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A tube of black oil sunflower seeds isn’t “natural”…and neither is a suet cake. Yet as soon as you hang them up, the neighborhood birds, like these female finches, find them. Those grosbeaks at your feeder probably never ate sunflower seeds in nature. Sunflowers grow in open plains, while grosbeaks live in forests. But birds have a substantial capacity to learn, either by action or by witnessing other birds at a feeder.
Why Do Birds Come to Birdfeeders?
Written by Dennis Paulson
This is BirdNote.
[Pine Siskins’ chatter]
Putting up a backyard feeder is a simple way to attract birds to your home all year long.
But why do birds come to birdfeeders? A big tube of black oil sunflower seeds hanging in the middle of a January snowscape isn’t the most natural thing… so how do birds know to eat from it?
First off, birds are adaptable. Suet cakes played no part in the evolution of birds. Yet as soon as you hang one up, the neighborhood chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches find it quickly. [Evening Grosbeaks’ chatter LNS#44891 by G.A. Keller]
Those Evening Grosbeaks at your feeder probably never ate sunflower seeds in nature. Sunflowers grow in open plains, while grosbeaks live in forests. But when they’re presented with a new type of food, birds incorporate it into their diet — with no hesitation.
Second, many birds have a substantial capacity to learn. They learn by their own actions and those of the other birds they see. As some birds discover the feeder and become regular visitors, other birds witness and join in.
Of course, many kinds of birds don’t come to feeders. No one has developed a flycatcher feeder, and flycatchers get along just fine.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org January 2018/2020/2022 Narrator: Michael Stein