Where to Put Bird Feeders: Spread Them Out!

Last Updated on May 28, 2021 by Nancie

Spread out Backyard Bird Feeders

Where should you put your bird feeders? To attract the widest variety of birds, spread out your bird feeders if you can. Too many feeders right on top of each other, each appealing to different types of birds, creates congestion. This increases conflict as species and personal spaces overlap.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

This doesn’t mean that each individual feeder has to be its own remote island. Instead, think about about feeder types and which birds are likely to visit each feeder. Cluster feeders that make sense to be near each other. Leave space in between clusters to allow various species to eat relatively peacefully at the same time.

Where to Put Bird Feeders: Basics

There is a surprising amount of thought that goes into deciding where to put a bird feeder. But basically, from a human perspective, you want to locate feeders where you can see them easily from your window or wherever you watch birds. To avoid window collisions, aim for either within three feet of a window or thirty feet or more out. And you want them where they won’t interfere with other activities in your yard or create a mess.

Squirrel in a Tree
Squirrels Love Feeders

From a predator deterring perspective, feeders need to stay out of reach of jumping, climbing, dangling and reaching squirrels. And to give birds a space to retreat if the neighborhood hawk or cat comes to visit, you want to put them a relatively short flight from cover.

Dominance: Reducing Bird Conflict at Feeders

But you also need to think about it from a bird’s perspective. Cornell’s All About Birds describes bird feeders as not the peaceful idyllic scene you might envision. Instead they compare it to fight club.

It makes sense when you think about it. Even when there is plenty of food for all, birds want to be sure they get the nourishment they need. To do that, they jockey for the limited spots at the feeder. After all, they never know when human activity, loud noises, predators or the arrival of more dominant birds will suddenly interrupt them and force them to leave the banquet.

There is a dominance hierarchy going on at any feeder. Within a species there are usually more dominant birds. This can vary by species but might be determined by things like gender or relative size or maturity. 

And then there is dominance of one species over another, decided by things like size or aggressiveness. (Cornell’s Feederwatch currently has an interesting citizen science project to track inter-species dominance hierarchies.)

When two birds show up at the same feeder, one bird may back off in deference to the other. Or one bird might invade the other’s space with their body or their beak to get the other to give way. Most of the time, the noticeable physical bickering and fighting we see at feeders is within a species. But anyone who has watched a European Starling move around a feeder, knows that there can be inter-species aggression too.

While we humans can do nothing about a lot of this feeder friction, we can set up our feeders to make things run a little smoother.

Where To Put Feeders: By Bird Species/Feeder Type

All of these factors go into how I arrange feeders around my front and back yard. I have a LOT of feeders, but even if you just have a few, what I’ve learned from watching birds at feeders over the years maybe helpful to you locating your feeders.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder
Red-Bellied Woodpecker on Upside-Down Suet Feeder

1) Suet Feeder Clusters: Woodpeckers & Clinging Birds

With the exception of spring starlings and grackles, most birds using suet feeders can coexist fairly peacefully. But some, especially woodpeckers, seem uncomfortable eating right next to flocks of busy, sometimes bickering birds. So consider putting your suet feeder (or a cluster of them) a bit apart from other feeders. This way, even when other feeders are full of very active birds, woodpeckers, wrens, nuthatches and other birds can eat at a suet feeder in peace.

Suet Feeder Clusters In My Yard: My two suet feeder clusters are thirteen feet and twenty-four feet from other feeders. I currently use four Birds Choice upside-down suet feeders. Two are on a dual shepherd’s hook pole in the front yard. The other two are clustered on one dual shepherd’s hook pole in the back yard with an Erva Starling-Proof Suet Feeder. Having some suet feeders out front and some in the back lets some Downy Woodpeckers use the front feeder and others use the back, limiting some territorial disputes.

American Goldfinches Eating Nyjer Seed
American Goldfinches Eating Nyjer Seed

2) Nyjer Feeder Cluster: Finches

American Goldfinches and House Finches are both flock birds. House Finches tend to bicker among themselves a lot and usually are more dominant than goldfinches except when goldfinches are present in a larger group. But in general, setting nyjer feeders off by themselves can give goldfinches a more peaceful space of their own.

Nyjer Feeder Cluster In My Yard: There are typically a LOT of American Goldfinches in my yard each day, a daily flock of House Finches and even the occasional visit from a Purple Finch or Pine Siskins. I have a cluster of three Aspects nyjer tube feeders over by themselves in the side yard. This is goldfinch territory. Occasionally a House Finch or a Purple Finch will grab a feeder spot too and on irruption years a few Pine Siskins will eat there too. And in the winter, sparrows grab fallen seed under the feeders, but most of the time it’s all for the goldfinches.

