how to feed birds from an apartment

You dont need a lush landscape, productive garden, or even a yard to enjoy feeding wild birds. It is easier than many birders realize to attract birds to a balcony, whether you live in an apartment, condominium or townhouse. You can even attract birds to a balcony at your office. The key is to make the balcony a desirable feeding station for your hungry feathered visitors.

A Bird’s Guide to Birding

As a journalist and writer of narrative non-fiction, I cover birding culture and business decisions that support wild bird conservation. I concentrate on the individuals and organizations that honor wild birds and their preservation. See my writings about birding at The Seattle Times, National Audubon, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birding Magazine, and She-Explores, or listen to me ramble on about birding-related subjects on a number of podcasts.

how to feed birds from an apartment

Nesting finches on a Toronto apartment’s twenty-first-story balcony Courtesy of Lynn P.

The short answer is, YES, you can birdwatch from a high-rise in your backyard. However, do you want to draw smaller birds to your window or balcony like someone with a real yard, or do you want to watch gulls and Red-tailed hawks through your window’s glass?

There is not a lot of information out there about how to set up a postage-stamp size bird attractant, be it a feeder, water or potted plant on high, let alone what birds might arrive as a result. Cornell offers this short how-to for attracting birds to a high rise but I found it lacking for HOW high. I’m wanting to know what birds will come if you put out something really high up?

Let’s start with feeders.

The journalist Emily Voigt wrote what is the most thorough account available by anyone trying to feed city birds from multiple stories up. She suggests that urban bird feeders are changing the course of evolution, from House Finch bill size in NYC to the over-wintering of Anna’s Hummingbirds in the Western US. She is speaking of feeders in general, but her personal experiment was from an apartment 25 stories above Greenwich Village.

Astonishingly, she did it with a feeder similar to this one. While her windows open (eek!), they don’t exactly accommodate a traditional feeder, nor should they. Her feeder sat on the inside window ledge, reducing any danger of it plummeting to the streets below.

Go and follow the link to see what I’m talking about, then click on Voigt’s article and watch the video of the House finches she attracted. From a gazillion stories up. Gulp.

how to feed birds from an apartment

The Toronto CN Tower is visible in the distance, as seen from the 21-story House Finch. Courtesy of Lynn P.

Then there is Lynn P. of Toronto, Canada, who has been feeding birds at her seed feeders for 20 years and resides on the 21st floor of her apartment building Before she made an attempt to draw them, birds discovered her: “The day I moved in, house finches landed on the deck railing, so I quickly put up a feeder and they have been here ever since,” she says.

Lynn benefits from a building that has no explicit regulations regarding feeding wildlife. She provides water and hulled sunflower seeds for the finches to eat from, and they occasionally show interest in her as their host. For a week, one finch even tracked her movements inside before making a brief visit through the sliding door.

how to feed birds from an apartment

Brave house finch visiting inside Lynn P’s Toronto apartment. Courtesy Lynn P.

Okay, so what does Seattle have to offer in this regard? Previously a city of single-family homes and five-story apartment buildings, the skyline has recently exploded with gleaming mixed-use behemoths surrounding the city center.

So I walk around, scanning apartment buildings for indications of urban bird feeders. The majority of what I see are hummingbird feeders, and most of them are ten stories or less.

how to feed birds from an apartment

On the streets of First Hill, Seattle. Hummingbird feeder located on the 10th floor balcony, tiny red dot!

This was in line with the feedback I received on Facebook when I asked for sources for this subject. One respondent from the Western Washington Birders group said, “I have hummingbirds on the 16th floor, that’s it. I wouldn’t recommend anyone who wants to watch birds move to a high rise unless they are OK with just hummingbirds.”

More hummingbirds, but this time without a feeder: Another apartment resident reported that, because she lives in areas where feeders are prohibited, she has seen Anna’s hummingbirds visit a tiny potted fuchsia on the fourth floor of two separate apartment buildings.

how to feed birds from an apartment

Second floor apartment balcony in Lake City, Seattle.

Yes, there is a reality to living in an apartment or condo: building regulations “A third respondent stated that many buildings are concerned about bird strikes on windows, seed mess that attracts rodents, and the mess caused by concentrated bird droppings.” It would be embarrassing to publish a how-to article and then have readers discover they can’t and might even face penalties for doing so. ”.

  • If your building permits, stay with feeders that produce little waste, like hulled sunflower seeds or nectar.
  • To avoid bird strikes, place the feeder either ON the window (like a suction feeder) or as far away from the window as is permitted.
  • Expect (or hope for!) house finches and hummingbirds.

Next up, a container garden.

“Container garden!” says Julie Zickefoose, author of the invaluable resource, Natural Gardening for Birds: Creating a Bird Friendly Habitat in Your Backyard, which features her illustrations of plants and the birds they attract. She’s chatting with me on the phone from her rural Ohio home, looking out at actual countryside not urban blight, but she’s got a fantastic imagination.

