Pecking Order

Emily White


Who’s the Boss?
When birds band together to get food, each one has a specific rank and must await its designated turn to feed. This occurs within flocks of the same species as well as amongst different species feeding together. The sequence for feeding is called a pecking order. As an example, the large, dominant blue jay eats first, then the starling. Next come the smaller birds such as the house finch who dominates the black-capped chickadee. Although the pecking order is established by fighting, once established, it helps prevent squabbling because each bird knows its place.

Fighting and overcrowding can be reduced by providing more feeders of different styles containing various types of seed. Hanging feeders are ideal for some species that prefer to feed above the ground, such as blue jays, chickadees, goldfinches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and more. Fill with a premium mix of sunflower seed, peanuts and safflower and watch the birds flock to your feeders. (Chickadee Picnic is one of Featherfields’ best-selling seed blends).

Platform feeders are another great way to provide plenty of space for hungry birds. Whether hanging, post-mounted or right on the ground, these tray-style feeders are sure to attract all types of birds to your yard. Ground feeders in particular are quick to attract birds because they are highly visible. Most now have durable screening as a base which allows for excellent drainage as long as there is no large accumulation of seed hulls. Various seed mixes containing white millet, canary seed, black oil sunflower or even some steel-cut corn (try Squirrel-Free or Old Mill Mix from Featherfields) are sure to attract the most common ground feeding birds, including cardinals, mourning doves, sparrows, and juncos.

Ground feeders must be kept clean of droppings and placed near any well established plantings for shelter and protection. Nearby cover also provides a place for subordinate birds in the pecking order to wait while dominant birds feed.

Build a Brush Pile
A brush pile located 10-15 feet from your feeders will also provide shelter in inclement weather. Birds will find refuge from bitter winds, snow, and predators like hawks and cats. Stack branches crosswise to create air spaces. It’s nice to occasionally scatter a handful of mixed seed under the brush pile or under any thick shrubbery in the yard. Watch for shy, skulking bird species that may not regularly visit your feeders, such as white-throated sparrows, fox sparrows, and maybe even a towhee.


The dark-eyed junco is the most common species to visit bird feeders in North America. These charming little birds are dark grey above and white underneath with a light-coloured bill. They are typically ground feeders so they are usually found on the ground beneath bird feeders foraging for their favourite seeds such as black oil sunflower, white millet and nyjer. Juncos nest in the north but in winter flocks can be found around woodland edges and suburban yards.

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