Feeding Backyard Birds On a Budget

by dustytoes

We're all feeling the pinch of a bad economy, but don't let that stop you from feeding your backyard birds. You can do plenty to lower the cost.

So many people have trouble feeding their family these days that the idea of spending money to help feed backyard birds is not an option for many.

There are ways to help out our feathered friends and not spend a bunch of money doing it. Be wise when purchasing feeders, and buy the right kind. They are too expensive not to do some research first. Cheaply made feeders will cost you money in the long run as squirrels will readily tear them apart.

Winters can be harsh in many areas of the world and birds are in need of help in finding food, especially on the worst of days.

Re-Thinking Our Bird Feeding Ways

When money is tight, is it still possible to feed backyard birds?

What are we to do?  Those of us who enjoy feeding birds during the long winter months but don't have the "extra" money to spend, have two choices:  We can stop feeding them - and I know that these days some people must do that - or we can find ways to be thrifty and creative, and continue to feed our feathered friends.

Many people feed the birds and enjoy it immensely.  The constant flitting about the yard is a soothing thing to me.  I look forward to the early morning chipping of the Cardinals as they come looking for breakfast, and in early Spring the yellow Grosbeaks (pictured) swarm to the feeders for a short time.

With the high cost of sunflower seed, I've had to do some re-thinking about the ways I feed my birds.  If you must stop feeding altogether due to money issues, remember that many birds will come to your yard anyway, so don't feel too badly.

Do you worry about wild birds in winter?

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It Seems That The Older We Become, The More We Love Bird-Watching

In northern climates, the red cardinals are a favorite.

red cardinal birdWhen I was growing up I remember all the fuss the adults would make over seeing a cardinal. It was a big deal to have cardinals in the yard and my parents and grandparents always fed the birds. In fact my grandfather made his own bird houses and sold them in summer from his front yard.

I moved to Florida where I spent many years enjoying the birds but not feeding them. It was summer year round and there were plenty of bugs to keep birds happy without my help. Then a move back to the northeast made me once again remember the birds of my youth and I also remembered how tough the winters can be and especially for the birds.

That was when I began to pay attention to the birds that visited my yard. I found that bring a variety of birds in winter meant feeding them in different ways.  Some like to eat off the ground and others will eat anywhere and from anything.  Instead of spending tons of money on store bought feeders I sometimes use everyday things to hold the food.

How to Make Your Birdseed Last Longer

There is no way to keep the squirrels away, but we can be smart about feeding.

So many birds eat sunflower seeds that it is the single most popular seed to purchase to guarantee visitors to the feeder and ground.  

In my area of New Hampshire the Chickadee, Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Nuthatch, Grosbeak, and some Sparrows love it.  (Buy the black oil sunflower seeds.  The striped sunflower seed is different and not as well liked).

So buy the right kind of seeds and use the correct type of feeder to attract the birds you want.

Little squirrels love sunflower seeds, but keeping all seeds and feeders away from the house is a good idea.

A Cheap and Easy, Nutritional Sandwich For The Birds

Anyone can do this, with stale bread, old muffins and donuts.

Most everyone ends up with old, stale bread at one time or another.  Add peanut butter and cornmeal and you have a bird sandwich.

  • Instead of throwing away stale bread goods such as bagels, donuts, and sandwich bread, save old baked goods in the freezer (this is easier to do if you have an extra freezer). 
  • In winter, make a peanut butter sandwich using these remnants, with cornmeal in the middle to cut the stickiness.
  • How to feed:  Cut or tear into small pieces and put on a tray-type area, or use larger pieces and push them onto branches, nails in a post, or something sharp.

(Bread photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Buy The Right Kinds of Feeders and Don't Buy Bulk, Mixed Seed

We don't like to waste our table food, so why not be just as careful with birdseed?

Helpful hints for conserving birdseed:

  1. Buy bird feeders that block squirrels.  I seriously doubt there are any real squirrel proof feeders, but look for feeders that make it difficult for squirrels to access the food.  The hopper style feeders have a perch that will shut for heavy birds and animals so they can't get to the food. However, my squirrels will hang upside down to get to it!
  2. Don't go overboard.  If you throw seed out on the ground or add to platform feeders, just put out what is needed, and try not to leave any out overnight when other wildlife - mainly racoons- may come and eat it.
  3. Don't feed birds in summer. There is no need. They have plenty of bugs and seeds to eat at that time of year.  Where I live, in New Hampshire, black bears are a problem once the weather warms, so feeders must come down.  Save your money for winter feeding. 
  4. Buy seed in bulk, but don't buy cheap, mixed seeds when your birds won't even eat half of it.  Birds will pick through and toss out the stuff they don't want.  You won't really be saving money.  Sunflower seeds are a safe bet.

If You Want Just One Great Feeder

This feeder is expensive but it's sturdy and holds a lot of seed, for less time spent filling. Mine has survived two bear attacks.
Heritage Farms Absolute II Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder
Century Tools

A Wonderful Book of Recipes, and DIY Ideas

From A to Z, find helpful ways to entice birds into your yard.
Gray Bunny Metal Bird Feeders for Outdoors Hanging, 6-Por...

Basic Recipe For Making Your Own Suet Cakes

Like anything that is homemade, you know what ingredients are added.

It's easy enough, if you have the time, to make your own suet.

Many birds will enjoy it and it provides protein that they need. Just a warning - homemade suet will disappear fast! Be ready to refill the suet feeder often.  It can be made ahead and frozen.  Just wrap it up in individual cakes.  It doesn't have to be thawed before adding to feeders.

Woodpeckers are attracted to it, but so are nuthatches, chickadees and bluejays, among others.

