When bird lovers buy a new bird feeder, it is only natural to wonder how long it will take for birds to find it and start visiting it regularly.
When backyard birders buy birdseed, they want to know when they can expect birds to be visiting their backyard to eat the seed and entertain them.
And people who feed birds want to know how long the bird food they buy will last.
Sometimes birds find new feeders in as little as a single day. Sometimes birds won’t find a new feeder for several months.
But in this article, we will tell you all you need to know about what you can do to help birds find your feeder faster.
What Determines How Soon Birds Start Coming to a New Feeder?
How fast birds discover the food you are putting out for them depends on several factors.
Time of the Year
One factor is the time of year you install the new feeder.
If you put out a new bird feeder in winter, when stress is really high on the birds still visiting your backyard, birds are more likely to start coming to a new feeder fast.
The birds are stressed out, and your new feeder brings them relief.
On the other hand, if you put up a new feeder in the middle of the summer (when food for backyard birds is relatively abundant in most places) they may eat their fill at their usual locations and not notice the new feeder for several weeks or even until the seasons change.
“Shyness” of the Bird
Another consideration is how “shy” your backyard birds may be.
Being wary of new things is a natural defense mechanism in wild animals of all kinds, including birds.
If you put out a new bird feeder next to old bird feeders where birds have been coming for a long time, a bird’s instinct is “I don’t know what this new thing is, and I don’t know whether it is going to try to eat me.”
Some feeders are scarier than others.
Cage feeders keep squirrels, raptors, and unwanted large birds out, but smaller birds may be wary of getting trapped inside.
It can take up to two weeks for birds to observe that the new bird feeder has not been associated with any kind of harm so it is safe for them to feed there.
Brave birds, like black-capped chickadees, will eat at the feeder first, and then more cautious birds will join in.
What You Put in the Feeder (the Seed Matters)
Yet another consideration is seed choice.
Many backyard birders buy safflower seed or Nyjer to discourage large birds and squirrels from raiding a feeder intended for small songbirds.
Small seeds like safflower and Nyjer definitely keep the squirrels away, but they are not as widely liked by smaller birds, either.
If you give most birds a choice between a Nyjer seed and a sunflower chip, they will choose the sunflower chip.
Safflower works the same way. A lot of birds prefer sunflower seeds to safflower seeds, so they will spend their time at the sunflower seed feeders first.
Many people put up new bird feeders stocked with smaller seeds in the middle of the summer to keep the blackbirds away.
Birders have to be more patient in the summer when desirable birds have more options for feeding.
Where You Live
Geography makes a difference, too.
Birds Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the United States ran a study called Project FeederWatch.
This study collected data from members in almost all 50 states of the USA, all 10 provinces of Canada, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
They recorded how long it takes some birds to find a newly established feeder in each of these locations.
Experienced backyard birders found that the more abundant the food sources for local birds, the longer it took them to find a new feeder.
Here are some of the average times birds take to find a new bird feeder in different states in the US and Canada:
- Arizona: 6.2 days
- Arkansas: 10.8 days
- California: 16 days
- Colorado: 9.7 days
- Connecticut: 13.7 days
- Delaware: 14 days
- Florida: 12.6 days
- Georgia: 13.7 days
- Idaho: 9.9 days
- Indiana: 11.5 days
- Kansas: 10.6 days
- Kentucky: 13.1 days
- Louisiana: 8.2 days
- Maine: 9.4 days
- Maryland: 14.1 days
- Massachusetts: 11.9 days
- Michigan: 10.4 days
- Minnesota: 10.7 days
- Mississippi: 16.5 days
- Missouri: 14.8 days
- Montana: 11 days
- New Mexico: 16.2 days
- New York: 12.5 days
- North Carolina: 15.2 days
- North Dakota: 10.3 days
- Ohio: 11.3 days
- Oklahoma: 16.8 days
- Oregon: 12.4 days
- Rhode Island: 8.4 days
- South Carolina: 15.4 days
- South Dakota: 9.2 days
- Tennessee: 14.1 days
- Texas: 14.4 days
- Vermont: 11.3 days
- Virginia: 13.4 days
- Washington: 12.1 days
- West Virginia: 13.1 days
- Alberta: 11.2 days
- British Columbia: 11.6 days
- Manitoba: 11.7 days
- New Brunswick: 10.6 days
- Newfoundland and Labrador: 11.1 days
- Northwest Territories: 8 days
- Nova Scotia: 11.3 days
- Ontario: 11.5 days
- Prince Edward Island: 13.5 days
- Quebec: 10.7 days
- Saskatchewan: 13.7 days
- Yukon: 9.3 days
These figures are averages.
Some bird feeders attract birds a lot sooner than others, and other bird feeders are ignored for weeks at a time.
But the backyard birders in the bird feeder study have some tips to share about how to get birds to get to your feeders faster.
Birds Prefer Camouflage Colors
They are not as quick to visit feeders painted red, yellow, or orange.
There is an easy explanation for this observation. Birds don’t want to be the food for predators while they are visiting your feeder.
Camouflage colors help birds blend in with their surroundings so they feel safer at your feeder.
Birds Prefer Feeders Next to Moving Water
Chances are that you will place your bird feeder where raptors can’t swoop down and dine on songbirds that are feeding at it.
Making the feeder a safer place for small birds, however, also makes it harder to find.
You can solve this problem by placing your bird feeder next to a water feature that makes bubbling or falling water sounds. Birds are attracted to the sound of moving water.
They need to drink. When they find the water source, they will also find the food source.
Possible Reasons Birds Don’t Visit Your Feeder
If you put out a feeder during the time of year birds are most interesting in finding supplemental food, and you are putting out a kind of food birds like, the feeder is made of wood or painted in earth tones, and you placed your feeder next to moving water, and birds still don’t visit it, there is probably a correctable problem.
Here are some of the fixable reasons that birds don’t take to new feeders.
You Put Out Just One Kind Of Feeder
Different birds like different kinds of feeders. Some birds prefer tube feeders, hopper feeders, Nyjer feeders, log feeders, platform feeders, suet feeders, or sugar water feeders, to name just a few of the possibilities!
Putting out multiple feeders, not all of the same design, not all with the same food, attracts a great variety of birds.
The more species of birds you can satisfy, the sooner you will see them in your backyard.
You and Your Neighbors Have Never Put Out a Bird Feeder Before
Birds that can’t find food fly away to another feeding ground.
If there has never been a bird feeder in your neighborhood before, the birds around your house are accustomed to finding food on their own.
It may take them a while to realize that your feeder is a food source.
Your Birds are Skittish about Predators
The sight of an owl, a cat, a dog, or raptors will send most songbirds flying on to safer areas.
You need to place bird feeders at an elevation where birds feel safe around backyard pets, and under enough cover that predatory birds cannot see them from above.
Use baffles to protect bird feeders from squirrels and snakes.
You Didn’t Put Out Your Feeder Early Enough
By the time birds reach the middle of their nesting season, they are too busy to scout out new food sources, at least if they have already found reliable ones.
If you put up your feeder a few days before birds are expected to arrive in the spring, they will have all season to discover it and make feeding in your backyard a habit.
Your Bird Feeder Is Dirty
Birds can be messy, but they still prefer clean feeders.
Bird feeders with moldy, smelly contents, swarmed by ants and bees, or caked with pee and poop won’t attract the birds you want in your yard.
Clean and sterilize bird feeders and bird baths weekly to keep birds coming back.
You Need To Put Up Birdhouses
The more amenities birds find in your backyard, the more likely they are to stay.
A combination of bird feeders, bird baths, and birdhouses is best for ensuring your enjoyment of the birds in your backyard.
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