10 Ways to Attract and Enjoy Birds this Fall

Follow these simple steps to maximize the number and variety of birds living in your yard this autumn

09-07-2010 // NWF Staff

Rufous Hummingbird by Alandra PalisserAutumn brings dramatic changes in the bird life of any North American backyard. As many of the feathered residents that visit your yard during summer go south, migrants from regions to the north will pass through. Some will make brief stopovers while others will spend the winter.

You can make the most of this seasonal avian passage by making some adjustments to your property that will attract greater numbers of different birds in the fall—and help them thrive. Consider the following ideas:

 1. Provide running water:

 The sound of running water in a birdbath or pond will be heard by migrating birds from some distance, and will draw them to the bath for a drink, and possibly a quick dip. Most migrants that visit birdbaths with running water eat insects. These include warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes and thrashers. In addition, the juveniles of summer resident birds are likely to spend more time at the pool before moving to more southern climes.

Tip: Running water can be created in a single pool birdbath by installing an electric mister or bubbler, available from bird supply stores. A small pump will move water in a multiple-tiered birdbath, causing the water to make a splashing noise as it recirculates from top to bottom.

2. Leave sugar water feeders out:

Don’t take down sugar water feeders as soon as local hummingbirds and orioles start leaving in the fall. There are huge numbers of hummingbirds and orioles that have spent the summer farther north; as they migrate through your area, they will recharge themselves at the feeders. And juvenile hummingbirds, the last to abandon nesting grounds, feed on sugar water long after their parents have gone south.

3. Clean out birdhouses:

Early fall is a good time to clean out and make necessary repairs to birdhouses in preparation for hosting species that roost during fall and winter. The old nests usually attract insects and parasites and should be removed before winter residents move in. In many areas, bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches and winter wrens may take up nightly residence in birdhouses to keep warm and safe.

4. Create brush piles:

Save your fall clippings of branches and twigs and pile them in a corner of the yard (where they will be less intrusive) to create cover for birds. Most birds that prefer habitat on the ground—such as dark-eyed juncos, tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows—will use brush piles for roosting at night and for protection from predators.
Tip: Fallen evergreen trees, placed along the border of the yard, create more cover that will last throughout the winter.

 5. Plant evergreens:

There is no better natural cover for birds in fall and winter than evergreens. Planted near feeders and birdbaths, they will attract migrants and provide cover (and thus increase the safety factor) for many birds after deciduous trees lose their leaves.

6. Increase the number of feeders:

Autumn is a good time to double the number and kinds of feeders you put out for the birds. Starting with the first cool fall days, the consumption of bird food will increase and continue to increase as the average daily temperatures drop.

Tip: To attract the greatest number and variety of birds, provide a variety of seed and suet feeders. Northern cardinals, for example, prefer tray feeders, where they can perch on a ledge, while chickadees are more adept at landing on small perches or clinging to wire netting that surrounds feeders. Other birds, including several species of sparrow, feed on or near the ground, while woodpeckers are drawn to suet hanging from tree trunks.

7. Move the action closer:

One of the main reasons for feeding birds is so that you can enjoy watching their behavior in a natural environment. If you move your bird feeders and birdbaths closer to the house, you can get close to the creatures without disturbing them.

 Tip: If there is not enough natural cover just outside the windows, plant some or place potted evergreens around the feeders and baths. The birds will adapt to being close to the house quickly.

8. Provide foods for insect eaters:

Many birds that frequent backyards will not eat seeds, but they will eat insects and fruits. Cedar waxwings, American robins, northern mockingbirds, some woodpeckers, and migrating thrushes, thrashers and tanagers will feed readily on chunks of apples, berries and jellies from containers. Bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds and some woodpeckers will eat live mealworms (available at pet supply stores) served in a tray feeder.

9. Bring bird sounds indoors:

With the arrival of cooler weather, people tend to close their doors and windows, blocking out the pleasant sounds of birds singing, scolding and chattering. If you like those sounds, consider installing a wireless baby monitoring device outside, and send the sounds of nature inside to a well-placed receiver.

10. Protect birds against collisions:

More birds collide with windows during fall than any other season of the year. Often migrating birds that are not familiar with the terrain will see the reflections of a woodland in a windowpane and fly right into it. If the reflection can be removed or muted with soap, netting, screening or by hanging streamers on the outside, the birds will veer away from it.

Tip: Whatever technique you use, do it on the outside of the pane. Pulling drapes inside will enhance the reflection on the outside. Pasting silhouettes of birds of prey, such as hawks and owls, may also help deter flying birds.

Adapted from "Avian-Attractions " by George Harrison, National Wildlife , October/November 2003.

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