Need suggestions for building bird feeders and feeding birds

Asked January 13, 2014, 12:00 AM EST

I have never had a bird feeder, but I'd like to make one or two. I live in an apartment (about 20-30 feet off the ground) with a fire escape that touches two big evergreen trees. (The trees have birds in them; I can hear them every morning). I wanted to make a feeder (following some of the cool guides on Pinterest) to go on the fire escape and one to hang from another window (not near trees).

Are there any types of feeders that are more effect for native Utah birds - or any that I should avoid making? Are there certain foods I should use (or avoid) for native birds? Is having a feeder (if I keep it clean and filled) bad for birds? (I heard they might become dependent and unable to forage for themselves) ...I'm new to this whole thing. Truth be told, I have a dog and I heard a bird feeder was a great way to keep her entertained, so that's my main motivation.

Also, if I build a bat house, will bats be drawn to it? (I'm not from Utah - do you have bats?) Are there certain plants I could keep on the fire escape to attract butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects? (Do Milkweeds grow in Utah)?

Any suggestions to help native wildlife appreciated. Thanks!

Cache County Utah birds human-wildlife issues bird feed

2 Responses

Because you asked so many questions, I've responded to them one at a time, below:

I have never had a bird feeder, but I'd like to make one or two. I live in an apartment (about 20-30 feet off the ground) with a fire escape that touches two big evergreen trees. (The trees have birds in them; I can hear them every morning). I wanted to make a feeder (following some of the cool guides on Pinterest) to go on the fire escape and one to hang from another window (not near trees).

I would check with your landlord whether hanging something on the fire escape is OK.

Are there any types of feeders that are more effect for native Utah birds

Not really. I have a couple of 'normal' house-style or hopper feeders, a tube feeder, a suet feeder, and a finch feeder, which is basically just one leg from an old pantyhose. The greater diversity of feeder types and placements you can provide, the greater diversity of birds you will attract. Keep in mind that not all birds come to feeders, so just because you hear birds in your trees does not mean they will come to feeders (although there are always feeder birds in any neighborhood, it might just take them a few days to find your new feeders).

- or any that I should avoid making? Are there certain foods I should use (or avoid) for native birds?

The best all-around food is black oil sunflower seed. It's relatively cheap and birds love it. You can mix in thistle seed if you want to attract more finches, peanuts for jays and other larger birds, suet for woodpeckers. Because the red squirrels we have in Utah are not attracted to feeders, there's no reason to mix chili pepper in with your seed or use other squirrel deterrents to protect your seed from them. Since you live in Cache County, the Bridgerland Audubon Society (http://bridgerlandaudubon.org/) does an annual sunflower seed sale and can also offer advice on identifying birds you and your dog see at your feeders. Here are some other resources: http://birding.about.com/od/birdfeeders/a/How-To-Choose-Birdseed.htm
and http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1179

Is having a feeder (if I keep it clean and filled) bad for birds? (I heard they might become dependent and unable to forage for themselves)

I'm not aware of any evidence to support this claim, although I've heard it before too. Some studies have shown that wild birds only get an average of 25 percent of their food from feeders, so it seems unlikely that you're harming them in any way by providing them with food. There is an emerging disease (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis or "house finch disease") that can spread through feeders, but it's very uncommon and I wouldn't worry about it (more info here: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/hofi/abtdisease.html).

...I'm new to this whole thing. Truth be told, I have a dog and I heard a bird feeder was a great way to keep her entertained, so that's my main motivation.

Our feeders definitely keep our cats entertained, so your plan should work!

Also, if I build a bat house, will bats be drawn to it? (I'm not from Utah - do you have bats?)

We do have bats in Utah (more info on our bat diversity here: http://linux1.ogm.utah.gov/WebStuff/wwwroot/amr/includes/FourthGradeMaterials/pallidbatposter.pdf), but attracting them specifically to your yard is a lot more tricky than attracting birds. These sites have some good advice, especially the first one:
http://www.wildlifedamagecontrol.net/strategi.php
http://www.wildawareutah.org/criteria-successful-bat-houses/
http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/pages/publicationD.jsp?publicationId=473
but there is no surefire way to attract bats to your yard.

Are there certain plants I could keep on the fire escape to attract butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects? (Do Milkweeds grow in Utah)?

Certainly! Any native flowering plant will attract pollinators. Utah does have native milkweeds (http://user.xmission.com/~nelsonb/milkweed.htm), which you'll need to keep well-watered if you want them to do well in a pot. The Cache Valley Gardener's Market, which starts in May, has tons of resources about which plants grow well in the valley, and you can even acquire many plants there!

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Hi! I just figured out how to reply to you, lol.

Thank you so much for all of this information. It really helped. I just bought the supplies I needed, made the feeders, and set them up. I hope I can do that bird counting event this year!

Thanks again