Backyard birds, butterflies, and other wildlife can be enticed to share our space in many ways. The needs of most wildlife species are basic: food, water, and shelter. By providing these needs we can effectively bring backyard wildlife into our lives so we can enjoy them more!
Wildlife feeding is one of the most popular backyard hobbies, enjoyed by millions of people. The effort is quite simple and most always successful. A bird feeder filled with seed placed in just about any environment will result in at least one or more types of birds taking advantage of the food source.
Find more information about feeder types, how to keep predators away from feeding stations, and more in our Attracting Birds in Ohio publication.
Sunflower Seeds: There is no such thing as a simple sunflower seed: you'll have to make a choice between black oil, striped, hulled seeds and chips. If you were to offer only one type of seed, black oil sunflower would be the pick of birds. While striped sunflower seeds are also popular with larger seed-eaters, such as cardinals and blue jays, the smaller, thinner-hulled black oil seed is easier for smaller birds, such as chickadees and tufted titmice, to handle. If you dislike the mess of hull remains, consider feeding seeds that have had the hulls removed. Sunflower seed may be offered in hopper feeders, on shelves and in tube feeders with appropriate openings. Sunflower seed chips are eaten by smaller birds, such as goldfinches. Chips can absorb moisture and mold in feeders, so check feeders frequently and clean them as needed.
Peanuts: In the shell, as kernels, hearts, or peanut butter, this is probably the most expensive offering. If price is no object, you'll enjoy watching blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches and a number of other species consume peanut kernels. Blue jays have no difficulty extracting the seeds from their shells and you can spend hours wondering how, with all the pecking on the shell grasped in their feet, they manage to never hit their toes. Peanut butter, especially the chunky styles, can be smeared on tree bark, where it will be an unexpected find for chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.
Niger Thistle: This seed is imported and it does not become an agricultural nuisance like bull and Canada thistles. The tiny black seeds are relished by goldfinches and other members of the finch clan. Offer it in tube feeders or special feeding socks with enlarged mesh. Seeds that fall to the ground are consumed by sparrows and doves.
Millet: There is no denying that the small white proso millet seed appeals to many species. It is cheaper than many other seeds and is a major component in many commercial mixes. Cardinals, mourning doves, juncos, tree sparrows and many other species relish it. So, unfortunately, do house sparrows and brown-headed cowbirds. Many birds that eat millet will also eat black oil sunflower seeds. Sparrows do eat sunflower seed but it is not nearly as attractive as millet. Golden and red millet seeds are sometimes available but they are not as popular as white millet.
Corn: Corn is one of the most inexpensive options for a feeding station and can be offered in several ways: as meal, cracked, shelled and on the ear. Unfortunately, cracked corn shares the same dichotomy as white millet, popular with many desirable species and a favorite of house sparrows, brown-headed cowbirds and starlings. Cornmeal scattered on a low platform feeder will be eaten by native sparrows and doves. Unfortunately, house sparrows also eat it. Be careful when offering large amounts: wet cornmeal quickly sours and becomes moldy. Shelled and ear corn are eaten by larger birds, including visiting red-bellied woodpeckers, crows and pheasants. It is also a favorite squirrel food. Ear corn can be stuck on a nail spike driven through a board and hung on a tree or suspended on a chain, using a large eye screw threaded into the base of the cob. Real natural entertainment!
Safflower Seeds: Although not commonly available, safflower seed shows some promise for those individuals plagued by squirrels, house sparrows and starlings. None of these "problem" species seem to care for this seed, even though it is quickly accepted by chickadees, nuthatches and cardinals. The seed costs are similar to those of Niger thistle, so it's not cheap. But, if you can reduce the amount of seed consumed by undesired species, your expenses may not increase. It's worth a try for the feeder manager who has an established site.
Suet: The solid white fat found in the kidney area of cattle is called suet but solid fat trimmings from any domestic livestock as well as deer can also be included in this term. Fats may have a bad reputation when included in the human diet, but this high-calorie item attracts many species of birds, especially those which feed extensively on insects. Downy and hairy woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and blue jays are common visitors at a suet feeder. Suet is generally available in the meat section of grocery stores and from meat markets. If you hunt deer, trim off the fat and offer it at your feeding station. If you don't hunt deer, ask a friend who does to save you the fat if he or she is successful. Suet may be offered in wire mesh feeders or hung in plastic or string mesh bags. Suet left hanging during warm weather may turn rancid. Suet cakes are made by melting suet down in a double boiler and then pouring the liquid fat into small aluminum foil containers or muffin tins lined with papers. Making suet cakes can be a creative experience! You can also add seeds, peanut butter, cornmeal, or dried fruits produced by dogwoods and hawthorns. By increasing the amount of peanut butter or bacon fat drippings, you can create a spreadable mixture which can be smeared on tree trunks, or packed into holes drilled in a section of a branch.
Add the following offerings to your birdseed during the summer to attract new species that prefer these foods.
