Birds Not Coming to Feeders

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Bird Feeder With No Birds
Bird Feeder with No Birds

When birds don’t come to your feeders, what can you do? When you are trying to attract birds to your yard, it helps to think like a bird. Here is a checklist of possible problems and solutions for attracting birds to your feeders.

Are Your Feeders Consistently Full?

If you only put out food occasionally, it may take birds a while to find it when you do put it out. If feeders go empty often, they will look for more reliable food sources and may not come to your feeders as often.

Some bird watchers feed birds year-round while others only put out food in the winter. If you only put food out in certain seasons, it might take neighborhood birds some time to realize that food is now available again. To get an idea of how long it can take to find a new or moved feeder, check out my post on Will Birds Find My Feeder?

What Seed Is In Your Feeders?

Make sure the seed in your feeders is what birds want. Each type of bird has their own preferences. Many cheaper seed mixes are full of filler seed that birds either don’t usually like or that appeals to birds we aren’t always hoping to attract.

Black oil sunflower seed appeals to many birds we typically try to attract to feeders. (Try sunflower hearts/chips if the black oil seed shells make too much mess.) But there are other seeds to try.

For example, cardinals often love safflower seed. Sparrows, juncos, mourning doves and many other ground feeders (including starlings and cowbirds) also like white proso millet. In warmer months, sugar water mixtures appeal to hummingbirds. Suet appeals to many birds in the winter as well as in their breeding seasons. Some birds don’t eat seed at all, and are instead attracted by things like berries or pine cones they find on the bushes and trees and other plants in your yard.

The seed you put in a feeder makes a big difference. To help you out, check my post on How to Choose Birdseed For Backyard Birds. Also see Cornell Lab’s FeederWatch’s chart to help you pick foods for the birds you are hoping to attract.

Is The Seed/Food Fresh?

All birds are looking for nutritious, fresh food. Goldfinches in particular are notoriously picky about their nyjer seed, but no bird is going to be thrilled with moldy or dried up stale seed. (Moldy seed is also not healthy for them.)

If the seed is wet and clumped or full of cobwebs or has been sitting out in a feeder for months, get rid of it and start fresh.

Are Your Feeders A Match For Birds You Want to Attract?

Different birds like feeding in different ways. A woodpecker is going to favor suet from a suet feeder, preferably away from other busy feeders. Cardinals tend to favor platform feeders. Juncos and sparrows like to feed on the ground. Finches will feed from tube feeders and platform feeders.

Research the birds you want to attract and put the food they like into the type of feeder that suits them.

A Ground Platform Feeder Hides Under a Picnic Table Near a Brush Pile & Vine Tangle
A Ground Platform Feeder Hides Under a Picnic Table Near a Brush Pile & Vine Tangle

Is Your Yard Bird Friendly?

Is There Cover?

Most feeder birds appreciate quick access to cover so they can escape from predators. A feeder on a pole out in the middle of a barren yard of cut grass may detract squirrels but may not get as many customers as a more thoughtfully sited feeder.

Feeders should not be not right on top of bushes where neighborhood cats can lurk. But at the same time, they should also not too far away from bushes, brush piles, trees or other cover.

If you don’t have a lot of cover, make some! Build a brush pile. My yard has a lot of old trees that drop branches. I gather them up as they fall to add to brush piles I’ve built near feeders.

In the winter, especially during snow storms, I have sometimes also put a low platform feeder under an old picnic table. It tends to be popular then, probably because it offers protection from hawks during a period when trees are not leafed out.

DIY Birdbath with De-Icer
Improvised Heated Birdbath Using Plastic Plant Saucer and De-Icer

Is There Water?

One of the best ways to attract birds is to provide water. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to have streams or ponds in our yards. But you don’t have to spend thousands on a fancy pond or even hundreds on birdbaths. An inexpensive shallow pot saucer from the local hardware or nursery placed on the ground or a small table a few feet from some cover will thrill many birds. If you are looking to purchase a birdbath though, I did a post on My Favorite Birdbath.

In the winter months, consider a heated pet water bowl or add a de-icer to a regular birdbath. You’ll be the talk of the local birds if you have water available when it is frozen everywhere else.

Where Are Your Feeders?

If you place feeders in an area with a lot of human activity, some shyer birds may stay away. Think about where your feeders are located. Right next to the door might make it convenient for re-filling, but you might get more customers if there is a little distance from where people come and go all the time.

Orange Cat
Neighborhood Cats Like to Bird Watch Too

Are Predators Stalking Feeders?

In my neighborhood, there are quite a few feral cats, as well as neighborhood cats whose owners let them wander during the day. Now, I love cats. (We’ve got four inside cats that were originally feral.) But even well-fed cats do like to stalk birds, something I don’t tolerate around the feeders.

The regular birds keep an eye out for them and will usually back off from the feeders until the cat moves on. As long as the cat doesn’t linger in the area, the birds usually come right back. If you have problems with cats lingering right new birdbaths or feeders to spring on unsuspecting birds, check my post on Keeping Cats Out of Birdbaths. A Yard Enforcer sprinkler can be helpful too!

A hunting hawk on the other hand, can scare birds away from the feeders for hours or even days. Birds take hawks very seriously!

Sometimes you’ll see recommendations to take feeders down for a week or two if a hawk is hunting around your feeders and you don’t like it. I find that local birds will often make themselves scarce. And that encourages the hawk to move on . . . temporarily. Hawks generally come back eventually because they’ve got to eat too!

