How Do Birds Find Bird Seed?

Most birds use their sense of vision to find bird seed. Once they find seed (or other food), they will remember the location and continue coming back. Birds will also communicate with each other (contact calling) to let the flock know they found food.

The first thing you do when you want to eat something is go to your fridge or pantry and find something to eat. Eating is no different for a bird. They remember where they previously found seeds. In a sense, this area becomes their “fridge or pantry.”

How Do Birds Find Bird Seed?


Birds have a wide field of vision to spot predators on all sides, but their vision is also specialized for finding seeds and other food.

Birds are tetrachromats, which means they see only four colors: red, blue, green, and ultraviolet. This means that although humans can see more colors, birds can see ultraviolet (something humans can’t see).

According to studies, birds can use this extra color to see seeds from a distance, but they also prefer foods that reflect more UV.

Birds can also see and recognize structures like bird feeders or cages where they get food. They will quickly associate that structure with food and will know that whenever they want seed, all they have to do is go to the feeder.


The same way birds can recognize a familiar structure, they can also recognize different locations.

When a bird finds a seed, it will remember the exact location. Once a bird learns that a location consistently has seeds, the bird will likely return to that location.

Some studies have shown that a few species of birds, such as parrots or parakeets, can remember the time of day they were fed, so they know to visit that location at a specific time.

This is why it’s so important for pet birds to be fed regularly. Schedules and routines are good for birds. They help reduce stress and anxiety, and birds with an established routine behave better than birds with an inconsistent lifestyle.

Communication With Another Bird

Have you ever noticed that birds make more noise when they eat? This is not just because they are excited.

Birds communicate with each other using contact calls. These calls vary between different species, but in general, birds use them to signal their position to other birds or give a warning about an incoming threat. Parrots have also used contact calls to get the attention of their owners and often will not stop making noise until we acknowledge them.

Birds also use contact calls when they have found seeds or other food. When one bird hears another is feeding, it will come and join in.


Birds have decent hearing, although they can not hear as well as humans. Hearing does not seem like it would be important when it comes to food, although hearing can actually play a role in the feeding process.

Of course, as mentioned before, birds can hear the calls of other eating birds, but it goes beyond this. Some domesticated birds are used to hearing seed falling, so when they hear something that sounds like seed falling, they are more likely to investigate it to find out if it is indeed seed.


Birds don’t have a great sense of smell, especially songbirds. Most birds rely on vision and memory to find seeds.

However, since bird seed has a large amount of oil, it can go rancid. When this happens, the seed will produce a foul smell.

Many birds can detect this smell and will not eat seed that has gone bad. While birds can smell just enough to detect rancid seeds, it is unlikely that their sense of smell is strong enough to find seeds.

Why Your Bird May Have Trouble Finding Seed

The Seed is Bad

If you have a pet bird that won’t eat seed, this is likely the reason.

This should probably go without saying, but because seed is food, it can go bad. Since most seeds contain a lot of oil, they will expire quickly. As mentioned in the previous section, birds can tell if a seed is bad and will refuse to eat it.

Some Birds Don’t Eat Seeds

Contrary to popular belief, not all birds eat seeds. If you are the owner of an exotic bird of prey, it is unlikely to eat seeds. But it’s not just exotic or predatory birds that will refuse to eat seeds, so it is worth checking to see what any given species eats.

Most birds are not too picky about the seeds they eat. Different species of birds prefer different types of bird seed. For example, the shells of safflower seeds are far too thick for many smaller birds to crack.

They Aren’t Hungry

Birds do not just eat seeds. Birds will eat almost anything, excluding meat, and there are even exceptions to that.

Birds eat fruit, bugs, nuts, random vegetation, and even trash. If a bird has found an abundant food source of something else that it prefers to eat, the bird may just not be hungry.

For bird owners, it may be worth keeping other foods away from your bird if you intend to feed them seed.

Stress From The New Environment

Migratory birds have no problem moving from location to location, but some birds will get stressed when put into a new location.

This can be especially true if the bird feels confined in a cage or even an entire home. If a bird is extremely stressed, it is unlikely that the bird will want to eat.

This problem should resolve itself over time, but if it does not resolve itself, other actions should be taken to make a bird feel more comfortable in its new environment.

The Seed is Inaccessible

This one is rather self-explanatory. If a feeder is in a location that is too small for a bird to fit, out of reach, or otherwise inaccessible, they will not eat the seeds.

While it seems straightforward on paper, many people place seeds or bird feeders in places that are hard to reach, so it might be worth checking to see if the birds can reach the seeds.

Vision Problems

The main way birds find seeds is with vision, and if this sense is impaired, it may be hard for a bird to find seeds. If your bird consistently can not find its bird seed, the first thing you should do is set up an appointment with a veterinarian and talk about potential solutions.

Birds find seed when they see it, and when birds find seed in a location again and again, they are likely to return to that location. If a bird is not finding seed, it is likely that the bird either has vision problems or something else is wrong with the seed. The seed may simply be bad or inaccessible. It is also possible that a bird found another food source or is too stressed to eat.

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