How Do I Make My Bird Food Last Longer?
Love them little birdies!
Out-Smarting the Birds and Bandits
Two, three, okay five possible reasons for asking how you can make your wild bird food last longer.
You are lazy and don't like having to refill the feeder every day.
You are forgetful and fear that the birds may starve to death.
You are cheap and would rather buy new video games than keep buying more bags of bird seed.
You are a wimpy little girly man who's too puny to pick up those heavy bags of seed.
You have acrophobia and climbing the ladder to get to the feeder makes you dizzy.
I, myself, fall on the forgetful side. Not to worry. The birds will get food elsewhere, you're just making it easier for them to feed their families. It may not be bad to let the feeder run out once in a while, just so the birds will have to remind themselves where the regular food is. With the other things, I can't help you.
Factors That Impact How Long Bird Food Lasts
Several Factors impact how long your bird seed will last.
Type of bird food
Placement of the feeder
Type of feeder
The presence of rodents and squirrels
The type of birds that come to your feeder
Different food appeals to different birds. The more attractive the food, the faster it will be eaten. If you want really long-lasting bird seed, put out something that's mostly millet. None of the birds in my neighborhood like that stuff and for some reason bird seed manufacturers load their seed blends down with millet. In my experience the sparrows in East Texas shake the millet out of the feed trays and leave it on the ground.
The rats love it when they do that, by the way. Avoid heavily millet-based bird seeds to cut down on the waste (and the squirrels and rats).
Where you put your feeder is important. It comes down to a trade-off between your desire to see who's visiting your feeder and the birds' desire for privacy. Avoid heavily trafficked areas, places where your cats can get to the birds and feeder arrangements that make it easy for seed hogs like squirrels and rats to get to at the feeder. If you've got several squirrels hanging off your feeder all the time, it will be constantly empty. Not only that, but the squirrels do a lot of damage, especially to wooden feeders. Make sure the feeder is in a safe place that feels private for the birds. If you keep startling them by sticking your nose against the window, they'll quit coming to your house and go to someone else's.
Type of Feeder
There are several types of feeders you can buy. Some feeder arrangements actually protect the bird food more effectively, reducing waste.
Tray feeders, screen and fly-through feeders are more open and easier for birds to get to. Unfortunately, the feed tray allows excited birds to scatter food. This soon attracts squirrels or racoons and does little to protect the seed supply from these furry bandits. You will almost inevitably have to refill these frequently, unless you plan to stand guard 24/7.
Cylindrical and tube feeders, thistle feeders and counter-weighted feeders are designed to protect their contents from thieves. Birds that aren't the right size or don't have the right beak shape are shut out so you little birds have a better chance to get their lunch without having to deal with the bully boys in the neighborhood. Bird feed supplies last longer that way.
Suet feeders can be designed to screen out starlings, house sparrows or other non-native invasive species. Check with your bird supply shop for these special designs. Some birds that feed on insects and worms and such will only feed at suet feeders.
Feeder reservoir design also determines how fast birds consume your feed supplies. The size and shape of the food reservoir and delivery system, number of feeder openings width of feeder tubes and size of screen mesh limit how much food birds can pull at a time. Limiting access can limit waste and make your feed last longer.
Nothing is quite as aggravating as having the local rodentia tear up your feeders and decimate your seed supplies. Fortunately, human ingenuity comes to the rescue. A plethora of innovative bird feeder designs have sprung up in the past two decades. Designed to thwart these furry predators, anti-squirrel feeders do everything from drop a wire cage over the feeder trays when a squirrel puts his weight on the feeder to greeting him with a variety of slippery barriers designed to send him over the side when he jumps on top. Anti-squirrel feeders can be downright fun too. One delightful design causes the squirrel to trigger a small electric motor that spins the feeder round and round till the squirrel lets go and is flung into space. The fall isn't enough to damage the squirrel, but watching dizzy, frustrated squirrels try to climb back up the tree for another run at it is a real hoot, especially if they've wiped out your bird seed supplies summer after summer and destroyed dozens of your prettiest feeders. Just for the entertainment value, I recommend anti-squirrel devices. Squirrels are extremely stubborn and always come back for another shot at it.
You may not see as much business in the summer and autumn when the berries and nuts are ready. Birds like fresh food as much as people do. Migratory birds may disappear in the winter while others may be very grateful for your feeder, especially when it snows. Spring is when you'll do your big business. Nesting birds with hungry families consume huge amounts of feed to stay alive. Your feeder can mean the difference between life and death for some birds in areas where food supplies are only marginal. Keep the feeder full and you'll see burgeoning bird populations near your home. It's only the one season where they get really greedy. If you have kids to feed, you can probably relate.
Different birds like different types of food. Large birds eat faster, but then again, so do crowds of little birds. The types of birds that live near your feeder determine how long your seed lasts. Invasive bird species decimate seed supplies, especially where there are large populations. Seed that only attracts rarer species will slow seed consumption. Feeder design too can keep out the dominant species.
Here are some suggestions to help you choose bird feed for different types of birds.
Black oil sunflower seeds appeal to goldfinches and chickadees
Try striped sunflower seeds if you're looking to attract larger birds like blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers and nuthatches.
For a wider variety of birds, use hulled sunflower seeds. Without the hulls, the birds eat them faster.
Try hard shelled safflower seeds to attract larger birds and discourage the sparrows and other smaller birds. This actually does work to slow feed consumption.
If you like small birds and ground feeders like doves, sparrows, cardinals and towhees, a white proso millet will bring them. Millet is easily scattered and you do have the rat problem, but if you want to be democratic in your avian charitable efforts, millet does the trick for common birds.
Milo, cracked corn and peanuts draw a bigger crowd and by bigger I mean bigger birds as well as bigger crowds of them. The one drawback is that it can also draw invasives like starlings and those guys will clean out a feeder in two shakes. These seeds, generally don't last long, but you should only half fill your feeder in slow seasons as these seeds are vulnerable to mold and rot and should be protected from the weather or eaten fast.
Nyger or thistle seeds attract buntings, finches and other small-beaked birds. You need a special thistle feeder or the tiny seeds will just pour out on the ground. Thistle feeders are made so that larger birds and invasives can't get at the seed, so your feed consumption will be much slower.
Suet cakes draw the big hungry birds. How fast the birds consume the cakes depend on which type of suet cake you hang and which type of bird comes calling. Fruit and nectars cakes tend to be eaten rapidly, but can spoil in hot weather, so don't buy a bunch of them at a time.
Avoid bird seed with large amounts of inexpensive bird seed fillers, like golden and red millet or flax. Birds don't like them very much and scatter most of it on the ground.
Experiment. Don't get too hung up on how fast the birds go through your bird seed. Focus on whether they are eating it or scattering it. Invest in seed blends with low levels of filler like red and golden millet and flax. You'll have lest waste and the feed may be consumed more slowly that way. Get a good feeder that attracts birds you want. Don't get frustrated. Getting the right feeder setup is something of a science and research and experimentation can be fun.
Backyard Nature Specialist: What All the Different Feeders Are For
West Virginia Dept. of Natural Resources: Supplemental Bird Feeding
Wild Bird Seed: Fruit
Wild Bird Watching: Bird Seed
Southern States: Wildbird Seed Types
Virginia Cooperative Extension: Feeding Wild Birds
Oregon State University Extension Service: Garden Hints – Feeding Wild Birds