Attracting birds to your feeders can be hit and miss, whether in a garden or on a balcony. Whilst there are a number of things you can do to encourage birds to come and feed, it is not quite an exact science and birds are not always predictable. So, how can we attract birds more quickly?
If you want the best chance of attracting birds to your garden more quickly, the same simple rules apply every time.
- Know which birds live nearby.
- Avoid fence lines.
- Provide cover.
- Put your feeder at the right height.
- Choose the right food.
- Use the correct feeders.
- Feed ground feeding birds.
Location, feeder and food are the main considerations, if you want to attract garden birds more quickly to your feeders.
If you follow the above rules you are much more likely to see garden birds visiting your feeders. While these three things are the main considerations there are other things you can do to improve your chances.
How Do I Attract Birds To My Feeder?
Let’s look at the above list in more detail, just to make sure we’re all on the same page. There is nothing worse than planning this then spending money on it only to see nothing happen. The thing to remember is – no matter how hard you try it can be that you just need to wait. Being patient might be the way to go.
1. Know Which Birds Are Common In Your Neighbourhood
Its not that tricky to work out which species of bird are living in your neighbourhood. They’ll be in gardens, on the roof tops and in the trees. Knowing who is around will help you decide on the type of food to put out and how.
Keep an eye out as you come and go and you’ll be surprised at how many little birds you actually see darting about. I have a neighbour who puts out feeders and gets all kinds of birds in her garden. As soon as I knew this, I asked her what birds she sees and what feeders she has.
She is also the reason I bought my first spotting scope. You can find out more about spotting scopes and other birding essentials here – Bird Watching Equipment That Every Birder Needs (with six examples)
2. Avoid Fence Lines
Proximity to fences is a ‘no-no’ for small birds. They may perch there for a short time while scoping out a safe place to feed or bathe but it is also a place for predators. Cats are the main issue here and they are expert climbers, using fences to move between gardens while on the prowl.
A feeder that is too close to a fence will put birds off because they do not want to be the next victim of an attack, launched from the top of a fence. The best advice I can give is to put your feeder at least a couple of metres from a fence, allowing the birds a safe distance from a potential threat.
3. Provide Cover
It is important for small garden birds to have some form of cover when they feed. Placing a bird feeder in an wide open space is unlikely to attract any birds, other than larger more brave birds – magpies, crows, starlings.
If you want to attract garden birds such as tits, goldfinches and robins, your feeder should be located near to large, established shrubs or a tree. These will allow the birds to sit safely to observe a feeder or to eat food they just took.
If there is any sign of a threat around a bird feeder, birds will dart quickly into cover until it is safe to re-emerge. The trick is to place your bird feeder at an optimum distance from a tree, for example. If it is too close it may be hidden from sight and passing birds may not see it. To far and birds may not feel safe using it. It took me a while to get this about right. All I had to do was wait and watch for a day or so, then move my feeding pole accordingly.
For more on bird feeder location, see this post: Choosing The Best Place For A Bird Feeder.
4. Put Your Feeder at The Right Height
Feeding birds in a garden usually means hanging feeders from tree branches, or using a shepherd’s hook style feeder. Bird tables are still a popular way to go and some people use a ground feeding setup.
Height can play an important part in bird feeding, again because of potential threats from predators. Cats, foxes and the like are good at stalking prey and will patiently move closer and closer to their target. A low hanging bird feeder could give them this opportunity.
While most birds are very cautious and very aware of their surroundings, they can get distracted while feeding and make themselves an easy target. It is recommended that feeders should be around five to six feet high, or one and a half metres to two metres. Higher is still OK but remember that you will still need to be able to reach a feeder to refill it or remove it for maintenance.
5. Choose The Right Food
This is something I have learned through simply observing what goes on around my feeders. After all, that is part of the reason we do this – to watch and enjoy the winged visitors.
Over time I have worked out which birds prefer which foods. It is so obvious when you actually take the time to experiment with food types in different feeders.
Suet Blocks and Pre-filled Coconut Shells (with suet mix)
These get all the birds really interested and they are demolished within a day or so.
Robins and tits like these but they are also very popular with bigger nuisance birds, as I call them, such as magpies and starlings. I find they dominate the food and leave little chance for the others if they get in first.
A firm favourite. It is mainly the robins that spend their time going back and forth with these. They can be expensive though so don’t put too many out at a time. Make them last and enjoy the activity.
Another big hit and a good all-round bird food. Again, the robins and tits like these. When I have leaned more toward sunflower hearts, I have also seen bull finches and green finches at the feeders.
Many people have reported good things about black sunflower seeds but sadly I have not seen the same in my garden. They just aren’t as popular and if they are eaten, they just leave a mess under the feeder from all the discarded husks. This post gives you more on sunflower seeds if you want to try them in your feeders – Which Garden Birds Eat Sunflower Seeds?
6. Use The Correct Feeders
This might sound obvious but using the correct shape and size of feeder is important. Birds usually need a place to perch, unless the food is readily available from where they can grip securely, like a coconut shell for example.
