Last Updated on March 17, 2022 by Nancie
When birds are not coming to your feeders, what can you do? When 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, either for the first time or when birds have disappeared from your feeders.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
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, birds will look for more reliable food sources. They 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, that’s fine. Just understand that it might take neighborhood birds time to realize that food is 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 typically don’t like or that appeals to birds we’d rather not 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 also 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 caterpillars they find in your yard.
The seed you put in a feeder makes a big difference. To help you decide what seed(s) to use, check my post on How to Choose Birdseed For Backyard Birds. Also see Cornell Labs Feeder Watch’s chart to help you pick foods for the birds you are hoping to attract.
Is The Seed/Food in Your Feeders Fresh?
All birds are looking for nutritious, fresh food. Goldfinches in particular are notoriously picky about 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 in a feeder for months, get rid of it. 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. Put the food they like into the type of feeder that suits them. I have a post on Which Feeders Attract Which Birds that you might find helpful.
Is Your Yard Bird Friendly?
Is There Cover For Birds?
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. Gather branches as they fall to create brush piles within a short flight from 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. Also see my post on offering seed to ground-feeding birds on a snowy day. (Keep in mind though that cats can be a problem with low ground feeders under cover.)
Is There Water For Birds?
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 water feature or even hundreds on a birdbath. 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 want to purchase a birdbath, check: My Favorite Birdbath or a Simple Inexpensive Birdbath or on Choosing and Maintaining Heated Birdbaths.
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.
Is There Abundant Alternative Food For Birds to Eat?
It is also possible that birds are simply finding enough food elsewhere. The food in our feeders is a supplement to birds’ diets. You will probably notice that when insects are hard to find and native seed is buried under snow and ice, you’ll see more birds at feeders. But in summer, feeders are likely to be quieter as many birds can find tasty insects for a larger portion of their diet. A surge in insect population, for example broods of periodic cicadas, can also result in fewer birds at feeders.
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 with a little distance from where people come and go often.
Are Predators Stalking Your Feeders?
In my neighborhood, there have been feral cats in the past, as well as neighborhood cats whose owners let them wander during the day. Now, I love and own cats myself. But even well-fed cats do like to stalk birds, something I don’t tolerate around the feeders.
Local birds keep an eye out for them and will usually back off from the feeders until the cat moves on (or at least stay off the ground). As long as the cat doesn’t linger in the area, the birds usually come right back. If you have problems with cats lingering near low birdbaths or feeders to spring on unsuspecting birds, see 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! Usually only a single hawk arrives at my feeders, but every once in a while, two will hunt together. Then the feeders get really quiet as birds stay away.
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! For more, see my post on Hawks and Flocks: Predators at Feeders.
Problem Solving to Attract Birds to Your Feeders
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. It is like solving a puzzle.
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13 thoughts on “Birds Not Coming to Feeders”
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??
This page at All About Birds has a range map for Cardinals: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Cardinal/maps-range
This will tell you if they are usually found in your area.
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?
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for the help!
We live in the mountains of Western, NC. for 20 years and have always had a lot of birds at our feeders, (cardinals, titmouse, finches, wrens, warblers……)
For two weeks we have seen no birds. We have put out fresh seed and suet. Why no birds?
I can’t say for sure, but when I don’t see birds in my yard, it is usually because there is a predator around. My own feeders are quiet right now because there are at least two hawks hunting the yard right now. When there is one hawk around, the feeders get quiet until the hawk leaves and then busy again but when there are two hawks (working together?) then it gets really quiet. Usually hawks will move on after a week or so but they always do come back around at some point to hunt again.
That’s my best guess. A hawk? A very efficient hunting cat? If that isn’t it, maybe some type of activity in the immediate area that is scaring them off?
I recently changed from the black oil sunflower seeds to try the sunflower hearts , and my birds have quit coming . What has happened?
Hmmm. Sunflower hearts are just sunflower seeds without the shell, so you would think birds would be fine with the switch. And the hearts have the added appeal of being something birds whose beaks can’t handle the shell can easily eat. So it ought to appeal to more birds and not less.
That said, there are a couple possibilities that come to mind. My first thought is that sometimes birds take some time to get used to a change. Visually the black oil and the hearts might seem different to a bird. Sometimes when introducing a new seed, you can get them to try it by mixing some of the old with some of the new. So you might try adding a scattered handful of black oil to draw them in to the feeder. Hopefully once there, they will decide to try the hearts.
My second thought is to check the seed itself. Is it still fresh and dry and clean? (Make sure you purchase it from a store where the stock rotates through often so it isn’t old seed.) I really like using sunflower hearts in my own feeders but it does have one drawback. If it gets wet, it kind of turns to mush which is probably unappetizing and potentially unhealthy. If it gets just a little damp, it can also clump up inside tube feeders so that the feeder appears full but the feed ports are empty. Make sure that this seed is in a feeder that keeps the seed dry. Depending on the feeder type, a large weather guard or a large baffle might help.