Types of Bird Feeders & Which Birds Prefer Which Type

by Lindsay Pereira
Types of bird feeders

What types of birds prefer platform feeders? Do woodpeckers like tube feeders? What kind of food should I put out for finches? What kind of feeder do blue jays like? How do I know which feeder to choose?

When you’re a beginner bird enthusiast who’s just discovering the joys of feeding wild birds in their backyard, you may not know what type of bird feeder to get. In fact, you may feel downright lost in the world of bird feeders! Even those who already put out seed for their feathered friends may wish to attract birds of a different kind but aren’t entirely sure which feeder would suit which species. Regardless of the reason why you’re seeking the information, we’re here to simplify your search for the most common types of feeders on the market and help you understand which birds prefer them. 

The 7 main types of bird feeders

Simply put, there are several varieties of feeders widely available since each model offers its own unique manner of feeding birds. That’s because different birds have distinct feeding preferences, and as such, it’s important to match the right feeder to the species you’re hoping to attract. Aside from ensuring a feeder is easy to maintain and clean, keeps seeds dry no matter the season, and is sturdy enough to withstand the usual weather in the area, you’ll also want one that is pest-proof and won’t be easy to ransack for the neighborhood squirrel population.  

If you’re looking to attract a wide variety of feathered friends to your property, then it’s best to add diverse feeders and appropriate food. As you’ll notice, different species have different feeder and food preferences. In general, feeders are classified under 7 main types:

  • Tray/platform feeders – for birds such as sparrows and doves
  • Tube feeders – for birds such as chickadees and finches
  • Nectar feeders – for birds such as orioles and hummingbirds
  • Niger/thistle feeders – for birds such as siskins and goldfinches
  • Hopper feeders – for birds such as grosbeaks and cardinals
  • Fruit feeders – for birds such as tanagers and orioles
  • Suet feeders – for birds such as nuthatches and woodpeckers

Feeling a bit overwhelmed with feeders already? Don’t worry because we’re going to go over the various models right now, and we’ll also clarify which birds will be attracted to these feeders so you can enjoy their company in your backyard in no time!

Tray/platform feeders

Tray bird feeders

One of the simplest bird feeding set-ups is the tray/platform feeder which is essentially a large, hanging flat surface with edges to contain the seeds. Basically, with this type of feeder, you’re providing your feathered pals with an elevated surface where they can safely have their meal. With a completely open tary, it’s not only straightforward for you to add seeds but it’s also easy for the birds to approach, land, and feed. 

For the most part, any species of bird will come to eat at a tray/platform feeder, but this also depends entirely on what food you place there. But really, this super simple design is the true beauty of the feeder, as it can suit pretty much any type of bird. On this flat surface, you can easily add any suitable food for birds, like peanut butter, jelly, nuts, fruits, seeds – even a dish of water! Due to this simplistic – and safe – structure, the platform/tray feeder seems to attract the most types of birds, of varying species. And also, unsurprisingly, it’s the most popular choice for bird enthusiasts. 

Structurally, the wire mesh bottom of the tray doesn’t allow seeds to stay wet even when it’s raining since water just passes through the holes. This works well for places that see rainy weather or even some snow. Larger tray feeders will require a strong, tall pole for mounting while smaller ones can hang off the side of a house on a hook. Some of the very small platform feeders come with suction cups that allow you to stick it to your window for some up-close bird viewing. 

Depending on where you reside, tray/platform feeders can attract:

  • White-crowned Sparrows
  • White-throated Sparrows
  • Chipping Sparrows
  • Dark-eyed Juncos
  • Golden-crowned Sparrows
  • Spotted Towhees
  • Eastern Towhees
  • California Towhees
  • Song Sparrows
  • Fox Sparrows
  • American Tree Sparrows
  • Mourning Doves
  • Eurasian Collared-Doves
  • Common Ground-Doves
  • White-winged Doves
  • Band-tailed Pigeons
  • California Quails
  • Gambel’s Quails
  • Bobwhite
  • Black-headed Grosbeaks
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
  • Blue Grosbeaks
  • Indigo Buntings
  • Lazuli Buntings
  • Varied Buntings
  • Painted Buntings
  • Northern Cardinals
  • American Goldfinches
  • Lesser Goldfinches
  • Pine Siskins
  • House Finches
  • Purple Finches
  • Cassin’s Finches
  • Evening Grosbeaks
  • Common Redpolls
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadees
  • Mountain Chickadees
  • Carolina Chickadees
  • Oak Titmouses
  • Tufted Titmouses
  • White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Red-breasted Nuthatches
  • Pygmy Nuthatches
  • Brown-headed Nuthatches
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Northern Flickers
  • Gila Woodpeckers

Although the list seems endless, there are indeed some other types of birds you may attract in the end that you may, ultimately, not want to with a platform feeder. You see, while this type of model is almost like a one-model-fits-all type of feeder, the larger versions of it can create some serious backyard traffic. While a few single birds may provide you with hours and hours of enjoyment, large flocks of potentially undesirable species can end up driving other birds away, clearing out your seeds within seconds, and completely taking over your yard. These are the kind of birds that search for a buffet-type set-up in yards so they can feast en masse with their whole flock.  

