Irresistible! Attract Song Sparrows to Your Feeder

Song Sparrow by Rhododendrites

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Greg Gillson

The happy song of the Song Sparrow is one of the first bird songs heard in spring. 

Most places in the United States have Song Sparrows. These birds breed in Canada and in most of the United States, except for the Gulf Coast. Even there, they are found in winter.

How do you attract Song Sparrows to your bird feeder? Follow these suggestions to attract Song Sparrows to your yard.

Photo of Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow. Greg Gillson.

Why attract Song Sparrows to your bird feeder?

Song Sparrows can be a bit shy and skittish at your feeders. They don’t like the bustle and noise of the House Sparrows and finches. And they don’t make a mess at the feeder, either.

They wait until a quiet time at the feeder to come out from under your landscape bushes. Then they’ll come and eat, all alone. Thus, they don’t eat a lot as some of the other birds do.

This is when you can get out your binoculars and really appreciate the subtle patterns of grays and browns of Song Sparrows. You can study the feather tracts of the head. 

Can you recognize this sparrow at your feeder? Look for that broad dark triangle on the sides of the throat. This wide lateral throat stripe is rather unique to the Song Sparrow–even though there is a wide variety it color shades across the continent.

Photo of Song Sparrow

What foods will attract Song Sparrows to your feeder?

Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of smaller seeds at your feeder. 

A favorite food of Song Sparrows is the white Proso millet seeds found in most mixed bird seeds.

The best mixed bird seed that I have found is Wagner’s Songbird Supreme. It is 50% sunflower seeds and doesn’t have any cheap filler seed that birds won’t eat.

In winter, Song Sparrows will also eat suet. If you haven’t tried feeding suet in winter, you really should. This high-energy food also attracts many birds that don’t eat seeds.

For my home feeders, I always purchase St Albans Bay Suet blocks. It comes in several flavors, including peanut and berry. They fit in required special suet cages, which are a type of bird feeder. 

Photo of Song Sparrow

What kind of feeders do Song Sparrows like?

Song Sparrows especially like platform bird feeders, low to the ground, with a roof.

These feeders are just an open tray that birds can hop on and feed. Since these birds tend to stay low to the ground, these low ground feeders are popular with Song Sparrows.

They will also eat from hopper feeders that have a wider ledge.

However, you may find that Song Sparrows may sneak around the soil and leaf litter under your hedges, scratching for seeds and bugs. 

They also come out and feed on fallen seed under the feeders. Thus they help keep the ground clean of seeds that other more rambunctious birds knock out of the feeder.

Where to place your bird feeder for Song Sparrows

Song Sparrows don’t come out far from cover. 

Song Sparrows like to stay low to the ground.

For these reasons, you shouldn’t place feeders for Song Sparrows out in the middle of your lawn, all alone. They just won’t visit.

There should be some bushes nearby for them to flee to when they feel unsafe.

On the other hand, low feeders near cover may also be a hiding place for house cats to pounce on the birds. So, you need to adjust this recommendation, depending upon if cats visit your yard or not. 

If cats are a problem, then feeders should be raised and perhaps 8 feet from a hiding place where they can spring out. In such a case, it is better not to attract Song Sparrows.

Photo of Song Sparrow

Here is a low to the ground platform feeder with roof. These are perfect for Song Sparrows, but also attract other birds that like to feed near the ground, such as Northern Cardinals and other various sparrows.

How else can you attract Song Sparrows to your yard?

As mentioned, Song Sparrows like large landscaped bushes and hedges. Some kind of broad-leafed evergreen will be popular with them–perhaps a camelia or rhododendron. They also like brush piles and weedy ditches. They may also be attracted to your garden if you let it go wild after the fall harvest.

Song Sparrows will visit bird baths. They are especially attracted to moving water. So, if you have a water feature, they’ll love that (and so will many other birds!).


Photo of Song Sparrow

Problems with Song Sparrows: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

Song Sparrows are found singly or in pairs, never flocks. But they will sometimes join flocks of juncos and White-crowned Sparrows feeding on the ground.

As mentioned earlier, however, if house cats are a problem in your yard, then you probably don’t want to attract Song Sparrows. They will be especially vulnerable to the hiding and pouncing strategy of the hunting cats.

In such a case, where you don’t want to attract Song Sparrows, then you may want to switch to feeding black oil sunflower seeds from a tube feeder. This feeder strategy will attract more finches and chickadees, and less sparrows and ground feeding birds.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder looks, with its copper top.  A screw driver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning. It will attract finches, but sparrows don’t like this type of feeder as much.

