How to Attract Birds to a Feeder (including specific bird breeds!)

I'm excited about my new bird feeder!

I can't wait to fill my backyard with joyful birdsong and colorful fluttering!

But ten minutes after filling the feeder, I check, and no birds! What now? Am I doing something wrong? Why won't birds come to my feeder? How soon will birds come to my feeder? We'll answer all those questions here.

How do I get birds to come to my feeder?

The keys to attracting birds to your feeder are providing a safe environment and the right food & feeder types. Providing water is a good bonus.

Birds Need Safety First

Safety is the most important thing for the birds. These are wild birds and they're naturally skittish around humans, so they're slow to trust a new environment unless it's arranged in a way to maximize their safety.

Natural cover is important. If possible, situate your bird feeding station near trees, bushes, and shrubs.

Allow the birds to perch safely and observe the feeder before committing. Accomplish this by adding several high, easy-to-use perches near the bird feeders, situated so that they can first monitor the feeder before swooping in.

Squirrels scare off birds from feeders. So use squirrel guards to protect your feeders from squirrels.

Choosing the right kind of feeder

For the full answer to this question, you can click the heading just above. However, here's a brief summary for our purposes.

  • A tube feeder is a transparent tube that holds feed. It has small feeding openings scattered around the tube. Small perches are present just below the feed openings. These are ideal for smaller songbirds like sparrows, chickadees, titmice, grosbeaks, and finches.
  • A platform feeder is the all-you-can-eat buffet for birds of every kind, including the more pesky ones you don't want. They do have the benefit of making ground-feeding birds (like blue jays, blackbirds, sparrows, juncos, and doves) feel at home, especially when close to the ground. It's also harder to keep seed fresh and safe from disease.
  • Hopper feeders have a box-like appearance with a feeding place at the lower end. It has perches before the feeding place where birds can sit and enjoy the meal. Most birds love hopper feeders.
  • A Nyjer feeder presents niger seed or thistle seed to finches like Goldfinches. These come in either a tubular wire mesh with very small holes or "sock" of cloth mesh.
  • The nectar feeder is exclusively for hummingbirds.

Choosing the right kind of bird seed

Wild birds greatly differ in size and appearance, the same goes for their feed choice. If you want to attract different birds to your feeding station then you need different types of feed. However, black oil sunflower seeds, white proso millet, and peanuts are favorites of many birds.

  • Put only one type of seeds or feed in a feeder
  • You can put different feeds in different feeders
  • Keep the box clean
  • Maintain a safe distance from one feeder to another

Putting one type of seeds in one feeder will attract the same type or same size of birds and there’ll not be any danger from one species to another. More than one feeder with different types of feeds will attract several different birds at the same time. Maintaining a safe distance will help in stopping competition between different species of birds.

    Bonus: Provide Water in a Bird Bath or Bird Water Feeder

    Placing a birdbath near or above your feeding station will help a lot to attract birds at your feeding station.

    • Place the water bath at least 5-7 feet above the ground
    • The water bath should be in an open place
    • Provide a fresh water supply to your water bath
    • Keep changing the water daily or whenever it gets contaminated
    • Use a fountain as dripping water attracts birds

    How long does it take for birds to come to a bird feeder?

    Birds can usually be attracted to your bird feeder in 2-14 days if you have done everything correctly. So you'll need a little patience after following all the steps in this article. I've found that after the first couple of birds have found my new feeder, word spreads quickly through the local bird community and the flocks grow exponentially!

    The ideal time of year to quickly attract birds is in October because there's a shortage of food for most birds in the fall.

    How to attract specific birds to a feeder

    Next we'll look at tips for attracting specific birds to your feeder. We'll talk about the ideal feeder type and ideal food type for each specific bird.

    How to attract Bluebirds to a feeder

    These small birds not only need feed but also their need includes bathing. So, a water bath in your feeding station will help in attracting bluebirds. They love to eat fresh fruits like sumac, holly and sometimes raisins too. However, their favorite food is mealworms. You can use live, canned, or roasted mealworms to attract bluebirds. As they are ground feeders by nature so you should keep fruits at the bird feeding table (which is simply a tray having a cover on it to protect feed from the natural environment). You can sprinkle mealworms on the bushes, but try to keep them away from pesticides as these chemicals can severely damage the bird’s gastrointestinal system.

