Nov 29, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2015

Bird Feeding on a Budget

Northern cardinals visit a well-stocked hopper feeder.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

I'm on a fixed income now that I'm retired, so I'm watching every penny. I really want to get into bird feeding, but it seems like kind of an expensive hobby. Can you give me any advice on how to attract a lot of birds without breaking the bank?

—ANNE, CHEAT LAKE, WEST VIRGINIA

Dear Anne,

The short answer is YES, you can feed the birds and attract a pleasing variety of species without having to shell out bags of cash for feeders and seed. Here's the longer answer: Get yourself a feeder or two—I suggest a hopper feeder and a tube feeder that is designed to feed sunflower seed or sunflower hearts. Invest in quality feeders. Don't buy the el cheapo brand at BigBoxMart. Those will simply fall apart after a season or two and you'll have to buy replacements. Quality feeders will last you a decade or more, provided they aren't attacked by squirrels, bears, or abducted by aliens (hey, it happens).

I suggest feeding sunflower hearts in the tube feeder and black-oil sunflower seed in the hopper feeder. These foods are almost universally accepted by feeder-visiting birds and they are widely available and reasonably priced. If you can, buy in bulk—bags of seed in 10, 25, or 50 pound amounts. This keeps your per-refill cost down. Scatter some mixed seed on the ground around the edges of your yard.

Now, here's the best advice for the budget bird feeder operator. Go native in your yard. No, I don't mean you should build a bark hovel and dig a fire pit and dance around in a leopard-print smock (although if you do, please let me know and I'll stop by and join you). I mean begin augmenting your landscape with native grasses, plants, shrubs, vines, and trees. This is the absolute best way to bring in birds. Birds and all wildlife species have evolved to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with native plant species. So naturally, a native tree like a dogwood, or a nice tangle of fox grape will attract birds that recognize those species as sources of food and shelter. A yard with a giant expanse of perfect and chemically enhanced grass will be attractive to almost no birds. The same size property landscaped with native plant species, plus a nice bird bath, some sheltering bits of cover like viney tangles or a hedgerow, and a couple of well-stocked bird feeders will catch the eye of a huge number of passing birds.

Here are a few more money-saving tips to make your yard more birdy:

  • Stop mowing so much. Let some of your yard grow up into seedy, weedy areas. Birds including sparrows and finches adore these food sources.
  • Let the garden go to seed. You can clear it up in spring after the birds have feasted on the bugs and seeds all winter long.
  • Don't pay a lawn service to haul away your leaves, branches, and other natural materials. Build a brush pile and compost the leaves. These places offer birds shelter and food in the form of bugs, grubs, and worms.
  • Dig a hole in your yard soon, before the ground freezes, and buy a living, root-balled, native evergreen tree. Plant it and decorate it (outside) for the holidays. The birds will love it for years to come, and you won't have to fork over $75 for a tree that will be brown and brittle by New Year's Day.

I hope these suggestions will help you Anne. I, too, am someone who minds my money carefully, but then again, I can't carry much, since I don't have any pockets on me and I never wear clothes.

Happy bird feeding!



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020