How to Attract Birds to a Window Feeder

Nearly all types of birds that are attracted to feeders will use a window feeder. They can be a great alternative to a pole mounted or tree hanging feeder for people with limited or no yard space (such as those living in apartments or condos), or have trouble thwarting squirrels. Window feeders can be used year round, and can hold a wide variety of food. They also provide great up-close viewing of birds and are entertaining to both people and pets! 

In this article we will discuss

  • the different types of window feeders
  • how to attach suction cup feeders so they stay secure
  • concerns about window strikes
  • cleaning your window feeder
  • squirrel proofing your window feeder
  • tips and strategies for attracting birds to your new window feeder
  • how they can be fun for your pets

What types of birds use window feeders?

All types! The only real limiting factor with a window feeder is the size of the bird. A smaller window feeder might not be able to accommodate a larger bird. If your goal is to feed cardinals and other large birds, size up when choosing a window feeder. 

Tray style window feeders also allow you to feed just about any type of bird food. Regular seed mix, large peanuts, mealworms, small suet nuggets, dried fruit, etc. Experiment with different food types to attract a wider variety of birds. Some feeders have a tray with a divider for different types of seed, or consider having two window feeders that offer different food. 

Types of Window Feeders

In general there are two styles of window feeders. Feeders that adhere to a window using suction cups, and feeders that sit inside your windowsill. 

Suction cup feeders

By far the most popular type of window feeder. These feeders are often made of a durable clear plastic, and attach to the surface of a window via suction cups. Some people question whether suction cups are enough to reliably hold the feeder without it constantly falling down. If care is taken to properly adhere the suction cups, this shouldn’t be a problem. The feeders will stay up indefinitely and are able to hold the weight of both seeds and birds easily. I have personally had good luck with this 3 suction cup Nature’s Hangout feeder and the 4 suction cup Nature Gear feeder.  Read further below for tips on properly adhering your suction cups. 

Suction cup feeders also come in a variety of specific designs for different types of food, such as for feeding suet blocks or hummingbird nectar

Happy goldfinches at my window feeder

Windowsill feeders

These feeders, also sometimes called solarium feeders, are placed inside the windowsill. Because they are supported by the window, they can often be larger and hold much more seed than a suction cup feeder. Most require the window to be open and they rest in the windowsill. Some even protrude into the house. Typically there will be adjustable side pieces that extend to the sides of the windowsill, closing off the open space like a window air conditioner. The feeder is then secured by closing the window on top of it.

This can be a great setup for some, but overall is much less popular and has a few drawbacks. For those in colder climates during winter months, cold air coming in from the open window can be problematic. They may also not work in homes where the windows are monitored by security systems. Even without security systems, some people feel having their window open makes their home less secure overall. Here’s an example of this style of feeder on Amazon.

How to attach your suction cup feeder

  • Start with clean windows! Dirt and debris on the surface of the glass is going to prevent the suction cup from sticking properly. Be sure to thoroughly wipe the window surface down with a glass cleaner prior to installation. 
  • Make sure the suction cup itself is clean and free from debris, dirt and dust. If the cup needs to be cleaned, wash in warm soapy water and dry gently with a lint-free cloth.
  • When possible, install on warm glass. The suction cups may have more trouble adhering to cold glass. If you are attaching the feeders during a colder time of year, try waiting until the sun has been shining on the glass for a while or until the warmest part of the day. Additionally you can also warm up cold glass by using a hair dryer.  
  • Put a light coating of oil on the inside of the suction cup. The conventional method of using water or spit doesn’t work as well because these will evaporate off the cup over time, while oils will not. A tiny dab (very tiny!) of Vaseline or cooking oil will work. 
  • Each time you fill the feeder, “burp” the cups to eliminate bubbles. Burping a suction cup simply means pressing down on the nub in the middle of the cup to remove air that may have seeped in. 
Downy Woodpecker on a suet cage suction cup feeder 

Will birds fly into my windows if I use a window feeder?

If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a bird smash into a window, you may be worried that having a feeder directly on your window will only increase bird strikes. Fear not! Research shows that the opposite is in fact true. Window feeders may actually decrease the chances of a bird hitting your window.

Research has shown that birds are killed most frequently at windows 15 to 30 feet away from a feeder. Additionally, birds can build up enough speed to die if they strike a window from a perch of only 3 feet away. However, kills drop to almost zero when feeders are less than 3 feet away from a window. It is possible that from this close distance (< 3 feet), the birds are more likely to see the glass, and also that they cannot build up quite enough momentum for an impact with glass to result in death. So by placing feeders right beside or directly on the window, not only do you get the best view of the birds, but you are protecting them from fatal window strikes as well.  

If you find window strikes are a particular problem for you, there are products that can help reduce this. You can affix decals to the glass to make the windows more visible to birds, such as these window clings bird deterrents. For a deeper dive, check out our dedicated article on avoiding window strikes

How do I clean my window feeder?