House Finches and American Goldfinches Share a Globe Feeder
House Finches and American Goldfinches Share a Globe Feeder

3) Cage and Tube Feeder Cluster: Small Birds

Larger birds can sometimes dominate bird feeders. To give small birds sure feeder access, consider using caged tube feeders for them and regular tube feeders for the more general bird population (large and small.)

Cage and Tube Feeders in My Yard: I currently use four cage-type Woodlink feeders filled with sunflower hearts. Two are clustered together on a dual shepherd’s hook pole in the back yard near the house.

A sunflower-hearts-filled Squirrel Buster Classic tube feeder with the perches removed is about ten feet away. Removing the perches slows down some larger birds, although Red-Bellied Woodpeckers can still get on it. A Squirrel Buster Plus feeder, also filled with sunflower hearts, is about twenty feet beyond that feeder. That one attracts a mix of birds. (In late winter and early spring, when grackles and starlings are a problem, I instead fill both Squirrel Buster feeders with safflower.) Another of the Woodlink feeders is clustered with a fourth nyjer feeder a little apart from the main feeder area.

All of these feeders appeal to the same group of birds: American Goldfinches, House Finches, Purple Finches, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and Pine Warblers. Most of the time these feeders have finches of one type or the other on them. Other birds pop in occasionally to grab a seed or two and then go off to eat or cache them.

A Blue Jay Grabs a Peanut From the Hanging Platform Feeder
A Blue Jay Grabs a Peanut From the Hanging Platform Feeder

4) Mixed Feeder Cluster: Large & Small Birds

Platform and hopper style feeders tend to appeal to a wide mix of birds. Depending on what you put in them, you might see cardinals, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, House Finches, wrens, chickadees, grosbeaks, starlings, grackles, blackbirds and more on these types of feeders. They can be pretty busy, so clustering them away from other feeders can be a good idea.

Mixed Feeder Cluster in My Yard: About twelve feet further out in the yard from the first pole is another pole. This one has four feeders: two Birds Choice hanging platform feeders (one large and one small), a third Woodlink cage feeder and an Erva Starling-Proof Bluebird Feeder filled with dried mealworms and peanut splits. (The peanut splits are for Tufted Titmouses, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and White-Breasted Nuthatches.)

I usually fill the platform feeders with safflower, a seed particularly enjoyed by Northern Cardinals. So, most of the time, this is where you find the cardinals and Mourning Doves. House Finches and the occasional Purple Finch also eat here as well as migrating Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks.

Once a day, I toss a couple handfuls of peanuts into the smaller platform feeder on top of the safflower. This makes it pretty lively for about twenty minutes. The more usual birds back off while Blue Jays, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and the occasional Common Grackle or Tufted Titmouse zoom in and out until the peanuts are gone.

Because of the platform feeders, this cluster can also get popular with mixed spring flock birds like Common Grackles, European Starlings, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

Northern Cardinal and House Finches Sharing a Platform Feeder
Northern Cardinal and House Finches Sharing a Platform Feeder

5) Pole-Mounted Feeder Cluster: Cardinals, Mourning Doves and More

Lots of birds will use platform feeders so these are often kind of catch-all feeders. What you put in it can partially determine which birds you will see. Mine are usually full of safflower.

Pole Mounted Platform Feeders in My Yard: Another cluster of two Birds Choice covered platform feeders mounted on poles is located seventeen feet even further out in the yard. Mourning Doves often dominate these two feeders, but it is also the favorite spot in the back yard for Northern Cardinals. House Finches like them too. Other birds like Tufted Titmouses, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and (occasionally) Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks will also visit these feeders.

In the spring, mixed flocks of Common Grackles, European Starlings, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds sometimes mob these feeders. This makes it particularly rough on the cardinals who, while they will bicker among themselves during breeding season, almost always seem to back away from almost any other bird species. (They get along well with the House Finches and with the Red-Winged Blackbirds as long as there aren’t too many blackbirds.)

The cardinals in my yard very much favor the same platform feeders that these spring flocks like. They will usually back off to a nearby tree to try to wait them out rather than try a different type of feeder (with one exception I’ll get to.)

Carolina Wren Heading In For Mealworms
Carolina Wren Heading In For Mealworms

6) Mealworm Feeder: Bluebirds and Wrens

American Bluebirds don’t tend to be aggressive around feeders. When offering them mealworms, it can be a good strategy to put the mealworms in feeders that more aggressive birds can’t get into. Carolina Wrens also like mealworms but they don’t seem to bother the bluebirds.

Mealworm Feeder in My Yard: When I first tried to offer dried mealworms in their own feeder (a small Squirrel Buster Standard), I put it on the pole in the middle of the yard with a platform feeder and a Squirrel Buster Classic feeder. Aggressive starlings going after the mealworms were constantly disturbing access to other feeders on the pole. So I moved the mealworm feeder twenty-two feet off to one side all by itself hung from a tree limb under an Erva baffle. That brought more peace to that cluster of feeders and was a good move.

