Make your yard a bird-watcher’s delight with these tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

By Jonna Gallo Weppler

Location, Location, Location

The spot you choose for the feeder should be easy to see, convenient to refill as soon as it’s empty and close to natural shelter (called cover) such as trees or shrubs, because that’s where birds wait their turn to dine. Evergreens are ideal: Their thick foliage buffers biting winter winds and offers year-round opportunities to hide from dangerous predators. Don’t locate your feeder too close to cover, though—nearby branches can provide the perfect jumping-off point for seed-greedy squirrels and bird-stalking cats. Keep in mind that if your home has a lot of windows, the best way to minimize harm from accidental high-speed collisions is by situating a feeder within 3 feet of glass or far, far away.

Offer the Best Eats

Black-oil sunflower seeds are generally the best bet for feeders, thanks to their small size, easy-to-crack thin shell, high meat-to-shell ratio and high fat content. Safflower seeds lure cardinals but are typically pricier than sunflower. Dried whole-kernel corn tempts jays, pigeons, doves, pheasants and quail. Cracked corn is easier for smaller birds to eat and will attract blackbirds, finches and sparrows. White millet appeals to ground-feeding birds such as juncos and sparrows. All seed should be stored so that it stays dry and mold-free.

Cleanliness Counts

Birds can get sick from moldy or decomposing seeds that lie around on feeder trays. Aim to clean your feeder about once every two weeks­—even more often (think weekly) during periods of heavy usage. Wash thoroughly in hot, soapy water, then soak with a solution of diluted bleach. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely before refilling. Remember to also clean the ground below to prevent buildup of seed hulls and other waste, which can be harmful to outside pets if ingested and also attract unwanted rodents.

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Become a Citizen Scientist!

Project FeederWatch is a joint initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada that gathers useful scientific data from people like you. The current season runs through April 7, and you can still join at