In to the Garden in Winter

by on December 30, 2010

Bird Feeding on a Budget

Bird FeederBirding and gardening go hand-in-hand. If you have a beautiful garden filled with shrubs and perennials, chances are you also have a lot of birds that appreciate your hard work.

Taking care of these feathered friends can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation’s naturalist and backyard wildlife expert, offers these tips for feeding birds on a budget:

1. Plant natural feeders. Birds use feeders to supplement foods they find in nature. Plants offer seeds, berries, nuts, sap, and nectar as well as shelter and nesting places. Once planted, they’ll provide free bird food for years.

2. Say no to insecticides. Most species of birds in North America feed their babies insects. Adult birds rely on insects as a source of protein, too, so let them control the insects for you.

3. Go Native – Native plants that grow naturally in your area provide birds with the foods they’ve been eating for thousands of years and thrive in local soils and weather.  Many exotic plants don’t provide seeds or fruits that birds can eat and those that do have become invasive pests.  Native plants also support up to 60 percent more insects than exotics and therefore more birds.  Luckily, many natives are ornamental and commercially available (check out for more information).

4. Attract Birds with Water – Even if you can’t provide food, a simple bird bath with clean water will attract plenty of birds to your yard.  Replace the water every three days to keep the bath clean and to avoid mosquito problems.

5. Free Food – Make your own suet by recycling bacon grease. Next time you fry up a batch of bacon, pour the grease into a plastic container and freeze it. You can then put it out in a suet cage or mesh onion bags as a high calorie treat for birds such as woodpeckers, jays and chickadees. Saving the plastic packages from store-bought suet and using them again to make your own will save you even more.

6. Buy in Bulk – If you are addicted to watching the constant activity of birds visiting your feeders, consider buying seed in bulk to save some cash.  Avoid seed blends which often have “filler” seeds that most birds toss aside and feed black-oil sunflower seed, which all feeder birds relish.  Store seed in a metal container with a secure lid to keep moisture and other critters out.

7. Grow Your Own Feeders – Plant sunflowers instead of buying expensive sunflower seed.  The flowers look beautiful and also provide nectar for bees and other beneficial insects.  In the fall, cut the flower heads and hang them in the yard as home-grown bird feeders.

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