We could hardly buy bird food fast enough to satisfy all the greedy beaks at our feeders during lockdown (March to June). But suddenly, there are no birds on our feeders. From refilling twice a day, we now find food sitting there for a week. What’s going on? Why have the birds stopped using feeders in our garden?
Why Have The Birds Stopped Using Our Feeders?
There are lots of possible reasons. We’re going to look at the top ones here.
Food is Not Fresh
If fewer birds are coming to your table and feeders food will be sitting there longer and may be less than fresh. This can be made worse in the warm weather where some foods, like suet products, are especially prone to going off.
Birds, like humans, don’t like mouldy food. Make sure your feeders get completely emptied at least once a week. If the food hasn’t been eaten, throw it away.
Also, consider how you are storing your bird food. If you are getting through less of it, think about buying smaller bags, resealable bags, or sealed containers to keep it in.
Feeders are Dirty
Birds will avoid dirty tables and feeders. And they are right to do this. Dirty feeding stations can spread disease.
If your feeders have previously been very busy they may have got messy. Take the opportunity of this quiet time to give them a good scrub.
A New Predator In the Area
The bird population in your area does not stay constant. Differ, individuals and groups are moving in and out all the time.
If a new predator has moved in, this may be driving the smaller birds away from your table.
Sparrow Hawks, Kestrels, owls and all birds of prey will take smaller birds, So they will be naturally wary if a new raptor has moved into the area.
Check the skies for hovering hawks, and you might just see what your problem is.
You Moved Your Feeders
Birds have no sense of smell; they navigate the world through sight and sound. They probably will have found your feeders in the first place because you scattered seed on the ground. Or because they are now believed to recognise the shapes of the most common bird feeders.
But if you move your feeders or table, especially into a sheltered position that isn’t easily spotted from the air they may have trouble tracking the food down.
In this case, be patient, they will find the new locations eventually. And if you wanted to help them out, you could try sprinkling a little seed on the ground to give them a clue.
Plentiful Natural Food
Sometimes, there is just too much good stuff around in nature for your feeders to attract birds.
As I am writing now in late July, there are plums, cherries, raspberries, seeds and grains and much more ripening all around us. It’s no surprise really that our table doesn’t seem that exciting.
If your dinner guests have deserted you in late summer or autumn, this could be why. And you can be sure they will be back as soon as their better offers dry up.
Have you got a new pet? Has your neighbour? Our dog Ollie takes no notice of small birds. But he’ll chase pigeons away as soon as they land. Other dogs may bother the birds.
Cats are certainly a predator.
If you have a new pet, watch how it’s behaving in the garden. If your dog is bothering the birds tell it “No” until it gets the message.
If you have a cat, putting a bell on it is probably the best option.
Kids Home From School?
The school holidays can make your garden less attractive to birds. If that lovely quiet haven they are used to feeding in is suddenly full of little people laughing and screaming and running around it might not seem like such a great place for birds to hang out.
You could lock your kids indoors. But probably better to let them enjoy the holidays. Things will get back to normal when they go back to school.
Competition From The Neighbours
You probably think of them as “Your Birds”. They’re not. Garden birds are very fickle. They table hop between gardens over quite a wide area. Looking for the best food on offer.
Have your neighbours started bird feeding? Or upped their bird feeding game? Maybe they are offering tastier treats than you do?
You could get competitive and start offering luxury bird food. Or you could just be happy that the birds are finding the food they need. And wait for Jew birds to find your feeders, which they surely will.
When birds are nest building, mating and feeding chicks in the nest, they will have been making good use of your feeders.
But as the chicks fledge, things change. Once the chicks start to come out of the nest, they will spend some time with the parents showing them the ways of the world.
A big part of this is feeding, and while some birds will bring their young to your feeders, most prefer to introduce them to natural food.
Family Break Up
Young birds often leave their parents around July. When this happens, there is no need for birds to defend a tight territory. Territories expand, birds start to explore more extensive areas, and may move away altogether. “Your” birds are likely to be spending less time in your garden.
As part of the process, other birds will find your feeders, but that will take time.
To attract new birds at this time take a look at our articles on How To Attract Garden Birds.
Not Fit To Be Seen In Public
Once they have mated and raised chicks, most birds go through an annual moult. They lose feathers and grow new ones. During this process, they can look a proper mess.
You may not even recognise them as your birds. And they do try to stay out of sight. No, this isn’t vanity it’s self-preservation. During the moult, birds lose some of their flight feathers. So it becomes more difficult for them to get away from predators. This is why they prefer to stay out of sight and maybe avoiding your feeders, especially if they are in exposed areas.
Many of our birds are not with us for the full year. Nearly half of all the world’s bird species migrate.
So it should come as no surprise when certain birds disappear at certain times of the year.
Swifts, swallows. Cuckoos and other summer visitors leave between August and October.
Fieldfares, bramblings and many water birds come for the winter and leave us in April or May.
And then there are large numbers of birds who might pop across from Eastern Europe if the weather turns nasty over there. These include blackbirds, finches and tits. These species are all-year-round residents in the UK, but we may get European migrants too. Very confusing!
There are lots of reasons why garden birds may stop taking your food. It might be something you did, or it may just be a feature of the bird calendar.
Either way, take the opportunity of a lull in activity to give your feeders a good clean and tidy. If you have been considering moving your feeders or buying new ones, this is the time to do it.
Keep offering a little food and keep it fresh. Keep supplying water.
And be sure that if you do, they’ll be back!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful. If you have questions or suggestions, we would love to hear them. Leave us a comment below.
And if you would like to find out more about the feathered friends in your garden, visit our garden bird library here.