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Ask Sid

Home Sweet Bird Home

You can attract flocks of feathered visitors with a few simple steps

Bird Sanctuary

— Doug Plummer/Getty Images

For best results, choose a variety of feeders, filled with an assortment of food—seed in some, fruit or fat in others. Feeders can hang close to each other (although hummingbird feeders should be at least 20 feet from others), but location matters: Ideally, they should be a few feet from nearby cover—such as bushes—and no more than 3 feet away from your house.

“If birds are scared off a feeder, they fly to what they believe is the closet habitat, which may be the reflection of a glass window,” says Audubon’s Saffier. “When feeders are farther than 3 feet, birds attain enough speed to injure or kill themselves crashing into the window.”

Bird Sanctuary

— Terry Wild/Terry Wild Stock


A birdbath (or several) provides water for drinking and bathing. If water is deeper than 4 inches, place a rock in the middle to give birds a perch.

Birds are especially attracted to the sound of “moving” water, making a fountain or backyard pond more appealing, or a great addition, to birdbaths. Birds will also fly through misters for a quick wash.

For a frugal alternative, fill shallow plastic pans or trash can covers with water, scattered in various locations on your property—ideally near heavy brush. This option is an easy and important water source in winter, as many homeowners store birdbaths to prevent them from freezing and cracking. No matter the water source—and again, more is better—don’t use chemicals to clean water or scrub containers. Standing water should be changed at least weekly, and ideally every two to three days.

Bird Sanctuary

— National Geographic Creative/Getty Images


Birdhouses provide instant shelter but to lure a quick tenant, opt for simplicity. Unpainted wood, or houses in earth tone colors such as brown, gray or white, will attract birds better than wild colors or elaborate designs. Although birds are not territorial when feeding, they are when it comes to shelter—so try to place birdhouses about 50 feet from each other, or on each corner of your property. Whether hung from trees or placed on poles, birdhouses that are most likely to be occupied tend to be farthest from your home and close to protective cover such as shrubs, large bushes or trees.

A brush pile, located in a corner of your property, can provide birds with materials to build nests. This pile can include small twigs and branches; pieces of bark, vines, or kite string cut into lengths of about 4 inches; pet hair; droppings from perennials; or dry leaves. One thing to avoid: Dryer lint. When it gets wet it loses its fluffiness and doesn’t dry out.

Cutting a tree on your property? Leave some of it for woodpeckers and other birds; it’s also a great source of their favorite meal—insects. And while native plants are a great—and preferred—food source, many types also provide shelter and nesting material. (Learn which plants are best suited for your area.) While in a planting mood, don’t forget that the best type of trees for attracting birds, says Saffier, are oaks, cherry, birch, pines and holly.

Bird Sanctuary

— Judy White/


Love ’em or hate ’em, squirrels are amazing critters, whose unlimited resourcefulness is matched only by their endless appetite. If squirrels are eating the food you’ve left for the birds, try these tricks:

Mix cayenne pepper with birdseed. Since they have no taste buds, birds aren’t bothered by hot spices, but squirrels tend to avoid them. Suet made with a hot pepper flavor deters squirrels.

Place feeders on a hard-to-climb metal or PVC pole, rather than on a wooden post or branches. Surround the pole with a squirrel-proof baffle—a cone-shaped barrier about 4 feet from the ground—to make it even harder for the squirrels to conquer.

Put a Slinky around the pole, attaching one end to the bottom of the feeder. When squirrels reach the Slinky, their weight carries them to the ground.

Stick aluminum duct tape around poles to thwart the squirrel’s assent. Unlike cloth duct tape, it’s slippery and hard to climb.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.

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