Attract more birds with wider variety of food

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Courier stock photo

Providing suet is a great way to attract a wider variety of birds to your yard.

Eric Moore

Eric Moore is the owner of The Lookout, formerly known as Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years.

If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at:

It is not uncommon for customers to come in and ask, "What else should I be feeding the birds?" The answer to this question depends on where you live. Why? Because the habitat where your home is located dictates what kinds of birds you can attract to your yard.
For example, I usually encourage customers to add a suet feeder or two if they don't already have one. However, there are times when I don't make this suggestion such as when I am speaking to a customer who lives out in Poquito Valley, as this area is primarily a grassland habitat.
Historically, the habitat in areas north of Prescott, Prescott Valley and Paulden has been a grassland, without any trees. In winter, a treeless habitat is not going to attract insect-eating varieties of birds. If you don't have insect-eating varieties of birds, then there is no point in providing suet for the birds.
However, if you live in an area with pinyons, junipers, shrub live oak, and maybe even ponderosa pine, then I strongly encourage adding suet feeders. If you think about it, where does one find insects? Typically, it is in the foliage or bark of trees. It stands to reason, then, that even in winter, forested areas have a lot of insect-eating bird species.
Examples of winter birds relying on a steady diet of insects include bushtits, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, Bewick's wren, nuthatches and woodpeckers.
There are two primary foraging techniques employed to find insects. One method is calling foliage gleaning, where birds flit through trees looking for insects, insect larvae, and eggs. The other foraging technique is referred to as bark gleaning. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are classic examples of birds that find their food on the trunk or main branches of trees. Using their chisel-shaped beak, they exfoliate bark to expose hidden insects that are feeding on the tree.
The key to attracting a wide variety of birds is to provide a wide variety of different types of food. The advantage of adding suet to your yard is that you end up attracting a different subset of birds that are not currently visiting your seed feeders, as bird species that eat suet are not seed-eaters.
There are also other bird species that don't eat either seeds or suet. This includes phainopepla, Townsend's solitaire, Hermit thrush, American robin and cedar waxwings. Each of these species seek out fruit, in the form of berries - this is their primary food source in winter. If you want to attract these bird species, you will need to have berry-producing trees and shrubs in your yard that hold their fruit into the winter months.
I liken bird feeding to eating at a buffet. If the buffet were to have only one entrane, how many customers would eat there? However, if there is a good variety of food, many people will eat there.
The same is true of bird feeding. If you only feed one type of food - such as black oil sunflower seeds in the shell - then you are only going to attract the birds that prefer that food. However, as you add a wider variety of food to your bird feeding, you will attract a wider variety of birds.
Not sure what to add? Come talk to us, and we will provide you with some direction.
I want to thank everyone who made donations on behalf of Brad Newman. Our fundraiser this past weekend netted over $13,000!! We are blessed to live in such a generous community, and we know that Brad will greatly benefit therefrom.
Until next week, Happy Birding!