How Do Birds Find Feeders?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

How do birds find feeders? This is a question I hear a lot. Many people believe it is by scent or smell, but most birds do not have an overly developed sense of smell. Myth buster: they will not abandon their young if you touch them, because it is unlikely that they will sense or smell that you did so. So, how are they locating backyard feeders? 

Female Northern Cardinal and Male Baltimore Oriole enjoying mealworms and a Safflower Cylinder

Their sight and hearing are far more sharp than their sense of smell and these are the main senses that they use to find feeders. This is why a bird feeder in a new location may take weeks to attract bird attention, they don't immediately smell the food, you have to wait for birds to discover it by sight or hearing (other birds typically) and this can take some time. It is also something that you can use to your advantage. Because sight is the most important way that birds locate food, feeders that draw them in, filled with foods they recognize, will attract them. 

Location plays a huge role in how quickly a bird may discover a feeder or which birds the feeder could attract. 

By first knowing which birds frequent your area and their lifestyle traits, you can target certain types of birds based on where your feeder is and what type of food you are offering. 

For instance, Dark-Eyed Juncos and many sparrow species enjoy ground feeding. A feeder that is placed very high may not attract them, but a ground feeder like our EcoTough Ground Flythrough Feeder will more easily entice them, as they are more likely to come by it. Try filling a ground feeder with White Proso Millet to attract all sorts of ground feeding birds including juncos, sparrows, towhees and Mourning Doves. 

It is also important to consider how a particular species prefers to feed. Some species feed in flocks, such as Common Redpolls. This year was an irruption year for the species and resulted in many of us getting to host flocks of them throughout the winter. For flock feeding species, tray feeders are great because many birds can feed together at the same time, as they are used to. 

Common Redpolls feeding together in a Modern Rustic Catch-a-Seed Tray. Photo by Shayna Hartley. 

You may have noticed that Oriole feeders are usually orange and hummingbird feeders are usually red, again this is based on attraction by sight. 

Whenever you are deciding where to put a feeder, consider the species and their traits: where do they like to feed, in which position (woodpeckers are accustomed to propping their tail on trees which is why they enjoy our Tail Prop feeders), which colours and foods are they naturally attracted to. 

Our amazing in-store staff is always here to help you decide on the best feeders and foods to suit your needs and what you hope to attract. If ever you need assistance, just come in and ask- we are all here to help! 

Wishing that all the birds find your feeders. 



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