Last Updated on December 17, 2021 by Nancie
Filling Feeders: Should you keep your bird feeder full at all times? Or should you only add seed when it is completely empty? I’ve been experimenting a bit with this and my conclusion is that how full you should keep your feeder depends on feeder type and sometimes weather. You can also somewhat control the feeder area’s bird density by adjusting seed availability among several feeders.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Filling Tube Feeders With All Bottom Ports
When I Let Bottom Port Tube Feeders Go Empty
Some tube feeders have a long column to fill with seed, but all the ports are near the bottom. Squirrel Buster Plus feeders are an example of this feeder type. My usual approach is to fill this type feeder up and then not add more seed until it is empty. This encourages good seed turnover. Depending on your specific tube feeder’s design, it can make it less likely that seed lingers in the feeder to go bad. It is also easier to shake excess bits from an almost empty feeder so you can start fresh.
When I Keep Bottom Port Tube Feeders Full
But there are times when I do top off these feeders instead of letting them go empty first. One obvious example is when I am planning to go away for a few days. I’ll top off all my feeders so the seed is more likely to last until I get back. I might also top off my tube feeders before/during a snow storm when there are more birds than usual eating. Pre-filling them before a storm can also save me having to go out and refill them in bad weather.
Another weather-related time that I keep hanging tube feeders topped off is when weather forecasts call for strong wind. I’ve found that tube feeders are usually pretty stable in light wind. But feeders can blow around if you have baffles or weather domes over them that can catch the wind. Filling feeders to the top can add enough weight to keep them from kiting around unless the wind is super strong or the food is unusually light-weight.
Filling Tube Feeders With Ports Scattered Along the Tube
Other tube feeders have a series of ports along half or more of the length of the tube column. These are often arranged in groups of two opposite facing ports. With this type of feeder, if you let the seed level go down, the upper ports won’t provide access to seed but lower ports still have seed. One example in my yard is the Squirrel Buster Classic feeder with two sets of port pairs on the lower half of the tube. Other examples are the Woodlink caged tube feeders and Aspects nyjer feeders. These have ports in several paired groups along the tube’s length.
When I Keep Many-Port Tube Feeders Full
My approach for these feeders varies. If we are expecting bad weather where a lot of birds will be visiting or if it is supposed to get windy, I top the feeders off so they start out full. During snow storms, I’ll probably continue topping them off to give more birds a chance to eat.
I don’t find I usually have to keep topping off feeders during very windy days because I notice birds are often less likely to come to the feeders in high winds. (Note: If winds are expected to be extremely strong, I’ll take both the feeders and their baffles down.)
When I Let Many-Port Tube Feeders Go Half Empty or Empty
But when the weather is warm and/or calm, especially in summer and early fall months, I don’t constantly top off these feeders. On warmer days, there aren’t typically as many birds visiting. I also have enough feeders that if some feeder ports don’t have seed, there are still others with seed.
As with other tube feeders, it can be good to at least occasionally allow a feeder to go completely empty. That way you know that all the seed gets eaten. By adding new seed at that point, it is all fresh. (If you have several feeders, you might let one gradually go empty while another is still filled so there is still seed available.)
Also, keeping a lot of feeders full can at all times encourage large flocks of one bird species. While it can be fun to brag about dozens of goldfinches visiting daily, there are downsides even when it is a bird species you like. For example, there are times when I have so many finches (usually House Finches and American Goldfinches) that I worry a bit about bringing so many birds into one limited area to eat.
By spreading these popular feeders out around my yard and not always completely filling all of them, it spreads the flock out. I think reducing bird density at feeders makes sense as a way to try and reduce spread of disease like House Finch conjunctivitis and avian pox.
These particular bird species still flock together and roost together. That’s their nature. But at least they are spread out a little more at my feeders. When every last feeder port isn’t full of finches, it also seems to encourage other species to visit. Spreading out the finches has encouraged more visits from small birds like chickadees, wrens, nuthatches and titmouses.
Still Checking Tube Feeders Daily
One thing you have to watch with some of these feeders though is the seed distribution in a half-full feeder. When full, the seed’s total weight and volume encourages the seed to settle down inside the tube so that there is seed at all the ports. But if you let the feeder go half empty, you might find air pockets inside the tube. Then, sometimes the bottom ports will go empty even when there is still seed higher up in the tube. This is probably more likely with some seed (like sunflower hearts) than others.
It can be hard to pick up on this problem when viewing a feeder from a distance. So even if I don’t top off these feeders every day, I check the ports and give the feeders a quick up and down shake to redistribute the seed down the length of the feeder as needed.
Then when the feeder is empty, clean it if necessary and refill it. When topping off or refilling a feeder, check to make sure there isn’t seed that has gone bad stuck in it somewhere. Usually this happens around the ports where rain can get in or near the bottom where seed can get stuck in some feeders. If you see bad seed lingering there, clean out the feeder before refilling.
Keeping Platform Feeders Full?
I’ve always been a host who doesn’t want to run out of food or drink if I’ve invited people over. So I tend to make or buy too much just to be sure. With people, that just means leftovers and not having to cook the next day, so no worries. But I have tended to do the same thing with my platform feeders. This is fine when there is a snowstorm and it all gets eaten in a day. But it can be a problem at other times when food sits in a feeder too long, gets wet and goes bad. (Platform feeders I use are the BirdsChoice Fly-Through Platform feeders and BirdsChoice Hanging Platform feeders.)
Downsides of a Too-Full Platform Feeder
So I’ve been intentionally restricting my filling of platform feeders so that they go almost completely empty between refills. Previously, I would regularly top off platform feeders even if there was still seed left in them. By indiscriminately adding seed every day, the seed level would gradually get deeper. This encouraged birds to eat the fresh seed on top while seed lingered underneath and in corners. The longer seed sits in an open platform feeder, the more it will get pooped on (encouraging disease spread) and the more likely it will get wet and moldy.
Advantages to Letting A Platform Feeder Go Empty or Almost Empty
To always have some seed available, it isn’t necessary for feeders to always be full. So now I check the platform feeders each day and only add seed if the feeder is empty or almost empty. This has dramatically reduced wasted seed at these feeders. Just this small change means that the seed in these feeders is cleaner and fresher. Over time you get a feel for how much seed is eaten each day at different times of year. So there is still plenty of seed for the birds to eat.
Another advantage to not filling platform feeders too deeply is that some birds sweep their beaks through seed to find what they like. Often this seed winds up as a mess on the ground underneath. European Starlings are the worst offenders in my yard. But if the platform feeder’s sides are a few inches high and the seed depth isn’t going up to the top, less of that seed winds up on the ground where it may or may not get eaten.
Do You Keep Your Feeders Full?
That’s how I’m filling my feeders these days. How often do you fill your feeders? Do you let them go empty or does keeping feeders topped off and full work better for you? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome below.
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