Place bird feeders very close to windows - and other best practices

There is debate whether feeding birds in the winter is a good idea. Some folks point out that birds don’t need our help to survive winter, other than keeping cats inside and getting rid of feral ones. Some say congregating birds at a feeder poses health risks. On the other side, folks insist bird feeding is harmless sport and helps draw people to the outdoors.

Personally, we are going to continue to feed birds this winter while we monitor the debate. However, I have learned a few things, which will change how we do it.

The biggest lesson is where to place feeders. I used to hang them in trees all over the back yard. And some were way up in them. It didn’t matter that a feeder was 15 feet away or way up in a tree as we were manned with a few sets of binoculars and microscopes.

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Well, turns out it is better to keep feeders close to windows, really close, within 3 feet, so birds don’t knock themselves out if they fly into one. Birds that frequent feeders 15 feet away get enough speed going that there are many more deaths due to slamming into a window. The outer safety limit, by the way, is 30 feet. So, your feeders should be within 3 feet of windows or outside of 30 feet.

Next, it is really important to clean feeders and not just before you put them up and take them down as we have been doing. The recommendation is to wash yours in a mixture of one part bleach and nine parts water every two weeks. This is beginning to sound like work, but it protects the birds from pathogens, and maybe even you. It isn’t hard to clean the right feeders.

By that I mean this new rule makes me wonder about the big, wooden feeders I have used for years. The newer, plastic ones surely can be popped into the dishwasher once every couple of weeks or dumped into a bucket of hot water and bleach for a scrub. There are metal feeders that are easy to clean as well.


And then there is the food and the amount we put out. Alaska birds are snobs and many won’t touch anything but black sunflower seed. Why don’t we grow more of this? And, next year, let’s incorporate bird seed plants like millet and seed grasses into our lawns-turning-to-meadows? And I am even wondering if I can sweep up and bag lots of those birch bits the sparrows love and use them in the winter,

Winter feeding means it is cold outside so most of us like to fill a big feeder and wait a few weeks before we have to do that again! Those seeds sit there, get damp and begin to mold, creating a perfect environment for some pathogen or another. Putting out smaller quantities makes much more sense.

And finally, maybe now is time to bring feeding birds into the 21st century. I’ve been testing the BirdKiss Smart bird feeder. It is a plastic, easy to clean, feeder with just the right size bin.

What sets this feeder apart is a built-in and adjustable webcam pointed at the incoming birds. You can put this feeder anywhere in your yard and still see the birds enabling you to easily meet the 30-foot rule.

Set the BirdKiss up, sync it with your phone, computer or tablet and you get alerts when there are birds at the feeder, see them on your screens and even get a video of visitors. It even uses AI to identify your visiting birds. Look ma. No binoculars or bird book and a feeder that meets the new rules!

Jeff’s Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: All manner of workshops to sign up for, ranging from miniature mug terrariums, seed paper making, gourd lamp and centerpiece making and more.

Moose: There may be a debate on feeding birds, but not so moose. Do not feed them.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.