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5 Worst Bird Feeding Mistakes That Means They’ll Never Visit

Photo of someone's backyard with numerous bird feeders. Red circles with yellow numbers in them indicate which bird feeder mistake is being made.

There was a time when birdwatching was a hobby strictly for our grandparents and the serious ornithologist. But, like many things, the pandemic changed all that.

While we were stuck inside during lockdown, putting up a bird feeder, purchasing an inexpensive pair of binoculars, and a copy of the National Audubon Society’s Guide to North American Birds kept us sane.

Bird feeders popped up everywhere, and a new generation of birdwatching enthusiasts was born. Unfortunately, many common bird feeder mistakes were made too.

But we’re going to correct that today, so you can entice more of your favorite feathered friends to hang out in your backyard.

Chickadee with a sunflower seed in its mouth.

1. Not Cleaning the Bird Feeder

This is by far the most common mistake made by new birders. It’s also the most serious mistake to correct. Seed can get damp from rain or humidity, and mold and fungus will grow inside the bird feeder. Bird droppings also carry disease, so regular cleaning helps to keep the birds visiting your backyard safe.

Dirty bird feeder filled with seed.

If your bird feeder has metal parts, run those through the dishwasher. Handwash plastic parts in hot soapy water once every other week. However, it’s a good idea to clean the feeders more often during periods of heavy rain and high humidity.

Wasps eating from a hummingbird feeder.

If you choose to feed hummingbirds (and you should, they’re delightful), it’s especially important to clean out the feeders regularly to keep ants and wasps at bay.

2. Not Using the Right Type of Feeder

When starting out, most of us grab the first feeder that strikes our fancy. And that’s fine as a beginner, but as your birdwatching enthusiasm grows, you may wish to attract specific types of birds. Or you may find that the feeder you chose lacks certain design features that make it easier for birds to use.

Remember, smaller birds, such as finches, will prefer tube-style feeders full of Nyjer seed. You can also use a Nyjer sock to feed these charming little birds.

Finches eating nyjer seed from a sock.

A sturdy feeder with large perches is optimal if you want to attract larger birds, such as blue jays, woodpeckers or the northern cardinal. These larger birds need a place to land that won’t swing about and can support their weight. These types of feeders are designed to accommodate larger seed mixes as well.

And don’t forget to offer a suet feeder, especially during the colder months of the year.

If you’re looking to see more of a certain bird in your backyard, it always helps to do a little research and cater specifically to their needs.

3. Not Offering the Right Type of Food

This is another common beginner mistake. In our excitement to attract all the birds to our yard, we grab the first bag of food we can find and start filling those feeders. After a while, you may notice only certain types of birds come to visit you. Or, even more disheartening, you may watch birds tossing out the seed they don’t like while nibbling at your feeder.

Collage of different types of bird seed.

The best way to decide what birdfeed to offer is to figure out what birds you want to attract. Much like choosing the right feeder, as mentioned above, the right seed is equally important.

Again, it all comes down to doing a little reading to figure out what the birds you enjoy watching like to eat.

Smaller birds usually prefer smaller seeds, which are easier for them to crack open with their little beaks. Larger birds, especially those with sturdier beaks, like cardinals, prefer large, hard seeds such as sunflower, cracked corn or even peanuts.

If you want to attract many species, offer several different types of bird seed in different feeders. You’ll enjoy a diverse population of winged visitors.

4. Not Placing Feeders in the Right Location

Bird feeder in winter among leafless bushes.
This feeder is on a sturdy pole near shrubs where the birds can seek shelter.

To ensure birds feel safe and can easily access feeders, hang each in a spot with plenty of natural cover, such as in or near trees and shrubs. It’s equally important to make sure there is shelter to protect the feeder and seed from the elements. Wet seed can go bad and grow mold quickly.

Some birds will not feed from a feeder that swings in the breeze or isn’t secured, so it doesn’t move when they land on it. Placing your bird feeder on a post or branch makes the feeder secure.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing where to put a feeder is predators.

Red-tailed hawk sitting on hook with a hummingbird feeder on it.

Songbirds are easy targets for hawks and owls when feeding from a feeder out in the open; this is another very common bird feeder mistake. Instead, place the feeder near a hedge or shrubs where they can flit in and out of the shelter.

If you have cats or dogs that will terrorize the local bird population, consider this when choosing the best feeder location. Keep them high enough so dogs and cats can’t reach them from the ground and close to places where birds can hide quickly.

It’s also important not to put feeders near large windows, as the birds can easily crash into them and injure themselves. If you want to put feeders close to a window, you should put a few stickers on the window to prevent such collisions.  

5. Not Keeping Your Feeders Filled Consistently

Finally, it’s important to keep your bird feeders filled consistently. Birds will only stick around if there is a constant food supply. Letting feeders run out and remain empty, even for a few days, can discourage your feathered friends and send them looking elsewhere for food.

Empty bird feeder hanging in trees.

Check your feeders daily and refill them before they’re empty.

You would think that underfilling feeders would be a common bird feeder mistake, but it’s actually the opposite. Don’t overfill feeders; remember, birdseed is perishable, and exposed to air and the elements it can go bad or oxidize if it isn’t eaten in time. If you’ve got a full feeder and notice fewer visitors, it’s likely because your seed has gone off. Try filling your feeder halfway and more frequently, and always store birdseed in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Red-bellied woodpecker at a bird feeder.

By avoiding these common bird feeder mistakes, you can ensure your backyard feeders are safe for all the birds visiting. And once birds realize your feeders are there and reliably cleaned and filled, they will continue to visit day after day.

Make sure you have your binoculars handy!