The Best Way to Attract Birds That Don’t Visit Bird Feeders

Updated: Nov. 28, 2023

Attract towhees, juncos, sparrows and more by serving food on all available flat surfaces. Learn the best tips to attract more species to your backyard.

black birdCourtesy Gregory Vinyard

Many species fly right by feeders, choosing to forage for food on the ground instead. The easiest way to entice these birds, says Nancy Castillo, one of the co-owners of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Saratoga Springs, New York, is to “sprinkle small amounts of seed, especially around shrubs, to attract birds that prefer eating on the ground, like towhees, juncos and native sparrows.” Some larger birds, including quails, doves, thrashers and cardinals, also prefer to dig into at-surface spreads.

Go Easy on the Seeds

Sunflower and safflower seeds, cracked corn and seed blends are all fine for sprinkling directly on the ground. It’s best to serve only little each day as opposed to piling up a bunch of seeds. This protects seeds from soggy weather and reduces overnight visitors to the feeding area. Nancy recommends a no-mess blend of white millet and sunflower seeds. “That way everything gets eaten,” she says. “This strategy might also attract birds that cannot open seed shells, like wrens, catbirds and warblers.”

Plus: This is what you should if you find a bird’s nest in your backyard.

Serve Food near Shelter

Birds known for their skulking nature rarely stray far from cover, so as you landscape, remember your ground-feeding friends. By providing shelter, you give birds security while they feed. They can quickly retreat to a thicket if an aerial predator like a Cooper’s hawk swoops by. Sprinkling seeds along hedgerows is another safe option. Focusing on the leeward side also protects birds and seeds from the elements.

Check out 5 ways to create a bird-safe backyard.

Elevate the Offerings

It’s possible to coax ground-feeding birds to feeders. “A tray feeder with excellent drainage is another way to cater to these birds,” Nancy says. Seed trays, platforms and shelf feeders bring the seeds on the ground while maintaining the large, at surface area many birds prefer. Another option is to fill a birdbath with seeds. When coupled with baffles, feeders help to deter raccoons, opossums and other critters looking for a meal.

Psst—these are the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

Cleanup Required

One main benefit of spreading seeds on the ground is that you have the entire yard to work with. You can rotate the serving area throughout the seasons rather than concentrating on one spot. And with all types of bird feeding, it’s very important to maintain cleanliness. Seed hulls can easily be raked up, while feeders should get a good scrubbing regularly. This cuts down on the growth of bacteria and fungi—and keeps unwanted guests away.

Next, learn how to clean your bird feeders.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman