An expert from the National Audubon Society explains what you need to know about cleaning, predators, and proper placement.
black and yellow birds at hanging feeder in tree
Credit: Vassiliy Vishnevskiy / Getty Images

Wild birds benefit from the feeders that you have in your backyard. When food is scarce, your feeders ensure that they have an adequate food source. They also encourages the birds to inhabit the local area, meaning you get a daily chance to birdwatch from your window. But it can be rather jarring when you, seemingly all of a sudden, stop seeing the birds visit your feeder. If you're missing these feathered neighbors, have no fear: We talked to experts from the National Audubon Society to understand the top reasons why the birds may have stopped visiting your feeder.

The seed mix needs changing.

Bird seed does go bad. "You want to make sure that the seed is fresh and not moldy," explains Connie Sanchez, program director of bird-friendly communities. Regularly replacing your bird seed with fresh servings will go a long way in appealing to them. Another change that would make your feeders off-putting to birds is when you substitute your seed mixes. Just like people, birds have their preferences. If you swap suet cakes for meal worms, you'll see less woodpeckers and more bluebirds as this adjustment might not interest the birds that were once flocking to your yard.

There is a new predator in the area.

Birds will eat in places where they feel safe. "If other species like squirrels start to use the feeder, it might put birds off," says John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities. "Cats or other domestic animals that have recently discovered the feeder could scare birds away that previously found the feeder attractive."

The good thing is that you can find nature-friendly ways to keep squirrels and other varmint out of your bird feeders. You can set up a pole and baffle system that allows birds to get to the feeder while simultaneously preventing other animals from reaching it. You can also install special fencing around your property that makes it harder for other animals to jump over it into your yard.

The feeder isn't positioned in the best spot.

The landscaping of your property may have once deemed it prime natural real estate for a bird feeder—with plenty of trees or shrubs that provided adequate cover—but if you had some of that greenery cleared away, it may have also driven the birds away. "Placement can be an issue," Rowden says. "If the feeder is too exposed it wouldn't be as attractive."

Simply put, you may need to move your feeder to a location with a balanced mix of natural cover and open space. It needs to have protection against potential predators, and still allow for birds to easily fly in and out.

It's time to clean the feeder.

You can't just "set it and forget it" when it comes to your bird feeders. According to both Sanchez and Rowden, a thoroughly cleaned feeder is essential. Remember that feeders are out in the elements and will become dirty over time. Make cleaning the bird feeders part of your routine at least every two weeks. Start by disposing old seeds, which may have become rancid or gathered debris from being outdoors. Some feeders can be cleaned in the dishwasher, but you can wash them by hand with dish soap and hot water, too. A disinfecting solution that's been diluted with water will help to kill off salmonella and other germs. Rinse and let it dry completely before refilling with seed.

Natural food sources are plentiful.

Migrating birds may find a better place to get their nutrition, and it has nothing to do with you. "A decrease in numbers to the feeder could be related to the abundance of natural food sources elsewhere," Sanchez explains. "So, birds wouldn't need to be coming to the feeders."

If that's the case, there isn't much you can do to bring the birds back. Natural food sources for the birds is actually a good thing for the ecosystem. But you should still keep your bird feeder available in the winter and seasons beyond. The change in seasons could play a role in whether birds can find food in other places, so pay attention to the behavior of the birds in your area.

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
December 16, 2020
Hi, I'm Danny and I have a question I had no idea that blue jays love shelled peanuts until one day I started putting one at a time on a 4' peach stump for the squirrel instead of putting it on the ground but when i saw the blue jay swoop down and get it I was surprised and happy and for over a week each day i would place one at a time on the stump all throughout the day. after learning about a peanut wreath feeder would be ideal for them I bought one and filled it with shelled peanuts and hung in on an 8' wrough iron hanger about 5' away from the peach stump and when the blue jays flew by he/she made a loud chrip noise and only comes by when i place one on the stump. How can I get them to notice the peanut wreath? it's been a week, I see them but if i don't put one on the stump they won't come. Thanks in advance for your advice.