Sunday, July 28, 2019

5 Simple ways to attract more birds to your feeder

Setting up a new bird feeder can be exciting. So can starting up your old feeders after a period of inactivity. Imagine all those birds chirping away happily at your feeders!

 But what often happens? The birds don't come.

Why don't birds come to your feeder? 

The 5 ways to attract birds to your feeder are to feed birds their favorite foods, feed birds from their preferred type of feeder, set up your feeders at the right time of the year, make your landscaping more attractive to birds, and add a bird bath. If you do these 5 things you will have more birds at your feeder!

Photo of a bird feeding station with no birds
Image by PollyDot from Pixabay

How do I get birds to come to my feeder?

Birds aren't people, but their needs are similar. The simple answer to get birds to come to your feeder is the same as getting you to go to your favorite restaurant. There must be tasty food and drink. The environment must be attractive and safe. The restaurant must be open when you are hungry.

 Let's break this down a bit into the five components of getting birds to come to your feeders.

1. Attract birds to your feeder with their favorite foods

What's your favorite food? Is there a restaurant nearby that really makes your favorite food the way you like it? Then you are likely to go back often.

On the other hand, are there certain foods you just can't stand? What happens to those food items on your plate? You don't eat them. They may even ruin your appetite. Eventually they are tossed out.

Birds have favorite foods, too... and other foods they just won't eat. You may think that offering a mixed seed blend would give you the best chance of offering a favorite food to many different kinds of birds. Instead, they may pick of a few of their favorites and ignore or throw away the rest. Did you know that up to half the seeds in mixed birdseed blends are likely to be red milo seeds that few birds will eat?

Sparrows and finches eat lots of seeds of various types. But most prefer black oil sunflower seeds and white proso millet if given a choice. 

Goldfinches love smaller thistle seeds

Other birds that don't eat seeds will come to your feeder for fruits such as raisins, orange halves or apple slices

You can provide mealworms for bluebirds. 

Many insect eating birds love suet.

Orioles love grape jelly!

Goulash is fine occasionally. But, in general, most people don't like their meals to be all mixed together. So don't mix all these different bird foods together, either. Offer them separately in separate feeders.

If bird food gets wet it is likely to soon spoil, mold, or otherwise become inedible. Thus, keep your food fresh and clean. Replace it frequently and throw any bad bird food away, don't just add new to the top of spoiled food.

Bird seed does have a shelf life. You don't like stale food. Birds don't like stale foods! If your bird seed is old it may not be any good.

Have you ever gone to your favorite restaurant to find that it was closed? Then you had to go somewhere else. Likewise, if you fail to refill your feeder regularly, birds may give up. They may move on to a neighbor's feeder that is filled—and stay there!

2. Attract birds with their preferred bird feeder type

Both sparrows and finches eat seeds, but sparrows prefer to eat on the ground. They do well eating from platform feeders or hopper feeders with wide shelves. Because some or all of the food is exposed to any rainy weather, such feeders should have a screen mesh floor. This allows air to circulate, water to drain, and keeps the food from going bad.

Finches, on the other hand, often prefer to eat their seeds up higher in the trees. They will readily eat from tube feeders with small perches. 

Hummingbirds and orioles will feed from nectar feeders.

Insect eaters and omnivores will appreciate suet feeders, especially in winter.

Goldfinches love Niger seed in special thistle feeders.

Some feeders are designed to keep out squirrels or larger birds that may bully your smaller backyard birds.

Bird feeders must be utilitarian, not necessarily decorative. Birds aren't picky. They don't care how much a feeder costs, or what it looks like, as long as it gives them tasty food.

However, feeders must be kept clean. When you refill feeders, empty out the old seed that may be stuck in the corners and molding. Clean your feeders with soap and water whenever they become dirty. You wouldn't eat at a restaurant that was dirty, would you?

3. Attract birds by setting them up at the proper time of year

Feeding birds does tend to be seasonal. 

The sparrows and finches that feed at your seed feeders in winter may switch to mostly insects in the summer. The flocks of winter goldfinches at your feeders break up into pairs and disperse into their breeding territories in spring to raise their young. They'll be back in the fall. But if you start a bird feeder in spring, it may be slow going with lots of natural food about.

Then, too, many of the seed eating birds at your feeder in winter migrate back north in the spring. So summer birds at your feeder, especially seed-eating birds, may be sparse.

