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Beyond Birdseed: Expand your bird feeding options

Fruity favorites

Cedar waxwing on fruit tree
Cedar Waxwing on a fruit tree

Birds such as robins, thrushes, bluebirds, and waxwings don't usually show up at feeders because seeds are not a major component of their diet. But you can sometimes tempt them to dine at your feeder by offering fruit. Dried raisins and currents can be softened by soaking them in water. Mockingbirds, catbirds, tanagers, and orioles may also enjoy sliced apples, oranges, and other fresh fruit, or frozen berries. You can offer fruit from a plate or shallow bowl set on a platform feeder or on the ground.

Lyric Fruit & Nut High Energy Wild Bird Mix contains dried fruits, such as cherries, cranberries and raisins, as well as shell-free nuts and seeds to attract a variety of fruit- and nut-loving birds to your backyard.

Leftovers: For the birds?

You don't have to limit your seed offerings to commercial birdseed. Some people save the seeds from squash and melons. This is a great way to put the seeds from Halloween pumpkins to good use. Some birds relish these seeds even more than black-oil sunflower. Spread them out on trays to air dry before placing them in your feeders or on the ground. Smaller birds may have a tough time breaking open vegetable seeds, but if you run the seeds through a food processor first, little birds will be able to eat them with ease.

Some people throw out scraps of stale bread, cake, or doughnuts for their feathered visitors. Be sure the food is not moldy or it may harm the birds. Another caveat: table scraps may attract less-welcome visitors such as European Starlings, House Sparrows, rats, or raccoons. Attracting nuisance species can be a real problem in urban and suburban areas, so be considerate of your neighbors before feeding leftovers.

High-energy foods

Downy woodpecker on a suet feeder
Downy woodpecker on a suet feeder

You can attract insect-eating birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches to your yard by offering peanut butter or suet (beef fat). Birds in cold climates especially appreciate these high-energy foods. Some people worry that birds will choke on sticky peanut butter. There's no evidence that they do, but you can eliminate any risk by mixing peanut butter with corn meal or oatmeal. The plain beef suet available at most supermarket meat departments is an excellent high-energy food. Suet can quickly become rancid in warm weather. Some commercial suet cakes can be used year-round. Suet cakes often contain a mix of birdseeds or other ingredients. Suet is most easily and safely offered in plastic-coated wire cages.

Content for this article is provided through a partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and originally published in BirdNotes Number 1: Winter Bird Feeding.

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