Common Bird Feeding Questions

1. What is stealing my suet?

A: Crows, cats, bears, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, weasels, dogs, coyotes, and even some hawks and owls could be responsible for the missing suet.

I suggest you suspend the feeder on a wire from your eaves, a pole, or a handy tree branch. Hang it high enough so a leaping cat or dog can’t reach it, but close enough for you to access for refilling. And take a few peeks during the night-You might catch your suet thief in the act! 

2. What kind of feeders should I use to discourage starlings?

A: Tube feeders seem to work best at making life difficult for starlings. You must realize that this species is incredibly adaptable. You may also want to stop feeding peanuts, mixed seed, bread products, table scraps, and suet for a few days to discourage starlings. Try limiting your feeding to black-oil sunflower seed. 

3. Is it true that blackbirds, starlings, and grackles do not like safflower seeds?

A: Some of the blackbirds will only eat safflower when there’s nothing else to eat. Cardinals seem to love safflower. If you want to feed the smaller birds, get small, roofed feeders that exclude the larger birds (satellite-shaped feeders and domed feeders with adjustable-height roofs work well).

4. There are no birds at my feeder. What am I doing wrong?

A: You’re not doing anything wrong. It takes time for birds to locate a new feeding source. A spell of bad weather always drives birds to concentrate at feeders. Try putting your feeder in a new location far from your house and the portion of your yard where you are active. Put the feeder in or near a tree that the birds regularly use.

5. How do I keep the squirrels off of my bird feeders?

A: Baffling your feeders (preventing squirrels from gaining access to the feeders) is the best way. Feeders can be strung from a thin wire, far from any object from which the squirrels can leap. String the wire with empty 35mm film canisters (lids on) which will spin and dump the squirrels off. There are many squirrel-proof feeders on the market. These may give the squirrels a small electric shock, may prevent them from reaching the seed, or may rotate or bounce to dump the squirrels off. But be forewarned. Squirrels have been known to outsmart the most ingenious of the squirrel-proof inventions.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Feed squirrels ears of dried corn, but place the corn away from your bird feeders. Given the choice, squirrels will always go for the easiest food, and they LOVE corn.

6. How do I keep one species from hogging all the seed at my feeders?

A: Chances are you are feeding some food that that species really loves to eat. Try eliminating mixed seed from your feeding operation. Blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, and doves all relish mixed seed. Some feeder operators feed only black-oil sunflower to reduce the number of “unwanted” species at their feeders. In the Southwest, however, mixed seed is a very important part of bird feeding, so like any tough decision, there are trade-offs.

To discourage house finches, try eliminating platform feeders. Remove or shorten the perches on your tube feeders. House finches like to perch when eating. Goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees, and other small feeder birds can still get to the seeds at tube feeders that have short perches. 

7. What is the very best seed to offer to birds?

A: Black-oil sunflower seed is the most universally eaten seed at bird feeders. But there are many other seeds and foods to offer to birds. What is most popular with your birds depends on where you live and what birds are present.

8. What can I do to limit the number of sparrows at my feeders?

A: Here are a few tips for reducing house sparrows at your feeders:

  • Stop feeding mixed seed and cracked corn.
  • Reduce ground feeding.
  • Use tube feeders with perches.
  • Feed only black-oil sunflower seed.

9. What is the best feeder for bird feeding?

A: There is no single best feeder for bird feeding. A well-rounded feeding operation will include a platform feeder, a tube feeder, a hopper feeder, a suet feeder, and a peanut feeder. And don’t forget the bird bath!

10. The black-oil sunflower seeds in my 50-lb. bag have tiny holes in them, and I’ve observed moths emerging from the seed shells. What causes this and how can I prevent it from happening again?

A: The seed-drilling culprit is a weevil that lays its eggs on developing sunflower seeds. The hatching larvae consume the kernel and then drill exit holes through the shells.

Sunflower farmers constantly wage war against sunflower weevils, but despite their best efforts, infested seeds occasionally survive harvesting and processing. A seed’s weight may indicate if it is contaminated. This is why a chickadee picks up seeds before selecting one and flying away. The bird is searching for a healthy seed with the largest nutmeat, rather than one that is lighter and potentially weevil-infested.

The moths you’ve noticed could be Indian flour moths or adult sunflower weevils that have drilled through your seed shells. The flour moths can be controlled by using pheromone-based flour moth traps, which are available in garden and hardware stores.

Storing the seed in airtight containers keeps the contents fresh and controls pests. We pour our 50-lb. bags into large plastic or metal garbage cans with tight-fitting lids. I’ve also successfully deterred insect infestations by placing several large bay leaves in my sunflower seed.

If your seed is infested with weevils, throw it out and buy a new bag. If you purchase seed at a reputable retail store and experience weevil problems, tell the store owner or manager. He or she should offer to replace your seed, or at least check into the shipment involved.

5 thoughts on “Common Bird Feeding Questions”

  1. We have something pushing the top of our barrel feeder during the night but not eating very much. Any thought about what it might be. It is not squirrel or raccoon as we have blocked with baffle.

    1. Hi Dick, It’s hard to say without knowing where you live as well as the habitat. Any chance it could be flying squirrels? They’re nocturnal, and glide in from above, so wouldn’t be deterred by a baffle. It’s just a guess. Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

  2. I haven’t seen songbirds at the feeders at night. They usually disappear at dusk and hunker down to sleep or perch. The nocturnal birds are usually carnivorous, like owls.

  3. I’ve been feeding birds for years but this winter is puzzling. I feed a variety of seeds to attract more variety but can’t figure out what happened to my titmice, chickadees. Other than feeding more thistle seed this year, all else is mostly the same as years prior. Do finches and titmice/chickadees not get along?
    More finches is the only difference that I know of. I should note that in late fall
    I did see the titmice & chickadees but not for the last several weeks.

    1. Hi Dave, Be patient. I’m confident your chickadees and titmice will come back. Birds—by necessity—are adaptable and flexible when it comes to new food sources. Even if you’ve been reliable at providing a stable food source, birds naturally keep an eye out for other sources. Maybe someone else in your neighborhood started offering seeds, or maybe a nearby farmer decided to let his field go fallow this year. Having more finches should not deter chickadees and titmice. Finches and tits are often found in mixed flocks. They don’t deter each other. So, just keep your feeders clean and stocked (but maybe not full) of fresh seed. Chickadees and titmice will return—eventually.
      –Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

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