One reason people give up on feeding birds is that they don’t quickly attract birds to their new feeders.
You might say to yourself, “If only I had the right bird food, then birds would come.”
Or, perhaps, “If only I had the right bird feeder, then birds would come.”
But more is involved.
As with all living things, birds need food, water, shelter. Above all, they must feel safe in order to come and be quickly attracted to your bird feeder. And certain times of year are better than others for attracting birds to feeders.
How do you get birds to come to a new feeder? Here is one formula to quickly attract birds to your feeder:
Put your feeders up in October. Make sure you have fresh bird seed. Fill a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seed. Put a hopper feeder with white proso millet near a tree or large bush for cover and safety. Place some mixed seeds on a low platform feeder so birds can see it easily.
But even if it’s not autumn, and there are no trees growing in your yard, you can still get birds to come to your feeder in a short period of time.
How to quickly attract birds to your feeder
You can get birds to come to your feeder quickly by setting up your bird feeding station properly.
[See my article on setting up your first bird feeder for my recommendations to get started.]
This includes such items as food and feeders. But there is more.
You may not have thought about it before, but birds need to feel safe if they are to use a feeder. The way you set up your feeders and position them in your yard can make a big difference.
You can put some landscaping bushes and trees in your own yard.
But you can’t control the landscaping (or lack of it) in your neighborhood. Such surrounding habitat (including neighbors with feeders) have much to do with how soon and how many birds come to your feeders.
I have several recommendations to speed up the time it takes for birds to find and use your feeders.
Let’s talk about these recommendations individually.
Quickly attract birds to your bird feeder by offering several kinds of food
It often works best to provide several different kinds of bird seed and food separately, each in their own feeder. Why?
Most birds prefer one type of bird food more than other. So when they come to a feeder with mixed bird seed, they often throw out the seeds they don’t like onto the ground. Here they can spoil or just make a mess.
That feeder with all the different kinds of food? Perhaps several species eat from it. Some can be quite aggressive and scare off shier birds.
Place different seeds in different feeders around your yard so that milder birds can eat their favorite seed away from other more boisterous birds that eat different seeds.
Most birds like black oil sunflower seeds. Red finches, chickadees, and goldfinches especially like this seed.
Smaller sparrows and juncos like white proso millet.
Peanuts are a favorite of jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.
[See my article on what bird foods attract what birds.]
Mixed seed often contains inexpensive “filler” seeds to keep the price low. But many of these seeds are not well-liked by most birds. Stick to the three foods above to attract birds more quickly. Avoid any mixed seed with red milo, wheat, or cracked corn listed as the first 3 ingredients.
[See why I like Wagner’s Songbird Supreme as the best mixed bird seed.]
How fresh is your bird seed? Seed left over from last season may go bad. Start a new bird feeder or a new bird feeding season with fresh bird seed.
Get birds to come to your new feeder by setting up different kinds of feeders placed around your yard
Finches and chickadees like to feed in the tree tops. They pull ripe seeds from cones or seed heads. Thus, they like to eat from tube feeders, perhaps hanging on a tall bird feeder pole or shepherd’s hook. So put your black oil sunflower seeds in a tube feeder.
Larger birds, such as jays, starlings, and blackbirds (even house sparrows) have a difficult time feeding from tube feeders. Thus, these feeders protect your more expensive sunflower seeds from the voracious appetites of larger and flocking birds.
Sparrows, towhees, and juncos like to feed on the ground. They like to hop and kick over leaf litter to find fallen seeds. Provide a low hopper feeder filled with white proso millet for these birds. Or offer a mixed bird seed that contains plenty of millet and black oil sunflower seeds.
[See my article on how high bird feeders should be placed?]
Larger birds, such as cardinals, jays, doves, and others prefer the more open platform feeders. Here you can feed mixed bird seeds with peanuts or other tree nuts, and cracked corn, and striped sunflower seeds.