There’s no reason why you can’t improve a location with challenging planting conditions or transport a container filled with compost to any floor of a high-rise apartment. ” She says. She uses container gardening on her own land to avoid having to fight encroaching grass all the time.

Passing birds may find food in your balcony container garden, as well as cover or a place to nest. My mother Noel Angell says, “If you group containers together in a place that’s not near where you’re sitting, you might provide a private place for nesting.” Bewicks wrens have taken up residence close to her front door, nesting in one of the holes in a ceramic container with tiers for succulents.

And turns out your containers don’t even have to have plants in them! If your empty plant box is big enough you might host nesting peregrine falcons, like this Chicago resident. OK, that’s not exactly a sure thing, but WOW, wouldn’t that be cool? See what can happen if you put some green on your balcony or window?

  • Plant something resilient, indigenous to your area, and capable of producing flowers, berries, or seeds in a window box or container.
  • Group containers together for a “garden like” impact.

Aaaand finally, windows…

Writing about high-rise bird gardens would be incomplete without discussing windows. I regret to inform you that windows kill birds.

Building windows kill one billion birds every year in the U.S. That’s all buildings, not just high rises. Basically, if your office building, family cabin, single family home has windows, those windows are in the path of a bird flying as speed that will impact and break its neck or die later from internal injuries.

As this post demonstrates, it is evidently possible to draw birds to your house without harming them, so take the advice regarding feeder placement and the example set by the women who are quoted here.

You could even take it a step further and heed the counsel of Heidi Trudell, another woman I feature on my site. If you find that you are experiencing window strikes, she suggests window treatments. In the event that birds are drawn to your high-rise, it is the responsible thing to do. You wouldn’t want to kill your guest inadvertently.

To conclude on a positive note, I’d like to hear about your experiences with high rise birding! Please leave a comment or shoot me an email; I’d love to see more images and content on this subject. If you enjoy reading about birdwatching in urban areas, check out these two interviews I conducted: one featuring podcaster and birder Georgia Silvera Seamans from New York City, and the other featuring Londoner David Lindo discussing his 2018 book, How to be an Urban Birder. Ideas galore!.

*This post was updated 8/14/2022.

Before You Put Feeders on Your Balcony

Check for any limitations on feeding birds from your balcony before buying a feeder or bag of bird seed. There may be policies or rules in apartment and condominium buildings that forbid feeders. Using hooks, screws, or other feeder equipment that can harm the walls or railings might not be permitted. Tenant policies may prohibit a messy balcony, and rental agreements may limit the quantity or kinds of feeders that are allowed.

No matter how much you love feeding the birds, it might not be worth it to risk fines or penalties if you break the property’s rules, as you could end up in court or face eviction. However, if you are able to use bird feeders, there are lots of inventive ways to draw birds to your balcony and provide them with a tasty treat.

How to Attract Birds to Your Balcony

Having an eye-catching piece of habitat is essential to drawing birds to a balcony. Birds can be drawn to a secure balcony by flowers, plants, or even a potted tree. The more vegetation you have in your habitat, the more comfortable the birds will be when they visit. To add more greenery, hanging baskets work well, and a little trellis can easily hold a climbing vine. For even more growing space, consider adding a multi-level shelf or railing planters in addition to a pot of flowers that makes a lovely accent on a patio table.

Using enticing sounds is another technique to attract birds to your balcony and get their attention. With its dripping and splashing sounds, a tabletop fountain can entice birds to approach, or you can play bird sound recordings slowly to make them realize that this is a secure and friendly place. But be careful—overusing recordings can be interpreted as intimidating or difficult, and timid birds may choose to avoid them instead.

There are some things to avoid on your balcony, however. Birds may become frightened by excessive clutter, especially if tools, bikes, or grills are kept on the balcony. Unexpected flashes from bright moving objects, like windsocks or spinners, can also frighten birds away. A balcony’s ability to draw birds is also negatively impacted by artificial noises like wind chimes. But the birds will feel more at home and be more inclined to visit balcony feeders if you take care of these possible issues and plant more vegetation on your balcony.

Droll Yankees Classic Hummingbird Feeder


Can you have a bird feeder at an apartment?

Apartment and condominium complexes may have guidelines or regulations that prohibit feeders. You may not be able to use hooks, screws, or other feeder equipment that could damage the walls or railings.

How do you feed birds without a bird feeder?

A wide variety of plants can nurture backyard birds: Nectar-rich flowers like bee balm, salvia and lupine are magnets for hummingbirds. Seed-bearing blooms, including coneflowers and cosmos, attract finches, sparrows, doves and quail.

How far away from the house should a bird feeder be?

Prevent collisions by placing feeders either more than 30 feet from a window or closer than 3 feet. A feeder that is 30 feet or more from a window is a safe distance from confusing reflections, while one within 3 feet prevents a bird from building up enough momentum for a fatal collision.

What household food can you feed birds?

What human food can birds eat? Plenty! Most fruits (although, it’s best to remove any seeds as some contain cyanide) and vegetables. I’ve also heard some people giving their birds small amounts of good, healthy wheat bread, pasta, rice, and cooked beans.