Bird Feeding Strategies For Autumn

Now is the time to clean and stock feeders and to stock up on birdseed.

September 11, 2015

Here's what you'll need to get your bird feeders ready for the season.

At The Feeders

Repair any feeders that need a makeover. You may need to pound in a loose nail or replace a cracked bottom piece.


Put out several suet feeders so all your resident birds get a turn. A single woodpecker can monopolize a suet feeder for most of the day.

Stock a very low tray feeder (1 foot or less above the ground) with cracked corn for mourning doves, who gather in flocks to feed in fall.

Keep the hummingbird and other nectar feeders up as long as you dare; until freezing temperatures threaten; more than one late migrant has been saved by a forgotten feeder.

Keep the birdbath brimming. Fresh water is vital year-round.

In The Garden
There are plenty of ways to provide bird treats in your garden in the fall. Try some of these ideas.

Keep an eye on any berries or fruits in your yard. They're prime foods for birds that may alight during migration. The Virginia creeper that sprawls through my garden as a groundcover offers its midnight blue berries in early fall, right when vireos and orioles are passing through. The vines of fox grapes winding among the treetops attract later migrants like rose-breasted grosbeaks and tanagers.

Listen for the quiet twitters and sharp chip! notes that betray the presence of song sparrows, white-throats, and other hard-to-see native sparrows around your yard. In the fall, a bounty of ripening seeds on garden plants, grasses, and weeds brings flocks of these LBBs (that's "little brown bird" in birder talk) to backyards. They may stop at abundant seed patches for a morning or a whole week, but they're small, quick moving, and wary of people, so you'll hear them more often than you'll see them.

Check garden centers and nurseries for viburnums, bayberries, and other shrubs that are already full of berries. Cart them home carefully so as not to dislodge the fruit, pop them into the garden, and the birds will reap the benefits immediately. One September I brought home three deciduous hollies; while I was planting the first one, cedar waxwings descended on the shrubs that were still in the pickup truck.

If you love a bargain, check the end-of-season sales at nurseries and garden centers. Trees and shrubs—usually the biggest investment you'll make when creating a bird-friendly yard—are often available at half price. Although the selection may not be as big as it is during the spring, the savings are hard to beat!