After your feeders are established, you can add suet feeders and thistle feeders. But these usually take longer to attract birds than the feeders and foods above.
[See my article on different kinds of bird feeders and what birds prefer them.]
If it isn’t raining, you may initially place scattered bird seed out on bare patches of ground, patio, or in saucers on top of fence posts or around the yard where birds can see them. Birds find food by sight. They see the food. Then they are attracted to other birds squawking and fighting over food! Once birds find your feeders you don’t need to scatter bird seed on the ground anymore.
[See my article: Can you just throw bird seed out on the ground?]
Quickly get birds to use a new feeder by setting it up at the right time of year
When is the best time to set up a bird feeder? Mid to late autumn is the best time to set up a bird feeder. October is good, November farther south. Why?
Birds that breed in the north migrate south in fall. They look for a place to spend the winter. Such a place must have protective vegetation, water, and food. By December birds have stopped moving around. They have selected their winter territory and will stay there until spring.
So it is best to have your feeders set up by early winter, at least.
Birds migrating back north again in the spring will find bird feeders to stop at along the way.
Getting birds to use a new feeder in the summer and early autumn is harder. There is usually an abundance of natural foods, insects, fruits, and seeds. Adult birds that eat seeds often feed insects to their young (finches and goldfinches are the exception in feeding their nestlings seeds).
Not all birds migrate. So you may attract the year-round resident house finches and chickadees with black oil sunflower seeds even in summer.
Get birds to use a new feeder by setting up staging perches
Have you observed that most birds do not fly directly to a bird feeder?
Birds usually approach more cautiously. They fly to a safe perch near and often above the feeder to check it out first.
The feeder is so exposed! The birds want to make sure there aren’t any hawks or cats or other dangers there at the feeder before they visit to eat.
These way stops to the feeder are called staging perches.
Finches and jays may use fences and electrical wires as staging perches. Other birds may prefer lower perches where they can approach unseen. Thus, a dense low tree or bush often works well as a staging perch.
If your yard is bare, you may consider planting willows. They grow very quickly from free cuttings. In 3 years it can be quite dense.
Quickly attract birds to your bird feeders by adding water
Birds need water to drink and bathe year-round, not just summer. In fact, birds may get dehydrated in winter when all water is frozen!
Nothing attracts birds like the sound of dripping water! If you can make or buy a fountain, bubbler or dripper for your bird bath, you will soon have birds!
And even birds that don’t come to feeders will come to bird baths. Remember, birds attract birds. Get any birds comfortable with coming into your yard, and they’ll soon attract others.
Attract birds to your feeders by placing feeders correctly within your landscaping
Birds want a safe place to flee from the feeders when they perceive danger. Thus, feeders are best placed within 10-15 feet of such refuge.
You may place a feeder below such a tree or even hanging from it, if sturdy.
Many birds do like to feed low or on the ground. However, don’t place a low feeder too near a low dense bush where a cat could hide and spring out.
But other birds like to feed higher and more in the open.
And, you have to balance all this with being able to see the bird feeder from your window!
[See my article that answers questions about setting up bird feeders and bird feeding.]
How long does it take to attract birds to a new feeder?
It takes about 2-14 days to attract the first birds to a new feeder.
It can take longer in summer, as we discussed above.
And, if you live in an urban or new residential neighborhood lacking large trees and mature landscaping, it can take months to attract larger numbers of birds to your bird feeder.
But now you have the tools to quickly attract whatever birds may be present.
Would you like to see how I would set up a bird feeding station for you from scratch? Then this article is for you.
I like the following feeders and foods for quickly attracting birds to your feeder. These links all take you to Amazon where you may purchase them. I earn a small affiliate commission from your purchase, with no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this web site with your purchases.
Droll Yankees 16-inch Tube feeder
Black oil sunflower seed
White proso millet
Wagner’s Songbird Supreme mixed bird seed
Wagner’s Greatest Variety mixed bird seed