In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our January/February 2019 issue.
Q: I was getting so many large birds at my bird feeder that I replaced it with a caged feeder. But now even the small birds are not coming to the feeder with the cage around it. What should I do? — Patti Emmons, Santa Rosa, California
A: It sounds like you put your new feeder in the same place as the old one. This is great, as the location is already associated with food. Ideally, the feeder is in a place where shelter from predators is a quick flit nearby so that the small birds you hope to attract feel safe. Note that you might need to be patient if the feeder looks vastly different from the old familiar one or if the smaller birds were bullied by the bigger ones that used to come to the spot. And keep in mind that during the nesting season, birds are busy feeding their young insects and don’t use feeders as often. The same may hold true in fall or early winter when natural food sources are abundant.
Since most feeder visitors use visual cues to locate a food source, you can try sprinkling a little seed under the feeder or on a platform nearby, but do so sparingly and only for a short time so that rodents or undesirable bird species don’t make a habit of visiting. Finally, make sure you are using fresh, high-quality seed. If the seed is stale or less nutritious and the birds have given it a try, they may not return.