If you find a particular type of food is really popular, consider getting an appropriate feeder for that food with more than just two feeding ports. The goldfinches in my garden love the niger seed I use. But, when a few of them arrive at once they often fight for position, pushing each other off the perch. A niger seed feeder with four ports and four perches easily solves this problem.
The critical thing here is to get the right type of feeder that holds the type of food you put out. They are made in a certain way to not only hold the food in with minimal spillage but also made to provide the right kind of access to the shape of beak and size of bird using them.
This post will help you to choose the right bird feeder: Working Out Which Type Of Bird Feeder To Use.
7. Feed Ground Feeding Birds
There are many other birds that you can attract to your garden without the need for hanging bird feeders. Not all birds are agile enough or capable of hanging from airborne feeders, which is why they are called ground feeders.
Ground feeding birds are used to foraging for food at ground level. These commonly include the blackbird, dunnock and robins. In particular, blackbirds and robins are normally seen pecking the dirt for worms and other bugs. I have seen blackbirds jumping up from underneath suet feeders for a quick peck but they generally not perch on feeders for a prolonged time.
By scattering some seed or other bird food on the ground, you may attract birds quite quickly. The type of birds you attract will vary from pigeons and starlings to magpies and crows. If you are lucky, you may get visits from smaller birds that are more fun to watch.
Of course there is the possibility of also attracting pests, such as rats and squirrels. If you want to cater for ground feeders as well as other birds, consider a purpose made ground feeder. The Selections Ground Bird Feeder Haven Cage is a popular choice, especially for grass areas.
How Long Does It Take For Birds To Find a Bird Feeder?
Birds are always on the go and they will fly around their neighbourhood keeping their eye out for opportunities, whether that be nesting sites, nesting materials or food. You may be surprised at just how quickly they will spot your new feeder.
Even if you have followed the appropriate steps there could still be some things holding the birds back from visiting. Unfamiliarity with your garden, it’s too busy (kids or pets), maybe even better offerings elsewhere.
The answer to the question of how long it will take for birds to find a feeder is difficult to answer. It can take minutes, hours, days or even weeks. I have been lucky to see birds arriving within an hour of putting out a feeder, having previously taken it down. Read my story here – What Happened When I Moved My Bird Feeders.
In that post you will see that last year it took just 13 minutes for the first bird to visit my feeder. I could have just been lucky that the plucky little robin was watching me put the feeder out. Maybe it was the good quality seed mix I used in the feeder. However, once one bird comes, the others soon follow. This week I thought I would repeat the test.
I have not had feeders in the garden for a few months, since spring. This was mainly due to a few rats and the squirrels – none of which I actually want at my feeders. So, having made up two coconut shell feeders I put then out on a shepherd’s crook feeding station. I also put out some niger seed to see if the gold finches would return after so long.
This time it took just under two hours. I have not seen many of the usual blue tits and great tits flitting about in the tree. The robins aren’t about either. But then, with nothing in the garden to entice them why would they come? The first birds to arrive were pigeons, followed by a magpie. They were mainly scratching around on the ground under the feeder; pigeons usually do this because they can easily pick up what drops from the feeders without too much effort.
My moment of success was when the gold finch arrived to feed on the niger seed. He (or she) stayed there for a few minutes eating seed while a blue tit family darted back and forth between the tree and the coconut feeders. What a result!
Since writing this post a few weeks ago, I did not refresh the niger seed or the coconut shells. I had the usual robin and blackbird bobbing about in the tree but little else. So, I removed the feeders until today.
Starting fresh after a few weeks, today I put out:
- a couple of shop bought coconut feeders, one with fat and raisins, the other with fat and sunflower seed
- some fat balls I had in the garage from last year (there had been no interest in those whatsoever and I was going to give them away)
- niger seed
- sunflower hearts
- good quality mixed seed
The result in just a few minutes was that the robin, who had been watching me from just a couple of metres away in the tree, was on the fat ball feeder. What surprised me even more was just an hour or so later a black cap had arrived, also on the fat balls. Since then, in one afternoon, I have seen Goldfinches, a Blue Tit and Long-tail Tits. I am beyond pleased with this result but am now awaiting the return of the rats and the rats with wings (Pigeons).
It just goes to show the birds are out there and paying attention – you just need to get the basics right; location, type of feeder, food selection. The best way of finding out how long it will take for birds to find your feeder is to try it out. If nothing happens after a week, try changing the position of your feeder(s). Maybe change the food.
There is nothing wrong with going all out and offering a wide selection of seed and treats. You will soon notice which birds go for which food. Then you can continue to refresh what they want and stop putting out the others. You will save money too!
Something which is always a hit are those pre-filled coconut shells. Put one of those out and see if it makes a difference. It might be enough to encourage the birds to return and continue to use your other feeders.
For other reasons, check this post – Why Won’t Birds Come To My Feeder? 5 Reasons Why.