Top 10 Bird Feeding Mistakes

How You Should Never Feed the Birds

Coal Tit on a Bird Feeder
Craig Nash/Flickr/Used With Permission

It is easy to get started feeding birds, but novice birders often make simple mistakes that can keep birds from enjoying the feeders. While some mistakes only make feeders unattractive, others can endanger the birds or even drive them away. Feeding birds requires more than just putting out birdseed, and avoiding these top 10 bird feeding mistakes can ensure a healthy, nutritious buffet for a wide range of bird species to enjoy.

  • 01 of 10

    Using Only One Kind of Bird Feeder

    Birds Flying to the Feeder
    Karthik Sridharan/Flickr/CC0 1.0

    Birds have different diet preferences, and different species prefer different feeder styles. Open feeders with trays or perches will attract a decent variety of birds, but to maximize bird feeding it is essential to use different feeders. Consider a mesh sock for goldfinches, nectar feeders for hummingbirds, suet feeders for woodpeckers, mealworm dishes for bluebirds, and jelly feeders for orioles.

  • 02 of 10

    Letting Feeders Get Empty

    Empty Bird Feeder With Red-Bellied Woodpecker
    Richard Martin/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    Birds can be forgiving if a feeder is empty for a few days, but a feeder that is consistently empty won't attract birds. Wild birds won't starve if feeders are empty since they get most of their food from natural sources, but they also won't return to an unreliable food source. Refilling feeders more promptly will attract a wider variety of birds in every season and will help keep the feeder clean and in good repair.

  • 03 of 10

    Using Bargain Basement Birdseed

    Cheap Milo Birdseed
    caligula1995/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    The cheapest birdseed is often loaded with inexpensive fillers such as cracked corn, milo, oats, or wheat. These seeds and grains appeal to very few species, and other birds will toss the seed to the ground instead of eating it, causing a mess of sprouting weeds. Birders can save money on birdseed by choosing the types of seeds their birds prefer and only offering those good foods so none goes to waste.

  • 04 of 10

    Feeding Birds Bread

    House Sparrows Eating Bread
    Thibault Martin-Lagardette/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

    Bread may be made from grains, but heavily processed bread products such as crackers, cookies, donuts, cereals, and all types of baked goods are junk food for wild birds. These products do not provide adequate nutrition either for adult birds or growing hatchlings of any species. While bread and other kitchen scraps can be a very rare treat for birds, these foods should never be offered exclusively.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Making Bad Hummingbird Nectar

    Hummingbirds at the Feeder
    Ian Roberts/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    Feeding hummingbirds is one of the most popular ways to enjoy backyard birds, but using any sweetener other than plain white sugar to make nectar can be dangerous. Choices such as honey, brown sugar, fruit juices, and artificial sweeteners do not provide the proper sugar concentration for hummingbird food, and they can produce mold that is deadly to the birds. Instead, always use a proper hummingbird nectar recipe.

  • 06 of 10

    Ignoring Natural Bird Food Sources

    Sage Thrasher Eating Berries
    Tom Koerner/USFWS/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    Feeding birds does not have to mean putting out multiple bird feeders and spending money on expensive seed, not to mention the time and effort to fill and clean feeders. Birders who avoid natural foods such as fruit trees or nectar-producing flowers, or who kill insects that birds can feed on, are depriving birds of the most nutritious, easiest, and most economical food sources available.

  • 07 of 10

    Not Feeding Winter Birds

    Icy Bird Feeder
    Rosana Prada/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    Many novice birders assume it isn't necessary to feed birds in winter because there are no birds around. In fact, feeders can be even more critical to winter birds than they are during the summer when hatchlings need to be fed, and there are dozens of winter backyard birds, many of which aren't around in the summer, that will happily visit bird feeders for a healthy winter meal.

  • 08 of 10

    Not Protecting Bird Feeders

    Squirrel at the Bird Feeder
    likeaduck/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    There are many other forms of wildlife that will raid feeders before birds can even get a chance to have a meal. Raccoons, deer, squirrels, rats, and even bears will snack at feeders, often depleting the seed supply or even breaking the feeders without letting any birds get a bite. At the same time, unprotected feeders also expose birds to predators when their senses are dulled by feeding.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Not Cleaning Feeders

    Golden Crowned Sparrow With Pox
    Bettina Arrigoni/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    It is a mistake to assume that wild birds aren't picky about clean feeders. A dirty feeder can become clogged, and wet or spoiled seed can transmit diseases to backyard birds, which can then spread to an entire neighborhood flock. Dirty feeders are also more susceptible to damage and wear, making them less useful over time and requiring more frequent feeder repairs or replacements.

  • 10 of 10

    Storing Seed Carelessly

    Mouse on the Deck With Birdseed
    Dave Bloggs 007/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    Birdseed does have a long shelf life, but only if stored properly. Seed that isn't stored well can spoil and be invaded by pests such as mice, rats, larvae, silverfish, earwigs, or moths. As seed gets old and dries out, it is also less nutritious and will not attract as many birds. If water gets into the seed, mold can grow that can make birds sick and the strong smell may attract even more unwanted pests.