Sunday, July 28, 2019

Why don't birds come to my feeder? Try these fixes!

You had so much excitement anticipating how wonderful it would be to set up a new bird feeder. You could see it there, in your imagination, overflowing with birds. But the feeder has been set up a week now. No birds.

Birds are constantly on the lookout for new sources of food. If it has been more than a week or two and you still don't have any birds visiting, there is something wrong. Why don't birds come to your feeder?
  • There's something wrong with your food
  • There's something wrong with your feeder
  • There's something wrong with your timing
  • There's something wrong with your surroundings
What could be wrong? Let's look into it...


In this article
How do I get birds to come to my feeder?
How long before birds come to a new feeder?
Why do birds stop coming to the bird feeder?
Conclusion

Photo of a bird feeding station with lots of food but 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 come to the dinner table. You must provide desirable food in a non-threatening environment.

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

1. Proper bird food

Do you like mixed nuts? Salted or unsalted? What is your favorite? Walnuts? Peanuts? Cashews? Almonds? Brazil nuts? Pecans? How do you eat them? Indiscriminately, like goulash, or do you pick out your favorites first? Is it all peanuts at the end that finally go stale and get thrown 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 the rest. Did you know that half the seeds in mixed seed blends are likely to be red milo seeds that no birds at all will eat?

Sparrows and finches eat lots of seeds of various types. But most would prefer black oil sunflower seeds if given a choice. Goldfinches love smaller thistle seeds. Other birds may prefer nuts or fruits, such as raisins, orange halves or apple slices. You can provide mealworms for bluebirds. Orioles may eat jelly.

Now don't mix all these different foods together, either. Offer them separately in different areas of your yard, if possible.

One additional note. Don't feed birds human food scraps. Some birds may eat bread, popcorn, and meat. But these foods are more likely to attract undesirable birds and rodent pests. Though filling, bread doesn't provide much nutritional value for birds.

If bird food get 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.

On the other hand, if you fail to refill your feeder for days, birds may give up. They are used to feeding on flower or weed seeds in one place, until they are gone, and then moving on.

2. Proper bird feeder

Both sparrows and finches eat seeds, but sparrows prefer to eat on the ground. They do well eating from tray (platform) feeders or hopper feeders with wide ledges. Because some (hopper) or all (tray) 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 prefer to eat up higher in the trees. They will readily eat from tube feeders with small perches. But they, too, can get rain water inside and the seeds will clump and mold.

When is the last time you cleaned your bird feeders with hot soap and water? It's a bit of work but will reduce moldy food and the spreading of any infectious bird diseases--infectious from bird-to-bird. (Humans can get sick from bird droppings, too, so wear disposable gloves when giving your bird feeder a good cleansing. It's not common, but it is possible.) Birds don't like eating food that's gone bad from a dirty feeder any more than you like eating food from a dirty kitchen. Keep your feeders clean!

There are specialty bird feeders--hummingbird and oriole feeders come to mind. But, really, birds aren't all that picky, as long as they can get to the food. An expensive, decorative feeder will not necessarily attract any more birds than a sturdy homemade feeder you cobbled together yourself from milk jugs or a wooden frame and window screen mesh.

3. Proper timing

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 summer, it may be slow going with lots of natural food about.

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!

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. Proper habitat

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 decorative gravel. It backs up to a busy 4-lane road. All our plants are in pots--succulents and cacti, save for 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.

Part of the environment includes other animals besides feeder birds. Are there outside cats? Are the feeders too close to a hiding place from where a cat could pounce? Are there other large or aggressive birds like crows, jays, grackles or starlings that have taken over your yard or feeders? Have squirrels taken over your feeders? These other "pests" may keep away the birds you desire to feed.

5. Water!

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.

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 milk jug dripper that hangs above a pan and drips slowly with lid on and small hole in the bottom. 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!

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

How long before birds come to a new feeder?

New bird feeding stations present a special challenge. At first, birds already in the yard may be wary of a change brought about by adding this new object. On the other hand, birds may have learned what bird feeders look like and may investigate new feeders almost immediately. Hummingbirds in residential areas with many feeders already, may try drinking from a new nectar feeder while it is still in your hand--before you even get a chance to put it up!

Birds find food visually. They are a lot like humans in that they see in color, hear fairly well (hearing even higher frequencies), and have a poor sense of smell. Thus, it may work to set some food out in the open. Perhaps you should scatter some seed on the ground under the feeder or other bare ground. Place some bird food on the roof of the feeder. Strategically place small amounts of food all around the yard (but not so much as to attract rodents or other pests).

Birds watch each other. As soon as they see one bird eating, they'll investigate. Then you're on your way to happy bird feeding!

But you can even speed the process up by adding dripping water which the birds can hear from a neighboring yard, even if they can't see the new feeders and food source.

How long does it take for birds to come to a bird feeder? It may depend upon the season. In spring birds are busy with nesting. In summer there may be lots of natural food. But when winter starts, the weather is inclement, and the food sources disappear, it may only take a few days for birds to find your feeder.


Why do birds stop coming to the bird feeder?

Oh, this is so frustrating! You've been feeding birds successfully for a while, but then the birds seem to have stopped coming to your feeder. Why?

Again, birds visit feeders seasonally. In summer local birds may switch to more insects and natural food. In autumn birds-of-the-year may flock to your feeders in large numbers. They may not have figured out how to find natural foods on their own quite yet. It would not be unusual for the parent birds to bring their fledglings to your feeders in late summer. Then they'll likely return later on their own.

Migrant birds visit your feeders briefly in spring and fall. They may stay a few days or only a few minutes, depending upon the weather and their own internal hormonal urges to reach the breeding grounds. You may see new birds nearly every day.

By the middle of winter, however, birds have settled into locations with food, water and shelter. You'll see most of the same birds day after day. You may note recognizable individuals (such as rather locally rare birds) that have settled in to your yard for the winter. They may remain until April before heeding their migratory impulses to move on.

But if it seems the locally resident birds are no longer visiting your feeder, then you have some investigating to do. Thoroughly clean your feeders. Buy fresh seed. Pretend like you're setting up the feeding station from the beginning. Is there a variety of foods? Have you provided fresh water? Are there safe bushes or trees they can flee into when threatened. Are there any predators like house cats hiding about? Have undesirable birds taken over? Squirrels? Rats?


Conclusion

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.

How long before birds come to a new feeder? It can be relatively quickly. But we discussed several reasons why birds may not be coming to your feeders yet. And we listed some techniques that might attract birds more quickly.

Finally we discussed why birds might have suddenly stopped coming to your feeders.

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!



Check out this post: How do you feed birds without making a mess? The solution!


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