Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Birds that come to feeders in summer

What birds come to feeders in summer?

In general, you will have fewer birds at your feeder in summer than in winter. There are several reasons for this.

The first is that there is more available natural foods in summer. So birds don't need or come to feeders as often. For instance, many birds that eat seeds at feeders in winter, switch to feeding their young insects in the summer.

Also, some of the birds that eat at your bird feeder in winter may migrate north into Canada and the northern United States for the summer.

It is true that a few birds migrate northward in summer to your backyard feeder, after spending the winter even farther south.

However, most of the birds that come to your feeder in summer are those year-round residents that don't migrate.

Across the United States, the 8 most widespread bird species at bird feeders in summer are:

  • Mourning Dove
  • Song Sparrow
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Finch
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • House Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker
  • Chipping Sparrow

Photo of American Goldfinches at feeder. Miles Moody from Pixabay.

I used eBird, the database of citizen science bird sightings, to compile this list.

Following are 33 of the most common bird species that visit feeders in summer in the United States. Below I show a photo of each bird, give a brief identification overview, tell their general summer range, and then list the foods they like and feeder they prefer.

I divide the birds into those that are widespread, and those that are limited in range to Eastern, Northern, and Western parts of the US.

Birds that come to feeders in summer throughout most of the United States

This section includes the most common and widespread of the birds that visit feeders in summer.

It is likely that most, if not all, of these species can be found at your feeder. But check the summer range I outline to make sure they occur in your specific area.

When I say "all of the United States" I do not include birds of Hawaii or Alaska unless I specify otherwise. I mean the contiguous states or the lower 48.

Photo of Mourning Dove on broken branch
Mourning Dove. Greg Gillson.

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove is a fairly large feeder bird, 12 inches from bill tip to tail tip. They are plump with a large chest. The head is small and round. They have a long pointed tail. These birds are tan, a bit browner and grayer on the back, a pinkish tinge on the breast.

Their mournful cooing song is a common summer sound.

Mourning Doves come to feeders in summer across southern Canada and all of the United States.

Mourning Doves eat a wide variety of grains and seeds, including cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds. They prefer to eat on the ground, but readily take to larger platform feeders. In fact, some birds squeeze themselves onto the shelves of small hopper feeders.

Photo of Song Sparrow on branch
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows are small plump birds of brushy tangles. They are colored gray with rusty brown streaks, creating a unique pattern on the head and face. Streaks on the breast often converge into a large spot on the chest.

These birds sing a cheerful trilled song that often attract our attention to these birds skulking in the bushes.

Song Sparrows come to feeders in summer from Alaska, across Canada and south in the United States to California, Arizona, northern New Mexico, Nebraska, northern Missouri, Tennessee, to northern Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

These birds eat small seeds often scratching on the ground under the feeders, but will come to platform or hopper feeders during quiet times when other birds aren't around.

Photo of American Goldfinch on twig
American Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.

American Goldfinch

These are tiny birds with a pink bill and short tail.

Starting in April, American Goldfinches molt from their dull tan winter feathers into their bright yellow breeding plumage. Both genders have black wings and tail feathers with white patches. Only the males in summer have the black crown. The white under tail coverts separate these from Lesser Goldfinches.

These birds sing a cheerful lilting song similar to the yellow cage birds from Africa, leading to their colloquial name, wild canary.

American Goldfinches come to feeders in summer across southern Canada and the United States south to California, Colorado, Kansas, northern Arkansas, northern Alabama and Georgia.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders but also Niger seeds they eat from special thistle feeders.

Photo of House Finch on tree tip
House Finch. Greg Gillson.

House Finch

House Finches are smaller birds with rounded head and fairly long tail, slightly notched. These birds are colored rather pale dusty brown. They are heavily streaked below. Only the males have a red-orange forehead, upper breast, and rump.

Song is lively and wiry warble with burry rising note just before the end. Call notes include chirps and a wheat call.

House Finches come to feeders in summer throughout most of the United States.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker on post
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Downy Woodpecker

This is a small stocky bird with a big head and short pointed tail. The wings and tail are black with white edge or spots. The back and under parts are white. The head is striped black and white. Males have a small red spot on the back of the crown.

Calls are a single sharp peek, run together in a rapid trill for the song.