All bird feeders need to be cleaned on a regular basis, these are no exception. Window feeders tend to be very simple to clean. Some have removable trays, so you can easily take out the tray, wipe out old seed, wash with soapy water to remove bird droppings if necessary and pop the tray back in. As long as the feeder looks clean, it will just need a bit of a wipe down each time you go out to refill. Make sure to remove any old seed that has begun to clump together or looks wet and moldy. Every 6-8 weeks you should take the whole feeder down (for plastic and metal feeders) and soak in a mild bleach solution, soap wash and rinse well. 

Related articles:

Can squirrels get into my window feeder?

One of the best things about a window feeder is you can often place them so that squirrels do not have access.  From the ground straight up squirrels can jump about 5 feet, and they are able to leap up to 10 feet between objects. This is important to remember when placing your window feeder. Make sure it is at least five feet off the ground. If possible keep it ten feet away from deck railings or tree branches. 

If your feeder must be located in a spot where there is potential for squirrels to reach it, consider using food that is coated in hot pepper. You can buy seed and suet made specifically with hot pepper or you can coat the seed yourself. The birds won’t mind and actually like it, while squirrels can’t tolerate it. 

For more information on hot pepper foods and other squirrel deterrent techniques, see our article 5 proven tips to keep squirrels out of bird feeders.  

How to attract birds to my window feeder

There are many factors that go into making a feeder attractive to birds. Here are some of the best tips for attracting birds to your window feeder.

  • Add a bird bath. Birds need water for drinking and bathing and are always on the lookout for suitable watering holes. A birdbath near your feeder can help attract birds to your location. Moving water (which can be achieved with a dripper, fountain or wiggler) will gain even more attention. Just remember to position the bath far enough away from your feeder that seed shells and bird droppings are not going to fall in and foul the water. 
House finch enjoying a sip from a birdbath with a water wiggler
  • Start with popular seed. Sunflower seed (black oil sunflower or sunflower hearts) are a favorite for most feeder birds. Starting with this type of seed or a high quality mix including a good portion of sunflower, is more likely to keep new birds coming back and establish your feeder. You want to prove to the birds that your feeder is a location for finding consistently high quality food. Should you want to eventually feed other types of seed you can slowly transition once your feeder has become established.
  • Make the seed visible. Spread some seed on the ground directly beneath the feeder or other areas close by.  Birds use their sight to find food and making your seed more obvious may help them find your feeder. 
  • Single it out. If you have many other bird feeders in your yard consider taking them down for a short period of time to draw attention to the new feeder. Once the birds are regularly using the window feeder, you can put your other feeders back up and the birds should incorporate all feeders as part of their routine when they come to your yard. 

Location is important 

If you have multiple good windows for placing a window feeder, consider other surrounding environmental factors that may influence the birds. While you don’t often see birds being killed, they do have many natural predators. Hawks and falcons often stalk bird feeders for a quick meal, as does the neighborhood cat. Birds are always on the lookout for feeding locations that they deem to be “safe”. 

  • Place the feeder high enough off the ground so that the birds do not have to worry about being stalked by ground predators such as cats and dogs. 
  • Place feeders close to natural shelter such as brush piles, shrubs, or a trees. This will provide birds with a resting place, and also cover they can fly to quickly if they feel threatened. You will often see birds come to your feeder, grab some seed, then fly off to a tree to eat it. They prefer to have some type of shelter while letting their guard down to eat. If you have the option, evergreens are best at providing year round coverage. A distance of 10-20 feet is ideal for providing close shelter, while also being far enough away so that squirrels and pouncing cats are not an issue.  
Chickadee taking seed to a perch

Some birds are just skittish

Different species of birds have different temperaments. Chickadees are very bold and curious and will likely be one of the first to find your feeder, and won’t be bothered much by your presence. While nuthatches or cardinals can be a little more skittish and might visit less frequently and be more easily disturbed by you coming close to the window. To help skittish birds you can purchase a feeder with a one-way mirror or one-way mirror film. 

Window feeders provide entertainment for your pets

You will get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to view birds up close at your window feeder. But so will your pets! Cats and even some dogs will love watching the birds flying by the window and bouncing around on the feeder. Let’s face it, indoor house cats don’t get a lot of excitement in their day. Having birds to watch can provide hours of stimulation. The best part is your cat can get very close, and the birds are never in danger.

Want to take it a step further for Mr. Jingles? Consider installing a cat window perch such as the Kitty Cot. You may want to wait until your window feeder has been up for a little while and is being regularly visited by birds before putting up the cat perch. If the perch is put up too soon there is a chance it scare away some birds. However once birds are used to coming to the feeder, they will likely get used to the cats presence and realize they aren’t a threat. 

Be patient. If you hang it, they will come

Not seeing any activity at your new window feeder? Be patient! If your feeder is in a spot where birds are not used to coming, and there are no other bird feeders in the area driving bird traffic, it may be awhile before your feeder is spotted. I was able to get birds coming to my window feeder within four days, but for some it could take up to a month or more.  While waiting, make sure to keep the feeder full and to change out seed periodically so that it stays fresh. 

About Melanie

Melanie has been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and photographing birds of all types.