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Backyard Feeding Basics

Backyard bird feeding stations supply birds with easily accessible food during harsh weather conditions or times of migration. They also serve as an ideal bird watching and information gathering location for native birds. 

Unfortunately, if not properly maintained, feeding stations can become hazardous to the bird population. When left unmanaged, bird feeders can cause disease spread, attract exotic species, such as European Starlings or House Sparrows, or increase bird population numbers beyond what the natural habitat can support.


Place bird feeders in locations that offer optimal viewing and easy access. Feeder placement close to natural cover can provide birds with a resting area between feedings and an escape from predators; however, make sure that squirrels will not be able to jump onto the feeders. Consider the feeder’s proximity to windows, which cause millions of bird deaths each year. If you place the feeder near a window, place it within 3-feet to avoid a hard impact. 


Clean feeders regularly to prevent contamination and disease spread. Remove decomposing or moldy feed. Wash feeders every two weeks with hot soapy water. Remove spillover seed from the ground to prevent buildup of moldy or spoiled feed and to reduce the attraction of unwanted pests.

Bird seed

When purchasing bird seed, consider the native birds and the birds you wish to attract. Do a bit of food preference research to choose a seed that is preferred by your target birds. Many seed mixtures have filler seeds that are often raked out and spilled on the ground. This spillover promotes the growth of fungus and bacteria that can attract many unwanted pests, such as mice, squirrels, bear, and deer. 

Sunflower is the most commonly used seed, because it attracts the largest variety of birds and is readily available. There are two types of sunflower seeds commonly sold for birds – black oil and striped. Black oil seeds have a thinner shell and are easily opened by most birds. Striped sunflower seeds have a thicker shell and may be more difficult for some exotic birds to open. Sunflower seeds can be purchased already shelled; however, this is more expensive and the unprotected seeds spoil more quickly. Other good seed options include safflower, peanuts, cracked corn, milo, sorghum, and white proso millet.

More information

There are many online resources available, such as, to help you choose the appropriate feeder and seeds to attract the birds of your choice. These resources can also guide you in managing your landscape to attract birds and in deterring squirrels and other pests that would steal seeds from feeders.

For additional information contact your local WVU Extension Service office or your regional Division of Natural Resources office.
Related links
Use your feeder to help bird researchers with  Project Feeder Watch from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Author: Sheldon Owen, Wildlife Specialist, WVU Extension Service