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Do birds prefer certain color bird feeders?

Do birds prefer certain color bird feeders?

Many bird enthusiasts enjoy attracting birds to their backyard feeders. But does the color of the bird feeder actually impact how many birds visit? Some people believe certain colors, like red or yellow, attract more birds. Others argue it’s more about placement, food type, and other factors. Let’s explore what the research says about bird feeder color preferences.

Theories on How Bird Feeder Color Might Impact Visitation

There are a few theories for why birds may prefer certain colored feeders:

  • Color association – Birds may associate certain colors with ripe fruits or flowers containing nectar. Red, orange, and yellow mimic the colors of many berries and blossoms.
  • Visibility – Brighter colors like red or yellow may stand out more in a natural environment. This high visibility alerts birds to the location of the feeder.
  • Species differences – Some species may be more attracted to particular hues based on their habitat and vision. Goldfinches, for instance, often feed on yellow flowers.

Based on these theories, red, orange, yellow, and sometimes green feeders should receive more avian visitors. But what does the research actually indicate?

Scientific Research on Feeder Color Preferences

Several scientific studies have tested bird preferences using feeders of different colors. The results provide some insight into the impact of color, though conclusions vary.

A 2016 study published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology observed winter bird feeder activity at 20 different stations. Each station had a mixed birdseed feeder placed in a tree. Feeders were painted red, green, blue, orange, black, and white. Researchers found two colors attracted the most birds – orange and red. Orange feeders had 69% more visits than blue, black, white, and green feeders. Red feeders saw 56% more traffic than these other colors. Green and blue were less popular.

Another experiment by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2011 paired red and green feeders together in different yards. The red feeder consistently saw more activity. On average, birds visited the red feeder 3 times more often. A follow up study in 2018 using multiple feeder colors found birds had a significant preference for red over other hues.

However, other studies have found less pronounced color preferences. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Field Ornithology tracked chickadee visits to red, green, yellow and white feeders. While red feeders had 37% more visits than white ones, the other colors fell somewhere in between with minimal variation. The results were statistically insignificant. A summary of multiple studies in North American Birdfeeder Report discovered preferences were often inconsistent, leading them to conclude feeder color itself has little effect.

Study Year Colors Tested Results
The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 2016 Red, green, blue, orange, black, white Orange and red most visited
Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011 Red, green Red had 3x more visits
Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2018 Multiple colors Red most preferred
Journal of Field Ornithology 2007 Red, green, yellow, white Minimal differences
North American Birdfeeder Report N/A Multiple No consistent preferences

Interpreting the Results on Color

The mixed research results make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about bird feeder color preferences. However, we can make some general observations:

  • Red appears to be consistently one of the more attractive colors across studies.
  • Bright warm colors like red, orange, and yellow tend to see more interest than cool blues and greens.
  • Darker neutral tones like black and white are less popular.
  • Preferences may depend on location, habitat, species, and other factors.
  • Feeder color alone may not make a huge impact compared to food quality and feeder placement.

So using a red or orange feeder over other colors may draw more birds in some cases, but it’s not guaranteed. Location and routines likely play a larger role. We also have to consider the limitations of these studies. All used limited feeder color options and observed local wild bird populations. Larger scale research on diverse species in different regions would provide fuller insight.

Role of Habitat in Bird Feeder Visits

Habitat and surroundings may influence how strongly birds react to particular feeder colors.

Forest living birds likely key in more on brightness, using colorful feeders as beacons to stand out against the greens and browns of their habitat. A dash of red through the trees catches their eye.

Meanwhile, grassland species are accustomed to spotting seeds and insects against tan or gray backgrounds. A feeder blending in with this environment gets ignored. Bright yellows and reds embedded in the grass attract attention.

City birds manage through a landscape of manmade structures and concrete. Visibility of feeders against this noisy backdrop can drive their interest. Natural food sources are also scarcer, so they may investigate any feeder they notice through color contrast.

The habitat also impacts how cautious or fearful birds are of feeders. Rural birds unused to human contact may avoid very bright novel feeders, while urban birds are more flexible.

Role of Bird Species in Color Preferences

Different bird groups appear to react to color in varying ways based on their traits and lifestyles. Some patterns that emerge:

  • Seed eating birds like sparrows, finches, doves, and juncos often gravitate to reds and oranges.
  • Insect eating birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, and chickadees show less bias but may favor yellows.
  • Bright colors attract birds who feed in flocks, like finches and doves.
  • Shy solitary birds like thrushes dislike excessively bright colors.
  • Migrating birds passing through are less selective.
  • Drab female birds can be more wary of bright colors than flashy males.

There are always exceptions though. Cautious female cardinals still readily visit red feeders. And colorful fruit eating orioles will feed from plain orange halves. Getting to know your local species is the best gauge for predicting their reactions.

Impact of Habit and Routine

Wild birds develop patterns and return to feeders they associate with food. If a blue feeder has provided easy meals for weeks, birds will keep coming back whether it blends in or not. Their feeding routine trumps color preferences.

The first 1-2 weeks after setup are when color may have the biggest influence. Unfamiliar birds scout and explore. Bright and warm colored feeders help attract their interest. But once birds adapt to a feeder, its color becomes secondary.

