Come here, birds, I want to feed you!
February 21, 2008 10:25 AM   Subscribe

How do the birds know that my birdfeeder now has better seed?

I just started mixing thistle seed with the standard wild bird seed mix I get from the store. Within a week I have noticed two new birds at my feeder I hadn't seen before: a Carolina wren and a purple finch. How did they know that the birdy buffet offerings had been improved? Were they flying right by my feeder before and not bothering to stop?

(I am in central Texas, I am new to this whole birdwatching thing, and I would welcome any watching/feeder input!)
posted by fiercecupcake to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What happened was, you got the good stuff. Store mixes tend to have a lot of filler that birds sweep to the ground anyway. Birds don't smell very well, but they have great eyesight and are always keeping an eye out for food. Thistle seed is very yummy for them. If you really want to attract more birds, get also pure black oil sunflower seeds with no filler, but get a very, very, VERY good squire-proof system or your seeds will be gone in a day. Pure safflower seeds are good too (like thistle, the squirrels don't care for it), but they don't attract as much attention as the sunflower.
posted by Melismata at 10:38 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm! So they ARE seeing the new seeds in the feeder. (It's a tube feeder, btw.) Thanks. I will pick up some of those when I go to the pet store today! (They have a great bulk seed selection.)

Luckily the squirrels have not been able to reach the feeder yet, but I know it's just a matter of time. It's been up about six months and they are still barking angrily from the nearest tree limb.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2008

squirrel-proof!! Nothing wrong with squires!!

Also--Wild Birds Unlimited is a fantastic resource for birdfeeder owners, their staff is very helpful and willing to answer questions, and they will (at least here) carry your heavy bags of seeds to your car. :)
posted by Melismata at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2008

Dammit, Cool Papa Bell, now I'm going to have to get one of those. I don't even like birds, but watching the squirrels twirl -- that would be worth it.
posted by katemonster at 11:03 AM on February 21, 2008

For deterring squirrels, I had the best luck with a tube feeder that had a cage surrounding it, sold at WBU and elsewhere. The cage did get battered a bit, but it didn't need to be replaced after 3+ years. It even improved my birdwatching: we had a beautiful hawk perched all the time at the top of a nearby tree, watching the feeder like a ... hawk, waiting to take out any squirrel that came by (don't know if it ever did).

If you put in pure thistle or safflower in the feeder, as mentioned above, the squirrels won't touch it, but will if there's anything else (and before you put in the pure seed, clean it well because they'll still be attracted by the previous seed's smell).

And you're right, it's a matter of time. They say a feeder should be at least 5 feet away from anything a squirrel can jump from (a tree, deck, etc.), but I'd give them at least 10 feet if not more. Not possible if you've got a lot of trees (which help attract the birds in the first place).
posted by Melismata at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2008

Oh god, CPB, I was crying with laughter at that!
posted by notsnot at 11:29 AM on February 21, 2008

Also--Wild Birds Unlimited is a fantastic resource for birdfeeder owners...
Bestest bird-lover's store evar.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2008

Best answer: Back on topic a bit, I just wanted to expand on what was mentioned about a bird's eyesight. Not only do birds see certain things very clearly, they also are tuned into higher wavelengths of the visual spectrum. They simply see the world differently than we do.

I'm not a specialist so this is just my best guess, but I do think it is very likely that the newer seeds reflect UV rays in such a way that attracts these different birds. A more dramatic example is how larger birds of prey zero in on field mice by following the UV luminance of their urine trails. (saw that on Discovery once...was a fascinating episode).
posted by samsara at 12:24 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bird of mouth.
posted by marsha56 at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: @Cool Papa Bell: That just cracked me up.

Since you're also looking for watching input, you should also try the resources at It's great as a "free" field guide where you can ID just about any bird easily. You can also keep a list of animals you see and get a list of local animals common to your zip code. It's a database dream!

It used to have an excellent feature that I unfortunately do not see anymore. In addition to your personal list, you could post to a public list as well. This was helpful in identifying what was presently common in the area. I suppose they took it down because people were identifying birds incorrectly. That's too bad, because I loved seeing if I was "ahead" of the others! ;)
posted by magnoliasouth at 12:59 AM on February 22, 2008

« Older Gift giving when the unthinkable occurs   |   Tasty whole-wheat pasta? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.