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Birds & Critters

Where are the birds, and other common questions about bird feeding. Here are some FAQs about birds and critters that we often get.


Encourage your birds to have tidy dining habits. Here are some things you can do that will help prevent bird food from reaching the ground.

Select foods that minimize the amount of scattered seed that reaches the ground; Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Blends or seeds without their shells like sunflower chips or shelled peanuts work very well.

Avoid discount seed blends as they may contain large amounts of cereal grain fillers, which the birds don’t like to eat and usually end up on the ground.

Don’t overfeed. Put out only as much food as the birds will eat each day. All Wild Birds Unlimited custom seed blends are regionally selected to contain the seeds your local birds prefer – so fewer seeds are wasted and dropped to the ground. The Certified Bird Feeding Specialists at Wild Birds Unlimited stores can help you choose the right seed for your situation.

Use tray feeders to keep foods from falling to the ground. The Dinner Bell feeder has a built-in tray and a protective, adjustable roof. You can offer any blend or straight seed from the Dinner Bell as well as cylinder and stackable foods.

Use trays under feeders to keep debris from falling to the ground. Round trays are perfect to attach to seed tube feeders and rectangular trays suit hopper feeders best. And bigger is better because there’s more area to catch falling seeds!

With proper planning you can enjoy the backyard bird feeding hobby and have a tidy backyard. Stop by the store and chat with our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists about tidy bird feeding solutions that are right for you!

So, you set out a new feeder and the birds are not eating from it? This is normal. After installing a new feeder it can take a day or a number of weeks before the birds will readily take to it; even if it replaces an existing feeder.

Here are a few things to consider:

Patience is key when birds are getting used to a new feeder.

Birds generally find their food by sight. Placing your feeder where it will be visible to them should decrease the time it takes for birds to start feeding.

Sometimes sprinkling some food on the ground or on top of the feeder will let the birds know that you are open for business.

It is important that you use a food based on the birds in your area and for the type of feeder. Blends with a lot of millet are great for hopper feeders; but, not for tube feeders. Seed blends high in sunflower and peanuts do best in tube feeders.

Birds often have a preference with their food as well as perching options. The jays, grosbeaks, towhees and cardinals prefer a platform on which to land and feed. This can be accomplished by adding a tray to a tube feeder.

Place the feeder near cover. Birds are often most comfortable when there is cover about 5-10 feet away. They can hide to make sure the coast is clear or duck quickly into the cover if a predator arrives.

Remember to keep your feeders clean and change the food at least once per month if the birds have not begun eating.

In order to not waste seed until the birds start using the feeder, consider placing only enough food to fill the feeder to the first level of feeding ports. Once the birds find it and are eating regularly, you can fill it up completely.

Sometimes finches are picky eaters. It may take them a while to get used to coming to your new finch feeder. Check the seed in the tube by shaking it every week for freshness and to be sure that the seed is not getting moist. If the seed is getting moist or a month or two has passed, replace the seed. Be patient, it is worth the wait!

Straight Seeds Nyjer, American Goldfinches, Bird Food, Wild Birds Unlimited, WBU

Goldfinches move around a lot. It is reported that 25 to 100 different goldfinches can visit a feeder in one day.

In most areas throughout North America, they increase their feeding activities at feeders during the spring and will feed all summer long. The southern states are their typical wintering ground, and they fly farther north to spend the spring and summer.

Because goldfinches are known to be picky eaters, there are several things you can do to make sure goldfinches find your yard attractive:

• Keep seed fresh and dry inside the tube. Shake the tube periodically to make sure that the seed inside the tube feeder is dry.

• Make sure the seed does not stay in the feeder uneaten for more than a month (two to four weeks in wet climates).

• Transfer the seed (as long as it is not moldy) into another feeder if it goes uneaten in your finch tube feeder.

• Place your tube feeder away from the feeders where larger birds are feeding. This allows the smaller birds access to the finch feeder without being harassed by larger birds.

• A tray is not recommended for finch feeders because it may encourage larger unwelcome birds. In addition, because finches typically sit at the feeder to eat, their droppings fall to the tray where food may spill

To deter blackbirds you need to deny them the food they want to eat, either by not offering it, or by putting it in the feeders and/or cages that have been proven to keep them out.

Blackbirds are very opportunistic and tend move on when the picking gets slim. By removing your problem feeders and seeds you should see the blackbirds leave the area after a short-time (unless a lot of neighbors are also feeding them or they are nesting). Replace the feeders a few days after the population has dropped. As for your other resident birds, they should return to your feeders soon after you put them back up.

If blackbirds are gobbling up all your bird seed, you can try the safflower solution! Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds – including cardinals, House Finches, jays, chickadees, doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches – savor safflower. Blackbirds, grackles and squirrels typically do not.

Offer plain suet in a suet feeder. Woodpeckers and other clinging birds will still eat it; but, the blackbirds usually don’t care for it.

Offer peanuts-in-the-shell to help attract jays, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers!

Try feeding sunflower chips in tube and tray feeders. Starlings generally eat a little and move on leaving most of it for your other birds.

Continue to feed Nyjer (thistle) seed to your Goldfinches. The Starlings don’t seem to care for this seed. And, you might be surprised to see a few other visitors to your finch feeder; such as Chickadees and Nuthatches!

Another good way to exclude blackbirds is to use feeders that will not allow them access to the food.

• The WBU Upside Down Suet Feeder deters blackbirds as they do not naturally feed upside down. Woodpeckers and other clinging birds are quite comfortable feeding in this fashion.