This is why studies observing longer term activity find minimal impact from color. But for attracting new avian visitors, color choice still matters.

How Color Affects Feeding Activity

Beyond the initial attraction, does feeder color influence how birds behave and feed once they arrive?

Red feeders do prompt more aggressive activity in some species. Birds will frequently chase each other and engage in aerial fights over prime red feeder access.

More confrontations happen at red feeders compared to other colors. Red light may instigate excited territorial reactions. Blue, black and green see calmer feeding activity.

On the opposite end, shy birds like chickadees display more nervous behavior at bright feeders. They eat in quick spurts then retreat to cover. Drab greens or browns help them feel secure.

Again, individuals and species react differently. Tracking activity at your own colored feeders will reveal insights into your local bird behaviors. Their comfort level translates into time spent eating.

Impact of Nearby Food Sources

Natural food competition can make birds less selective about bird feeders. When berries, seeds, nectar, and insects are scarce in the surrounding area, birds become desperate for any food sources.

Bright colors are less important than the guarantee of an easy meal. So during winter months or dry conditions, activity increases at any feeder that provides calories.

When natural supplies abound, birds can afford to be pickier. This is when they may favor certain feeder colors that mimic fruits or flowers. The availability of other food influences choosiness.

Interactions with Other Factors

While color can impact bird visits, it never acts in isolation. Other elements intersect to shape feeder activity:

  • Food quality – High energy, fresh seeds and nectar overrule color.
  • Feeder design – Platform feeders attract more species than tubes.
  • Feeder placement – Ground feeders see different visitors than hanging ones.
  • Surroundings – Feeders near trees or shrubs have higher traffic.
  • Season – Activity peaks in winter when food is scarcest.
  • Time of day – More visits occur in early morning and late afternoon.

These factors all contribute along with color. Optimal feeder location and nutrition must coincide with eye catching colors. No color can attract birds to a poorly positioned or maintained feeder.

Impact of Color Combinations

Rather than solid colors, combining multiple high contrast tones may further boost visits. For instance, red feeders with yellow or black accents see heavy traffic.

Mixing a bright shade like red or yellow with a neutral tone helps the feeder visually pop. Pairing complementary colors also intrigues birds. Blue with orange, purple with yellow, or red with green combinations all attract attention.

With combos, you get the benefits of a bold color plus added distinctiveness from the extra tones. Just avoid clashing combinations like red and blue or yellow and purple. Stick to colors birds evolved to notice amid foliage, not our visual fashion rules.

Best Colors for Bird Feeders

Based on the available research, these colors tend to attract the most birds:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green

Red feeders consistently rate highly across studies, with orange also rating well. Green and yellow follow red in popularity, performing better than blue, white, brown, or black.

Combine a highly visible warm color like red with a neutral accent color for added effectiveness. Red-black, orange-brown, yellow-white, and green-tan combinations cover bird color vision and stand out.

Just know color should never trump proper feeder care and placement. Keep feeders filled, cleaned, and positioned appropriately. Then use color as a supplemental factor to entice extra visits.

Do Different Bird Species Prefer Different Colors?

Studies reveal some general color preferences for birds groups:

  • Finches – Red, orange, yellow
  • Doves – Yellow, green
  • Woodpeckers – Yellow, black
  • Chickadees – Green, brown
  • Sparrows – Red, brown
  • Hummingbirds – Red, orange, yellow

Species with colorful plumage like finches and hummers gravitate to similarly vivid tones. Shy birds prefer earthy, natural greens and browns that blend in.

But exceptions abound. Cautious female cardinals still love red feeders. Bold Steller’s jays visit sedate green feeders. Get to know your local species’ personalities through observation. Their behaviors reveal more than applying generic color guidelines.

Provide diverse feeder colors to attract the widest range of species. Switch things up seasonally to continually pique their interest. Pay attention to which hues your species flock to the most. Their choices may surprise you.

Creating Your Own Bird Feeder Color Test

Conducting your own experiments with different feeder colors can provide personalized insights into your backyard birds’ preferences:

Step 1) Obtain several feeders in an array of bright, natural, and neutral colors. Plastic tube feeders are inexpensive and easy to spray paint.

Step 2) Position pairs of contrasting colored feeders in different locations around your yard. Try red-green, yellow-brown, orange-black pairings.

Step 3) Observe activity at the feeder pairs for 1-2 weeks. Track the number of visits per hour to each color.

Step 4) Calculate the percentage difference in visits between the two feeders at each location. This reveals which color birds favored.

Step 5) Swap feeder locations and re-observe activity. Consistent preferences confirm color impacts.

Step 6) Repeat testing at different times of year as bird populations change. Migrants and summer residents make new choices.

Adapting feeder color schemes to your birds’ revealed preferences will maximize activity. Custom experiments provide the best insights into creating an avian hotspot.


Research shows feeder color does influence wild bird visitation patterns to some degree. Certain colors prove more consistently attractive across studies, especially reds and oranges. Species and habitat also shape color preferences. But many other factors from placement to food quality interact with color’s effects. Focused experiments in your own backyard can reveal the ideal hues to decorate feeders and create an avian magnet. Just don’t let color eclipse proper feeder care practices. When combined with robust birdseed mixes or nectar, strategically colored feeders will let your yard colors shine bright for both you and your feathered guests.