Let snags stand. That dead tree you've been meaning to cut down in your yard? If you can leave the tree, or part of it, safely standing (as in, it's not in danger of falling on a building or onto someone—talk to a landscaper or arborist), it will lure birds to cavity shelters, and provide a place to snag some bugs.
Delight in dead wood. And if you must cut a dead tree down, save some of the dead wood, suggests Roth. In her new book, she suggests taking a dead piece of wood 7 to 8 inches in diameter, and setting upright it in a natural spot, perhaps planting some ferns around it, to draw birds. This could not only look pretty, but will draw thrushes, towhees, and other "woodsy" birds to check out your display. She suggests also using dead wood as a free feeder. Dig a hole in the ground to vertically secure the piece of wood in the ground (in an area free of cats), and then spread nut butters or suet right onto the bark or bare wood. Leave your dead flower garden standing If you think a garden full of dried-up, dead plants is ugly, you'll likely change your mind when you start noticing nuthatches, titmice, and chickadees scouring the branches for insect and spider eggs, or you see cardinals and goldfinches perching on stems and eating seeds from the plants.
Plants such as rudbeckia, sunflowers, asters, and others that hang onto their seeds through the fall (and sometimes winter) are particularly good for goldfinches and siskins. However, native plants that drop their seeds are also valuable to the greater number of birds that will search the ground for this seed source. They are very adept at finding tiny seeds that would be virtually invisible to us. Late-flowering native wildflowers (the kinds vary in each region) provide nectar to lingering pollinators (bees, beetles, flies, and so forth), which will in turn, feed birds like migratory "fall warblers" that hunt for insects on their way south.
Offer more variety than a department store. "A feeding station stocked with a variety of foods and feeder types draws way more birds of way more kinds than just sunflower, millet, and suet," Roth says. She suggests:
1. Stock up on a variety of bird foods, such as suet; birdseed of various kinds, including black oil sunflower, millet, and niger; nuts; and specialty mixes containing fruit or nuts.
2. Put out a variety of feeder styles, including trays, hoppers, tubes, suet cages, and log feeders.
3. Keep the birdbath full and invest in a heater or a heated bath model for winter, because water is a big draw all year round.
Stay stocked during storms. Storms may bring some of the most spectacular bird feeder sightings you've ever encountered.
"Fox sparrows, towhees, dick sissels, native sparrows of a dozen species, horned larks, meadowlarks, and all kinds of birds that may not usually visit your feeder may show up to get a helping hand," says Roth. "And if it’s an untimely, early-fall or late-spring snow or ice storm, you may see neotropical migrants that got caught in it, such as tanagers, orioles, vireos, wood warblers, and lots of others."
Roth even encountered a very unexpected feeder guest one year—a great blue heron! "It was scarfing down seed with that monster beak while standing at the wooden tray mounted on a three-foot-tall post—just his size," she says. What draws them in? In winter, absolutely it’s food—abundant food, easy access, a variety of foods to suit every taste (which is why suet and other soft foods are important, since many birds don’t eat seeds). Just like restaurants, feeding areas that draw a crowd will attract more customers. "The presence of your feeder 'regulars' advertises your feeder to any hungry bird that may be flying over."