    How to attract Northern Cardinals to a feeder

    Cardinals are sturdy birds and need feeders according to their size. You should have a hopper or platform feeder to attract northern cardinals. They usually eat at dawn and dusk, so you should keep an eye on your feeder at those times. Keep the feeder filled at that time when cardinals are active in eating, otherwise, they will leave your feeder and search for another consistent supply of feed.

    Northern Cardinals are not too much picky about their food and they can eat whatever you’ll offer. They usually like black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, suet, or broken peanuts. They can also eat mealworms.  As they are large so you should have a medium to large size birdbath where they can enjoy drinking and bathing.

    How to attract Blue Jays to a feeder

    Blue Jays are hearty feeders and you need a huge amount of feed source to fulfill their requirements. They usually forage on peanuts, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, or kernels. Hopper feeders or platform feeding is best for blue jays. As they are opportunistic omnivores so you can also offer mealworms, shredded nuggets, or suet butter. A 2-3 inches deep water bath is suitable for blue jays.

    How to attract Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings to a feeder

    If you’re living in the eastern US or Canada then you can see Indigo bunting in the summer season. You can also see them in winter but only in Florida as they are migrating birds. They are attracted in migrating season mostly. Although they can feed seeds like white proso millet or sunflower seeds from the feeder they mostly eat seeds that fell on the ground. So, you can use tray feeders or platform feeders.

    Painted buntings have the same feeding pattern except they need additional coverage as they can be scared easily. You can use a protective cage around the feeder to discourage larger birds. They can be found throughout the year except in the spring.

    How to attract Red-Winged Blackbirds to a feeder

    They can be seen year-round in the southern ranges, however, if you’re living in the northern ranges you have to wait for a specific time as they are migratory in these areas. You can attract them by offering cracked corn, millet, sunflower chips, peanut pieces, and mealworms. A firm feeding tray is best to attract red-winged blackbirds.

    How to attract Robins to a feeder

    American robins don’t eat seeds so the best strategy is to provide a water bath. You can plant fruit trees near the water bath to attract American robins. Shallow tray feeders with chunks of different fruits like apples, strawberries, watermelon, grapes, or blueberries are the best option to attract them to your yard.

    How to attract Goldfinches to a feeder

    A large portion of American Goldfinch’s diet consists of seeds so you can offer them seeds like Nyjer seeds and thistle seeds. You can use a tube feeder, but don’t forget to put a protective covering around the feeder as they can be disturbed by larger birds. Try to keep goldfinch feeders away from the rest of the feeders as they don’t feel safe near other larger birds. You can plant different seed-producing shrubs and trees to attract them naturally.

    How to attract Baltimore Orioles to a feeder

    You can see these magnificent small birds in the early spring. Mostly Baltimore orioles are attracted to orange color try to choose an orange-colored feeder for them if you want to attract Baltimore Oriole particularly. Offer different fruits, especially oranges as they are more attracted to them. A small birdbath can also be hung near the feeder to attract them easily as they have a keen sense toward dripping water.

    How to attract Woodpeckers to a feeder

    Woodpeckers can be attracted by offering protein-rich food. You can put cakes, dehydrated insects, nuts, and fruits in sturdy feeders to attract them. Small-sized woodpeckers can be attracted to your yard if you’re going to offer seeds like Black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, and suet cakes.

    How to attract Tanagers to a feeder

    Scarlet tanagers are commonly found in eastern forests and can be the scene in spring and summer. Scarlet tanagers can be attracted toward food like suet, mealworms, grape jelly, and oranges. You can plant trees like oak trees and mulberry. Adding a medium-sized birdbath will also help in attracting them.

    Western tanagers are found in Central America and South America. They don’t eat seeds so you can use suet, nectar, mealworms, raisins, fruits, and barriers to attract them. They are medium-sized birds and a small to medium birdbath will help attract them.

    How to attract Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to a feeder

    Despite the small size and active nature of the ruby-throated hummingbird it’s bold and can be attracted in the presence of humans. You can use a nectar feeder filled with nectar to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds in your backyard. You can buy nectar from the store or you can prepare it by just adding one part of sugar and 4 parts of water in a mixture. To give a more natural look you can choose plant tubular or trumpet-shaped flower nectar feeders. You can also plant Crabapple, Flowering Dogwood, and Tulip-Poplar to attract them naturally.