Downy Woodpeckers come to feeders in summer from Alaska and across Canada, southward throughout the United States except for the dry southwestern deserts.

Downy Woodpeckers eat suet at suet feeders and nuts and sunflower seeds from platform feeders.

Photo of House Sparrow on fence
House Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

House Sparrow

These are stocky and flat-headed sparrows. The tails are fairly short. They are colored gray below and brown above. Males have chestnut ear patch, gray crown, and black chin and (in summer) throat. Females are rather dusty brown, paler below, with no streaks. The female has a wide pale eyebrow stripe.

The common calls are chirp and chillip notes. Songs string long groupings of these two notes together seemingly at random.

House Sparrows come to feeders in summer across Canada, all of the United States, and Mexico.

These birds aren't too picky when it comes to food. They eat small seeds that many other birds ignore. They prefer hopper and platform feeders.

Photo of Northern Flicker on stump
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted). Greg Gillson.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers are big woodpeckers, a foot long from bill tip to tail tip. They are just as likely to be seen hopping in the lawn eating ants as in trees. The back is brown with black bars. The under parts are pinkish with round black spots. The chest sports a wide crescent-shaped necklace. They have a large white rump that shows in flight. The tail is rather short and pointed. The bill is long and slightly curved down. 

In the East and North the wing and tail linings are yellow and the face is brown and the crown gray. These are the "Yellow-shafted Flickers." Males have a black whisker and red mark on the hind crown.

In the West the wing and tail lining are salmon-orange, and the face is gray with a brown crown. These are "Red-shafted Flickers." Males have a red whisker.

Calls are a loud keer. Songs are rapid kik-ik-ik-ik-ik-ik-ik....

Northern Flickers come to feeders in summer nearly throughout North America from Alaska and across northern Canada south through the United States, except absent in most of Texas, southeast California, and southwest Arizona.

These birds love to eat suet at suet feeders.

Photo of a Chipping Sparrow on a branch
Chipping Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Chipping Sparrow

These smaller sparrows are plain gray with light brown wings and tail, chestnut crown, and thin black line through eye. They are often found in lawns and fields and pine oak woodlands. I've found them frequently throughout the country in cemeteries with large oak trees and also little ranchettes with horses and orchards.

Their song is a long dry trill on a single pitch.

Chipping Sparrows come to feeders in summer throughout Canada and the United States. They are less common in the southern states but still occur in every state.

These birds like small mixed seeds from a hopper or platform feeder, but are more likely to feed on the ground under the feeders.

Birds that come to feeders in summer in the eastern United States

In addition to the widespread birds above, here are some common birds found primarily in the East. These birds are generally found east of the Rocky Mountains.

Birds that come to feeders in the eastern United States and are found primarily only in this region in summer include:

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Jay
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Photo of Northern Cardinal at bird feeder
Northern Cardinal. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Northern Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinals are unmistakable mid-sized feeder birds. They are brilliant red with a perky crest and black face. Females are dull brown, but still sport the crest, dark face and big orange bill.

Their song includes doubled whistled notes such as whoit-whoit or birdy-birdy.

Northern Cardinals come to feeders in summer in the Eastern United States from Maine to Minnesota and south from Florida through Texas, and SW New Mexico and southern Arizona, south through Mexico.

These birds like larger seeds such as sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. They prefer to eat on platform feeders or on the ground.

Photo of Blue Jay in bird bath
Blue Jay. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Blue Jay

The Blue Jay is a fairly large backyard bird. It has a stout bill, full tail, and, of course, a shaggy crest. The bird is generally blue above and white or gray below. The white face is outlined with a black necklace that wraps around behind the head. There are white wing and tail patches best seen in flight.

Calls are raspy jay jay and more musical weedle notes.

Blue Jays come to feeders in summer west of the Rocky Mountains, across Canada from Alberta to Newfoundland southward to Florida, and westward to Montana, Colorado, Texas.

These birds eat a wide variety of foods, including plants and animals. They love peanuts and suet. They prefer larger platform feeders.

Photo of Carolina Chickadee on bird feeder
Carolina Chickadee. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadees have the typical plump body and round head of the chickadees. Plus they have the black cap and bib offsetting the white face. Very similar to Black-capped Chickadees, the Carolina is plainer gray on the wings and not as colorful on the flanks.