• The WBU Dinner Bell feeder has a hood that can be adjusted to eliminate larger birds while allowing smaller birds to feed.

• Weight sensitive feeders, like the WBU Eliminator, can be adjusted to close when a larger bird tries to use it.

• WBU On-guard Cages can be purchased in 1.5″ and 2″ opening sizes that when put on the outside of existing feeders, allowing smaller birds through while keeping out larger birds.

In deterring pigeons and doves, food is the first thing to address. Cracked corn, millet and cereal grains are preferred by pigeons and doves! Use blends without them such as a No-Mess Blend without millet.

The type of feeder used can also allow doves and pigeons easy access to the seed or deter them. Here are a few suggestions that should encourage the smaller birds while keeping the pigeons and doves at bay:

Wild Birds Unlimited tube feeders without a tray on the bottom should be difficult for pigeons to use because of the perch length. However, on-guard cages on seed tube feeders keep out both doves and pigeons.

The WBU Dinner Bell feeder has a hood that can be adjusted to eliminate larger birds while allowing smaller birds to feed.

Weight sensitive feeders, like the WBU Eliminator, can be adjusted to close when a larger bird tries to use it.

Pigeon Guards can be installed on most WBU wooden hopper feeders.

Feed finches with a finch feeder and Nyjer (thistle) and use an on-guard cage (a cage that goes over the feeder to deter larger birds) if it is needed.

Offer suet in an upside-down suet feeder for woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds. Offer nectar feeders for the hummingbirds.

We recommend placing feeders on a pole system that has a raccoon baffle. The raccoon baffle for our Advanced Pole System (APS) is most effective when mounted with the top of the baffle about 5 feet high and all feeders are above the top of the baffle. Also, the APS set-up should be installed out of reach of a raccoon that may climb a tree or something else like a deck rail to reach over to the set-up.

You can feed birds from your deck rail and still deny raccoons access using a baffle on an APS setup. The Certified Bird Feeding Specialist at your local Wild Birds Unlimited store can show you how.

Deterring cats from accessing birds at feeders is a tough situation. However, there are few techniques that you can implement to help keep the birds safe.

Place feeders in the open about 10 feet away from any low shrubs or areas of concealment where cats can hide. The open space allows birds time to recognize the danger and get away safely.

Avoid feeding birds at ground-level or low to the ground. Use tidy feeding techniques to prevent food from falling to the ground where birds are vulnerable to cats. Use no-mess blends and place trays under feeders to catch any falling seeds.

You can fence off the bird feeding area to create a barrier that will help slow down any attack by a cat. The cats will probably climb any fence you install; but, it will give the birds some additional time to get away.

There are motion activated sprinklers that reportedly work on cats. Be aware they work on people, too, when you forget they are activated.

There are scent deterrents on the market which may or may not work to deter cats. They can be applied around the perimeter of your yard and may be worth trying.

Having a hawk in the neighborhood that is eating an occasional songbird is a natural behavior and part of the cycle of life. The raptor is just doing what is necessary to survive and studies have shown that bird-eating hawks, like a Cooper’s hawk, succeed in catching prey in about 30 percent of their attempts. They will catch their meals somewhere regardless of whether you are feeding the birds or not…but, let’s try to send them elsewhere to do it!

The first step to help discourage the hawk from hanging around your backyard is to take down your feeders for a few days. The hawk should go elsewhere for food and will hopefully find a new location for hunting and not return. However, the hawk or a different one may return again and the process will need to be repeated. Your songbirds will leave while the feeders are down, but will return once you replace your feeders.

When you do see the hawk, make sure to create a lot of noise and commotion to scare it away. Hopefully, it will be startled enough not to return to a location that it feels is threatening.

Also, help your songbirds be a more difficult target for the hawk by making sure your feeders are located where there is ample natural protection. Nearby evergreen shrubs, bushes, trees or a brush pile will provide birds with an easy escape when they are threatened by a hawk.

Federal and state laws prohibit the harassment or harming of hawks and owls, so any direct action that may endanger them is not an option.



Four parts water to one part sugar. This can be one cup of water and a quarter cup of sugar. Use only table sugar and never honey, other sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Clean your feeder every three to four days. Use only warm or hot water and a soft brush to clean the feeder.

During nesting time hummingbirds may not be as likely to come to feeders. They are feeding insects to their young. Once the young have left the nest and during the fall migration you will probably noticed increased activity at your feeder.

During nesting season the females are probably busy nesting. Once the babies have hatched, the hummingbirds are gathering a lot of insects to feed their babies, so they probably aren’t spending a lot of time at the feeder.

An ant trap can be purchased. Ant traps are designed to keep ants that crawl up a pole onto the feeder from actually entering the feeder. The ant traps do not necessarily work if ants are jumping from trees onto the feeder.

Use a tray-style feeder. Clean the feeder. Remove any yellow portions. Install bee guard tips. Move the feeder a few feet away from its location till the bees find it again.

It is not suggested that Vaseline be used because it is too likely that the greasy substance could get onto the birds and make it hard for the birds to clean their feathers properly.

Remember, it is not necessary to take down feeders to force the birds to fly south. They will migrate. If hummingbirds are sticking around, it could be because they are sick or injured. Some experts recommend leaving the feeder up with a spot light (150 watt bulb) on the feeder to keep the nectar from freezing). Amazingly enough some hummingbirds are still able to find insect larvae in the bark of trees. It is not necessary to ‘fly’ the birds south. Nature is nature and is never a guarantee that all birds will survive.