Feed the Birds

One great way to build a better home for wildlife is to set up a bird feeder for our feathered friends. When done right, a feeder can safely add to the natural diet of some of our most threatened species. And watching birds at a feeder is a great way to get to know the birds around you!

There are many different types of food and feeders out there, so how do you know what is best for your home? The best feeders are sturdy enough to withstand the weather, keep seeds dry, keep out predators and squirrels, and are easy to keep clean. Learn more about different types of feeders below.

Expand for Types of Bird Feeders


  • Attracts the widest variety of seed-eating birds from juncos to grosbeaks
  • Can be mounted on deck railings, poles, stumps or can be suspended
  • Can offer many different types of seed


  • No protection from rain, snow and bird droppings encourages mold and bacteria growth so needs to be cleaned every day or two
  • Attracts squirrels, deer and other animals


  • Attracts a variety of seed-eating birds, such as finches, jays and titmice
  • Can offer many different types of seed
  • Fairly good at keeping seed clean and dry
  • Can be mounted on a pole or suspended


  • Can be harder to clean than other feeders
  • Attracts squirrels; adding a guard can help
Photo: Lee Coursey


  • Different sizes and styles can attract a variety of seed-eating birds
  • Can offer sunflower or safflower seeds or seed mixes
  • Keeps seed clean and dry
  • Fairly squirrel-resistant when suspended


  • Needs to be cleaned out and have seed replaced every other week to avoid mold growth


  • Attracts goldfinches and other small seed-eating birds
  • Not popular with squirrels


  • Birds crack open the thistle, eat the seeds and discard the shells, which can pile up under the feeder
  • Thistle, or nyjer, is one of the more expensive birdseeds


  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Attracts a variety of insect-eating birds, including woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches


  • Should only be used during cool weather; suet can go rancid in warm weather
  • Can also attract raccoons, squirrels and other animals
Photo: Leroy Anderson


  • Attracts nectar-feeding hummingbirds
  • Saucer-style hummingbird feeders are easy to clean


  • Tube-style hummingbird feeders are harder to clean
  • Sugar water should be replaced every few days to prevent bacteria and mold growth
  • Can attract bees, wasps and ants; use a feeder with built-in insect guards and avoid yellow parts that attract insects
Window feeder (Photo: David Pitkin)
Window feeder (Photo: David Pitkin)


  • Great for apartments as it takes up little space and needs no yard
  • Offers a close-up look at birds while they feed
  • Safest for preventing window strikes
  • Easy access for cleaning and filling


  • Should be cleaned and seed replaced every day or so

Bird Feeding for Beginners

Get to Know Local Wildlife

Get to know the wildlife around you. All you need to get started is a pair of binoculars, a field guide and a sense of adventure!

We share our spaces with an amazing variety of wildlife. Check out the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Species Guide Index for a great introduction to local wildlife species. Some—like birds and squirrels—are more visible than others. The closer you pay attention, the more likely you’ll be to see the more secretive or hidden animals.

You can help scientists learn about native species by observing the wildlife around you! Everyday citizens, just like you, collect and submit data on the wildlife they see in their own communities. This strategy allows scientists access to huge amounts of data that they would not be able to collect otherwise to study how wildlife populations change over time.

Here are some citizen science projects you and your family can contribute to today!

Citizen Science Projects

Project Feeder Watch is a fun, easy way to get involved in citizen science. During the winter, simply put up a bird feeder and count the birds that use it. Sign up at feederwatch.org and you’ll receive a Research Kit with full instructions and a bird ID guide to help beginning birders identify species. You’ll also get a yearly report so you can see what scientists have learned from the data you reported! There is an $18 annual participation fee to cover supply costs.

Managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird lets birders share what species they see and hear when they are out birding. You just enter when, where, and how you went birding, and then fill out a checklist of all the birds you saw and heard. This free program is geared towards more experienced birders who can confidently identify what they are seeing.

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is managed by the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab with the goal of understanding the distribution and abundance of breeding monarch butterflies around the United States. Find a patch of milkweed growing in your area, and monitor it weekly to look for monarch eggs and larvae. This project is free to participate in, and detailed training is offered on their website.

The Zoo is teaming up with BeeSpotter to learn more about bees in the Cincinnati area. All you need to do is snap a picture of the bee you see and submit it to BeeSpotter with a date and location; experts will verify identification. BeeSpotter also collects photos from all over Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri to learn about bee population sizes and distribution. There is no cost to participate in BeeSpotter, and the website offers tips on taking photos.

How are plants affected by a changing climate? Budburst, a project managed by the Chicago Botanic Garden, needs your help to find out. All you have to do is find a native plant and report its name, date, location, and what stage of life cycle it’s in, e.g. budding, flowering, dropping leaves. It’s that easy!

iNaturalist collects data on any and all living things from plants to mammals and everything in between. It’s free to join and even has an easy-to-use app. You simply take a picture of what you see and upload it to the site. You don’t have to make an exact identification if you aren’t sure; anyone using the site can go through other pictures and help identify species. This makes it a great option for beginners!

Tips for Watching Wildlife

Can you find these animals around your home?

Climate Change

When we burn fossil fuels for energy, we add more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This buildup acts like a blanket that traps heat around the world, which disrupts the climate.