These potentially problematic birds are often:

  • California Scrub-Jays
  • Blue Jays
  • European Starlings
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds
  • House Sparrows
  • Red-winged Blackbirds
  • Common Grackles
  • American Crows

Although the platform feeder is one of the top-selling models because of its many advantages, it also has a downside too. Besides attracting large flocks of troublesome birds, the open design is seen as an open invitation to creatures curious enough to attempt a seed heist. Squirrels, skunks, racoons, rats, mice, and even deer and bears have been known to partake in the yummy treats that platform feeders offer. Now, of course, realistically, creatures can attempt to steal some bird food from any type of feeder. However, tray feeders will entice the most troublesome birds and animals.

BTW if you want to try making your own DIY tray bird feeder, here’s one you can make out of craft sticks… Nice and easy!

Tube feeders

Tube feeder for birds

If you’re not quite sure a platform/tray feeder is your preference with its potential for attracting all kinds of creatures great and small, then a tube feeder may be right up your alley. This kind of feeder is designed to limit which types of birds come to eat, as well as discourage raiders of the non-feathered variety. Usually, tube feeders are used to attract finches and other small variety birds. Since smaller birds typically feed in trees more so than on the ground, vertical structures are most ideal rather than horizontal ones like a platform tray. Additionally, the tube design offers various feeding ports at differing heights along its sides.  

Tube feeders are often filled with black oil sunflower seeds to attract the following birds:

  • House Finches
  • Purple Finches
  • American Goldfinches
  • Lesser Goldfinches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Chickadees
  • Nuthatches

Depending upon the model you choose, the feeding ports on the sides can be adjusted to dispense either large or small seeds. While these adjustable ports are accommodating, it’s best not to mix different sizes of seeds and just stick to one size. If different sizes are mixed, then they may possibly get stuck in the holes and block the ports. Plus, by limiting the feeder to dispense one type of seed, you’re also limiting the chance of birds making a big mess. Normally, with mixed seeds, birds will eat the ones they like and throw out the ones they don’t, creating a pile of rejects under the feeder which can attract unwanted animals to your yard. 

Some models of tube feeders have a bottom tray or small shelf that sticks out, which is meant to catch stray seeds. Although this provides a nice feeding site for bigger birds like Mourning Doves, grosbeaks, and cardinals, it also creates an attractive feeding spot for squirrels – which can definitely be a problem. 

Most tube feeders have a sloped roof that allows rainwater to run off, so you don’t have to worry about flooding the seeds. Models that don’t have this additional roof can be hung in protected areas like under an awning or a tall tree. Yet again, depending on the model, you can also find versions with caging that encloses the feeder, preventing unwanted pesky birds or squirrels from consuming the seeds. 

Nectar feeders

Nectar bird feeder

Specially designed nectar feeders are what will attract hummingbirds and orioles to your yard. These models hold liquid as opposed to seeds, providing sugar-water – or nectar – that makes up the majority of the diet for these kinds of birds. What’s more, some species of woodpeckers have been known to feed from nectar feeders too. 

Normally, nectar feeders will attract the following species of birds:

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • Anna’s Hummingbirds
  • Rufous Hummingbirds
  • Costa’s Hummingbirds
  • Allen’s Hummingbirds
  • Black-chinned Hummingbirds
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbirds

Nectar feeders also tend to attract woodpeckers and orioles such as:

  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Gila Woodpeckers
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Bullock Orioles

Interested in making your own DIY nectar recipe? Check out how easy it is in our post Best Hummingbird Food: 5 Healthy Nectars + DIY Nectar Recipe. Want to learn more about attracting orioles to your yard? We’ve got all the information you’ll need in How to Attract Orioles to Your Yard: Creating the Ideal Feeding & Nesting Site.

Thistle/Nyjer/Finch feeders

Thistle / Nyjer / Finch bird feeder

Thistle feeders – also known as either Nyjer or finch feeders – are special models that dispense the tiny Nyjer seeds that finches love so much. This type of feeder comes in two different types of designs: the tube with small feeding ports or the fine mesh “sock” variety. Either one of these models, while they are meant to hang differently, both have a mesh that blocks the small seeds from escaping while allowing the birds to feed. The birds cling to the tiny holes in the feeders as they extract the seeds.

