How To Make Migratory Birds Fall In Love With Your Backyard

Fall is prime time to get your yard in order to benefit the birds—and you.

August 23, 2016
migratory birds

Making life easier for birds is a win-win. Bird-watching boosts your mental outlook, decreases stress, improves work performance, and even helps improve kids' attention spans. On the flip side, turning your yard into a five-star dining experience for our feathered friends helps alleviate some of the hardships they're enduring—things largely caused by people in the first place—such as habitat loss and climate change.

Here's why fall is the ideal time to start taking an interest in feeding the birds, plus, three ways to make them love you. (Sign up for our FREE newsletter to get clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more delivered straight to your inbox!)

migrating birds
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Migratory marathoners are on the move.

Come fall, migratory birds are embarking on mega-missions, with some flying thousands of miles to Africa or South America from the U.S. But human development continues to take the place of many of migratory birds’ usual rest stops, explains Deborah Martin, author of the book Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success.

"When places that migrating birds are hardwired to visit for food, water, and shelter disappear, finding alternative places along their route is not as simple as driving to the next exit on the turnpike." A welcoming backyard or, even better, a welcoming neighborhood of yards that offer water, trees for roosting, and well-stocked feeders, can be very helpful to birds that need to refuel during their long flights, Martin says. (Here's how to build a birdhouse that will be the talk of the flock.

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You can snag a rare seasonal delight.

Turning your backyard into a bird feeder this time of year could yield months of magnificent bird-watching. Many colorful songbirds are considered short-distance migrants, meaning they breed and nest in Northern Canada, but might only fly south to New England or the Great Lakes for the winter months. If you attract them to your yard now, they may set up shop in binocular view until spring, increasing your backyard bird-viewing pleasure.

Related: Bird Feeding Strategies For Autumn

woman bird watching in woods
Bird-feeding can shoo away winter blues.

Maintaining feeders during the winter months when many birds are supplementing their natural foods with seeds and suet means going outside to tend those feeders every day or two. "Getting outside for just a few minutes on a winter day is a great mood-booster," says Martin. "It clears the head and stimulates the circulation, and even lets you appreciate being able to return to the warmth of your home once your feeder-filling tasks are completed." (These 11 mood-boosting foods can also give you a lift.)

Now that you're convinced of the benefits of bird-feeing, here are some secrets for success when creating your bird-friendly garden:

young boys filling bird feeder
Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock
Be A Lazy Gardener

When choosing a feeder location, Martin suggests picking a spot where you can put a sunflower seed feeder in a location visible from your window. "That way, you can get to it throughout the winter to keep it filled," she says. Add a suet feeder, too, to attract woodpeckers and nuthatches. Also very important: Avoid perennial garden cleanup, and leave stems of coneflowers, asters, eupatoriums, and other tall plants. You'll provide perches, seeds, and overwintering insect treats for all sorts of birds.

Related: How To Harvest Sunflower Seeds

bird hanging on tree
Plant Bird Food

Choosing native plants, trees, and shrubs that attract birds will not only offer more food sources, thus keeping your birdseed bill down, but will also offer shelter for birds during harsh winter conditions. Bird-friendly plant choices will vary depending on where you live, but there are groups of plants that include species for almost every region of North America, Martin says. Here are some species to look for, just make sure they're native in your area:

Fruiting Trees and Shrubs
Dogwoods, serviceberries, and viburnums will be attractive to bluebirds, waxwings, robins, catbirds, thrushes, and other fruit-loving birds.

Irresistible Seed-Producing Trees
Trees like maples, oaks, birches, and conifers don't just provide shelter—year-round shelter, in the case of the conifers—they also boast a big supply of seeds that birds love.

birds eating on bird feeder
Customize Feedings To Attract Your Favorite Winged Visitors

Martin's book is a handy guide, providing bird-feeder menu options for different birds. For instance, the Eastern bluebird likes to eat pine nuts and mealworms, especially from a table feeder. Want to attract a yellow-bellied sapsucker? Try apple bits on an open tray. A red-breasted nuthatch can't resist suet and sunflower seeds, while a wild turkey might visit if you offer cracked corn on a ground feeder. 

Related: 7 Things Winter Birds Want From Us