Location, Location, Location
Take time to consider several issues before putting up your feeders:
Can I see the feeder(s) from the house? To derive the most fun from feeders, you will want to be able to watch birds as they visit. It also helps to be able to see whether they need refilling from indoors.
Can I fill the feeder easily? Inclement weather is the very time feeders need to be full. Be sure it is not too far from the house or too high to fill quickly or easily when weather is fierce.
Is the feeder squirrel-resistant? Try to locate feeders at least 8 feet from walls, railings and other surfaces from which squirrels can launch attacks.
Is the feeder over an area that is easy to clean up? Seed hulls and other debris fall from feeders constantly. If they are suspended over a paved area or deck cleanup is easy. If seeds fall on unprotected lawns they often sprout weeds. Sunflower seed hulls contain a substance that kills grass.
Keep Food Off the Ground
When the weather is terrible and the ground is wet or covered with snow and ice, it's easy to just toss some bird seed outside on the ground. However, food that is left on the damp ground becomes moldy. It is contaminated with mold toxins, bacteria (such as Salmonella) from bird droppings, lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Ground feeding birds are at risk from poisoning. To assure that your seed is healthful for birds use a hanging or mounted feeder or feeding platform.
To facilitate cleanup of the accumulation of seed hulls and seed under a hanging feeder before it creates a big circle of dead grass lay a piece of white polyspun floating row cover (sometimes called “fleece”) under the feeder to catch the hulls and husks. These materials catch debris but allow light and water to reach the grass beneath. You need to dump the seed hulls into the trash every week or two, but that is a small task compared to reseeding the spot of lawn every spring.
Beware Of Cats
Many domestic cats kill songbirds. While mostly they tend to catch only the occasional weak or sick ones, some particularly talented hunters manage to get healthy, alert ones. Cats that are allowed to roam, even if for part of the day, are a serious threat to fledglings, birds roosting at night, birds sitting on the nest, and birds using the feeder and the birdbath
Locate bird feeders and birdbaths out in the open so the birds are at least 3 feet from the nearest cover that could hide a cat.
Keep your cat well-fed, so that she does not have to hunt to eat.
Put a bell on the cat’s collar to warn the birds when he is in the area.
Try to keep your cat in during the times when young birds are about to fledge. Usually there is quite a commotion by the adult birds when the young leave the nest or are on the verge and there is a cat in the vicinity, so you will know.
Beware of Squirrels
Squirrel raids on a bird feeder are both entertaining and infuriating. Their antics are delightful, but they spill what they don’t eat, chew holes in the feeder, and scare off the birds you are trying to feed.
Establish a squirrel feeder at a distance from the bird feeder and keep it stocked with pine cones, dried corn on the cob and other squirrel goodies.
Fill feeders for awhile with safflower seeds which squirrels do not like. After they lose the habit of visiting those feeders, gradually introduce a seed assortment and try not to let it spill on the ground.
Use feeders that have counterbalanced perches that drop a barrier to the food tray when a heavy squirrel climbs aboard.
Use suet cakes which include bits of hot peppers or sprinkle ground hot pepper into the seed mixture. Birds can not taste it, but squirrels can!
Click here for more information on Dealing With Squirrels.
Uninvited Bird Guests
Occasionally you may find that your feeders are attracting certain birds that are just party animals--they tend to arrive in large tour groups and overstay their welcome. Pigeons, mourning doves, house sparrows, starlings, and, yes, blue jays, are considered by many bird lovers to be more of a problem than a benefit in the home landscape.
One solution is to feed more selectively. Have several feeders, each intended to attract certain bird species. With careful choice of their design and the specific food within, you can target desirable birds. For example, offer thistle in a special thistle feeder that accommodates only small birds like finches. A log with hollowed out holes stuffed with suet will attract woodpeckers. Sunflower seeds will attract cardinals. To discourage pigeons and their relatives, choose bird feed that has no cracked corn in it.