The chick-a-dee-dee-dee call is faster and higher pitched than Black-capped Chickadee. The whistled song is fee-bee fee-bay.

Carolina Chickadees come to feeders in summer from Maryland, Virginia, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, southern Missouri, Oklahoma, and eastern and central Texas, and eastward to northern Florida.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from hopper and tube feeders.

Photo of Indigo Bunting at bird feeder
Indigo Bunting. Heronworks from Pixabay.

Indigo Bunting

Male Indigo Buntings are dark blue throughout with dark wings. Females are same shape but pale brown with indistinct streaking below. They have a thick seed-eating bill. Similar Blue Grosbeak is larger with a heavier bill and wing bars.

The cheerful song is made of often paired phrases.

Indigo Buntings come to feeders in summer from Maine to North Dakota, and just across the border into Canada, then south to northern Florida, eastern Texas, and New Mexico, occasionally farther west.

These birds eat black oil sunflower and other smaller seeds at hopper feeders.

Photo of Red-bellied Woodpecker on tree trunk
Red-bellied Woodpecker. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have the typical woodpecker shape: stocky with large head, long pointed bill, short pointed tail. This bird is pale gray below, with many thin black-and-white bars across the back and wings. Red on the hind head is more extensive on the male.

The call of this bird is a rolling churr.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers come to feeders in summer from southern Maine to southern North Dakota and south from Florida west to eastern Texas, Nebraska.

The woodpeckers eat peanuts and tree nuts, as well as suet at feeders.

Photo of Tufted Titmouse at bird feeder
Tufted Titmouse. Anne773 from Pixabay.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouses are shaped like larger stocky chickadees. They are plump with a large head on a short neck. The bill is short and stout. The tail is medium length and wide. They have a wispy crest that isn't always noticeable. They are blue-gray above, pale below. They have black feathers on the forehead and around the eye.

Their song is a loud whistled Peter Peter Peter.

Tufted Titmouses come to feeders in summer from Maine to southeastern Minnesota, and southward from Florida to eastern Texas.

These birds eat peanuts. They also eat black oil sunflower seeds from hopper and tube feeders.

Photo of Eastern Bluebird on bird house
Eastern Bluebird. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird is a smaller blue bird with rusty breast. They are more likely on the edge of fields and orchards and farms rather than in towns.

The calls of these birds is a mellow musical chur-lee, repeated as a song.

Eastern Bluebirds come to feeders in summer from Maine to eastern Montana and adjacent Canada, and southward from Florida to eastern Texas. 

These birds eat mealworms and small fruit provided on a platform feeder.

Photo of Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder
Ruby-throated Hummingbird. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are tiny birds with large heads and long sword-like bills, short tails, and thin wings that beat extremely fast to become a blur. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are green above, gray below. The males have a brilliant deep red throat.

The call of these birds is a chew note.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come to feeders in summer across southern Canada, west to Saskatchewan, and all of the eastern United States west to eastern North Dakota, south from Florida to eastern Texas.

These birds drink sugar nectar from hummingbird feeders.

Photo of Eastern Towhee in tree
Eastern Towhee. Skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Towhee

Towhees are rather large sparrows, spending most of their time on the ground or in dense brush. They have round breast, long full tail, large head with thicker seed-eating bill. Male Eastern Towhees are blackish above, females brown. Both genders have rusty sides and white belly. They have white panel of feathers in the wing and white tail spots on the outer feathers.

The song varies a bit by population, but one or two quick sharp notes followed by a long musical trill on one pitch, drink your teaeeeee.

Eastern Towhees come to feeders in summer from southern Maine to northeastern North Dakota, and from there southward from Florida to Louisiana.

These birds eat sunflower and other seeds from hopper or platform feeders, but often prefer to feed on the ground under the feeder.

Photo of Rose-breasted Grosbeak on bird feeder pole
Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Susan Killian from Pixabay.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are large finch-like birds with big thick pink bills. Males are black above with white wing patches, white below, with red chest. Females are brownish with white wing bars, and the under parts are buffy with thin dark streaks.

