Bird Feeding Frequently Asked Questions


Does feeding birds prevent them from migrating on time?
Seasonal changes in the length of day, rather than an abundance of food, determines when birds will begin to migrate. Migration begins in the fall as days shorten (when natural food is still abundant), and commences again in the spring as days lengthen.

Will birds suffer if feeders go empty?
Natural food supplies are typically exhausted during winter, as birds consume all the seeds and fruits at one location before moving on to the next. Similarly, if backyard feeders go empty while homeowners are on vacation, birds will look elsewhere for food. If your neighbors are also providing food, birds from your feeders will likely spend more time feeding there. Since feeders only supplement natural foods, most species will not suffer if feeders go empty for days or even weeks at a time.

How soon can birds be expected at new feeders?
It may be a matter of hours before birds discover new feeders-- or a matter of weeks. The variation depends on the distance to bird habitat, density of nearby feeders, and the kinds of birds that might chance on the new feeder (chickadees, titmice, and house sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders). If there are many feeders in your neighborhood, birds may find new feeders more readily, as they already associate feeders with an easy meal. If birds are slow to find feeders, scatter sunflower seeds on top of the feeders and on nearby surfaces such as bare soil. Bird decoys may help to lure the first visitors, and other birds will soon notice the new food source.

What are the best times and weather conditions to watch feeders?
Birds visit feeders most often in the early morning, and again just before dusk. They use feeders less often in the afternoon and during rainy weather. In contrast, snow forces sparrows and juncos to congregate at feeders as these species typically feed on bare ground.

Does backyard feeding create a population of "dependent" birds?
While research in this area is limited, so far studies suggest that backyard feeders are not creating a population of dependent wintering birds.

What can I do if a hawk starts killing birds at my feeder?
If a hawk sets up a regular routine at your feeders, stop feeding long enough to let the smaller birds disperse. Soon the hawk will find another place to feed.

How can I stop birds from crashing into my windows?
A recent study found that colliding with a window is the most common cause of bird death associated with feeders. To avoid such collisions, position feeders at least three feet from the window. If collisions persist, fruit-tree netting stretched taut a few inches in front of the glass is the best deterrent.

Is it okay to leave my cat outside as long as I put a bell on its collar?
Cats account for about 30 percent of birds killed at feeders. Cats are such stealthy hunters that they can stalk and pounce on prey without jingling the bell on their collar. By keeping your cat indoors, you will not only protect birds, but also keep the cat safe from traffic, disease, and fights with neighborhood pets and wildlife. For more information, visit

Is there a specific time when hummingbird feeders should be removed from backyards?
In the northern latitudes, there is no obvious danger in leaving hummingbird feeders up in the fall. Most hummingbirds migrate as the days become shorter and this has little to do with food. When you think about it, most leave long before the first killing frost and therefore there is abundant natural nectar still available well after hummer migration season. In southern latitudes, hummingbirds may winter- especially in south Florida. These feeders seem to be attracting more western Rufous Hummingbirds and a few other species.

Credits to National Audubon Society