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The Most Versatile Bird Feeder

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There are many different bird feeder designs, and they’re often specialized to meet different birds’ feeding needs. But are specialized feeders the best choice for every bird?

Chickadee at Suet Feeder - Photo by Robert Taylor
Chickadee at Suet Feeder – Photo by Robert Taylor

About Specialized Feeders

There are many specialized bird feeders available, from nectar feeders for hummingbirds to tube feeders for finches to peanut feeders for jays to mealworm feeders for bluebirds. These feeders are typically designed just to offer one type of food or to be accessible to only one type of bird. This can be useful, particularly if a birder may have trouble with overcrowded feeders or bully birds that take over and usurp space from other feathered guests.

The Problem With Specialization

Specialized feeders do have difficulties, however. Because a design can be so specialized, other welcome birds may not be able to use the feeder effectively. For example, an oriole’s nectar feeder may be ideal to offer sweet sips to these brilliant orange birds, but the feeders are only useful for nectar. Specialized feeders can’t often be converted to offer other foods or to welcome other birds when one type of bird migrates or birds’ food preferences change with the seasons.

The Most Versatile Feeder Type

One type of feeder is more versatile than most, and that’s a suet cage. While these mesh feeders may have initially been designed with standard-sized suet cakes in mind, creative birders have come up with many other great uses for these simple feeders. A suet cage can not only hold a suet cake that woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, and nuthatches will love, but it can also hold…

  • Seed cakes or molded birdseed ornaments for a wide variety of birds
  • Chunks, wedges, or slices of fruit that will attract orioles, thrushes, and grosbeaks
  • Whole, in-shell peanuts for jays, woodpeckers, and nuthatches
Orange Slices - Photo by victoria white2010
Orange Slices – Photo by victoria white2010

Furthermore, a suet cage can be use for more than food. A selection of nesting materials can be stuffed into a cage and hung for birds to pick at when they’re looking for the best material for their nests. All natural cotton fibers, pet fur that hasn’t been treated for fleas or ticks, alpaca wool, pine needles, grass clippings, broom straws, small twigs, and even very short bits of natural cotton yard or string can all fill up a cage to be a convenient nesting station. Different birds will select material from the cage, including thrushes, thrashers, wrens, and even hummingbirds.

Anna's Hummingbird With Nesting Material - Photo by Colin Durfee
Anna’s Hummingbird With Nesting Material – Photo by Colin Durfee

Why Versatility Matters

A versatile feeder is valuable not only to birds, but birders as well. Because the feeder is so flexible in how it is used, it can be adapted to serve different birds in different seasons. In this way, a cage feeder can be put to great use year-round, no matter which birds are the most frequent guests. This means birders don’t need to buy several different feeders, which can be a tremendous savings on a bird feeding budget.

Similarly, a cage feeder can be much less work than more specialized feeders. Because a suet cage is a very simple, basic design, it doesn’t have so many nooks and crannies or complicated parts, which makes cleaning and refilling the feeder much easier. Because cage feeders are typically metal, they are durable and resistant to chewing or other damage, and while a hinge or the closure clasp may wear out, it’s easily fixed with a bit of wire.

Protecting a Cage Feeder

The biggest drawback to suet cage feeders is their openness. This leaves the feeder vulnerable to raids from industrious squirrels, raccoons, or even bears, and the feeder is also exposed to rain, ice, and snow that can cause food to mold and spoil.

Yet these difficulties can be easily overcome. Broad baffles can easily be installed above a hanging cage feeder and will help protect it from weather as well as from raiders. If the feeder is hung from a pole, a baffle on the pole can also deter unwanted visitors just as it would for any pole-hung feeder.

The sheer openness of the feeder also helps mitigate the problem of rain or snow. While yes, the food will get wet, it will also dry out more quickly because the moisture sluices completely through the feeder without accumulating. Air circulation around the feeder will also help dry it out very quickly to minimize the risk of spoilage.

Nuthatch and Woodpecker Sharing the Feeder - Photo by Paul VanDerWerf
Nuthatch and Woodpecker Sharing the Feeder – Photo by Paul VanDerWerf

Buying Cage Feeders

Suet cage feeders are widely available from big box stores, garden centers, wild bird stores, pet stores, and anywhere suet or seed cakes are sold. Online retailers also offer a variety of suet cages, and you can find different sizes to meet all sorts of bird feeding needs. Suet cages may also come with different hanging or attachment options, as well as different shape designs for a bit of fun personality. Try these great options…

With so many style options and so many ways to use a suet cage, it’s no wonder this is the most versatile type of bird feeder! How many different ways will you find to use one in your yard? Share your tips in the comments!

What Possibilities Do You See? - Photo by Bird Eye
What Possibilities Do You See? – Photo by Bird Eye

One thought on “The Most Versatile Bird Feeder

  1. PAUL E FADGEN

    i feed the local birds out of a gallon pitcher a few times a day, i think i feed about 100 birds a day or more? i don’t count them, cheap enterainment for me. count the birds somethimes, i i live in the mohave desert close to the colo, riverinexpence for me

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