Basic ingredients are left over bacon (meat) grease, fat cuttings (suet) from the store, and peanut butter which will be mixed with dry ingredients and other nutrients to make "cakes" to plop into the suet feeder.

Plastic Window Feeders Bring The Birds up Close

Try a small feeder that suctions to a window.

window bird feederI had placed an online order for bird feeders and this little window bird feeder with suction cups came free with the order. It's small, made of light weight plastic, and attaches to glass to bring birds right up to the house.  I had my doubts about it's usefulness, but thought I'd give it a try.

It took a while for the birds to find it, but once they did, I had regular visits and the seed vanished quickly. Mostly finches and small birds ate from it, but occasionally I'd get a bluejay who would try his best to figure out a way to get the seed.  This way you can feed just the tiny birds you like and keep the bird-hogs out of the feed.

Because of the reflection, from outside the birds couldn't see me (or the cats) who were right on the other side of the window. This gave us a perfect, up close and personal view of any bird that visited.  (That is my cat watching gold finches, who don't seem to notice she is there.)

Left Over Netting Can Hold Suet

If buying a suet feeder is out of the question, save money by using netting to hold the suet cakes.

suet cake in netI use a special feeder for my homemade suet cakes, but there are other ways to feed birds this delectable treat.

The tail prop feeder is my favorite for feeding woodpeckers during winter.   There is a piece of wood that supports a woodpecker's tail and they feel right at home on this feeder.  I have constant visits from woodpeckers all winter.

If you don't want to spend the money on a store bought feeder, mix up a batch of suet and hang it in a net (as pictured).  Save nets from onions, potatoes or other purchases to use as containers for your suet.   Beef fat can be purchased at the grocery store for minimal expense and that can be hung in netting as well.  Tie nets to bushes or tree branches around the yard, or hang from posts.

(Photo credit: Pixabay)

Remember, Birds Love Bugs

So stop feeding them in warm weather and save money and seed for winter feeding.
Lady Bug
Lady Bug

Put Out Some Sugar Water to Bring the Hummingbirds

A suggestion if you want to see these tiny birds up close.

hummingbird feederHummingbirds are the only birds I feed in summer. There are bears in my area and leaving feed out can mean I'll get unwanted visitors, but I do mix up sugar water and hang one red, glass- type feeder by my office window. (The plastic feeders break, so opt for the glass ones.)

In New Hampshire, where I live, I put the Hummingbird Feeder out around Mother's Day and bring them in some time in September.

It's an easy recipe - 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water. Boil one cup of water and stir in the sugar, then add the rest and store it in the fridge in a container.  Clear water, not red, is fine so don't bother buying special mix.

There is no need to fill the feeder to the top - unless you have some hungry hummingbirds - since it will need to be cleaned out regularly.

Birds Are Fun to Watch

And on a blustery winter day they make me thankful I am inside!

Birds are cute (Chickadees), and beautiful (Cardinals), and sing so lovely (Sparrows).  They signify season changes as migrations ensue.  Where I live, October brings the little black and white Juncos; a sure sign of winter.  To me they represent freedom - to fly off at the drop of a hat - how nice would that be?  So maybe we envy them at times. 

They are curious little things that seem to expend all their energy grabbing a seed and then flying off to eat it, only to do the same thing a hundred times more.  Their gratefulness for food on a windy and bitter cold day does not show.   And they never seem to notice how thrilled we are to see them, but we love them anyway.

Feeding them from our own feeders, placed in conspicuous spots around the yard, brings them up close for our enjoyment and they don't seem to mind a bit.

(Baby robin-  my photo)

Updated: 06/24/2015, dustytoes
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Do you have some advice on saving money while feeding birds?

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HollieT on 04/09/2013

These are great tips for feeding birds on a budget, Dustytoes. I really enjoy seeing the birds in my back garden, and I'd miss their visits. Many congrats on the EC, very well deserved. :)

dustytoes on 04/08/2013

I enjoy their antics. They really don't seem to get along very well! It's the only feeder I keep out in summer because of the bears up here.

Ragtimelil on 04/08/2013

I loved watching the hummers in NH. I had never seen the display flight before. There are plenty around here too. I just have to get something to hang it from.

dustytoes on 04/08/2013

I put my hummingbird feeder up the first part of May. I have constant birds at it.

Ragtimelil on 04/07/2013

Sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this. I used to have several feeders and loved watching the birds. I haven't fed birds in a while because of tight money, and now that I'm down south, there isn't much of a winter. I love the sandwich idea though. Almost time to find a new hummingbird feeder.

katiem2 on 08/25/2012

I've been following your advice. The birds we feed love the dried bread, crackers and chips (corn chips) we feed them. You're so right you can save a lot of money. Plus, I feel really good about using the left over food we always have so much of instead of throwing it in the garbage. :)K

Pinkchic18 on 04/09/2012

I've been wanting to set up a bird feeder of some sort in our backyard, this was very helpful!

Michaela on 12/31/2011

Very informative article - I like your practical tips and your respect for wildlife.
There's just one point that confuses me a little: I've done quite a bit research on bird feeding the past few years and most wildlife experts advise against feeding old bread to birds. They say it provides little nutrition and if it gets wet and swells up, the bird might even choke on it.
I like the peanut butter idea though! You can also offer a corncob to the birds and after they've eaten all the corns, roll it the corncob in peanut butter and use it as a bird feeder again.
I think I read this tip in the magazine "Birds & Blooms" - great information for bird lovers and bird feeding enthusiasts! :)

Jimmie on 11/26/2011

Yes! My feeders are up. On thanksgiving day we saw a group of house finches. It was great to see them again! Our squirrels are deadly persistent about getting those sunflower seed! I wish I could make a pact with them to eat their own and leave the feeders to the birds!

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