These birds sing rapid robin-like phrases.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks come to feeders in summer in the eastern and northeastern United States. They are found across southern Canada, west to northeast British Columbia. In the US they summer from Maine to North Dakota, and then southward from Pennsylvania to Arkansas, also south in the Appalachian mountains to eastern Tennessee.

These birds eat black oil sunflower seeds in hopper feeders.

Birds that come to feeders in summer in the northern United States

In addition to the widespread birds that are found throughout the United States in the first section, this section lists the common birds in the northern US, along the Canada border, east to west.

Birds that come to feeders in summer in the northern United States and are found primarily only in this region in summer include:

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Pine Siskin

Photo of Black-capped Chickadee in a cedar
Black-capped Chickadee. Greg Gillson.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadees are small plump birds with active tails and a big head with short stout bill. They are gray above, pale below. They have a black cap on the head and a large black bib, contrasting with white face.

Besides the common chick-a-dee-dee-dee call they sing 3 to 5 whistled notes: fee-bee-bee-bee.

Black-capped Chickadees come to feeders in summer from Alaska across Canada and the northern United States south to West Virginia, northern Illinois, northern Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Oregon. 

These birds eat black oil sunflower seeds from hopper and tube feeders.

Photo of Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco on ground
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)

Dark-eyed Juncos are small sparrows with flashing white outer tail feathers. They have rather small pink bills that contrast with the dark head. There are several populations that are colored slightly differently. Throughout most of Canada and the eastern United States is the Slate-colored form. It is dark slate gray above with a white belly. The females show a bit of brown on the back.

These birds sing a musical trill on one pitch.

Dark-eyed Juncos come to feeders in summer from Alaska and across Canada. They breed in the northern United States from northern Minnesota and Michigan and in the Northeast, including Maine, Pennsylvania, and south in the mountains to eastern Tennessee. They are also widespread in the West from Washington State to Montana, south to northern New Mexico and southern California.

These birds will eat small seeds on platform feeders, but prefer to feed on the ground under the feeder.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch on tree branch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson.

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatches are small stocky birds, with short tails and big heads with sharply pointed bills. They are gray above and white below, including the face, with a bit of rusty on the flanks. They crawl over and around branches and tree trunks. 

These birds have nasal yank yank calls. Their songs vary by location, but is often a whistled series of tuey notes.

White-breasted Nuthatches come to feeders in summer all across southern Canada and southward in the northern United States to Georgia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, eastern Arizona, and most of California. 

In the East these birds are found in oak and deciduous woods, in the West oak and pine.

These birds eat peanuts, and love black oil sunflower seeds from tube and hopper feeders.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow on fence post
White-crowned Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows are fairly large feeder birds with long tails. The black and white striped head is tan and brown striped for their first year of life. The backs are striped in muted grays and browns. There are two thin white wing bars.

The songs of these birds are highly variable over their range. In the Pacific Northwest they sing a cheerful series of notes and trills: see MEE? silly silly me, CHEER-chr-rrr. Those breeding in Alaska and western Canada sing a more mournful WEE-per, pilly pilly per. They also sing in spring migration in April and May, as they make their way north.

White-crowned Sparrows come to feeders in summer across northern Canada and Alaska, southward to Colorado and California, and in mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. In the East they winter throughout and may remain until mid-May, until the last ones migrate north.

These birds eat sunflower seeds and mixed smaller seeds from platform or hopper feeders, but often prefer to feed on the ground under the feeders.

Photo of Pine Siskin on bird feeder
Pine Siskin. Greg Gillson.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins are tiny finches with yellow wing and tail edges that reveal their relationship to goldfinches. These birds may be streaked lighter or darker brown, and the yellow may be bold or pale.

The song of these birds is a goldfinch-like but husky series of trills and twitters. One of their diagnostic calls is the zipper call: z-z-z-z-i-i-i-i-i-i-p. It sounds like a coat with a big metal zipper being zipped up!

Pine Siskins come to feeders in summer across Canada and Alaska south to the northernmost states and in the West in the mountains through Mexico. However, in some years, following a southward winter incursion called an irruption, they may remain to breed as far south as West Virginia, Illinois, Nebraska.

These birds eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube and hopper feeders. They also love Niger seed from thistle feeders.

Birds that come to feeders in summer in the western United States

This next section lists summer birds in the West. Some are widespread in the west, others are limited to California, or the desert southwest. See each species account for the specific range. Besides the widespread birds that introduced this article, you should also find these birds at your feeder in the West.

