Nowhere is it written that wild bird food must be placed in feeders. In fact, all seed-eating backyard birds, including woodpeckers, eat seeds on the ground. Yet each fall I'm inundated with questions about which feeders I recommend.
Among the hundreds of feeders on the market, it's difficult to pick favorites. But here are my top 10 bird feeders. Some are specific brands and models; others are generic recommendations.
How I chose: I base my selections on my experience developing a system of selective feeding. I try to match particular foods to certain feeders to attract a select group of birds.
1. Gold Crest's All Weather Feeder ( 985-2473), formerly called the Feather Feeder, is nearly perfect, particularly for offering sunflower kernels. It comes in two sizes, four-quart and six-quart, and it is truly weatherproof. Thanks to its clever design, neither driving rain nor blowing snow can soil its contents. So it's ideal for sunflower kernels, which spoil quickly when wet. The kernels can easily be pulled from the circular feeding slots by finches, cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Add a Squirrel Cage to exclude squirrels, pigeons and other larger birds.
2. Droll Yankees' Big Top ( 352-9164) has long been one of my favorite feeders because its bowl-style, perchless design attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and finches. I fill mine (I have three) with nuts or sunflower kernels. Its large dome protects the contents from the elements almost as well as the All Weather Feeder.
3. Nut feeders are simple tubes of stainless wire mesh that limit woodpeckers and other nut lovers to taking one morsel at a time. This makes more expensive nut mixes last longer by preventing birds from hoarding large quantities of nuts. Aspects (888-ASPECTS) and Droll Yankees make excellent nut feeders, but I give the nod to Aspects' Peanut Silo because it can be paired with a Tube Top, a small plastic dome the protects the feeder from rain and snow.
4. Tube feeders are the most versatile and practical feeders available. They come in various sizes and work best when filled with mixes heavy on sunflower seeds and light on millet. Finch tubes have small feeding ports to prevent tiny nyjer seeds from spilling to the ground. Many manufacturers make tube feeders, but Aspects' and Droll Yankees' are the best. An increasing popular option for tube feeders are wire cages that exclude squirrels, pigeons, grackles and other larger birds.
5. The Harmony hopper-style feeder by Stonewood Manufacturing ( 593-8303) may be the best all-purpose feeder on the market. It's made of recycled plastic milk jugs and will last a lifetime. I've had mine at least eight years, and it still looks new.
6. I usually avoid & quot;cute & quot; feeders because I value function over form. But Acorn Bird Products ( 668-2462) makes nut and sunflower kernel feeders shaped like acorns that are both functional and attractive. They are cast in a concrete-like material that seems virtually indestructible, and these novel feeders lack perches, so they're ideal for clinging species such as woodpeckers and nuthatches.
7. Droll Yankees' Yankee Flipper is the only squirrel-proof feeder that deserves the name. Powered by a rechargeable battery, the perch on this large capacity tube spins rapidly when activated by larger animals and sends them flying. Squirrels seem to enjoy the ride but never get the food.
8. Window feeders attach to panes of glass with suction cups and are great for small children and anyone who might be housebound or bedridden. Aspects and Duncraft ( 593-5656) make the best window feeders.
9. Virtually all seed-eating birds visit platform feeders, which are made by dozens of manufacturers. My favorites, though, are large stumps that don't make it to the woodpile.
10. Plastic-coated wire suet cages are inexpensive and effective. I've never found one brand to be superior to the rest. And I've never found one that comes home after being carried off by a raccoon, so hang suet cages securely or take them down at night.
If you're still confused, just start with a tube or nut feeder. You won't be disappointed.
XSend questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, R.D. 5, Cameron, W.Va. 26033 or via e-mail to sshalaway @aol.com.