Along with a plant-filled organic garden with plenty of insects and nesting places, there are several other things you can do to attract birds to your garden and encourage them to settle in.
How to Attract Birds to Feeders
When it comes to attracting birds to our feeders, some things are within our control and others are not.
It all starts with an abundant garden with plenty of plants—trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials, that encourage the entire circle of life. This means insects, mammals, and everything that brings a garden to life.
With plenty of places to nest, rest, and go about their birdly business, you can also add bird feeders to supplement their diets.
As we spend more time in the garden we notice that bird species vary somewhat, week by week, and season by season, and individual food preferences can change.
One year the goldfinches may be nuts for nijer seed (thistle seed), and, all of a sudden, they refuse to touch it. A year later, it may be the number one favorite food once again.
Birds also take cues and learn from one another. Adventuresome birds are the first to try a new feeder and soon fly off to tell their friends about the new food source. Yet, one bad experience at a feeder, or a perceived threat, is enough to keep a flock away for days or weeks.
But, beyond these quirks, the weather, and the seasons, there are some things you can do to make your feeders more inviting.
Use these tips to welcome the birds into your garden and call it home.
1Provide Feeders That Suit the Birds
Know the birds in your region and their feeding habits.
Some like to eat at ground level, others enjoy feeders higher up, and a few will take food from both but may fly off with it to a secondary location to stash or eat it.
Juncos and mourning doves are familiar ground feeders. To assist them, place their feed on the ground or low, open platform feeders. All leftover seeds and debris should be cleared away daily.
Other larger birds, like blue jays, need a secure surface off the ground to grab their food—a swinging feeder is hard to manage! They can be quite boisterous amongst the smaller birds which is why a feeder dedicated to the bigger birds, some distance away, is desirable. A wire ring loaded with shelled peanuts or a tall platform or sturdy hopper feeder are good for birds like this. There is more on this below.
Smaller songbirds appreciate tube-style feeders with perches just long enough to accommodate their little bodies and too awkward for the big birds to land on. Some of these feeders have weight-sensitive perches which close the doors to the feed ports when anything heavier than a sparrow lands on them. This is good for discouraging any heavier birds, chipmunks, or squirrels.
Some birds will never use your feeders but may appreciate the food you provide. If I find grubs while digging in the garden, I toss them nearby, knowing a hungry robin is always watching me work and will come get them within a minute or so.
Waxwings may never land on feeders, but a plate of dried fruit hanging from a tree branch can have them chattering and dining for an afternoon.
This video shows some favorite footage from my backyard birdcam:
Related: Bird Feeder Buying Guide
2Make It Easy to Dine
Wild birds are eating for survival and the easier it is to eat, the better.
Not only should the feeders be secure and easy to access but the food choices should involve little work.
This is why black-oil sunflower seeds are the top recommended birdseed: unlike striped sunflower seeds, they are easy to open and high in much-needed fat.
Some gardeners say they do fine with the striped seeds but overall the black-oil ones give a bigger nutritional bang for your buck.
Related: How to Choose the Best Birdseed
3Space Out Your Feeders
It’s unnatural for multiple species to share a feeder and, without routine cleaning, it can spread disease.
The best option, if possible, is to provide various styles of feeders some distance apart, to give everyone a more relaxed dining environment.
Attracting Wild Birds to Your Garden
- Avoid the use of any products toxic to birds and their food sources including caterpillars.
- Grow plants, trees and shrubs for habitat and be messy: dead and decaying things nourish life.
- Keep pets out of your garden.
- Choose plants that provide food, nectar, or habitat for other living things.
- Birdhouses: Use as decoration only.
- Nesting Boxes: Choose species-specific designs.
- Bird Feed: Provide nutritious food and fresh, clean water.
- Bird Feeders: Clean frequently. Remove feeders immediately if you notice any sign of disease or problems like salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, or avian pox are reported in your area.
TIP: Use a motion-sensitive wildlife camera in your garden to see what goes on when you’re not there.
4Choose Safe Locations
I know some of us will not have much choice about where the feeders go but, if you can, the ideal is to have them in a quiet, open spot, with minimal distractions or interruptions, out of the wind, and away from shrubs or bushes where an outdoor cat or other predator could hide.
They do, however, need nearby branches or somewhere to perch while waiting for their turn to eat.
Related: How to Hand Feed Wild Birds
5Be Patient and Consistent
If you are new to feeding wild birds, it can take time for the local populations to notice your feeders.
If you have placed your feeders in good locations, and predators are not present, eventually the word will spread that there is fresh, delicious food available.
The sound of running water also attracts birds and other wildlife.
If I haven’t put out seed for a while, I use peanut butter to notify the birds.
Peanut butter suet (recipe here) or even just smooshing a bit of peanut butter on the feeder is enough to send the scent signal that dinner is served. This always gets the nuthatches and woodpeckers coming by, which in turn gets the attention of the others.
6Keep Feeders Clean
I’ve often wondered why birds sometimes flat-out reject a birdfeeder they have previously enjoyed.
Whether they sense it or not, bird feeders can spread disease.
This tells how to clean and disinfect your feeders and birdbaths on a regular basis.
Other times the rejection may be something impossible to assess, but cleaning everything, adding fresh food, and checking for predators is always a good idea.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