Birds that come to feeders in summer in the western United States and are found primarily only here in summer are:

  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • California Scrub-Jay
  • California Towhee
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Spotted Towhee
  • White-winged Dove
  • Gila Woodpecker
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco

Photo of Anna's Hummingbird on branch
Anna's Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbirds are tiny birds, but these are large for hummingbirds. Plump and short tailed with a long tubular bill. This bird is green above with a gray breast and green wash across the belly. Males have the entire throat and forecrown pink-red. Females and young males have smaller amounts of red on the center of the throat.

This hummingbird is one of only a few with a song. Its song is an insect-like jumble of raspy and buzzy notes given from a high perch. Call a hard chick.

Anna's Hummingbirds come to feeders in summer from Vancouver, British Columbia southward through California and into nearby Arizona, Nevada, and Baja Mexico.

Hummingbirds drink sugar water from special hummingbird nectar feeders.

Photo of Black-chinned Hummingbird on bush
Black-chinned Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbirds are green above, and gray or green on the flanks. Males have a full throat of feathers that look black at nearly all angles (the red throat of other hummingbirds also look black unless they refract sunlight at just the right angle). When they feed the pump their longer tails as they hover.

Call a soft chew.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds come to feeders in summer from southeast British Columbia southward in dry valleys and wooded foothills to California, Colorado, western Texas. They are absent from the damp Pacific Northwest rain forests and valleys.

These birds drink sugar water from hummingbird nectar feeders.

Photo of Rufous Hummingbird on feeder
Rufous Hummingbird. Greg Gillson.

Rufous Hummingbird

Male Rufous Hummingbirds are rusty cinnamon on the upper parts and belly, with a bright red throat. Females are green above, but still have the cinnamon under parts. 

The diagnostic buzzy chase notes often give away Rufous/Allen's Hummingbirds: zee-chuppity-chup.

Rufous Hummingbirds come to feeders in summer from SE Alaska, south to eastern Montana, Idaho, Oregon. [Allen's Hummingbirds on the coast of California are nearly identical.]

These birds drink sugar water from special nectar hummingbird feeders.

Photo of California Scrub-Jay on sidewalk
California Scrub-Jay. Greg Gillson.

California Scrub-Jay

Scrub Jays are large feeder birds with long strong legs and long stout bill and full tail. These are blue on the head, wings, and tail. The back is grayish-brown, throat white, under parts gray. A blue necklace crosses the throat. They also have a black mask.

Jays don't sing, but they have loud raspy shrink? calls.

California Scrub-Jays come to feeders in summer from British Columbia, western Washington, western Oregon, and California, through Baja, Mexico. [The very similar Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay summers throughout the Great Basin, from Nevada, Utah, to eastern Arizona and western Texas.]

These birds love peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds from platform feeders.

Photo of California Towhee on shrub
California Towhee. Greg Gillson.

California Towhee

Towhees are large sparrows with full rounded tails. The California Towhee is rather plain brown with rusty under tail.

Calls are a loud metallic chink! Its song is composed of a series of accelerating trilled call notes: chink-chink-ink-ink-ink-ink...

California Towhees come to feeders in summer from extreme SW Oregon, through California, and all of Baja, Mexico.

These birds eat mixed seeds on the ground, but will feed on low platform feeders.

Photo of Lesser Goldfinch in willows
Lesser Goldfinch. Greg Gillson.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinches are rather tiny birds with short tails. They are bright yellow below (including the under tail coverts, which are white on American Goldfinches) and green or even blackish on the back. The wings are black with white wing patches. Males have a black forecrown.

The Song is a long series of twitters, trills, and sweet notes. Call notes include a kitten-like mewing rising tee-yee or minor falling tee-year.

Lesser Goldfinches come to feeders in summer from southern Washington State, Idaho, and far eastern Wyoming, south from California to western Texas and through Mexico.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders. They also love to eat Niger seed from thistle feeders.

Photo of Spotted Towhee on pine branch
Spotted Towhee. Greg Gillson.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhees hide in brambles and rustle in the leaves on the ground. They are large sparrows with plump bodies and thick bills. They have a black hood and upper parts, including the tail. The back and wings are spotted with white, some forms barely so, others highly spotted. They have large white spots on the outer tail corners. The sides are rusty orange, the belly white.

