Backyard Bird Feeding: Top 10 Mistakes

Feeding wild birds in your backyard can be an enjoyable hobby that brings you closer to nature. However, there are some common mistakes backyard birders make that can be detrimental to birds or reduce the number of species attracted to your feeders. Avoid these top 10 mistakes to create a safe and engaging bird-feeding environment.

Choosing the Wrong Feeder Location

One of the biggest mistakes is placing feeders in an unsuitable area. When selecting a spot, avoid the following:

  • Near windows where birds can collide with glass. Place feeders within 3 feet of windows or further than 30 feet away.
  • Areas accessible to predators like cats. Cats can easily ambush birds at feeders.
  • Under trees or overhangs where bird droppings will accumulate.
  • Windy, unprotected spots. Look for a sheltered location.

The ideal locations are raised above the ground with a clear view, protection from wind and rain, and plenty of cover nearby for quick escapes.

Using Low-Quality Food and Feeders

You want to attract the widest variety of wild birds with the healthiest food possible. Here are common feeder mistakes:

  • Using cheap mixes with lots of filler seeds that birds won’t eat. Go for quality blends.
  • Not providing suet feeders to attract insect-eating birds.
  • Using plastic feeders that can harbor bacteria. Choose metal or wood.
  • Neglecting to clean moldy, dirty feeders. Disinfect and clean regularly.

Offer several feeder types like hopper, tube, suet, and ground feeders. Use metal mesh to reduce waste. Provide both seeds and suet.

Overcrowding Feeders

While you may enjoy seeing many birds at once, overcrowding feeders causes problems:

  • Dominant species will frighten away shyer birds.
  • Quick food depletion can also deter birds.
  • Disease transmission risk increases when birds congregate.
  • Aggressive species like starlings may take over.

Place feeders at least 15-20 feet apart and avoid large concentrations of birds. Offer separate suet feeders to reduce crowding on seed feeders.

Failing to Provide Water

Birds need to bathe and drink. Make sure to include a birdbath or small wildlife pond:

  • Add a heater, bubbler, or aerator to prevent water from freezing in winter.
  • Place baths near trees or bushes for quick escapes from predators.
  • Clean baths regularly to prevent disease.

Adding water can increase visits as birds stop in to drink and bathe.

Neglecting Seasonal Feeder Care

Birds rely on your feeders, so it’s essential to provide for their seasonal needs:

  • In winter, switch to energy-rich foods like suet and nuts.
  • Offer oranges, berries, and nectar for migrants in spring and fall.
  • Clean feeders regularly year-round to prevent disease. Disinfect in hot water.
  • Remove wasp nests as soon as spotted. Use traps to control pests.
  • Set up night lighting near feeders during fall and winter migrations.

Using Invasive or Non-Native Plants in Landscaping

Invasive plant species can take over native plants and reduce biodiversity. When landscaping, opt for native plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting spots for birds. Avoid known invasives like:

  • Butterfly bush
  • Burning bush
  • Bradford pear
  • Japanese barberry
  • Porcelain berry

Check with local conservation groups for recommendations on native species to attract more birds.

Not Providing Shelter and Nesting Areas

While feeders provide food, birds also need places to rest and nest. Include these features:

  • Evergreen trees and shrubs for shelter from wind, rain, and predators.
  • Cavity-nesting boxes for species like chickadees and woodpeckers.
  • Dense brush piles where birds can hide from danger.
  • Nesting materials like pet fur, yarn, moss, mud, and grass.
  • Avoid pruning trees and shrubs during nesting season.

Using Pesticides

Chemicals like insecticides and herbicides can be toxic to birds in multiple ways:

  • Pesticide-coated seeds or insects can poison birds.
  • Loss of insect food sources.
  • Contaminated water from runoff.

Avoid chemical use where possible. Use organic fertilizers and pest control methods.

Letting Cats Roam Outside

Free-roaming cats kill billions of birds annually in the U.S. You can protect backyard birds by:

  • Keeping your own cat indoors or using a leash when outside.
  • Putting bells and bright collars on outdoor cats.
  • Installing sheltered nesting spots high up or behind fencing.
  • Deterring neighborhood cats with motion-activated sprinklers.

Failing to Clean Up Litter and Garbage

Discarded food or cigarettes in your yard can be hazardous if birds ingest them. Other tips:

  • Discard hair, wool, strings, plastic bags, and wire. Birds can become entangled.
  • Remove litter, food scraps, and chemicals that could poison birds.
  • Store seed bags securely indoors so birds and rodents cannot access.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can create a safe, healthy, and engaging backyard bird habitat. Listening to their songs and watching birds visit your own feeders is a rewarding experience. Follow these best practices to attract a diversity of species and support your local wild bird populations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of bird food should I buy?

Look for a high-quality blend of seeds, nuts, and dried fruits from a reputable brand. Avoid inexpensive “filler” seeds. Switch foods seasonally to provide birds with appropriate nutrition.

How often should I clean bird feeders?

Feeders should be cleaned every 2-4 weeks using a dilute bleach solution and hot water to kill bacteria. Clean more frequently if feeders get dirty or moldy.

When should I take down hummingbird feeders?

Hummingbird feeders should be removed in late fall, before the first frost, after hummingbird migration is over. Put feeders up again in early spring when hummingbirds return.

Should I stop feeding birds in winter?

No, winter is when high-energy foods like suet, nuts, and seeds are most crucial for birds. Make sure to provide non-freezing water as well.

How can I keep squirrels out of my bird feeders?

Use feeders with weight-sensitive perches, install baffles on poles, or place feeders far away from trees and fences squirrels can jump from. Avoid mixes with peanuts or corn kernels.


Avoiding backyard bird feeding mistakes helps create a safe environment that brings joy to people and essential food resources for birds. Do research on birds in your area, properly place clean feeders, include water sources, landscape appropriately, and follow seasonal best practices. The rewards of backyard birdfeeding come from doing it thoughtfully and responsibly. Listening to melodies from cardinals, observing hummingbirds hover up-close, and watching migratory journeys unfold make creating a bird-friendly space well worth the effort. With some simple adjustments, your backyard can become a needed sanctuary for local and migrating birds to rest, shelter, and thrive.