Climate change is an issue that is already beginning to affect wildlife, ecosystems, and people. When fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are burned for energy, they emit large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases act like a heat-trapping blanket that surrounds the earth. The denser the blanket gets the more heat it traps underneath. This trapped heat is warming our average global temperature and could lead to a substantial increase in extreme heat events, longer droughts, more flooding, and more severe marine heatwaves. These changes drastically affect polar bears and animals in our own backyards.

causes of climate change

Ways you can save energy and save wildlife

Purchase Green Energy

Most of the energy used to power our homes comes from burning natural gas or coal, which emits CO2. By buying green energy (like that made from solar panels or wind turbines) from your utility provider, you can ensure that a certain amount of energy gets produced from clean and renewable sources rather than carbon-emitting sources. Contact your utility provider to see if they offer green energy options. If you find a good solution, tell a friend!

Create Idle Free Zones

Idling gets you nowhere – and it can be costly. Excessive idling wastes over $100 a year per vehicle,
generates needless greenhouse gas emissions, and produces more emissions per minute than driving. Advocate for an Idle-Free Zone at your local school.

Weatherize Your Home

If you own a house, you can save energy and money by better insulating and weatherizing your home. This includes things like: upgrading or installing attic ventilation and insulation, caulking/weather-stripping the house, and installing high-efficiency windows. According to the Department of Energy, weatherizing your home can save you over 20% on heating and cooling bills! Encourage friends to do the same!

Promote Clean Transportation

electric vehicle charging stationSupport community initiatives to carpool or use mass transit.  Consider trading your car in for a more fuel-efficient or electric vehicle! By burning less gas (or none at all), you’ll emit less carbon dioxide, save money and help improve local air quality!

Red Bike charging stations are also available at the Zoo’s main parking lot!

Electric Vehicle Charging

You can charge your electric vehicle at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! We have 8 charging ports in our main Vine St. parking lot. The charging stations are provided by Electrada and can be used with FLO or ChargePoint apps, and also appear on Plugshare.

Click here to learn more about hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles. You can also use this tool to compare different vehicles by cost, fuel economy, and fuel type.

Animals In Your Backyard

In North America, the ranges of more than 300 birds are predicted to shrink and shift as climate change affects the conditions birds need to survive. For example, the migratory scarlet tanager may no longer return to our Ohio forests in spring by 2080. It will have to fly further north to find suitable habitat, of which there will be 26% less available.

scarlet tanager in tree

Reptiles and amphibians like box turtles struggle to find suitable habitat under climate change. Saving energy will help turtles survive by reducing carbon emissions, thus keeping the climate stable.

The Polar Bear Connection

Using less energy produced by carbon-based fuels reduces our carbon emissions and can slow and even stop global warming, in turn saving our sea ice. Polar bears require sea ice for efficient hunting. Without sea ice, polar bears will decline in range and numbers, making them vulnerable to extinction in the future.

polar bear

Did You Know?

Heating and cooling account for roughly half the energy consumption in an average home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to partner with Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center. The goal of this partnership is to sustain a future for polar bears across the Arctic. Learn more about climate change from Polar Bears International

polar bear international logo

Take Action

Legislative Education Center: This site makes it easy to write to your local representatives to support various wildlife-related bills

Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance: Learn more about renewable energy projects

Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability: Learn more about what the City of Cincinnati is doing to go green

Recycle: Learn more about recycling in Cincinnati

Create a Shelter

From birdhouses to bat boxes, there are many ways you can provide safe nesting and resting places for wildlife in your yard.

Expand for Ideas

Invite these helpful bugs and slug-eaters to your yard! There are plenty of fancy toad houses available to purchase, or it’s just as easy to make your own out of a clay pot. One option is to cut a 3-inch hole in one side at the top of a clay pot. Flip it over and place it in a cool, damp and shady place.

Another option is to turn a clay pot on its side and bury it halfway in the ground. Toads like to bed down in the dirt so make sure your toad abode has an earthy floor. And you might add some leaf litter for extra comfort. Feel free to paint and decorate the pot however you like; the toads won’t mind.

Big brown bat (Photo: Patrick Coin)Our local bats help keep insect populations in check; a single bat can eat thousands of pesky bugs in just one night! Unfortunately, they are threatened by habitat loss and white-nose syndrome – a deadly disease caused by a fungus that grows over the muzzle of hibernating bats.

Putting up a bat box offers a safe place for those that survive the winter to roost and raise young in the summer. Bat Conservation International provides excellent tips for purchasing and/or building effective bat houses.

Birdhouses, or nest boxes, can provide safe nesting places for local birds, and are especially important in areas lacking natural habitat. A good bird house should be sturdy and built with untreated, unpainted wood and galvanized screws. It should have an overhanging, sloped roof and drainage holes in the floor to keep it dry. Ventilation holes and ¾-inch thick walls will help it maintain a just right temperature. And mounting it on a pole at least five feet off the ground with a predator guard will help keep birds safe. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides even more tips on how to make a safe, successful home for birds. And the Ohio Division of Wildlife offers additional nest box plans for a variety of birds.

The harmless and non-aggressive mason bee is a very important native pollinator. Instead of building a hive, these solitary bees lay eggs and raise young bees in small tree holes made by birds and other insects.

They will also nest in artificial bee houses, which are easy and fun to make. Or you can buy a pre-made bee house; we even sell ones made especially for the Zoo by Osmia Bee in our Gift Shop. Consider adding a mason bee house to your yard to promote these important pollinators!