Fall begins bird feeding season
Spring and early to mid-summer can be busy times around the backyard feeder stations. Male and female birds are busy nesting and raising young and having tasty seeds and maybe suet reasonably close to suitable nesting habitat allows the mature birds to replenish their energy reserves with relatively little effort. That certainly comes in handy when there are hungry nestlings constantly looking for tasty worms and insects from mom and pop. It’s pretty much a full time job feeding the youngsters and there’s scarcely time for the parents to grab more than a passing bite to eat. The feeders help with that.
At my own property, late summer is a really slow time at the feeders. We get the occasional downy woodpecker or white-breasted nuthatch at the suet and a few sparrows, grackles and maybe a northern cardinal or two at the tube feeders or foraging on the ground beneath the feeders. Each year there comes a point when I wonder if my seed has gone bad-surely there must be more birds around! I keep my hummingbird feeder full, enjoy the nectar-eaters, and watch for my other old feathered friends to show up. Of course there are always lots of birds around the neighborhood. I see them back in the woods behind the house, coming to the pond in front to drink in the evening and flitting around the weedy field down the hill. Should I try fresher seed?
That probably wouldn’t be necessary, and it wouldn’t help bring in more birds. In late summer, after the young have fledged from their nests the family group goes foraging for food together. Initially the mature birds may continue to feed the begging youngsters, but as the summer wears on they all are feeding themselves. The season couldn’t lend itself better to sustain these new avian families as food is super abundant. Worms, caterpillars, and insects of all types are still available. Shrubs and trees are setting berries and fruit, grasses and most other vegetation is producing seed. In short, it is a time of plenty and the birds have evolved over the eons to time their breeding, nesting and fledging of young to take advantage of this late season bounty. This then is the reason my feeder station is not so popular at this time of year.
As late October and early November roll around the equation begins to change. Day and nighttime temperatures begin to decrease and fall storms become more frequent. Worms and insects don’t do as well once the seasonal frosts begin and some of the fruit and seed bounty has already been eaten. In short, our feeders begin to look pretty attractive again. I now have white-throated as well as house sparrows and dark-eyed juncos at my feeders. Mourning doves and northern cardinals are more frequent visitors as are nuthatches, woodpeckers, American goldfinches, house finches and tufted titmice. I’m expecting that soon the Carolina Wrens from the woods in back will begin to drift in as well as the blue jays, song sparrows and black-capped chickadees.
As the winter progresses and snow covers the ground and more of the bird’s natural foods, traffic to the feeders will really ramp up. The birds will be competing big time for spots on the feeder perches and for the best foraging spaces on the ground. Also, I’ll be watching for some northern birds that may make an appearance, especially if their food supplies in Canada are not abundant. Fox sparrows, pine siskins, purple finches, American tree sparrows, common redpolls and white crowned sparrows are all possible visitors. The little fellow in the photo accompanying this article, the beautiful red-breasted nuthatch, is always something to keep an eye out for.
So, keep those feeders clean and filled and enjoy the winged wildlife that nature brings right into your yard. If you don’t have feeders out, consider whether you have a safe spot for the birds and, if so, start feeding and you too can enjoy nature’s bounty. If you do have feeders, you might consider spending some time this winter planning for some spring additions of native plants, trees and/or shrubs on your property to provide additional cover, forage and nesting habitat for your birds.
Gary Metzger is an enthusiastic birder from the Hughesville area and currently serves as Vice-President of the Lycoming Audubon Society.