Zero-waste Bird Feeding

A filthy feeder is bad news for the birds. Luckily there are several options that don’t require any upkeep at all — some you can even grow in your yard!

Did you know that a poorly cared for birdfeeder can harbor diseases that can be contracted by birds? You simply can’t set it and forget it. Unfortunately, life often gets the best of us and our bird feeders sit in a gnarly state. But there are options that don’t require constant upkeep.

The best way to provide for the birds in your yard is with native plants. Texas thistle, annual sunflower and Turk’s cap are all pretty much natural bird feeders. In addition to attracting birds to your yard, they have the added benefit of needing little water and helping prevent erosion. If you’re not able to put seeds in the ground, you can grow each of them in pots from seed.

If you want a more traditional bird feeder layout, you can set out citrus halves on a nail or tree branch. They’re great at this time of year because you can grow them on your own tree (or purchase them at a local farmers market.) It takes no time at all to cut an orange — or tangerine or grapefruit — in half and hang it on a nail. Woodpeckers and cardinals can scoop out an orange in mere minutes! After they enjoy it, you can compost the peel and hang a new one.

You’ve probably seen suet cakes sold in single-use wrappers, but if you prefer a reusable container, peanut butter is a great option (grocery store staff can help you choose the correct tare weight). Spread it like butter on a stick or branch and use twine to hang it horizontally; once your warblers and woodpeckers figure it out, they’ll appreciate the easy fix of winter protein, fat and calories.

A bird bath is vital in periods of drought and could be the driving factor bringing birds into your yard. There are a million ways to upcycle things you already own into bird baths, or you can purchase a solar-powered fountain bath. Whatever you use to provide water, keep it clean and change the water often — daily during the summer.

If you are absolutely set on having a bird feeder, be mindful to clean it at least once a week with a bleach or vinegar solution. Try to purchase birdseed in the largest bag you can find to avoid excess packaging waste. Opt for a feeder made out of metal or glass, or consider purchasing a used feeder.

Whatever you decide to do, have fun and enjoy birding!

Picture of Sarah Gorton
Sarah Gorton
Sarah Gorton is a Planner with the SAWS Conservation department. She is passionate about bats and native plants, with a particular fondness for horseherb! Sarah has completed certifications through Texas Master Naturalist and Native Plant Society. When she isn't working on her research on the use of native grasses for uptaking pollutants at UTSA, she can be found making stained glass or hanging out with her two Chihuahuas.
Dig Deeper

Find expert advice on garden basics, landscape design, watering and year-round maintenance.