This bird is named for its song, a sharp note or two and a trill: tow-weeeeee.

Spotted Towhees come to feeders in summer from southern parts of western Canada, Washington State to western North Dakota, south to northern Kansas, Colorado, California, the Big Bend area of western Texas, and south into Mexico.

These birds eat mixed seeds from platform feeders or on the ground under the feeder.

Photo of White-winged Dove on shepherds hook
White-winged Dove. Greg Gillson.

White-winged Dove

White-winged Doves are rather large pigeons with a broad rounded tail and white wing patches.

The song of this bird is a cooing who-cooks-for-you?, surprisingly similar to the hooting of Barred Owl!

White-winged Doves come to feeders in summer in deserts from southern Colorado to SE California and Texas, southward through Mexico. Also recently along the Gulf Coast all the way to Florida.

These birds eat various seeds and grains including sunflower seeds and cracked corn from platform feeders.

Photo of Gila Woodpecker on palo verde tree
Gila Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.

Gila Woodpecker

This grayish brown woodpecker with the zebra striping on its back wings and tail is stocky with a stout pointed bill. White wing patches show in flight.

They have a rolling churrr call.

Gila Woodpeckers come to feeders in summer in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and western Mexico. Similar Golden-fronted Woodpecker lives in Texas.

Will eat peanuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, jelly from platform feeders. Love suet. Drink nectar from hummingbird feeders.

Photo of Black-headed Grosbeak on bird feeder
Black-headed Grosbeak. Greg Gillson.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeaks are big finch-like birds with big heads and very big bills. The tails are medium-short. Males have black head and upper parts and orange breast and yellow belly. The black wings have large wing patches. Females are brown above, buffy below with a striped head. Young males in their first fall are half-way in between.

The song of this bird is a fast robin-like caroling.

Black-headed Grosbeaks come to feeders in summer from western North Dakota south to Big Bend area of western Texas, and westward from southern British Columbia south through California into mountains of Mexico.

These birds love black oil sunflower seeds from hopper feeders.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on branch
Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco. Greg Gillson.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)

Juncos are small plump birds with big heads, small pink bills, and tails that flash white outer tail feathers. The Oregon Junco type has a black or dark gray hood and brown back, with pink sides. 

[See Slate-colored Junco above, in the section on northern feeder birds.]

These birds sing a metallic trill on one pitch.

Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos come to feeders in summer from SE Alaska south to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, California. Similar Dark-eyed Juncos (Pink-sided, Gray-headed, White-winged, and others) occur from Colorado and Nevada to Arizona and New Mexico.

These birds like to eat smaller mixed seeds from platform and hopper feeders, but often feed on the ground under the bird feeders.

For birds throughout the year in backyards of individual states, please see the Article Index

Related: Fruits you should be feeding wild birds

Related: Birds that come to feeders in winter

Related: Secrets to feeding birds in winter

Related: Most common birds in the US

Related: Why fall is best time to set up a bird feeder

Related: When to stop feeding birds

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Why do birds throw seeds out of the feeder?

 So, why do birds throw seeds out of the feeder?

Here are the top 3 of the 7 reasons birds throw seed from feeders:

Birds throw seeds they don't like from the feeder, searching for their favorite. Birds throw the inedible outer seed hulls from the feeder, eating the edible kernel. Birds may accidentally knock seed out of the feeder.

Below I identify 7 reasons why birds might throw seeds out of your feeder. Once we understand those reasons, we are in a better position to solve this common feeder problem. Throughout this article I link to other articles that solve some of these problems.

Only one of these reasons is accidental, though. In the other six cases, birds are throwing seed from the feeder on purpose. Why would they do this? Let's find out.

Photo of birds at bird feeder. GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

Birds throw seed hulls from the feeder

In general, birds do not eat the entire whole seed.

Birds eat the meat of the seed, the kernel. They discard the seed's fibrous outer covering, the hull. If you examine the seeds under the feeder you may see that it is mostly the two inedible halves of the hull that have been tossed on the ground. This is true even for tiny seeds--they all have an outer covering that must be discarded before they reach the edible kernel.

