Replacing a feeder with a caged one

Finches at a caged bird feeder
Goldfinches at a caged bird feeder. Photo by Mark Adams [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

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.

View a roundup of feeders that keep away larger birds and squirrels

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Julie Craves

Julie Craves

Julie Craves is an ecologist and the retired director of the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, Michigan. She answers readers’ questions about birds in her column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching. A tireless researcher and bird bander with a keen interest in the stopover ecology of migrant birds, she is also a personable writer with a gift for making everything she writes readable and entertaining. Her first article in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching), “Forest Fire-tail,” a profile of the American Redstart, appeared in June 1994. Send a question to Julie. Read her blog at http://net-results.blogspot.com.

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