Question: I love watching all the birds during winter. Is one type of feeder superior to the other? If so, which is best?
Answer: More than 30 species of birds may visit your feeder over the winter. Some of the birds you may come across are blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, wrens and nuthatches. Feeding birds can be a very enjoyable pastime for naturalists of all ages.
Basically, there are five different types of feeders designed to attract certain birds; tray, hopper, tube, basket and nectar. First, decide what types of birds you want to attract and this will then dictate the type of food and location of the feeder. But overall, choose the sturdiest design with the least amount of moving parts.
The first type, a tray feeder, is as simple as an open platform where seeds, nuts and fruits can be scattered. This type attracts various ground feeders such as juncos, doves and sparrows. Look for ones with an edge around it to prevent the food from being kicked onto the ground. It also should have holes on the bottom for drainage to prevent the food from remaining wet for long periods of time which will cause it to get moldy. Start out with a small amount of food until the birds become familiar with the location of the feeder. Adding a roof over the platform will help keep the food drier and is then called a fly-through feeder. Food used in a platform feeder includes hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, thistle, mixed seeds and nutmeats.
Hopper feeders have an enclosed storage of seeds above the area where the birds eat. This helps keep the food drier and needs filling less often. Birds preferring this type of feeder include cardinals, purple finches, chickadees, juncos and grosbeaks. Seed used with this type of feeder can include hulled sunflower, safflower, thistle, mixed varieties and nutmeats. Adding a squirrel deterrent may help keep squirrels from emptying the feeder.
Tube feeders have openings along the length of the tube and are used for many types of food. There are specific tubes with smaller opening designed for Niger seeds which attract goldfinches. Designs with smaller perches will limit the feeder to smaller birds. Basket feeders are primarily for suet, unshelled peanuts and chunks of fruit. Chickadees, woodpeckers and nut-hatches will enjoy visiting these feeders. Not commonly used in winter in our area, nectar feeders attract hummingbirds starting sometime in April. There are several different styles but ones that are easily cleaned are preferred.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: