As birds prepare to journey thousands of miles in the coming weeks and months, they need an extra boost of calories and nutrition. It’s just at the time that they most need a reliable food supply that many of these once-faithful meal sources cease to exist. The cold air stamps out plants that thrive in warmer weather; thus birds that linger before migration are often in danger of going hungry. Thoughtful gardeners can play a vital role in supporting these birds during this time of need.
A long-held myth has some gardeners believing providing food to birds during this season may lead to confusion and cause flocks to stay home instead of migrating. It turns out there’s little truth in this. There are plenty of other factors that provide the migratory instinct: daylight levels and climate, for example. Giving your neighborhood (and passersby) birds a helping hand with food in the fall is one of the best things you can do for them. Providing a steady supply of food and water helps birds build fat reserves for their upcoming journeys, and also ensures they’ll return in the spring.
Scroll below for some basic things you can do to assist your garden’s feathered friends…
1. Buy or build a bird feeder.
If you don’t normally have one of these in your garden, now is the time to set it up. Most garden supply centers sell a variety of bird feeders. If you buy a feeder, choose one that’s sturdy enough to endure the bitter winter temperatures. Think practically! You’ll want one that’s a cinch to clean and that’s tight enough to protect dry seeds from absorbing any humidity or damp weather. Some popular feeder designs include tray, suet, hopper, window and tube. It’s best to place several feeders in your yard to cater to the number and variety of birds that pass through. If you’re more of a DIY gardener, try building a feeder yourself with these instructions from This Old House!
2. Choose the right food.
Make sure to stock your feeders with the right kind of grub. That means foods with high oil content and plenty of calories. Some good options include nuts, cracked corn, nectar, black oil sunflower seed and white proso millet.
3. Keep them hydrated
Birds need lots of water. Put out a bird bath and keep an eye on it. Water should always be fresh and clean. If the temperatures have already taken a dive, attach a heater to the bath to protect it from freezing over. When choosing a birdbath, a larger design is best to accommodate more birds but keep in mind it may take more effort to clean. Look for a bird bath that’s about 1-2 inches deep and includes shallower and deeper sections to cater to different bird species.
4. Provide berries.
Already got a bush or tree that’s blossoming with berries in the autumn? Then you’re all set. Birds will flock in droves to taste autumn fruits from vines and shrubs in your garden. You might also consider buying a shrub that’s already in bloom at your local garden center. Viburnums, bayberries, and deciduous hollies can be transplanted to your yard with fruit already on the branches, a scrumptious buffet for this season’s bird travelers.
If you follow all these tips, the birds are sure to stop by your house on their way south and be all the better for it.