This type of bird feeder often attracts the following species:

  • American Goldfinches
  • Lesser Goldfinches
  • European goldfinches
  • Purple finches
  • Hoary redpolls
  • Pine Siskins
  • Common Redpolls
  • House Finches

The one caveat with the “sock” model is that seeds can become wet in rain and remain that way for some time. As such, it is recommended to only use the sock version during periods when you’ll get a lot of activity, so the seeds don’t remain there for too long. Below the structure, you’ll notice a pile of what seems to be the seeds from the feeder. This, however, is not wasted seeds, but rather a pile of discarded shells. So, don’t worry, nothing’s going to waste!

Other birds that also enjoy Nyjer include:

  • California quail
  • Dark-eyed juncos
  • Indigo buntings
  • Mourning doves
  • Pine siskins
  • Song sparrows

On the upside, squirrels and most other backyard visitors aren’t usually attracted to Nyjer seeds. And as such, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the seemingly fragile sock feeders getting attacked by critters. 

Hopper feeders

Hopper bird feeder

The great thing about hopper feeders is that they have a roof to help keep seeds dry. They’re easy to fill and feed from, usually with a removable top and seeds that come out onto a tray at the bottom. This lower tray is where birds eat from. In many ways, this type of feeder is a combination between a tube model and a platform /tray model. For many bird enthusiasts, the hopper feeder is preferred because it seems to offer the best of two worlds: a flat section where birds can easily eat and a roof that protects the seeds. 

Additionally, another reason the hopper feeder is so well-liked is because it can easily dispense seeds of different sizes, without running the risk of blocking the feeding port. Also, the sturdy structure can hold larger birds or a few birds together, though there isn’t enough space for an entire flock at once. The vast majority of bird species will readily come to the hopper model to feed. 

With a hopper feeder, you’ll often see many birds, including the following ones, depending on what seeds you serve: 

  • Cardinals
  • Grosbeaks
  • Sparrows
  • Finches
  • Mourning Doves
  • Red-winged Blackbirds

Some larger models are sold with a weight-sensitive perch, designed to deter hungry creatures like squirrels. Once a heavier animal climbs on the feeder, a cage-like grid comes down and closes the ports, preventing feeding. Other models are adjustable in terms of what amount of weight is applied, so you can have a more sensitive one that shuts when large birds like grackles or starlings come to feed.

Read more:

Fruit and oriole feeders

Fruit / Oriole bird feeder

Fruit feeders, sometimes referred to as oriole feeders, hold slices or pieces of fruit like apples and grapes, but most typically oranges. These feeders can be hung on a secure branch of a tree or mounted onto a pole with a hook. Some models also have a small bowl to add jelly, which are very well-loved by orioles. And even some types are quite multipurpose, holding fruit, jelly, and nectar all at once!

With a fruit feeder, you’ll get visits from birds such as:

  • Mockingbirds
  • Brown Thrashers
  • American Robins
  • Varied Thrushes
  • Hermit Thrushes
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Bullock’s Orioles
  • Hooded Orioles
  • Western Tanagers
  • Scarlet Tanagers
  • Summer Tanagers
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
  • House Finches
  • Woodpeckers

Suet feeders

Suet bird feeder

A suet feeder is essentially just a cage to hold suet, which is rendered fat. Bird species that eat insects are who will be most attracted by this type of feeder, particularly in the winter in colder regions when bugs aren’t readily available. Suet doesn’t keep well in hot weather and will either go rancid or melt, so it is a food that is best kept for colder temperatures. 

Suet-loving birds that may visit your backyard include:

  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Bewick’s Wrens
  • Carolina Wrens
  • Bushtits
  • White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers
  • Red-breasted Nuthatches
  • Townsend’s Warblers
  • Northern Flickers
  • Black-capped Chickadees

Normally, suet is made into blocks or cakes. The specially designed cage feeder prevents larger animals from just carrying off the entire chunk of suet. By hanging the suet cage on a long chain, you can help keep heavier birds like blackbirds and starlings from eating it all in one sitting. Also, some upside-down feeder models make it harder for these kinds of birds to get to the suet and is thus another way to allow other birds to have some food too.

Suet comes in various flavors, be it plain or with nuts or seeds mixed in. Suet feeders are sometimes used for seed or mealworm cakes. However, if you’re interested in offering these, you can also place them in a bowl on a platform feeder. Many bird lovers also like to add peanut butter to the suet or even just substitute the suet with it. For a more natural or rustic appearance, you can use hollowed-out branches and just plug the holes with suet. 

Finding the best feeder for your home

As you can tell, different feeders will likely attract different species of birds. No matter which type of feeder you choose, keep in mind that they may be available with additional options. While some have weight-sensitive cages to prevent larger creatures from eating, others have seed catching ledges to catch spillage and reduce waste. While some are straightforward like a platform feeder, others are much more complex and offer a multifunctional station. 

To attract the most birds to your yard, also take the time to understand what kind of food will entice the birds you want to see. By offering a variety of foods and feeders on your property, you’ll be able to appeal to a wide variety of feathered friends in your yard! 

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