Labor Day has long been a signal to Americans to begin preparing for fall. Many people are also seasonal bird feeders, and thus will be putting out feeders soon to help their feathered friends make it through the winter or prepare for migration. In the natural world, fall brings bounty. It can be difficult to attract birds in the fall because of the increased availability of natural food sources, but do not be discouraged. Birds are taking note of the food sources in their territories so that they know where to go when the weather turns harsh. Here are a few tips for those just setting up their feeders:
Putting out five pounds of seed in feeders which birds have not yet found makes little sense. As the seed sits, it is more likely to get wet from rain and dew and spoil. Birds may then find the food, but move on due to its poor condition. Particularly goldfinches are picky about the freshness of their food. Put a small amount of food in the feeders you have set up, and monitor it for moisture.
Birds are curious and naturally explore every part of their territory. When we first set up our feeders, we enjoyed watching this curiosity in the birds new to our yard. They explored every tree, shrub and even the woodpile. This helps them take note of new food sources and find places to take shelter in inclement weather. You can help them along by making your bird feeding station more visible to them. Invest in a platform feeder or a ground feeder and scatter a handful of seed in it for the birds. This seed can be seen from a greater distance as birds are flying overhead. A small handful scattered on the ground can also work well. That is how we first attracted mourning doves. But be careful. The seed will mold even quicker if in contact with the ground.
Consider what is nearby
If your neighbors have pets or small children who frequent their yard, placing feeders near their property line will likely hinder birds from finding your feeders. Birds can get used to the commotion. We drew some birds into our yard with feeders in places we could not see very well. We then slowly moved them across the yard to our feeding station. Now the birds eat contentedly, even with a Great Dane barking at them. Even the squirrels eventually learned they are safe from this threat and just keep one wary eye on the dogs while they empty our feeders.
Birds also like to be where shelter is nearby. If possible, place feeders near a shrub or tree that will provide cover when birds are startled. Be careful of too much low-lying vegetation, however. This hinders their ability to see what is approaching the feeders and can be a good hiding place for cats.
Don’t forget water
Water is even more important to a bird’s survival than food. It is also needed by all species and may attract birds not normally attracted to feeders. Warblers, blue birds and wrens have all been regular visitors to our bird bath, especially in the fall. As natural water sources begin to freeze, birds are in danger of dehydration. They also need water to keep their feathers clean for flight and warmth. The sound of water will draw birds in even more quickly. You can suspend a bucket over your bath with a small hole in the bottom. The steady dripping is like a magnet for birds. There are also a number of commercial items available.
Be aware of the migrating schedule of your birds.
Hummingbirds will be moving south, soon, and may be entering territory where they are not normally seen. As the birds which summer in your area begin to move south, others will be coming from further north. Knowing who is traveling through and what they like will draw some new visitors to your yard and help them on their journey.
Provide some calories
Winter is harsh and food is scarce in much of North America. High energy sources such as fruits, nuts and insects are in particularly short supply. Even robins will occasionally come to feeders for some diced apples. Suet is a wonderful option for feeding woodpeckers, nuthatches and other insectivorous birds. If interested in offering fruit, however, wait until your feeders are getting some activity or until the weather turns cold.
And keep checking your feeders. I think it took three weeks for us to begin attracting birds last fall. Most feeders are eventually found and they add hours of enjoyment to your yard as well as provide some needed sustenance to your local birds.