Hopper or House Bird Feeders: Types & how they work

Hopper Bird Feeder: Types & how it worksPhoto: Steve Baker/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Folks thinking of starting to feed birds in their backyards ask what a hopper bird feeder is and how it works. A hopper bird feeder is one of several bird feeder types people use to offer food to backyard birds.

Many species of birds prefer hopper bird feeders. Relatively simple in design and functioning, a hopper bird feeder can be the right choice if you are starting to feed birds or an excellent addition to your bird feeding station.

This article explains what a hopper bird feeder is, its type, and how it works.

What is a hopper bird feeder, and how it work

Let’s start by defining a hopper.

A hopper is a cone-shaped or inverted pyramid container used to move material from one container to another in its most original form. Usually, the movement of material is from a large container with a small-diameter release or dispenser at the bottom into a smaller container.

A hopper bird feeder, also called a house bird feeder, works like that. This type of feeder holds birdseed and dispenses it into a tray at the bottom of the hopper. As birds consume the seed, the hopper replenishes the bottom tray, aided simply by gravity.

A hopper bird feeder generally has a roof that gives the feeder the house’s appearance, hence the alternative name house bird feeder.

Is a hopper bird feeder the right choice for a beginner?

Feeding birds can be as simple as sprinkling birdseed on the ground consistently. Birds will find the seed put out for them, and if they feel it is safe to return, they will.

The second easy way to feed birds is by using a hopper bird feeder. This type of feeder has a simple design, easy to refill with bird food, and attracts a wide variety of birds.

A hopper bird feeder is the right starter choice. It can hold and preserve bird seed dry and fresh for some time.

Keeping birdseed in the right conditions is important when starting to feed birds. Once you put food for the birds, it can take a while before the birds find your feeder. A hopper feeder maintains the birdseed in the right conditions while waiting for the birds to find your feeder.

If you start with a hopper feeder, it is recommended to fill it with a quarter of the total capacity not to waste much food if it is not consumed.

If the food is not consumed, birdseed should be replaced each month.

If the birdseed gets wet, then it should be replaced immediately.

Types of hopper bird feeders

There are several types of hopper bird feeders, all of which use the same idea of having a container that dispenses birdseed into a tray or platform. Most if not all hopper feeders use transparent plexiglass sheets that show the type and amount of birdseed.

The design and material used to make hopper feeders vary significantly. Some are made of wood, others of metal, and others use recycled plastic.

Prices vary with the size, design, and material used to make the feeder.

Some hopper feeders have built-in mechanisms to prevent squirrels from accessing the bird seed.

hopper bird feeder types


How long does it take for birds to find my hopper feeder?

Depending on the habitat around your yard, birds can take from a few days to months to find your feeder.

Yards with plenty of woods around have a greater bird diversity. Bird feeders here are found in days.

Conversely, feeders placed in treeless neighborhoods have a lower bird diversity and generally take longer for birds to find the feeder.

Birds that visit feeders find their food by sight. If the feeder is well-exposed and readily visible, birds nearly always find the feeder. Once a single bird finds the feeder, more individuals of the same species are likely to start visiting the feeder.

Over time, several species of birds will make your feeder a routine stop in their daily search for food.

Related: Tube Bird Feeders for Beginners

What are the pros and cons of a hopper bird feeder?

As with everything in life, hopper bird feeders have advantages and disadvantages.

  • Pros: Most hopper bird feeders can hold a large amount of bird seed, ensuring a constant food supply for the birds. Large models can hold up to 6-8 quarts of bird seed. Feeders that hold a large amount of food are easier to maintain and ensure that birds have a constant food supply.
  • Cons: A large amount of food that gets wet and not replaced promotes fungus and bacteria growth, which can be detrimental to the birds.
    Hopper feeders are relatively more difficult to clean up.
    More than other feeder types, Hopper feeders appear to attract more squirrels, raccoons, rats, and other undesirable visitors.

If new to bird feeding, you may want to start with a small hopper feeder that does not hold much birdseed. A hopper feeder that holds 3 lb or less may be appropriate.

The reason to start with a small hopper feeder is that birds have not found your feeder yet, and the birdseed will sit there for days or months.

Once the birds find your feeder, you can upgrade to a larger feeder or add another to avoid birds fighting over a single feeder.

What birds can I attract with a hopper bird feeder?

After platform bird feeders, hopper bird feeders attract the second-highest bird diversity.

Data obtained from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicates that 98 species of birds visit feeders across North America. This number includes hummingbirds.

Of the 98 species, 59 species, or 60%, visit hopper bird feeders. The number of species that attend feeders varies tremendously according to the habitat type where a feeder is located.

Hopper bird feeders can be large or small.

  • Small hopper feeders accommodate smaller birds such as goldfinches, siskins, wrens, buntings, warblers, nuthatches, sparrows, downy woodpeckers, and small finches. About 30 species of birds regularly visit small hopper feeders. Large birds have difficulties fitting on a small hopper feeder.
  • Large hopper feeders accommodate large birds, as well as small birds. Hence, the large bird variety that visits large hopper bird feeders.  Pigeons, doves, jays, larger woodpeckers, grackles, and cardinals feed comfortably on large hopper feeders.

Parts of a hopper feeder.


parts of hopper bird feeder

Make your own hopper bird feeder.

Making your own hopper bird feeder and mounting it in your yard can be a rewarding experience. You can pick the design you wish; there are several free plans with detailed instructions online.

The hopper feeder design above, indicating the parts of a hopper bird feeder, can be built using simple instructions and inexpensive materials.

This design has a roof with hinges to fill up 6 quarts of bird seed, a tray and perches for comfortable perching by large and small birds. The birdseed is contained in transparent plexiglass.

The hopper bird feeder plan can be accessed on a separate website. salinas aguada blanca

Best place to mount a hopper bird feeder

A bird feeder can be placed anywhere you want. You can be creative. However, there are a few things to consider.

The main aspects to consider include:

Protecting the birds from attacks by domestic cats and hawks.

People who have been feeding birds for years recommend mounting hopper bird feeders at least 16 feet from trees or bushes. This distance is wide enough to allow birds to see the surroundings and react to an incoming hawk’s attack.

Sixteen feet is also wide enough to prevent domestic cats from hiding and launching an attack on the birds.

While sixteen feet from trees and bushes are ideal for protecting the birds, shy species such as buntings and wrens find it difficult venturing out in the open.  These birds do well at feeders much closer to bushes, but one must ensure that cats are not a problem.

The feeder should be placed either on bare ground or short-mowed grass to prevent cats from hiding near the feeder.

The recommended height from the ground is at least 5 feet or at eye level. The height selected should allow easy access to the feeder for refilling and cleaning.

Five feet from the ground also prevent squirrels from jumping to the feeder.

Make it visible from where you can enjoy the birds.

Pick a spot that allows an easy and unobstructed view of the feeder. A site you can see through a kitchen window or from a place you often spend time relaxing would be ideal.

Being able to see the feeder easily and often will not only enhance your enjoyment of the birds but also alert you when the feeder has run out of food and needs a refill.


A hopper bird feeder is one of the most commonly used feeders in the United States. The way that these feeder works is simple. Birdseed is stored in the hopper. As the birds consume the tray’s content, more birdseed replenishes the tray, aided only by gravity.

Regarding preference by the birds, the hopper bird feeder attracts the second largest bird diversity than other feeders.

Hopper bird feeders are the right choice for beginner bird enthusiasts. They have a large capacity to hold food. When placed at the right spot in your yard, one can enjoy the birds from the comfort of your own home.