Keep these Feeders Up!
If you live in the northern climes, migrating birds begin to get ready about now, including a couple of our favorites, the Baltimore Oriole and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That means that both birds are still hanging around your backyard, so keep your hummingbird feeders full of nectar and your oranges and jelly out for your Orioles. Both will be leaving soon for their annual migration to warmer vacation spots, most likely to Central America and the Neotropics, so they need to bulk up for the travails of a long migration. The male adult Ruby-throated will begin leaving sometime in late July or early August, with the females and young leaving as late as mid-October. The Orioles are gone by Mid- to Late-September.
It is very important for their survival that they can find food along their migration route, including finding food in your yard. Although a few Baltimore Orioles winter in the southern states, most Orioles migrate south along the Mississippi Flyway to Mexico then to Central and South America. In winter and during migration, Baltimore Orioles are often seen in small groups composed of mixed ages and sexes. Orioles arrive in the Norther States in late April and early May, usually about a week later than the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, so that means they arrive earlier in the Southern States.
Did you know that male Orioles do not develop their bright coloration until their second molt, in the fall of their second calendar year? Although yearling males (those in their first potential breeding season) resemble adult females, some successfully attract mates and raise young. The species is usually socially monogamous.
Why Start Feeding Birds in Fall?
Birds are scouting for food sources when the food is still fairly abundant, and that includes the autumn months. Experience has told them that they need to be ready when cold weather arrives. Cold will increase their calorie requirements right at the moment food becomes harder to find. Bugs stop flying; snow covers the seeds; buds and fruit are iced over; the birds need to be ready. Remember that birds are under stress when the winter weather hits. They do not have the luxury of waiting until bad weather arrives before searching for food. They need to know where the food will be, so if you do not feed your backyard birds all year, start offering the seed now. When winter arrives, they will remember your yard.
What Type of Feed to Offer?
Cornell Lab of Ornithology states, “One key to attracting a diversity of bird species is to provide a variety of food types.” This doesn’t mean you must set out every type of seed available, just a good selection. The seed that attracts the greatest number of species is black-oil sunflower, so be certain that the seed you buy has a healthy portion of black-oil sunflower seeds in the mix. Safflower is another seed that many birds like, especially the cardinal. Lately, in my yard, safflower has been the favorite. As a bonus, safflower has limited appeal to starlings and house sparrows, and is not liked much by squirrels. Goldfinches, siskins and redpolls love “nyjer.” It is somewhat expensive, so make sure you put nyjer seed in nyjer feeders and check to be certain the feeder is in good shape. Having nyjer seed fall out of a well-worn feeder is an unnecessary expense. If you use stockings, be certain the holes have not been stretched over time, allowing the seed to fall to the ground. Best to replace the nyjer-stocking feeders after a few months of heavy use. You will save enough in nyjer seed to pay for a new stocking. If you want to attract Mourning Doves, you will have to offer a seed that contains milo and millet. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, black-caps, and other “clinging” birds enjoy suet, a very high energy food. The goal is to set out seed that is high in fat, is nutritious (read the bag or label), and have thin shells, making it easy for small birds to hold and crack open. (Striped sunflower seeds, for example, are larger and have a thicker outer seed covering. Not ideal for small birds).
What Type of Feeders?
Again, if your goal is to attract a variety of bird species, you should offer a variety of feeders. In our climate, fall and winter feeders should be tough! They must withstand heavy rains, wind, snow and ice. Your feeders should be large enough so they don’t have to be constantly refilled. Stomping through snow is no fun. Hopper feeders are good for the larger species of birds, such as cardinals. Tube feeders are excellent for smaller birds, like finches and chickadees. Nyjer feeders will help attract finches. Suet feeders accommodate nuthatches and woodpeckers. Platform feeders can be placed on the ground or mounted on a deck railing. They can also be suspended from hooks. Platform feeders can accommodate a wide range of bird species, from small to large. The disadvantage is that the larger birds will scare the smaller birds from feeding, so it is good to have tube feeders as well. There is an “All Weather” feeder that is available and it is quite unique. This feeder is designed with our winter weather in mind. The All Weather Feeder is the first completely weatherproof wild bird feeder.
One Other Thing
Unfrozen water is difficult to find in winter, so birds will remember what yards have water and they will check those yards when water is scarce. Sure, birds can and do eat snow, but that comes at a price. Snow is below or at freezing, so in order for the bird to use the snow as a source of water, it must melt the snow first. If you have ever melted snow, you know how much snow it takes to make an equivalent amount of water: quite a bit more. So more snow is needed to produce any given amount of water. The need for extra food is now required to provide the extra energy for the bird’s body to melt the snow and keep its body temperature up.
Make a difference, offer an ice-free water source.
There are principally two ways to create an ice-free water source. One solution, if your present birdbath is capable of remaining outside during our harsh winters, is to put a small heating unit in your birdbath. These units are quite capable of keeping your birdbath free of ice, and they are very economical to operate. They turn off and on as the temperature rises and falls, using about as much energy as a 75 to 150 watt light-bulb.
The other method of providing ice-free water is with a heated birdbath. These, too, operate very economically, providing ice-free water at the equivalent cost of a 150 watt light bulb. They begin to heat when the temperature falls below 35 degrees.