7 Ways to Save Money on Feeding the Birds

Estimated Monthly Savings: $24

It’s pure joy to draw fine-feathered friends to the backyard feeder, but it ain’t cheap (or is that “cheep”?) A big bag of quality birdseed can run more than $25, while a few suet cakes and high-protein peanut butter-y pellets for woodpeckers and blue birds can add at least another $5 per week to the tally. To cut your costs while still enjoying the show, consider these seven tips:

Avoid bargain mixes. Yes, you’re trying to save money. But the milo, wheat and oats in cheaper mixes are preferred by relatively few species, according to the National Audubon Society. To get the biggest bang for the buck, buy plain sunflower seeds in quantity. Or, choose the less expensive mixtures that contain sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn, which are the three feeds most popular with song birds, according to the NAS.

Keep the water flowing. You can attract as many birds with fewer feeders if you keep a source of fresh water at the ready. To start with, just set a shallow pan of water (like an aluminum pie pan) out near the shelter of a bush or tree and away from cats. In freezing weather, defrost it at least once a day with boiling water. When you’ve saved a few dollars each week on your bird food budget, you may want to consider one of the dog water bowl heaters and a bigger (but not deeper) container for the frozen months.

Buy seed from the farm store. A big bag of black sunflower seed from a farm store or co-op can cost $5-$8 less than comparable bags sold at discount stores or big box stores.

Fix a PB (no J) pine cone. If you live near a discount grocery store, save a couple of dollars a week by mixing peanut butter with enough cornmeal to make it the consistency of gooey cookie dough. Spread this mix into pine cones and hang them around your feeding station instead of buying prepared suet cakes. The PB can be as little as a dollar a jar if you shop carefully. And the birds will never notice if you buy a generic brand or one that’s past its expiration date.

Serve seed daily. To maximize every piece of food, put out only as much seed as the birds can eat by nightfall, Bird Watcher’s Digest advised. You can save several cups of food a week this way. The frequent feeder tactic is particularly important on platform feeders, where nocturnal animals will eat seeds after the birds have gone to bed, or the seed can get wet easily.

Fill your feeders with stuff squirrels don’t like (much). According to the Humane Society of the United States, you can cut back on the birdseed that ends up eaten by squirrels by putting out seeds they aren’t that fond of. This list includes safflower seed (a favorite of cardinals and chickadees), nyjer thistle (the finch’s choice), or a mixture that includes a high percentage of white proso millet seed. And keep the squirrels from devouring your suet by purchasing the plain kind, which they don’t enjoy as much as the ones with added berries or seeds.

Don’t lose seeds to clumping or mildew. Instead, Bird Watcher’s Digest recommended keeping a couple of old spatulas or bottle brushes near the feeding station to keep the feeders clean. Along with regular brush-outs, disinfect tube or house feeders by scrubbing them with a solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to 2 gallons of warm water every few weeks. Rinse with warm water and allow them to dry completely before refilling.