Starting about September you may start seeing some of the wintering birds arrive. These early arriving autumn birds tend to move around. So get your feeder set up by October. By mid-December most birds are settled in for the winter. If you wait until this late in winter to set up your feeder it may be harder to attract birds other than those already there.

You certainly can feed birds all year. In southern areas you may only have House Finches and House Sparrows and Mourning Doves in summer, though. But you can try to attract other birds with fruits and nectar in summer.

The annual seasonal timing isn't the only one. There are daily cycles, too.

Birds tend to be hungry and feed at dawn. When is dawn where you live? Could birds be visiting your feeders before you look for them, perhaps before you're even awake? Some birds feed at dusk, too. Are you sure birds aren't coming to your feeders? You may be surprised!

That means your feeders need to be filled at dawn.

Birds tend to move about. They may have a regular circuit they follow. They may visit several neighborhood feeders or yards, including yours, every day. If the feeder at one neighbors is empty, they may move on to the next. If there is too much activity in one yard, they will move to another. Perhaps your neighbor has set up a wonderful new bird smorgasbord and the birds are spending all their time at this new place!

If you have bird food available regularly, birds will make visiting your yard a habit. If your feeder is empty too many times, though, the birds may remove it from their regular visitations.

4. Attract birds by improving your yard's landscaping

Do you have a beautifully green yard with shade trees and thick hedges with berries and a well-stocked feeder, that backs up to a wooded creek? If you do, well, I'm jealous! But not just that. Such surroundings are very attractive to birds. It's not just our own yard that attracts birds, but also the habitat in the neighborhood that surrounds us.

That doesn't mean that an urban third-floor balcony can't attract birds, it just takes some ingenuity. My own backyard near San Diego is entirely cement patio, sidewalks, and decorative gravel. It backs up to a busy 4-lane road. All our plants are in pots--succulents and cacti, and one little lemon tree. But there are ways to get birds to come to my backyard. I can't do anything about the neighborhood. But I can put plants in pots that attract birds. Perhaps, you, too, can consider native bird-friendly plantings in your yard.

Sometimes the way to get more birds to your feeder is to discourage other animals. Place feeders so that any outdoor cats can't pounce from a nearby hiding place. Don't feed kitchen scraps that may attract aggressive crows, jays, starlings, and grackles to your feeder. Switch to squirrel-proof feeders if these fuzzy animals have taken over your feeders.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow in a bird bath
White-crowned Sparrow takes a bath.
Photo by Marlene Gillson with my camera!

5. Attract birds to your feeders by adding a bird bath

Food, shelter, water! We all need these things to survive and thrive. Birds need water to drink. Birds need water to bathe and keep clean. If there was a great restaurant near you with wonderful food, but it didn't serve anything to drink, would you go back? No, it's incomplete.

Adding water to your backyard bird feeding station will greatly increase the attractiveness your yard has to birds.

You can supply something as simple as a shallow tray of water. Bird baths are popular decorative lawn items. Make sure that it is sturdy and easy to clean.

Cleaning weekly with a brush and 10% bleach solution is imperative. Bird baths quickly grow algae and become cloudy with bacteria. Besides being unsightly, it can be unhealthy for the birds that visit.

Nothing attracts birds more readily than dripping water.

You can make a simple DIY plastic milk jug dripper that hangs above a pan of water and drips slowly. Keep the lid on and punch a small hole in the bottom of the jug. It can drip slowly, but audibly, for hours. 

Or you can buy a recirculating pump or small mister. Keep the water shallow with "stepping stones" to perch upon. The ideas are endless for you to create something truly unique and attractive. Again, keeping it clean is a challenge--but well worth it!


Why aren't birds coming to your feeder? 

We talked about how to get birds to come to your feeders by providing proper food in the appropriate feeder. We discussed how the pattern of bird visitation to your feeder varies seasonally, daily, and even by what's going on in your neighborhood. And we discussed the benefits of adding clean water to your yard.

By critically examining the variety of foods you offer, by keeping your feeders clean, by providing water, by enhancing the habitat with bird-friendly landscaping, and by eliminating potential pests, you will soon have bird feeders overflowing with happy birds!

You may like this article: Sunflower seeds & white proso millet attract the most birds!

New article: 25 Reasons why birds aren't coming to your feeder

New article: Tips to QUICKLY attract birds to your feeder!


January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:


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