/peanut butter mix has cooled and J begins to thicken, add the dry ingredients and blend thoroughly.
(5) Stuff mixture into a pine cone or form into cakes in muffin tins for use in suet feeders.

A good bird feeder should:

  1. Hold enough food for two or three days use.
  2. Protect the food from inclement weather because wet grain spoils quickly. Moldy food is unhealthy for birds.
  3. Be free from predators. Use pole guards if necessary and locate close to cover.
  4. Keep spillage and waste to a minimum.
  5. Be easily seen from your favorite observation point near a window, patio or porch.
  6. Be maintained year-round.

FWC Facts:
Florida ranks second in the nation for the number of residents who take trips to view wildlife. (1.4 million)

Learn More at AskFWC