Finches on a diet?

I've fed birds in my yard for years. Usually I have two types of feeders up year-round: a traditional one that contains a mix of sunflower seeds and other "songbird" type seeds, and finch feeders that contain Nyjer ("thistle") seed. (I add hummingbird feeders in the warm months too of course.)

I've had a problem the last few years with the finch feeders. The last time I consistently saw finches feeding was probably three years ago. Let's talk about this...


That's the year that I made three changes at once: I changed the old super-cheap tube feeder with a "better" model, I moved the feeder about 7' (2m), and I mounted it on a pole instead of letting it hang from a tree branch. Here is the replacement feeder:

Don't let the low seed level fool you -- I get a couple of birds visiting it once in a while, but it's not the steady finch party that it was before this.

I didn't think that moving the feeder such a small amount would make much difference, so I concluded that they didn't like that feeder, and bought a couple more. This one:

Pretty much the same result as the previous -- not much activity, even though it's within 7' (2m) of the other feeder).

The third feeder style I tried was a mesh one. It was in the same location as the other two, until recently when I moved it into the front walkway garden:

Nothing. I've never seen a single bird perch on this feeder. I've been shaking the feeder on the walkway every day to get the juncos interested, which I hoped would attract the attention of the finches. Juncos yes, finches no.

So I added a second feeder to get more bird activity over here, hoping that will get the finches interested:

So far nothing on the finch feeder (is that a finch on the other feeder though?).

One more thing: fresh seed doesn't help. Is it that the finches liked feeding in a more protected area, with branches and leaves very close by, and these are all too much in the open? I'm really out of ideas, and I miss having the finches visiting daily.

What's your experience with finch feeders? What location works for you? What feeder style?



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Lisa  – (January 17, 2013 at 8:33 AM)  

Yup... our finches too love the cover of branches, bushes, leaves, etc. Even an interior corner of the house where they can feel protected from the back while they keep a lookout to the front helps. We have a thick hedge that attracts dozens and dozens of finches daily, but as soon as we trim it in the spring they disappear until the hedge starts to fill in again.

The only thing in our neighborhood that preys on finches is cats, but that must be enough to keep them on their toes!

Anonymous –   – (January 17, 2013 at 8:45 AM)  

I have both house finches and goldfinches on my Droll Yankee tube feeder filled with nothing but black oil sunflower seed. The feeder hangs from a hook that extends from deck railing back over the deck ... not much cover at all. I'm in the SE though.
Good Luck, -jeremy

Katie @ Wildwood Creek  – (January 17, 2013 at 9:50 AM)  

I have the exact same situation. I have a mesh finch feeder next to some shrubs; however, I rarely see any finches feeding from it. I periodically change the seed hoping that will help. Nothing. I miss seeing the gold finches. I sometimes see a few in the garden. Could it be that their numbers are down?

Jennifer  – (January 17, 2013 at 6:01 PM)  

I don't have much to offer about getting the finches to come back to your yard, but when they do they're not going to use the mesh feeder. Finches like to sit on a perch or a tray when eating at a feeder; they aren't very good at clinging to the sides of things. I've seen them try, but they always go back to the feeders with perches. The mesh type feeder is better for woodpeckers and nuthatches and such.

HELENE  – (January 17, 2013 at 6:03 PM)  

I have just bought my very first bird feeder, hoping to attract some birds in my garden. After more than 2 weeks no seeds have been eaten so I have also made a post asking my readers for help. Maybe we should link up!

Kathy G  – (January 17, 2013 at 6:41 PM)  

As you may remember, I live not too far from you. The manager of the garden shop where I buy my seed told me the finches have abandoned the feeders in her yard and she's heard from others who have reported the same thing. I'm looking forward to checking back on this post to see if you get any suggestions.

Cat  – (January 17, 2013 at 7:11 PM)  

The finches visiting my garden are not using a screen feeder. The feeder they prefer has perches where they can rest. There are also several understory trees they like to sit in on their way to the feeder. The Texas Persimmon is their favorite. Also, I noticed the most improvement of finch traffic when I added a water source. The red fountain that was posted on my blog last week is their preferred spot for drinking. They can sit on the edge. It's like a little finch party out there.

Barbie  – (January 18, 2013 at 4:26 AM)  

I loved your story - my feeder was always plundered by rouge starlings and cape weavers with the aggressive red eyes! They just vandalised my feeder and within minutes all the seeds were gone or thrown out! The noise was the worst, so I went back to scattering seeds in the garden. So much more pleasant and everyone gets to share.

Alan  – (January 18, 2013 at 7:31 AM)  

Thanks for all of the comments! It seems like there's no one solution.

Jennifer: mesh bags and screen feeders are some of the more popular feeder designs for finches, and there are countless photos of finches using these types of feeders, plus I've seen finches eat from them before. Maybe finch feeder preference is regional? That's why I've tried so many types. The feeder can't be the problem -- it must be something else...

Kathy G: it's good to know I'm not alone, but I still want to crack this problem!

Cat: I know the finches love the stream, but I wonder if shifting rocks made it less attractive to them in the last couple of years? Hopefully the stream rebuild (soon?) will get them visiting again.

Jason  – (January 18, 2013 at 10:14 AM)  

I have had a somewhat similar experience with goldfinches. I think the answer is that the population just normally waxes and wanes. Also, they will focus on certain sources of food at certain times, then switch. We had a scarcity of finches for a long time, then they returned in numbers. You might want to see if there is a Wild Birds Unlimited store near you, they might offer some advice - they are real bird people, so to speak.

Alan  – (January 18, 2013 at 1:34 PM)  

Jason: Wild Birds Unlimited is where I bought most of these feeders. I haven't asked for advice there though. :)

Anonymous –   – (January 19, 2013 at 8:38 AM)  

I should've mentioned that despite my feeder being quite open itself I do have natural woodland that comes almost all the way up to my deck. I've seen woodpeckers, doves, finches, chickadees, titmice, and a gnatcatcher in just the last couple of minutes. They'll empty my tube in about 3 days. Alan, have you tried a spot closer to the natural strip that borders your property?

Helene, I just got my dad a feeder for Christmas and it's full of seed ... not a bird on it yet. I guess they have to know the food source before winter sets in.

Best, -jeremy

Unknown  – (April 3, 2013 at 4:01 PM)  

I think you need a new feeder. I find that the feeders get dirty. I have to clean mine 2 times a year and then my birds stay. When the feeder gets dirty my finches stop eating.

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