Note: Insect infestations in birdseed can be a nuisance during the warmer months. Raw suet will become rancid during warm weather. Melt suet into blocks and put out small quantities in shaded locations or offer commercial products prepared for use in warm weather.
Sugar Water: Hummingbirds are the best known of the sugar water consumers. Mix one part sugar water with four parts of boiling water to make a nectar substitute. Cool the mixture and refrigerate the unused portion. Discard the excess after one week. Although hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, it is not necessary to add food coloring to this mix. Hummingbird feeders have enough red to catch the attention of passing hummers. One exception: if your feeder is some distance from the house, tinting the water slightly will make it easier to check the level of fluid remaining in the feeder. Clean feeders and replace sugar solutions frequently, at least every 2-3 days during the summer. Do not use honey or artificial sweeteners to make sugar water solutions.
Sugar water feeders intended for hummingbirds can be put out as early as mid-April in southern Ohio so that they are available for the first migrants. Most hummingbirds have left Ohio by early September, although migrating birds continue to pass through the state as late as mid-October. Hummingbird feeders do not keep hummingbirds from migrating in the fall. Many people take feeders down after mid-September because it becomes burdensome to replace the sugar water at frequent intervals when so few birds are visiting.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most common visitor to nectar feeders in Ohio's neighborhoods. You may be fortunate enough to host a rufous hummingbird, a very uncommon visitor to the state. However, be prepared for surprises. Downy woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmice and northern orioles often visit nectar feeders, especially those where no bee guards restrict access to the feeding port.
Fruit: Oranges, bananas and watermelon slices are among the most frequently recommended offerings. Their effectiveness varies. Those who have reported success suggest offering them during the spring migration (mid-April through mid-May) of neotropical migrants: the warblers, orioles and tanagers that winter in Central and South America. Anchor the halved fruits on a flat board, impaled on a nail. Try offering apples in a similar manner; they may attract American robins, gray catbirds and blue jays.
Mealworms: How much do you want to spend on your bird feeding effort? Mealworms are undoubtedly the most expensive offering, in terms of both cost and labor, but they can attract species that would not otherwise visit your feeding station. Bluebirds, catbirds, brown thrashers, vireos and warblers, as well as familiar seed and suet eaters such as cardinals, woodpeckers and blue jays, will all eat this larval form of a grain-infesting beetle. Mealworms can be purchased at many pet stores or through the mail. You can even raise your own! Birds are attracted by their movement so offer them in a shallow dish, such as a clay plant saucer near a branch where birds can perch.
Habitat is the total environment in which living things exist -- the home, the natural abode. To have more birds, we must see that they have a suitable habitat. This means providing food, water, cover in which to nest, rear young and escape enemies and severe weather and any special things the species may need. When wildlife needs are provided naturally, it is referred to as habitat. Good habitat is essential for attracting birds. Feeders and birdhouses (artificial devices) merely enhance good habitat and are no substitute for it.
You can plant your yard to be a suitable wildlife habitat. Try to provide for year-round needs. Plant some evergreens, which offer a place to feed and cover against severe winter weather. Dense evergreens are also good escape cover. Some winter birds feed on the seeds hidden in the cones of several evergreens.
Trees are valuable to wildlife as sources of food for certain periods during the year. Juneberry fruits in June and provides fruit throughout the early summer. Those providing summer food include wild black cherry, choke cherry, wild red cherry, mulberry, black gum and hackberry. The hackberry tree is also a good food source well into the winter. Fall food sources include hawthorn, crabapple, sassafras, mountain ash, flowering dogwood and beechnuts -- and the oaks for their acorns. American holly is a winter food source, as are birch trees for their buds and tulip trees and box elders for their seed, which are retained into winter. Since many trees are valuable as food sources for short periods of time, a wide variety of trees is needed to appeal to a variety of wildlife species.
The best escape cover, which is also used extensively for nesting by some species, is a tangle of briars -- greenbrier, blackberry and other brambles. These briars also provide food at one time or another.
Many native Ohio shrubs are useful for attracting birds. Flowering dogwood and all the shrubby dogwoods are valuable as food sources. Moist locations are good for winterberry, elderberry and spicebush. All the fruiting viburnums -- maple leaf, arrowwood, highbush, cranberry, black haw and nanny berry -- are highly desirable for their fall fruits. Vines such as wild grapes, bittersweet, greenbrier and woodbine provide food, cover and beauty in the yard.
Chokeberry, Gray Dogwood, Arrowwood Viburnum and Blackhaw Viburnum are good hedge plants that also provide food. Hazelnut provides nuts without taking up much space. Mulberry trees attract birds during their long fruiting season.
Even flowers may contribute to the variety of birds present. Hummingbirds are attracted to bee balm, cardinal flower, columbine, four-o'clock, gladiolus, hibiscus, butterfly weed, nasturtium, trumpet vine and zinnia, to name only the most attractive. Some other birds occasionally feed on nectar.
In addition, garden flower seeds attract many birds. Mourning doves, cardinals, towhees, brown thrashers and song sparrows are attracted to the seeds of batchelor's button, bell flower, columbine, cosmos, marigolds and phlox.