Doves and quail eat the entire seed. They use their gizzards to grind it all up.

[I have written an article comparing different types of no mess and waste free bird seeds. Most of these have seeds with the hulls removed.]

Finches and sparrows "chew." Their jaws move both up and down and also sideways, in a circle. Thus they are able to use their bill and tongue and split the seeds in half, extract and swallow the kernel, and spit out the hulls. They sit on the feeder and chew and spit. Okay, it's not really spitting, more just letting the inedible pieces fall from their mouths. These are the birds responsible for much of the mess.

Chickadees and nuthatches are not able to chew in this way. Thus, they take one seed at a time, such as a sunflower seed, and fly off with it to a nearby perch. They hold the seed with their toes against the tree bark to wedge it tightly. Then they pound the seed open with hammer blows of their beak. In fact, this is very action is the origin of the nuthatch's name.

This type of “one seed at a time” and eating it elsewhere makes for a very neat bird feeder. Don't we wish all birds were so non-messy?

Photo of Spotted Towhee in blackberry bush
Spotted Towhees habitually kick when they feed. Greg Gillson.

Some birds kick seeds out of the feeder by habit

Towhees, Fox Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and some other ground-feeding birds habitually kick over leaf litter as they feed, searching under fallen detritus for a snack. They can't help themselves when they get on the feeder. Kicking is how you eat. Off flies perfectly good seed—thrown from the feeder!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (source) calls this maneuver of the towhee the "double-scratch." They quickly kick and scratch the ground, hopping forward and back with both feet at once. Then they look to see if they've unearthed any goodies to eat.

Birds throw poor quality seeds from the feeder

The components of bird seed are harvested by machine. The plants are cut and the seeds separated from the stalk and leaves. By cutting all at once there will be some mature seeds and some not quite ready. Some seeds may not have anything in them.

Birds weigh and examine and test seeds to see if they have a nice meaty center, before they open them. If there's not food inside, then they are discarded. There's no sense expending energy on an empty seed. A bird who can't figure out the difference won't long survive.

Photo of bird feeder with uneaten cracked corn
Birds ate the sunflower seeds, but not the cracked corn.

Birds throw seeds they don't like from the feeder

Wagner's Songbird Supreme bird seed is my favorite for attracting the most kind of birds to my feeder. If it isn't available, a close second is Wagner's Greatest Variety. These are Amazon affiliate links that help support this blog. Thank you.

While you may think you're getting a great deal on bird seed, the birds may have other ideas.

Many of the cheaper mixed bird seed packages contain more than half seeds that most birds don't like. Such seed includes red milo, wheat, and cracked corn.

What do you do with food on your plate you don't like? Yep, into the trash it goes. Birds throw out the seeds from the feeder they don't want in order to get to the seeds they do want.

What does this mean? It is the equivalent of buying a whole bag of mixed bird seed, bringing it home and immediately dumping half of it out on the ground! No wonder it creates a mess!

Most birds at the feeder love black oil sunflower seeds. Many sparrows also love white proso millet. Choose bird seed with mostly these two ingredients.

[I recommend Wagner's Songbird Supreme (my review) as a mixed seed with only foods that birds love! No filler! It's what I continue to buy for my bird feeders.]

Birds throw germinating seeds from the feeder

Is wet bird seed bad for birds?

Not at first, during or immediately following a rainstorm. Wet bird seed may clump together and be hard to eat. 

If bird seed gets soaked through it may germinate and start growing. Birds will not eat germinating seeds. Birds will throw such "bad" seed out of the feeder. And it leads to the next problem if not quickly cleaned up.

Birds throw moldy bird seed from the feeder

If seed sits in the bird feeder and stays wet it will become mushy and dank-smelling. That's mold and bacteria growing.

Can birds eat moldy bird seed? They may try. And it may end up making them sick or killing them. If they don't eat it, they may throw it out of the feeder, making quite a mess.

More than likely, though, they'll abandon a feeder that has moldy bird seed, especially if it is wet.

For the same reason, birds may not eat old seed left over from last year. Start with fresh seed every fall.

Birds accidentally spill seed from the feeder

Sometimes the seed is accidentally knocked out of a hopper or tray feeder by active birds. 

Or when pulling one seed from a tube feeder, another seed or two falls to the ground.

