The way to a bird’s heart truly is through its stomach, and it’s easy to attract birds with food. By understanding what birds eat and the best foods to use to entice them, backyard birders can attract a wide variety of different species to their backyard buffet.
What Birds Eat
Birds have many different types of diets and an array of feeding preferences, and understanding what and how birds eat is the first step toward attracting them with food.
The different types of foods backyard birds naturally eat include:
- Insects, worms and grubs
- Seeds, grasses and plant material
- Nectar and pollen
- Nuts, fruit and berries
- Rodents, snakes and other small animals
The exact diet of a bird depends on its species and nutritional needs, which can vary from season to season. Offering the foods birds need most is the best way to attract them, and watching how birds forage in the backyard is a great way to learn what foods they prefer. Birders can also ask at a local wild bird store for recommendations to get started feeding birds, or assistance may be available from groups such as local National Audubon Society chapters or the National Bird-Feeding Society.
Natural Foods for Birds
Providing natural food sources in the backyard is an ideal way to attract birds with food without needing to constantly refill feeders or purchase seed. Planning the best bird-friendly landscaping can be expensive, but choosing plants to provide food for birds may actually save money in the long run as the plants regrow more food year after year with only minimal care.
The most popular natural food sources for backyard birds include:
- Flowers: Adding seed-bearing flowers or hummingbird flowers to flowerbeds will readily attract birds. Choose perennial varieties for long-lasting growth and a stable food source year-after year, and opt for a range of flowers of different colors and heights to create an attractive and bountiful landscape.
- Trees: The sap, buds, nuts, fruits and seeds produced by trees can all be plentiful food sources. There are many types of both coniferous and deciduous trees that can feed birds, and fruit trees are some of the most popular choices because humans can snack on many types of fruit as well.
- Shrubs: Like trees, shrubs that produce flowers, berries or seeds can be delicious bird food sources. Shrubs can be a better landscaping choice for smaller yards or restricted areas where trees would not grow as well.
- Insects: Minimize pesticide use in bird-friendly landscaping to give birds the opportunity to feed on grubs, ants, aphids and all types of flying insects. Many gardeners quickly learn that birds can be a more effective form of pest control than any chemicals, and the plants will benefit from the natural treatment.
Supplemental Foods for Birds
It is not always possible to provide sufficient natural food sources for birds, particularly in small yards, heavily developed areas or when extensive landscaping projects may be too expensive. Adding bird feeders and supplemental food sources is a great way to provide more food variety for backyard birds, and gives backyard birders control over which birds may visit their yards or where they feed for the best backyard bird watching.
The most popular way to provide supplemental food for birds is through a dedicated feeding station. There are many types of bird feeders to choose from, including hopper, tube and platform designs, as well as specialized feeders for foods like fruit, jelly or nectar. No special feeder is necessary, however, and birds will readily accept food from a simple plate or dish, or even sprinkled on the ground. Using a variety of different feeders will attract more birds, as will using a variety of different foods.
The most popular supplemental foods to offer birds include:
- Black oil sunflower seeds
- Safflower seeds
- Mixed birdseed
- Peanut butter
- Cracked corn
It is also possible to offer backyard birds many types of kitchen scraps, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese and even some types of bread or bread-like products.
While birds will happily eat these scraps, it is important to remember that they have less nutritional value than wild bird foods and should only be offered as occasional treats rather than making up the bulk of a bird’s diet.
Tips for Attracting Birds With Food
Birds will readily visit your backyard if food is available, but if you have difficulty attracting birds with food, there are more steps you can take to catch their attention with your dining options.
- Offer a wide variety of both natural and supplemental foods to appeal to different bird species and to provide well-rounded nutrition.
- Take steps to attract birds to new feeders when you change food sources or add more feeders to your yard so they can learn to recognize the new food.
- Clean bird feeders regularly, including ground feeding stations and underneath the feeding area to eliminate the buildup of seed hulls or feces that can lead to contamination and disease outbreaks.
- Use baffles or other techniques to make your bird feeders squirrel-resistant so the birds are not crowded out by hungry pests.
While birds will be easily attracted by food, they need more than reliable food sources to consider a backyard as a suitable habitat. Add a water source, appropriate shelter and nesting sites to your backyard and you will be meeting all of a bird’s basic survival needs, and they will have no reason to leave.