Which bird feeder should I buy? - A guide to selecting the best bird feeders

Updated: Apr 13

Our bird feeder guide provides the best insight into the bird feeders for several categories of birds! By the end of this post, you will know exactly which feeders you should buy!

Red-breasted Nuthatch at a bird feeder
Red-breasted Nuthatch at a bird feeder

Bird feeders are a billion-dollar industry and birdseed is a multibillion-dollar industry. Yet, feeding birds became mainstream only 40 years ago! How has this industry grown so large? Bird-lovers buying feeder after feeder and pounds upon pounds of worthless seed and unusable feeders. Today, we put a stop to your wasted time and money! Today, we declare our independence... from bad bird feeders! Who's with me??

On a serious note, ALWAYS make sure to CLEAN YOUR BIRD FEEDERS!

Oh, and before you ask, recommended birdseed, other bird foods, and birdbaths will be the next posts in this series on bird feeding!

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Why do people feed birds?

This is a tough question to answer, and likely everyone participant would offer a different reason. For many, the joy of having birds at arm's reach would likely lead the list. For others, feeding birds to help mitigate the impact of habitat loss may be important. Whatever the reason, feeding birds is a delight shared by over 50 million North Americans, and can provide a connection to nature for those limited by their ability to leave home. And multiple studies show that interacting with nature can lead to increased psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being.

The Best Bird Feeder

The platform feeder is, in our birdy-opinion, the optimal bird feeder. Why? Diversity, variety, and flexibility! Platform feeders allow for: a diversity of bird sizes to utilize the feeder, a variety of foods depending on the bird species you want to attract, and flexibility for the location of the feeder. Plus, platform feeders do not require birds to put their heads into "feeding ports." Why are feeding ports bad? Keep reading!

With platforms in mind, we offer our recommendation for a platform feeder:

The Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder is made from up to 90-percent post-consumer recycled plastic, is easily cleaned, and allows water to drain through the coated metal mesh bottom. These plastic-framed feeders can often last longer than the cheap wooden-framed feeders, and are less porous, making them easier to clean. Plus, they are typically dishwasher safe! To view other platform feeders on Amazon, click here!

Our favorite 'flocking' feeder:

Best Bird Feeder: Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder

Online, this feeder receives great reviews! Getting online consensus on a bird feeder is always difficult, making this feeder even more impressive.

The Best Thistle or Nyjer Feeder

Thistle seed attracts finch species such as American Goldfinch, House Finch, Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch, and Common Redpoll. I have also seen Dark-eyed Junco and Green-tailed Towhee feed on thistle feeders. Since the American Goldfinch is widespread, this feeder type is frequently found in backyards. We recommend mesh screen thistle feeders for this category. Why? No feeding ports! Again, keep reading and you will discover why feeding ports are the scourge of feeding birds.

Here is our recommendation for a thistle feeder:

The Stokes Select 38194 Bird Feeder is a reasonably-priced thistle feeder and being a slightly smaller feeder (0.5 lbs), you are less likely to waste thistle seed. It is also easy to clean, with few moving parts. If you are looking for a larger version, the Stokes Select Thistle Finch Screen Bird Feeder can hold twice as much seed (1.1 lbs). To shop around other thistle feeders, you can check more out here!

Best Thistle or Nyjer Feeder: Stokes Select Bird Feeder

Online, this feeder receives an above-average rating. Most thistle feeders do not have high ratings, so this rating is strong!

The Best Hummingbird Feeder

Hummingbirds are the pinnacle of backyard bird feeding. These lustrous flying paragons (say that 3 times, fast) are fierce, yet delicate, and they require a more constant effort from bird feeders.

Anna's Hummingbird at a Feeder
Anna's Hummingbird at a Feeder

Most bird-lovers in the US and Canada do not see the hordes of hummingbirds that visit key migration sites. However, no matter your location, everyone has the opportunity to attract a hummingbird. Since you are unlikely to have your feeders mobbed by hundreds of hummingbirds, you do not need a 20+ oz hummingbird feeder. Why? The birds simply cannot eat the "nectar" before you need to replace it and clean the feeder. Our solution? The Juegoal 12 oz Hanging Feeder! This feeder is a small, easy-to-clean hummingbird feeder! Also, this feeder lacks yellow flowers which some studies show can attract bees, wasps, etc.

Best Hummingbird Feeder: Juegoal 12 oz Hanging Hummingbird Feeder

A major benefit of this feeder is its ease of cleaning!

If you are someone who needs large-capacity hummingbird feeders, I present you the 72 oz hummingbird feeder from Amazon.