For all these reasons, birds may throw out seed from the feeder, making quite a mess.

So, that begs the question: What do you do about it?

For that, please read my article:  End the mess of feeding wild birds!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

End the mess of feeding wild birds!

How do you feed wild birds without making a mess?

Many people give up on feeding birds. You can see those abandoned bird feeders in people's yards. One major reason people stop feeding birds? "It's just too messy!" 

So, how do you feed birds without making a mess?

You can feed birds without making such a mess by making 3 changes. Change the amount of food you offer to only what the birds eat in a day. Change the type of food you offer to hulled sunflower and other hulled seeds. Change the type of bird feeder to a tube feeder.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow by Greg Gillson.

Messy bird feeders are discouraging. Fallen seeds and hulls can kill the grass. They can draw insect pests. Messy bird feeders can even draw rats. Worse yet, if not cared for properly, bird feeders can actually spread diseases to birds we're trying to help and enjoy.

I've lived in homes with ample backyards where bird feeding was simple. Any seed spillage just went to the ground at the rough back edge of the property. However, I've also lived in second-floor apartments and other places where feeding birds was not practical because of the mess.

Winter weather can blow bird seed hulls all over the yard, tip over feeders, and make a gooey mess of moldy seeds unless you clean up immediately. Let's face it, going out regularly in winter weather to clean the bird feeders is not high on most people's list of fun things to do.

If you've stopped feeding birds because of the mess, perhaps you can use these tips to start feeding birds again--this time without the mess!

Make bird feeding less messy by putting out less food

Do your birds have a never-ending supply of bird seed? If so, the birds have no need to search for any seeds spilled on the ground under the feeder.

By putting out less food than your birds can eat in a day, you encourage birds to feed on the ground searching for spilled seed after the feeder is empty.

Make sure to refill your feeder every day, though, or birds will not return regularly. If there's no extra food in your feeder it is less likely to go bad or attract non-bird pests.

[You may like this related article: Bird feeder empty in a day--How often should you refill?]

Make bird feeding less messy by changing to hulled sunflower and other seeds

The most popular bird seed blends that people buy are the least expensive. But these are filled with up to half seeds that birds don't like. They throw it out and it creates a mess. Don't buy bird seed that contains red milo. It is actually less expensive to pay twice as much for bird seed that has no milo.

Most of the seed that birds do eat is the inedible hull. Hulls are entirely waste. Hulls are heavy. By weight, sunflower seeds are 35-40% hulls, waste, mess. Hulled sunflower seeds probably cost more than double that of seeds that have the hulls on. But there's no mess with hulled seeds.

Also consider offering non-seed alternatives. Fruits and nuts (shelled) are a good supplement to hulled sunflower seeds. Suet is a good choice in cool weather.

[I wrote an article on different kinds of sunflower seeds, including hulled sunflowers.]

Make bird feeding less messy by switching to a tube feeder

Some sparrows habitually kick and scratch the ground while they eat. If they're on a tray feeder, seeds will fly.

Large numbers of birds on the feeder create chaos, and bird seeds may fly!

Tube feeders make bird feeding less messy. Only a few seeds at a time are available to one bird per feeding port. This makes spillage less of a problem.

Photo of a tube feeder. AtlAdGuy from Pixabay
Chickadee at tube feeder

Tube feeders are also more resistant to rain soaked seeds, reducing the chance for moldy seeds. Ground feeding birds will still feed on any spilled seeds under the tube feeder. A bonus to tube feeders is that large birds have trouble coming in and eating all the food at once.

Not all birds eat from tube feeders. Tube feeders attract finches, goldfinches, chickadees, siskins, and nuthatches. 

However, if any seeds do spill out, sparrows, juncos, towhees, and doves may search under the feeder and keep the ground clean.

Feed different foods in different feeders. That way birds will go to the feeder that has the food they want and they won't be picking through and throwing away the seeds they don't want.

Go out there. Give bird feeding another try. This time make it non-messy!

This is an updated rewrite of one of my very first articles:  How to feed birds without making a mess.

I have also written a related article comparing different types of no mess and waste free bird seed. This article also has a couple of my recommended brands of no mess bird seed for you to try.

Related: Why do birds throw seeds out of the feeder?

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