How Do Birds Find Feeders?

how do birds find feeders

Many people enjoy putting feeders out for the birds in their garden. It can be great fun watching birds such as hummingbirds feed and the food can be an important source of nutrition for the birds at times of the year when their natural food sources are scarce.

If you put a feeder out and birds don’t immediately come to use it, don’t be disheartened. There is no set rule that defines how long it takes the birds to use a feeder, and sometimes all it needs is patience. There are certain things you can do and some things which you must not do which can encourage the birds into your garden.

How long does it take for birds to find a feeder?

When you first place a bird feeder in your garden you must consider the placement very carefully if you put it in the wrong area birds simply may not know it’s there and even if you put it in the right area it can take a few days for them to come and investigate.

Here are some top tips to help you encourage the birds to come and use your feeder.

  • Before you do anything you need to know which birds will be visiting your garden to use the feeder. The best place to start is to look at the birds which are already active in your garden and put the right food out to attract them. If you want to encourage birds such as hummingbirds or other migratory birds check first and find out when they are likely to visit your garden so that you can prepare your feeder in advance.
  • Once you know which birds you want to attract, take a good long look around your garden. When birds come to feed they like to have some sort of shelter close by so that they can retreat quickly if they feel any threat. If you have trees or larger bushes then placing your feeder close to these is a good place to start.
  • Having said that you also need to ensure that predators won’t have easy access to the birds or the feeder. For example, if you place it too close to a fence a cat may be able to jump across to get the birds. Always place your feeder high enough off the ground so that other predators will not be able to jump to get to the birds and allow plenty of space around it so that other predators cannot simply jump onto it.
  • If you are placing a feeder out for the first time, when you hang it spread a little of the food on the ground. Birds will see the food, come down to investigate and then find your feeder. Birds will usually see food before they smell it.
  • When you fill your feeder use good quality foods and don’t be tempted to use older foods which may have lost their taste or smell.
  • If you want to attract birds such as hummingbirds or orioles you can add colored ribbons to your feeder. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red while Orioles are attracted to the color orange.

Don’t be tempted to move the feeder if birds don’t immediately come down and feed. If you have sited it in a good place then they may just be taking their time getting used to it. If you move it, it could just confuse them more. Once a bird has found your feeder, if it likes the food inside it will be quick to tell its friends where to come to feed.

Can wild birds smell seed?

Some food you put out for birds will have a smell, and some birds do use their sense of smell to find food. Seeds don’t always have a strong smell so most birds will not be able to pick up their aroma and rely on being able to see them.

The best way to attract the birds is to do your homework.

  • What type of birds are in your garden? First of all take a look around and see what birds you already have in your garden. Check out what some of their favorite foods are and then you can fill your feeder with something you know they will enjoy.
  • Which birds could you attract to your garden? Migratory birds tend to follow the same pattern and if you want to attract these to your garden you will need to know first of all that you live in the right area. You then need to find out when the birds are expected to arrive and have your feeder set up ready approximately 2 to 3 weeks in advance of this.
  • How social are the birds? Not all birds are happy sharing their food with other birds. You may find that you need to set up more than one feeder in different areas of the garden to attract particular species. For example, woodpeckers prefer to be away from other birds when feeding and would prefer a feeder in a quiet area of the garden.

How to attract birds to your feeder

Before you can attract birds to your feeder, you first need to attract the birds to your garden. This may mean you have to do some gardening or some minor landscaping but if you want to keep your birds coming to your garden this will prove to be a worthy investment of your time.

1. Shelter

Trees and shrubs are very important when you’re trying to attract birds into your garden. For one thing they may encourage the birds to nest while they are there, but more importantly they’ll provide them with necessary shelter if they see any predators around.

Planting trees isn’t a quick term solution; you can plant bushes and shrubs which can provide safe places for the birds to perch.

2. Water

All birds need water, whether it’s to drink or bathe. If you have a source of water in the garden, birds will notice it and come down to investigate.

A simple bird bath can be enough, and if you add a dripper or solar fountain this will move the water so it will be more eye-catching for the birds. In the winter it is essential to try to keep the water from freezing and a simple solar powered heater is a great way to do this.