Problem Solving to Attract Birds

Feeding birds can be as easy is filling a bird feeder and hanging it up outside. But more often a bit of problem solving goes into it. When problems come up, spend a little time observing and thinking about it from a bird’s point of view.

You may need to try a few things before you find what works. You might think that this is a bad thing, but I don’t think so. When you see something that isn’t working in your bird feeder set-up and find a solution, it feels really good, like solving a puzzle.

Nancie


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9 thoughts on “Birds Not Coming to Feeders

  1. Nice resource. But the fact is that I keep a full comfortable environment and secure place in my backyard for coming cardinals. I maintain every single recommendation that you mentioned in this guide and there is no fear of hawks. Even I keep peanuts even in Summer with a fear of grackles but they never come to my garden.
    Are cardinals not available to my area??

  2. I put a bird feeder and a hummingbird feeder both of my backyard’s sides. I live in Florida. I used black oil sunflower seed and nothing else in the bird feeder. There is a tree nearby and i put a birdbath back there and keep the water fresh and have a solar fountain that is constantly spraying up in it. I have not had a single solitary bird visit. We do have some feral cats around our house. I was thinking of putting fox urine granules in the backyard to keep them away. No the fox urine granules scare away the birds that still have not shown up?

    1. Hi Todd, It can take some time for birds to find new feeders. The fountain is a good draw. You might also try sprinkling a little bit of the seed on the ground near the seed feeder. Sometimes birds will see that before they notice the feeder. For the hummingbird feeder, sometimes flowers can draw a hummingbird into the yard. Even a potted flower placed nearby can do the trick.

      On the fox urine, I doubt that would scare away the birds. We have a fox come through the yard at times. The other day the fox decided to curl up and take a nap in the grass about 15 feet from some of the feeders. It didn’t seem to bother the birds. While I didn’t see them near the fox, they still visited the feeders.

      Good luck!
      Nancie

  3. I put up a feeder nearly two weeks ago. I have a tree line in the back yard and several bushes where I see birds flying into constantly. I have had MAYBE two birds peck at the feeder. I have moved it to several different places throughout the yard and put a bird bath, but no luck. The birds fly past it all day long, some have even stopped on top of the hook holding it up, but haven’t eaten. I have even seen them eating on the ground below it, but still no takers on the feeder. Some birds seem to stop on the fence or ground and stare at it but that is it. I’ve sprinkled seed on the ground and that only brings the chipmunk and one very persistant squirrel. What else is there to try?!

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Sounds really frustrating! It’s definitely a puzzle to be solved.

      My questions for you would be:
      What species of birds are you seeing in your trees and bushes?
      What type of feeder are you using?
      What type of seed is in the feeder?

      It’s important to match the food and the feeder to the birds you are trying to attract. It is possible that the birds are not interested in the seed you are using or that they don’t understand the feeder. If you can give me a little more information, I might be able to give you some suggestions.

      Nancie

      1. I have a tube feeder. It has 6 holes with perches. In it I have black oil sunflower and a fruit and nut mix (they are not mixed together). I have seen cardinals, blue jays, sparrows and finches.

        1. Hi Jennifer,

          Thanks.

          Seed: Ok. Most of the birds you mention are not fruit eaters except for the Blue Jays. The jays and some sparrows like peanut hearts though. The black oil sunflower seed should appeal to the cardinals and blue jays as long as they are fresh. (The oil in old seed dries out, making it much less interesting to birds. So if you think the seed may be old, getting something fresher would be the first thing to try.) Also really examine the seed in the feeder. Make sure it isn’t getting jammed up inside somewhere so that the seed isn’t flowing to the ports. It’s really easy to miss that.

          With the sparrows and finches, it would depend on the specific species. Some have beaks strong enough to handle the shell on black oil sunflower seeds while others (ex: small Chipping Sparrows) would need unshelled sunflower hearts/chips. Check out Cornell’s Feederwatch Interactive to see more specifically which birds like which foods: https://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/ The interactive also shows what feeder styles they feel work best for each bird.

          Feeder: If your sunflower seed is good and fresh, then the problem may be the feeder. Northern Cardinals can eat at larger tube feeders but they really prefer tray or hopper style feeders. They are probably too big for a small tube feeder. (Bigger birds like cardinals would have trouble sitting on short perches and getting their heads/beaks positioned to get into the feeder ports of a smaller feeder.) Blue Jays, like cardinals, are larger birds that can do ok on a large tube feeder but might have trouble navigating a smaller tube feeder. The finches and smaller sparrows ought to be ok on either a small or large tube feeder though as long as the seed is a good fit for them.

          (Note: While some sparrows will come to a feeder, others are only comfortable eating on the ground. For example, House Sparrows will come to feeders. Chipping Sparrows seem to prefer eating on the ground but will come to feeders. But in my experience, other sparrows like Fox Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos or White-Throated Sparrows are unlikely to come to feeders and instead eat on the ground or at best, a tray style platform feeder.)

          The other possibility is that you need to give it a little more time. Sometimes it takes birds a while to feel safe at a new feeder. Make sure the feeder is in a good spot that doesn’t get a lot of people traffic or that is being patrolled by local cats. Birds usually like a feeder a quick flight from cover (like your trees or bushes) but make sure it isn’t right next to a bush where a cat can hide or in a corner where they might feel trapped if a local hawk came by.

          Hope this helps! Good luck.
          Nancie

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