This Is Maybe the Cheapest, Cheeriest, Easiest to Install Backyard Item You Can Buy
Last week, as I woke up just before sunrise to rouse my toddler from her crib, I noticed that something had shifted outside my window. No longer was the early morning punctuated by a few tired squeaks from the grackles that are omnipresent in our yard, but a small symphony of bird calls had started to once again emerge from wintertime slumber. I heard warbling, tittering, whistling, and, yes, even honking (hello, Canadian geese!) My heart leapt: Backyard birdwatching season is returning in earnest.
As I’ve reflected on the rituals and mantras that helped me navigate the past year of (mostly) homebound activities, it’s clear that watching the daily soap opera around my backyard bird feeders has been one of the largest sources of joy, mindfulness, and perspective for me — and one I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon. I’m certainly not alone in my recent embrace of avian culture. Last year on Global Big Day, a worldwide bird-spotting event, participants on Cornell University’s eBird platform reported more than two million observations and 6,479 species, the most bird sightings ever recorded in a single day.
Backyard birdwatching appealed to me, initially, as a way to feel more engaged with the outside world while sticking extremely close to my own nest (translation: the couch). I bought a couple of basic bird feeders in hopes of adding some diverse viewing to our transient flock of (did I mention this already?) shiny-black, mostly fussy grackles and waited on my feathered friends to arrive. Arrive, they did! As the finches, robins, cardinals, and red-winged blackbirds swooped in for snacks, I quickly realized birdwatching was the kind of pastime that makes birders (even very casual ones, like myself) eternal students, merrily trying to not only identify the birds they see but also learn more about each species’ personal likes and dislikes.
When selecting a bird feeder for backyard birdwatching, options abound, not unlike the number of species of birds themselves. There are suet feeders, seed feeders, fruit feeders, and bird-specific feeders if you’re trying to attract orioles or hummingbirds. Some bird feeders are better suited to cold climates than warm, and some bird feeders are all about their aesthetic style and materials. Truly, there’s a bird feeder for every situation, and many will add a decorative element to your backyard that’s almost as engaging as the birds you’ll attract. Almost.
Plenty of fantastic resources for training your ear to identify bird calls exist, too; my musician husband and I find this activity to be extraordinarily rewarding. Using this ear-training resource from eBirds (which is a gem of a website), we would sit out on our porch in the evening and focus on the rhythm, tone, and pattern repetition of bird calls, eventually learning to identify the tufted titmouse from the Carolina chickadee from the mourning dove.
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This year, as we’re feeling safer and more emboldened to take hikes and venture into unfamiliar spaces, we dream of reaching new levels of bird appreciation as we join together (socially distanced, of course) with other birders to journey through fields and gorges in hopes of spotting new birds playing, singing, and building families in the very same communities where we live. The backyard birds that visit my bird feeders though? They’ll always be my birdwatching homebase.
Thinking of adding a feeder to your outdoor space? Whether you have just a window or a huge backyard to work with here are some styles to consider, starting under $20.
Window Bird Feeder
Suction-based window feeders are available if you’re in an apartment or want to get up close and personal with the birds at feeding time without spooking them. These are great for getting kids into birdwatching, too.
Buy: Window Bird Feeder,
$34.95 $24.95 from Amazon
Verdigris Peak Bird Feeder
With its secret garden charm and weathered patina, this bird feeder would fit in just as nicely among the perfectly manicured boxwoods of an English countryside lawn as a backyard woodland thicket. Plus, the bottom feeder tray has plenty of drainage. After all, no birds like their food soaking wet.
Buy: Verdigris Peak Bird Feeder, $78.00 from Terrain
Modern Bird Feeder
If you’re looking for a bird feeder that skews more contemporary than countrified, this streamlined creation delivers avian charm with minimalist, sleek lines. The platform tray has a removable bowl for easy refills and cleaning, as well as plenty of space for birds to hop around while snacking.
Buy: Modern Bird Feeder, $137.31 from Etsy
Springtime Hanging Bird Feeder
With six feeder slots to welcome a whole host of feathered friends at once and a sturdy steel frame with pastel green flourishes, this bird feeder can be both a backyard centerpiece and mealtime favorite for birds. The frame surrounding the feeder helps to keep out nosy squirrels looking to root in on the seed supply.
Buy: Springtime Hanging Bird Feeder, $17.99 from Collections, Etc.
Triple Hanging Poppy Feeder
Three levels of feeding stations made out of recycled, color-infused glass mean that this bird feeder is an eco-friendly option that allows birds plenty of feeding space on seed, suet, or jelly without most of the competition. With five colors to choose from, you can also attract butterflies to the feeder by adding fruit mash to one of the feeding levels.
Buy: Triple Hanging Poppy Feeder, $41.95 from Mosaic Bird
Metal Fruit Bird Feeder
When you’re looking to branch out (get it?) beyond nuts and seeds, this metal fruit bird feeder offers up a way to provide nibbles off of an autumn apple, summer grape, or winter blood orange as a type of an in-flight meal. Made of all-weather steel that simply taps into a nearby tree, the feeder’s silhouette will develop a patina that changes with the seasons.
Buy: Metal Fruit Bird Feeder, $60.00 from Uncommon Goods
Droll Yankees Onyx Clever Clean and Fill Mixed Seed Bird Feeder
While not as eye-catching as the other options on this list, this feeder is one that serious backyard birdwatchers swear by not only for its capacity (holds up to two pounds of birdseed) and four-port, 180-degree ease-of-access for attracting birds but also because it is so easy to clean and refill. With a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage, you know these feeders are built to stand up to pretty much anything.
Buy: Droll Yankees Onyx Clever Clean and Fill Mixed Seed Bird Feeder,
$52.99 $48.06 from Amazon