3. Plants and shrubs

Birds like to collect nectar from flowers and they love insects. Planting flowers and shrubs will provide a splash of color to the garden, which can attract birds to come and check it out. Shrubs and bushes also create a place for insects so the birds will have natural food available too.

bird feeders

Looking for a feeder? We’ve got you covered, follow the links below to take a look at the best feeders for each birds.

Hummingbird Feeders
Oriole Feeders
Woodpecker Feeders

What are the best foods to offer?

It’s safe to say that nearly all birds like nuts and seeds, so if you want a quick and simple way to put a feeder out, a nut feeder is a good place to start.

You can buy ready-made bird mixes and bird cakes to go in your feeders but always make sure that you are offering something that the birds will enjoy. Here are just some of the foods that you can use and the birds you may attract.

  • Nectar

Nectar is very popular with birds as it is very similar to the nectar in flowers. Nectar is usually a mix of sugar and water and one of the most popular birds that drink this is hummingbirds. If you hang feeders during the summer months you may find you attract these small birds to both feed and nest in your garden.

  • Jellies

Grape and other fruit jellies are another popular food with a lot of birds, mainly orioles. You will need a proper feeder to put the food in and if you add orange to it or other bright colors this will encourage the birds to come down and try the jelly.

  • Seeds

There are many different seed mixes available for different birds and if you’re unsure, then a good quality mix of seeds will do the job. Some birds do like certain seeds more than others.

  • Black oil sunflower seeds. These are a firm favorite with woodpeckers, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays and finches.
  • Thistle/Niger seeds. These are a particular favorite of goldfinches.
  • Nearly all birds like peanuts including woodpeckers, finches, sparrows and doves.

Bird seed can also be bought in form of seed cakes and these contain a mixture of seeds, nuts and fruits and can be placed very easily and safely inside a seed cake feeder.

  • Suet

Suet can be an important source of fat and energy during the winter months. Many birds are attracted to suet including woodpeckers, nuthatches, starlings and thrushes. Suet is usually provided in the form of suet cakes which sit inside a cake feeder.

  • Fruits

Many birds have a sweet tooth and enjoy eating fruits and berries. Orioles love orange and will eat orange halves if they are left out for them. An easy way to provide fruit is to plant fruit bushes such as strawberries, blueberries, loganberries, blackberries and cherries.

  • Mealworms

For some birds mealworms are a real treat. They can be purchased as dried mealworms and rehydrated and put out on feeders for birds. Bluebirds are particularly fond of mealworms.

You may find, that with so many foods to offer, you have to have more than one feeder in your garden. This is fine and you will attract more birds, but make sure you leave plenty of room between the feeders.

Here’s a useful video on birds favourite foods 🙂

Maintain your bird feeder

Once you have encouraged the birds to come and feed, you need to keep them using your feeders. This isn’t difficult and just a few simple steps mean that the birds will stay.

  • Always keep your food fresh. It is so easy to simply add fresh food on top of old and in this way the older food may simply go off. This is particularly true of foods such as jellies and sugar water which need to be checked regularly as sugar can very quickly turn to mold. Birds will not be tempted to eat old and rotten food.
  • Keep your feeders clean. Although your feeders are outside in all weathers you still need to keep them clean. Birds will not appreciate a feeder covered in grime and dirt and simply wiping the feeder down now and again will not only keep the feeder fresh but will make the food more presentable too.
  • Keep your feeders up during the winter. You may not see so many birds during the winter but the ones that are there will most certainly be looking for food. To some birds feeders in the winter are essential as other food sources have temporarily dried up.
  • Try to keep pests away. It’s only natural that other garden visitors will try to get food. If you hang up a jelly or nectar feeder make sure you have the necessary protection against ants or bees. Dead insects in any food will not make it terribly appetizing. Squirrels and raccoons can also be problems and will simply steal the food from the birds. There are measures you can take to stop them from getting into the feeders and it is certainly always worthwhile doing this so the birds can have the food that you want them to.
  • Leave the feeder where it is. You may decide that you want to see the birds in a different area of your garden, but the birds may well have a very different idea. Once they get used to seeing a feeder and they know where to find it they will return to it. If you move it they may simply think that it has gone and they may go and look for food elsewhere.

Once you have a feeder which is being used, it won’t be long before you want to add a wider variety of foods for more birds. As long as you remember to keep your feeders topped up with food, you will be able to sit back and enjoy all your garden visitors all year round.

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