Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Bird feeder empty in a day--How often should you refill?

How often should you refill your bird feeder?

Reliably filled bird feeders will attract more birds. 

To get birds coming to a new feeder, you'll want to keep it full and not let it get completely empty. 

However, once a feeder is established, you may want to let the feeders go empty completely every couple of weeks in order to clean the feeder. 

There are also other reasons you may want to let your bird feeders empty every day--including the expense of bird seed!

Refill your feeders only once per day.

Birds are very skillful at finding food. Natural food sources come and go during the year, so birds are always looking for new supplies. 

Birds are unlikely to starve if you stop feeding birds in your backyard. They'll look elsewhere. In fact, chances are that the birds at your feeder are moving around your neighborhood and visiting other feeders on a regular circuit every day.

So that brings up the question: How many times a day should you feed wild birds?

Photo of a bird feeder
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Reasons to keep your feeders full

As mentioned above, wild birds are good at finding food. This means that if your feeder is out of food, but your neighbor's feeder is full, then birds may abandon your feeder for the one that is more reliable. Sure, some birds will return, but perhaps not the main bulk of the bird flock.

Keeping your feeder full is especially important in the beginning--when you are setting up a new bird feeder. 

Feeding birds attract other birds looking for food. The sound of birds squabbling over food is sure to attract other birds from across the street or several homes over. 

If your feeder is empty, then no squabbling noise and no new birds attracted to your feeder.

A large bird feeder full of seed may last several days before needing to be refilled. That certainly is easier than refilling a small feeder every morning, or even several times a day. 

I recently noticed some very large seed blocks (8x8 inches) on some platform feeders that had many quail and doves eating from it. These would certainly last several days, and be harder for the birds to just swallow down quickly.

Reasons to allow your bird feeder to empty in a day

Wild birds don't know where their next meal will come from, or when. Thus, when they do find food, they eat. And eat. They don't stop. They eat until the food is gone or night falls, whichever comes first.

 The more birds there are to compete with, the faster and more aggressively they eat. No wonder people say "Help! My birds are eating me out of house and home! My feeders go empty in a single day!"

Bigger is not always better. Some people purchase larger bird feeders to try to keep their feeders full all day. Often, though, this only encourages more birds to come for the banquet. And frequently, one species takes over the feeder. 

It may be better to limit the bird's diet and the number of birds at your feeder. You may decide to use a smaller feeder and only fill it once each day. 

Typically, birds want to eat first thing at dawn. So the best time to fill empty feeders is before dawn or early morning. But I don't want to get up that early to feed the birds. Do you?

You could fill the feeders in the evening. Birds don't eat from feeders at night. Then a full feeder would be ready for them first thing in the morning. 

But this may invite unwanted feeder visitors. Skunks, raccoons, rats, and mice are frequent night-time bird feeder raiders. 

Certain types of hanging feeders may keep out most of the unwanted pests from the bird feeders. But platform or tray feeders are usually easy pickings for unwanted four-legged visitors.

A final reason to allow your feeders to go empty periodically is cost. It can be expensive to feed an ever-growing number of birds in your backyard. 

You may only want to fill your feeder once during the day. When it's gone, well, that's it until the next day. Such rationing is a very reasonable decision for those on a strict "bird seed budget."

So what happens when your bird feeders go empty during the day?

Well, the birds don't immediately leave. They drop to the ground and clean up any spilled morsels. 

Of course, there are some sparrows, towhees, and doves that prefer to feed on the ground most of the time. But allowing a bird feeder to go empty during the day will cause finches and other feeder birds to descend to the ground. 

This daily cleanup may help keep a mess from forming on the ground under your feeder.. or at least slow the mess down. 

It may keep squirrels and other unwanted pests away from your yard. Once these four-legged pests come to your feeder, it may not be long until they enter your home!

Once a feeder is empty it is easier to clean. Winter is a time of rain in many areas. Soggy bird seed grows mold and mildew and makes bird food unhealthy for the birds. Use an empty feeder as a chance to clean up the feeder, make any repairs, and clean up the ground around the feeder.

