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Why Won’t They Use My Wild Bird Feeder?

Why Won’t They Use This Feeder?
They Use the Other One Right Next to It.
‘Cause They Got Bird Brains! Or…

It’s probably because they are very comfortable on their current bird feeder. My unscientific conclusion is their comfort with a particular feeder is part of their need to survive. That need to survive turns into a habit. It’s as if the bird is saying to itself, “It’s safe to eat here.”

In my own backyard I’ve observed that when I switch out a feeder, using the exact same wild bird seed, the bird’s standoff the new feeder. They are waiting for some other bird to eat from the feeder, giving them the thumbs-up that it is safe to eat.

This is true for people just getting into the backyard bird feeding hobby. It can take weeks for a new feeder to be found and continually used. I often tell customers to throw some seed on the ground to draw the birds in. The object in spreading the seed everywhere is some bird somewhere is going to find the seed, eat it, and probably come back tomorrow for the same thing. One bird sees the other bird eating, and that determines that it is safe to eat. Then another bird sees it, and then another, etc. 

If two wild bird feeders are side by side, wouldn’t be easy to just take one feeder down for a week and force the birds to use the other feeder?

The short answer is, in May when your backyard bird activity is off the chart, that will work. But in October, when there are fewer wild birds, and more importantly lots of natural food around (berries, falling tree nuts, etc.) they may not hit the 2nd feeder.

This happened to me. I have a small, caged feeder, filled with hulled sunflower, right next to my window. I get lots of goldfinches and house finches at this bird feeder. I needed to clean the cage feeder, so I replaced it with a small Squirrel Buster. I haven’t seen a bird at that feeder in a week.

It’s certainly not all about the bird’s safety. They also have their own innate or even physical reasons as well. As an example, you’ll never see a crow or a mourning dove on a tube feeder, they are just too big. You’ll rarely see a cardinal on a wire mesh feeder which has no perch sticking out.


For the same reason you don’t see a cardinal walking up or down a tree trunk like a nuthatch. So, the design of the bird feeder needs to match the types of birds you are trying to attract. So yes, birds do have brains. They see and learn the safe places to eat, hide, and have families. But remember they are also very skittish and can get easily stressed. Any change at all in the size, shape, perch, or even seeds available may have an immediate, yet not long lasting, effect on your wild birds. 

NOTE: For more information on bird feeder types click here for an introduction.

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