Attracting Birds for Less

Save money with these tips for feeding and attracting birds.

Attracting birds doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. Try these simple ideas that will keep costs down while still attracting birds by the dozens.

Make Your Own Food: You can prepare food in your kitchen for birds like hummingbirds and orioles. For instance, make hummingbird nectar by mixing 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. You don’t need to add food coloring; just boil the water, cool and serve. Attract birds with a sweet tooth like orioles and buntings with oranges and grape jelly.

Bargain Suet: Another inexpensive food source is suet (fat from around the beef kidney). If you can’t get it free from your local butcher, then you can usually purchase it at a low cost. This pure suet is better than the premade suet cakes from the store. Bonus tip: If you are a deer hunter or know one, ask for the deer suet that comes with butchering. Some folks find birds prefer venison suet over beef.

Buy in Bulk: Instead of buying small bags of seed mix, you can get more for your money by purchasing large bags of black-oil sunflower, cracked sunflower, safflower seed or nyjer. Most of the popular backyard birds actually prefer the pure seeds instead of mixes. These are often available at farm supply or warehouse stores, and can make feeding birds much more economical.

attracting birds
Feeding birds is less expensive when you grow your own food. Birds like this Downy Woodpecker love the seeds from coneflower. Alexis Hayes

Grow Your Own Food: One of the easiest ways to get food for birds is with plants. Birds will relish berries from mountain ash, crabapple, highbush cranberries and more throughout fall and winter. In addition, be sure to leave the seed heads on some of your perennials like sunflowers, coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Birds will feed on the seed heads throughout the year.

DIY Birdhouses and Feeders: It doesn’t take an architect to build a birdhouse or feeder. Free patterns are readily available. (link elsewhere on site?) As far as materials go, you can often find scraps for free. With a little time and a few supplies, you’ll have a well-made birdhouse or feeder (like the one at top left) to attract birds in your area.

Birdbaths in an Instant: Attract birds all summer with easy do-it-yourself bird baths. They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate with waterfalls and pools. A garbage can lid, discarded saucer, bowl or pan will do the job. Just keep it filled with fresh water at a depth of no more than a couple of inches so that the birds can stand while they drink and bathe.

Create Cover: All yards should have cover for birds, but this doesn’t mean you have to invest a lot of money in an expensive landscaping project to produce natural cover. You can often transplant greenery from friends or order it for free from many state Departments of Natural Resources. Or use discarded brush and old Christmas trees to create cover. Then grow your own vines, annuals and other plants by starting seeds indoors. It’ll take longer, but you’ll save a lot of money in the long run while attracting birds to nest and shelter.