Are you worried that the birds will go elsewhere when your feeder runs out of food? Are you worried they might not return? There is a way to allow your bird feeders to go empty without causing the birds to abandon your backyard. You should have more than one feeder!

Multiple bird feeders: alternate the filling and cleaning of your feeders

The best way to allow your bird feeders to go empty without leaving your feathered friends without food is to have multiple feeders. Having more than one bird feeder is a good idea anyway.

Most birds have a favorite food. They will pick through their generic mixed bird seed like people pick through mixed nuts to find their favorite. Birds frequently toss undesirable seeds from the feeder. 

The solution? Place only one type of bird food in each feeder. The birds will go to the feeder that has only the food they like!

That's right. One tube feeder for black oil sunflower seed. One platform feeder with millet for doves. One suet feeder. One thistle sock with Niger seed. Perhaps a squirrel feeder with peanuts off to the side to try to keep these furry guys out of the bird feeders. There will be less waste with one food item per feeder.

Don't forget to add water to your bird feeding station. Even if the bird feeders are empty birds will still come to the yard regularly to drink and bathe.

Having two feeders with the same type of food in them would allow one to go empty during the day while the other still has seeds. The birds never leave the yard to search for food elsewhere!

Those empty feeders should be spot cleaned before refilling each day. Feeders should be thoroughly cleaned every few weeks. Don't just keep topping off the feeders all winter. Remove soggy or moldy foods and wash with a mild bleach solution.

Cleaning your feeders has many advantages. 

Feeders can become clogged with non-edible chaff (all bird seed contains at least some stems and non-seed items). Most feeders have some nook or cranny that fills with old seed. Cleaning regularly and refilling your bird feeder with fresh, tastier food is more attractive to birds. 

Some bird seeds have a limited shelf life, too. Last year's bird seed may no longer be edible.

Purchasing "no mess" bird foods, such as hulled sunflowers, greatly reduces the mess and makes cleaning much less of a chore. Yes, it is more expensive per pound to buy. But since half of bird seed by weight is inedible hulls, you may find that it really isn't so expensive after all. Of course, the birds can eat it faster because they don't have to work as hard.

The most important reason to clean feeders is to keep bird diseases from spreading. 

House Finches and Pine Siskins seem to spread communicable diseases when they are eating and defecating in their feeders. If you see signs of dumpy, sick birds, or dead birds in the yard, you may want to stop feeding until you can clean all the feeders. Then stop feeding entirely for 2 weeks to let the sickness run its course before refilling your feeders. Consider also temporarily removing the tray-type feeders where bird droppings and food can mix.

Check out: 7 different types of bird feeders and the birds they attract


  1. Replies
    1. I put food out every day and do you have to wear gloves.. and also I only rinse with it water

  2. Thanks...I have a feeder with wild bird seed blocks. It really attracted my favorites, chickadees. But gradually the sparrows started coming. I am going through 1 block every three days. Also, the chickadees aren't coming around anymore. I think I will call it quits. Getting too expensive also.

    1. If you feed chickadees black oil sunflowers in a tube feeder you will really reduce the number of sparrows.

      See also my article on feeding birds cheaply.

      I also have tips on when to stop feeding birds that might give you ideas.

  3. What happens when my feeders go empty for 2 days?

    1. Birds are always on the lookout for food. They'll find your feeder again when you put food in it. The longer it is empty, though, the long it will take birds to find it again.

  4. I live in Liverpool and at the back of my house is a disused railway line with trees and bushes all along so the amount of different breeds of birds is amazing. I have filled my bird feeder 3 times in one day but I'm now going to only fill it once a day as it's summer and there will be an abundance of insects.i buy fat balls that have sunflower seeds and nuts in them and every bird that visits seem to love them and I love feeding them.

    1. Sounds like you have made a good decision on feeding your birds. And it sounds like a wonderful place you have for them!

  5. Thank you for all of your good ideas. I'm going to try the individual bird feeders on hopes that I will attract different varieties of birds.

    1. I'd be interested in knowing if you see any immediate difference.


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