Wrapping Up

The name “Song Sparrow” perfectly reflects what makes this bird species so remarkable: its vibrant and diverse singing capabilities. Here’s a breakdown of how their name captures their essence:

Song:

  • Song Sparrows are renowned for their melodious and complex songs. It’s not just a single tune, but a repertoire of whistles, trills, and repeated notes, often incorporating elements from other birds’ songs.
  • Their singing is considered beautiful and even described as “musical” by many observers.
  • Males use their songs to attract mates, defend their territories, and communicate with other birds.

Sparrow:

  • This part of the name refers to the family they belong to: Emberizidae. Sparrows are generally small, brown-toned birds with short bills and active foraging behaviors.
  • Song Sparrows embody these typical sparrow characteristics while additionally possessing the unique and remarkable singing ability that differentiates them from other sparrows.

Combination:

  • Putting “Song” and “Sparrow” together highlights the specific feature that sets this species apart from other members of the sparrow family. Their song is their defining characteristic, earning them the title “Song Sparrow”.
small brown birds
            Song Sparrow by Imogen Warren

Frequently Asked Questions

What is special about the Song Sparrow?

While all birds have their unique qualities, Song Sparrows possess several interesting characteristics that make them special:

Singing Skills:

  • Versatile Songsters: Unlike many birds with singular songs, Song Sparrows boast a diverse repertoire. They can mimic other birds’ songs and combine notes to create over 20 distinct variations, making their song complex and captivating.
  • Learners and Composers: They actively learn new songs throughout their lives, incorporating elements from other bird species and their environment. This continuous learning process makes their songs unique and reflects their adaptability.
  • Territorial Defenders: Males use their songs primarily to attract mates and define their territories. The complexity of the song is linked to territory quality and competition, with more elaborate songs sung in areas with higher competition.

Adaptability and Abundance:

  • Widespread Wonders: Song Sparrows are found across most of North America, thriving in diverse habitats like wetlands, woodlands, meadows, and even backyards. This adaptability allows them to encounter and learn from a wider variety of birds, enriching their song repertoire.
  • Resilient Populations: Their adaptability and abundant populations contribute to their conservation success. Though not endangered, their presence serves as an indicator of healthy ecosystems.

What is the difference between a Song Sparrow and a House Sparrow?

Song Sparrows and House Sparrows share the name “sparrow,” but they’re actually quite different birds belonging to distinct families and possessing notable differences in appearance, habitat, behavior, and song. Here’s a breakdown to help you distinguish them:

Appearance:

  • Song Sparrow:
    • Medium-sized (5.5-6.5 inches), slender, long-tailed sparrow.
    • Brownish-gray upperparts with darker streaks and markings.
    • White underparts with dark streaking on the chest and throat.
    • Two white wing bars and a white eyebrow.
    • Pinkish bill and dark eyes.

  • House Sparrow:
    • Chunky, plump bird (5-6 inches), shorter tail than Song Sparrow.
    • Brownish-gray upperparts with black streaking.
    • Gray head with a rusty patch on the chest (males) or plain gray (females).
    • Thick, stubby bill and dark eyes.

Habitat:

  • Song Sparrow: Prefers open areas like meadows, grasslands, shrublands, and edges of woodlands. Found throughout North America.
  • House Sparrow: Adapted to human settlements, found in cities, towns, and agricultural areas. Native to Eurasia, introduced to North America in the 1800s.

What is the predator of a Song Sparrow?

Unfortunately, Song Sparrows face a variety of predators throughout their lives, both as adults and during their vulnerable nestling stage. Here’s a breakdown of some of their key predators:

Aerial Predators:

  • Hawks: Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Northern Goshawks are all known to prey on Song Sparrows, especially in open areas where they have few places to hide.
  • Falcons: American Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons can be swift predators, catching Song Sparrows in mid-flight.
  • Owls: Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech Owls hunt at night, when Song Sparrows are roosting, making them vulnerable.

Ground Predators:

  • Domestic cats: Free-roaming cats are significant predators of Song Sparrows and other small birds, posing a major threat to their populations.
  • Snakes: Garter snakes, Rat Snakes, and Eastern Ribbon Snakes can all eat Song Sparrow eggs and nestlings.
  • Raccoons: These opportunistic predators may raid Song Sparrow nests, consuming both eggs and young birds.
  • Other mammals: Smaller mammals like weasels, mink, and foxes can also prey on Song Sparrows, although their impact is generally less significant than cats or snakes.

Related Articles:

Why aren’t birds coming to your feeder?

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