Bird feeders for a balcony
November 10, 2020 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Over the summer, I had a hummingbird feeder on my balcony, and I loved watching them come and feed. Now they're gone, I'd like to keep feeding birds through the winter months, but I need a feeder that won't drop seed and draw mice or other vermin to the building.

I live on the fourth floor of a garden-style apartment building, facing a parking lot, but there's enough open space, wooded areas that we have a good variety of common birds hanging around. I've investigated no-waste bird foods, but is there a way to feed birds from a cement balcony without creating a draw for other pests?
posted by gladly to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, there really is no way to keep a feeding area clean. The birds fling stuff everywhere, no matter what you're feeding them. Even suet cake debris ends up all over the place. "No waste" merely means every part of the food is (potentially) eaten. It doesn't mean the birds still aren't going to drop a ton of it on the ground.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:44 AM on November 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

same exact issue here. i ended up getting several large (wide not tall) plastic bins and placing then under the feeder. works really well, however it does consume some of the balcony floor space.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

A bird bath with an agitator that keeps the water from freezing would also attract birds.

I agree with everyone that there’s really no way not to have bird seed or other food for birds not end up on the ground.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:24 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'll agree with Thorzdad on the no waste feed - yes its all edible but birds regularly will fling it all over. I'm not in an apartment but a house and what happens is heavier birds (Mourning Doves mostly) and squirrels clean up the mess so YMMV. I would think at j_curiouser's idea of a bin would work but you may want to make sure they have enough places for the birds to perch as I find birds tend to be bottlenecked by the size of the feeder.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

During this pandemic, one of my favorite projects has been setting up bird feeders on my balcony. I purchased two window bird feeders with suction cups on amazon. It took the birds a long time (9 weeks) to discover them. In order to get them to fly onto the balcony, I placed trays of food around the balcony on a table. Once they discovered those, it was a short time before the feeders became a popular hangout for small birds such as goldfinch, house finches, sparrows, etc. I then removed the tray of food and now just feed them from the feeders. I started with regular wild bird mix of food, and yes, it made a huge mess, with she shells all over the place, and seeds flying when they flew away. I now feed sunflower chips and kernels which are supposedly waste-free, but they do leave behind a small amount of waste. I placed an old cookie sheet under the feeders and an old dish towel on top of that, and it is pretty easy to clean up. That solution doesn't take up too much space on the balcony. Here are the feeders I use and I recommend them.
posted by parkerposey at 11:44 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Our suet feeder is by far the least messy and least pest-attracting feeder that we've had, but the occasional crumbs that fall are greasy, and I worry that they'd stain a concrete porch if that's what you have.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Suet is the easiest way to do this but there are no really good ways to really keep detritus away. Birdbaths can be useful. There are also mealworm/jelly/orange feeders if you happen to have those kinds of birds. I think if it were me, I'd be putting a few window feeders on the doors out to the balcony and either sweep up at night or take them in at night. The problem with this idea is that birds that gather actually on your balcony will also poop on your balcony. Other lower-mess ideas are suet nuggets or suet balls
posted by jessamyn at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2020

Thirding suet. You'll get woodpeckers and nuthatches mostly, which are very fun to watch.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:42 PM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, with regards to suet, the stuff that's sold in bird feed stores are typically blocks of suet with seeds embedded in it. Suet is just beef fat though, you can ask a butcher for some and it works the same for the aforementioned woodpeckers and nuthatches, without the mess.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:44 PM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was a bit concerned about this myself, the window where my window feeder is mounted is over a common area of my building's courtyard and I was afraid they'd just totally dust it with seeds and stuff. As it turns out it's not that bad — I give them mainly hulled sunflower seeds and all they leave behind is a light fluff that blows away on the wind. Down below there are the occasional seeds and fragments but you'll never be able to avoid that.

Those little suet nuggets look great, too. Think I'll buy a few of those to mix things up in the winter months.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:06 PM on November 10, 2020

Pure suet (like this) may be the lowest mess solution.
posted by mollweide at 4:19 PM on November 10, 2020

Lots of birds are ground feeders, so they will fling seed onto the ground to eat it there. A tray underneath and regular sweeps can help, but ground feeders will appreciate the seed that you periodically leave down there for them.
posted by quince at 5:11 PM on November 10, 2020

Okay, I was hoping for a magical no-mess solution, but I think there's a way to lure my bird friends to the balcony without luring mice into my neighbors apartments. I'm going to try a combination of window feeders and the suet nuggets in a handing mesh feeder. As parkerposey mentioned, this is a quarantine hobby. But if I can manage the mess with some trays and sweeping, then I think I could do it through the year.
posted by gladly at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I requested and received a suction cup feeder and a mesh cylinder feeder for Christmas. I filled the window feeder with low-waste seeds and the mesh feeder with suet nuggets. So far, some house finches have been the only brave bird souls to enjoy the seed feeder. I'm waiting for the birds to discover the suet nuggets, but it's only been a week. I am thoroughly enjoying watching the finches though (two adult males and an adult female).

They do make quite a mess while eating, but it stays on my balcony mostly so I can sweep it up. No harm, no foul.
posted by gladly at 11:57 AM on January 2

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