The Do’s and Don’ts of Bird Feeder Placement
Dec 04, 2014
Photo by Pat Cheale
Finding a Safe Place
Finding the perfect location for a bird feeder is a balancing act between getting the views you want and birds’ safety. Where do you watch birds from? Your patio? A kitchen window? The living room? You can start by limiting the possible area by deciding on a focus zone in the yard.
Next you need to check for known dangers to eliminate unsafe locations within that zone. Ornithologists estimate that millions of birds are killed each year by hitting windows. Window strike mortalities can be reduced by moving your feeders to within 3 feet of the window or greater than 30 feet away.
When feeders are close to a window, a bird leaving the feeder cannot gain enough momentum to do harm if it strikes the window. If feeders are more than 30 feet from a window, the birds are less likely to perceive windows as a pathway to other parts of your yard. Some ideas for safe locations including hanging a feeder at the corner of a house from the eaves, making it visible from a corner window, or from two sides of the house. Other people a fix a feeder directly to a window.
Another strategy is to place the feeder beyond the 30 foot danger zone. This might mean choosing a location across the yard from a house. Some people opt to create a special bird watching area tucked into a corner of their yard with a blinded seating area. This space might be in a secret grove, near a special bench, or behind a potting shed.
Cover Your Yard
The plant community around your feeder is full of opportunity. Brush piles and evergreen trees and shrubs can provide safe hiding places while consuming seeds gathered at the feeder. Birds often grab a seed, and retreat to cover to eat it.
The Path Taken
Think about the path of movement a bird might use to navigate your yard. Land corridors come on a scale as large as wooded strips connecting larger woodland areas, but can also be as simple as a line of shrubs along a sidewalk. Such areas can facilitate the movement of many small animals, but especially birds, from tree to tree, until they find a safe habitat. Not only do minimal corridors aid in the movement of birds, they are also aesthetically pleasing. You can plant to support these kinds of movements around your yard.
Bird feeding is often done in the winter, when plants have little or no dense coverage. In cold places, evergreens near a feeder can provide an excellent option for providing birds with safe cover. Here are some great native evergreen choices for regions around the Sunshine Coast:
- Pacific rhododendron
- Labrador tea
- Oregon grape
You can also provide cover with a strategically placed brush pile. Brush piles can be tidy or wild, alive or dead. Some people even use theirs and their neighbors’ discarded christmas trees as a base for a brush pile.
While at the feeder, birds are often out in the open, making them a target for local predators. A distance of about 10 feet from feeder to brush pile or shrub helps keep feeders out of a cat’s striking distance (even though they might hide behind the cover).
Think About Your Yard Structure
Diversity of planting levels means more hiding places for more kinds of birds. This is a good rule of thumb for your yard in general, not just around the feeder. Think about high/ mid/ low-level vegetation to provide spaces for a variety of birds with a variety of preferences.
Baffle the Competition
Squirrels often cause problems by chewing through feeders and preventing birds from visiting, so you may need a strategy for baffling these rodents. Many people use a shepherd’s hook with a barrier on the pole preventing squirrels from accessing the feeder (see above photo). Suspending a feeder from a cable that stretches across an open space is another option, though some squirrels learn to walk the tightrope. Although different birds prefer feeding at different heights, a rule of thumb for a backyard feeder is to hang it from 5 to 8 ft off the ground. Some people hang feeders in trees, but this makes it much easier for squirrels to gain access. A baffle above the feeder can help deter squirrels, as can putting the feeder out of their jump zone (they can jump from 8-10 feet sideways).
Other things to keep in mind when placing feeders:
- Put feeders in a location you don’t mind visiting to refill (think about walking through snow, access to seed, water for cleaning, etc.).
- Moving feeders periodically helps prevent build-up of waste.
- Putting a feeder nearish (but not over) a water feature like a bird bath, will almost ensure that birds find your feeder.
- Noise and too much action, like along a sidewalk or street will be deterrents for birds, and possibly even dangerous if they fly out in front of a fast moving car.
Modified from “The Do’s and Don’ts of Feeder Placement” by the Cornell Lab’s Citizen Science Blog.