The Best Suet Feeder

Let's cut straight to the fat here... pause for laughter... If you spend more than $5 on a suet feeder, you have been had. This section is easy because there is nothing complicated about a cage that holds a chunk of fat.

Best Suet Feeder: C&S EZ Fill Suet Basket

Do not be had. Be have. As in have a budget-friendly feeder.

Cleaning Feeders, and Avoiding Feeder Ports

I have written about cleaning bird feeders extensively. I will not copy and paste all that information here, but I will reiterate, CLEAN YOUR FEEDERS!

Now, I promised to tell you why to avoid feeders with ports. One of the most common bird diseases is conjunctivitis. The bacteria infect the bird's eyes and cause the eye to swell shut. However, before the bird's certain death, they can spread the bacteria. Feeders using ports require the bird to do what? Put their head into the port to collect food. The result is whole flocks becoming infected.

Cassin's Finch with Conjunctivitis
Cassin's Finch with Conjunctivitis

Above, you see a photo of this finch-killer. If this photo does not move you to clean your feeders and avoid feeders with ports, feeding birds is not for you.

Affordable bird feeders for a small budget

These are some cheaper alternatives to our suggested platform and finch feeders. These are great start options if you do not wish to invest a large sum of money into watching birds at your feeders.

Best Affordable Platform Feeder: Wild Wings Cedar Tray Bird Feeder

For the price, this feeder receives stellar ratings online.

Best Affordable Finch Feeder: C&S Products 3 Pack of Nyjer Sacks

These socks have a small sample size for their reviews. However, the cost is worth the risk! If you are going to use a sock feeder instead of a metal finch feeder, make sure to wash it and throw it away when it is in rough shape. The fibers from the sock can be detrimental to birds.

How to Mount Bird Feeders

We prefer to hang our feeders from existing structures/features. However, if you do not have a tree, bush, deck, or other structure, you need a shepherd's hook. These are easy to press into the ground, and they come in a variety of styles. If you live in a windy area, you may want to consider further anchoring the hook to a structure or the ground.

Best Bird Feeder Hanger: Ashman Shepherd Hook 65 inch

This hook has received solid ratings in online reviews! It will likely outlive any bird feeder that you hang on it!

The Best Squirrel Deterrent

If the photo below gives you nightmares, you know the scourge that is squirrels. You could buy the awful plastic shields that cannot completely stop a crafty squirrel, or you could use a cheap, natural, and tasty solution.

That solution is CAYENNE PEPPER. Want to know more? Check out our post on "How to Defeat a Squirrel."

Best Squirrel Deterrent: Happy Belly Cayenne Red Pepper

Alternatives to Buying Bird Feeders

Not everyone wants to spend money on the limited options and versatility of bird feeders. I understand these concerns and offer two potential solutions, below!

Build Your Own Bird Feeder (BYOB... F)

Platform feeders are quite easy to build. Like the one below, you simply need wood and fasteners (screws, nails, etc).

Steller's Jay sitting in a homemade bird feeder
Steller's Jay sitting in a homemade bird feeder

Suet feeders can also be fairly easy to build! With a few simple steps, you build something like what is pictured below.

  1. Find a downed tree or branch that is small to medium in diameter

  2. Cut the log to a length of 12" or less

  3. Drill 3-6 1 to 2" diameter holes in various places on the log

  4. Hang your new log feeder

Downy Woodpecker on a Suet Log
Downy Woodpecker on a Suet Log

Attract Birds with a Native Plant Garden!

A growing trend in North America is to take the 40+ million acres of turfgrass and turn it back into native plants and habitats. There are a number of organizations involved in this, but the National Audubon Society is at the forefront of the movement. Native plants provide natural food sources that cannot be matched by bird feeders, especially in the breeding season. Why? Insects. Nestlings need insects for healthy growth, and insects (like caterpillars) need native plants.

How to select a bird feeder

So, what is the best way to attract and support birds in your yard? Combine many of the bird feeders and techniques provided above, like implementing bird feeders and establishing native plants! A combination of bird feeders and habitat creates the optimal opportunity for attracting a wide variety of birds.

I hope that this post provided you with some solid starting points on your search for finding the perfect bird feeders. Every bird-lover has a unique situation, so some of these suggestions may not fit your needs! Luckily, there will be more extensive posts on each subject in the coming to the Flocking Around Feeding Birds section, soon! Or, read our next post in this series on selecting birdseed!

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Downy Woodpecker on Homemade Suet Log Feeder flickr photo by Trisha Shears, used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.