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How Do Birds Know There is a Bird Feeder?

 Updated by Melanie Cruff on 01-09-2024

A common question I see in the bird feeding community is “how do birds know there is a feeder?” After buying a new bird feeder, finding a suitable place to hang it, and filling it with bird seed, you are naturally anxious to see birds feed from it.

Birds won’t just immediately know about your feeder, but they will find it by using their excellent eyesight. Most birds are always looking for food and stay perched somewhere on the lookout. To aid them in their search, scatter some seed on the ground around the new feeder.

Can birds smell bird seed?

As I touched on above, birds rely mostly on their vision to find bird seed. Birds do have nostrils, or external nares, but there’s really no way of telling how much they use their sense of smell, or if they do at all. It’s a common belief that vultures can locate dead animal carcasses from up to a mile away,  but other studies show that there is really no easy way to tell if a bird has a sense of smell.

How do you know whether the bird is actually smelling something? You can’t say, ‘Raise your right wing if you smell this.’, 

Says, ornithologist Kenn Kaufman

Either way, it’s safe to assume that the feeder birds you see in your backyard are not relying on whatever sense of smell they may have to find the bird seed you have left out for them.

Other research has shown that the Red-tailed Hawk may be one of the few birds that has a sense of smell, but they certainly aren’t trying to sniff out seed.

Do birds tell each other where food is?

I think it’s pretty obvious that birds do communicate, we hear them talking (singing and chirping) and answering each other all the time. But what are they talking about? Well let’s see, we know there are mating calls which is a form of communication, there are predatory calls to warn each other of danger, baby birds squawk from the nest when they’re hungry so that’s a form of food related communication.

There are also contact calls, which birds can use to talk to each other when foraging for food. So I would say yes, birds do talk and communicate where food is, in their own way.

Will birds find my bird feeder?

If you have taken the necessary steps to ensure birds will find your feeder, then they will indeed find it. It make take days or weeks depending on several different factors so try to be patient. Here are a few things you can do to help your backyard birds find a new feeder you’ve put out:

  • place your feeder in a safe spot, generally within about 15 feet of shelter
  • scatter some seed on the ground to help them see the new food source
  • use good, high quality bird seed – I’ve had good luck with this blend of seeds from Wagners
  • if you’ve had a feeder before, hang the new one near where the old one was

How long does it take birds to find a bird feeder?

This question isn’t easily answered and there’s really no definitive answer or even a good estimate. This article talks about the rule of twos, which basically says it could take 2 seconds or 2 months. As long as you are patient and keep food readily available in your bird feeder(s), birds (and almost certainly squirrels), will eventually find them.

Here’s a real life example from a recent experience I had. I moved into a new house and put up a new window feeder that I got, great little inexpensive feeder by the way, and filled it up and put it on my window. It took almost a solid 2 weeks before I saw my first titmouse pecking through the seeds.

After that the squirrels found it, then the cardinals, and so on. After that I added a feeder in the yard that’s on a pole, now they just bounce back and forth between them and the whole neighborhood knows that my yard is a food source!

3 thoughts on “How Do Birds Know There is a Bird Feeder?”

  1. I have a bird feeding station my son made, the pigeons found it, and also had two hanging feeders protected with a round metal thing so only little birds could use it. then I bought a fabulous clear window feeder and its been up a week and so far not seen one bird on it, its full of heart and seeds etc, Im worried they wont find it.

    • Hang in there Carolle, I think it took two weeks for me and more like a month for one of the other writers on this site. They could be a little distracted by the hanging feeders. Also birds are a little less “investigative” in the summer sometimes than other times of year when they might be searching harder for food like spring or winter. But some little bird will get curious eventually 🙂

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