I eventually replaced that feeder with a Erva Mealworm Feeder. The starlings, no longer able to get to the mealworms, now only occasionally try it, in apparent hopes that THIS time they’ll be able to get in. So it didn’t need to be isolated anymore.

When I later replaced one of my dual shepherd’s hook pole for a different Erva pole with four arms, I found I had space to hang the mealworm feeder there. So right now it is part of that feeder cluster with the platform feeders and one of the Woodlink cage feeders.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at One of the Feeders
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at One of the Feeders

7) Sugar Water Feeders: Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are interested in sugar-water, which doesn’t appeal to most feeder birds. So it can make sense to set hummingbird feeders apart from seed feeders if you can. Hummingbirds can get territorial about feeders and chase other hummingbirds away. If you have more than one hummingbird feeder, consider separating them rather than clustering them to help keep the peace.

Hummingbird Feeders in My Yard: From mid-April to mid-fall, I put up one to three hummingbird feeders about forty feet apart from each other and fifteen to thirty feet from other feeders. Some years I add a third small feeder to a bush in the front yard.

House Finch and Northern Cardinal on Metal Mesh Feeder
House Finch and Northern Cardinal on Metal Mesh Feeder

8) Front Yard Tube Feeders: Various Birds

You may only have one area to place your feeders. But if you can, consider spreading them out between front, back and/or side yards. This lets birds still feed on one side of the house if you are busy doing something disruptive on the other. It can also let you feed more birds by creating separate territories that let more territorial birds spread out a bit.

Front Yard Feeders in My Yard: Out in the front yard are two feeders, each hanging from a tree limb under an Erva baffle. One is a Squirrel Buster Plus tube feeder is filled with either sunflower hearts or safflower. The other feeder is a huge metal mesh feeder filled with safflower. The mesh feeder is the front yard favorite of Northern Cardinals and House Finches. Mourning Doves are typically found eating dropped seed underneath it. The Squirrel Buster Plus’ customers depend on which seed I put in it and the time of year.  Each of these feeders is far enough apart and also far enough away from the front yard suet feeder pole that activity on one feeder doesn’t tend to interfere with activity on the other.

Eastern Bluebird on One of the Birdbaths
Eastern Bluebird on One of the Birdbaths

9) Birdbaths: All Birds

Birdbaths will appeal to a wide variety of birds, including birds who don’t otherwise come to feeders. Try to place them a little bit apart from feeders so that you don’t get bits of shell or seed in the water.

Birdbaths in My Yard: I have four birdbaths, two in the front yard and two in the back. Two are heated in the winter, one in the front and one in the back. The other two are kept filled during the winter but are unheated. (Some days their unheated plastic bowls are frozen and some days not.) Many birds will coexist peacefully at birdbaths, but having a variety lets them spread out and pick a non-busy one if they like.

Where to Put Feeders: Cluster Them Logically

Do you see the pattern here? I cluster my feeders by feeder/food type and by the types of birds that usually use the feeders. Yes, various birds will check out any feeder and that is fine. And sometimes, especially when the spring flocks descend on the feeders, the regulars have to back off from some of the feeders. But even then, there are some feeders (like the cage feeders and nyjer feeders) that the flocks leave alone, so at least some of the regulars can still eat in peace even then.

You may live in a different area than I do and get a different mix of birds at your feeder. You may have fewer feeders or a different mix of feeder types. You may have a larger or a smaller space to put feeders. So your arrangement of feeders is going to be different. Watch the birds at your feeders and how they interact. If you see one species of bird routinely pushing out another that you enjoy seeing at your feeders, think about whether you can rearrange your feeders to let the less dominant birds have more feeder time.

Have you tried clustering your feeders? Please feel welcome to comment below. I’d love to hear about it.

Nancie

Moving a Bird Feeder

Moving a Ground Feeder to a Pole

How Many Feeders Do I Need?

Locating a Suet Feeder

How to Hang a Feeder With a Hook

Which Feeders Attract Which Birds?

Stop Bird Feeder Pole Leaning


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3 thoughts on “Where to Put Bird Feeders: Spread Them Out!

  1. Thanks for this advice for placing bird feeders. I’m glad that you mentioned to make sure small birds can have feeder access, you have a few cage type feeders. I wonder if it could be good to have more of these feeders if you know your area has a lot of small birds living there.

    1. Hi Taylor, The way I do this is to watch what is happening at the feeders and make adjustments and/or purchase additional feeders as needed. I bought the first cage feeder when the spring flocks were blocking the small birds from the other feeders. Watching, I saw that the spots on the cage feeder were in high demand, especially in the spring, so I bought another . . . and then another. So I was reacting to there being many small birds in the yard . . . BUT, you could also look at it another way. Because I keep adding feeders, that makes my yard even more of a draw and that encourages even more small birds. So which came first? Nancie

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