Fall bird feeding tips

Fall is a dynamic season of change and adaptation for birds, providing you with the opportunity to attract migratory birds, in addition to the permanent residents that visit your feeders year-round.

American robinFood habits change as seasonal food supplies change. The high-protein insect diet characteristic of many birds in summer changes in the fall to fruits like mountain-ash and glossy black chokeberry. The best way to feed birds is to adjust the foods and the feeders with each changing season.

Foods

The presence of native migrant sparrows and juncos in fall requires a greater amount of "millet mix" or cracked corn than is appropriate for summer or winter use when House Sparrows, grackles, and cowbirds primarily benefit from these foods. About 30 percent of the bird food in the fall should be white proso millet or millet mixes scattered on the ground-feeding sites. Red proso millet and milo (grain sorghum) are used much less than white proso millet, and are generally unnecessary as an ingredient of fall bird seed mixes.

Peanuts, peanut pickouts, peanut butter, commercial suet cakes, and suet from the meat market are all beneficial fall foods that are high-energy sources that benefit birds as they go into the winter season. They are popular with chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and jays.

American robin

Peanuts can be fed in quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth feeders, and suet can be suspended in wire mesh cages or mesh string bags. Peanut butter and suet mixes can be smeared onto tree bark, or pressed into holes that have been drilled in small tree branch sections that can be hung as bird feeders. Although most birds will readily use suspended suet, Pileated Woodpeckers seem to prefer suet chucks firmly attached on top of a solid feeder platform.

Shallow trays stocked with mealworms can be used to attract a wide variety of birds, ranging from Carolina Wrens to Northern Cardinals and American Robins. The mealworms can be purchased in pet stores where they are sold as chameleon food.

Eastern Bluebirds feed on mealworms and dried fruits collected from shrubs, or you can make your own bluebird mix.

Bluebird mix recipe:

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup rendered (melted) suet
  • 1 cup peanut hearts
  • 1 cup Zante currants
  • 4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sunflower chips.

Stir until the mixture is granular but not too sticky. The mix can be offered on an open tray or platform feeder, in a wire suet cage or mesh bag.

Feeders

Bluebird enthusiasts can enjoy backyard visitors by using enclosed feeders with a l ½ to 2 inch diameter entrance hole. This prevents larger birds from eating the bluebird's food.

There is considerable amount of confusion about providing nectar feeders for hummingbirds in the fall. Many people fear that hummingbirds will fail to migrate south if feeders are left out in the fall. Hummingbirds, however, will migrate when it's time to go, regardless of the presence or absence of feeders.

The recipe for sugar water is the same as in summer. The solution is prepared at a ratio of four parts water to one part cane sugar. Boil the solution, then let it cool before filling your feeder.

One of the best ways to enhance a backyard is to provide a water source in the vicinity of the feeders. A quiet pool or birdbath is acceptable, but any type of moving, splashing, or misting water in very shallow pools will generate considerable attention from birds.

Fall is also an excellent time to trim shrubs and trees. Use the trimmings to create a temporary brush pile that will provide perches and hiding places for migrating songbirds between visits to your birdbath and feeders. The size of the brush pile should be three to four feet high and four to eight feet in diameter, and it should be located about ten feet from your feeders. Any closer and it may provide a hiding place for cats to ambush the birds.

Create your brush pile when you see the first fall migrants, such as White-throated Sparrows, arriving at your feeders, then dispose of it in late November to early December when migration is complete.

 

The bird-feeding techniques discussed here are included in a book by Carrol Henderson, DNR Nongame Wildlife Program Supervisor, Wild About Birds: The DNR Bird Feeding Guide. This book is available from Minnesota's Bookstore (1-800-657-3757).