Monday, February 26, 2024
backyardbackyard wildlife habitatbirdsfleasYour Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Put Bird Feeders Out Now for Migrants

Two cat silhouettes looking at feeder

BIRDS ARE BEGINNING to migrate now, and while most people feed birds through the winter it’s not a bad idea to start a little early while they are migrating. They’ll appreciate the pit stop to be able to pack in more fat and calories, have a bath and a good long drink! Plus, a certain number will decide to stop and stay with you for the winter.

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photo of cardinal in grass
Our silly cardinal

I feed birds year-round, and I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, especially fleas. I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas. Those starlings and grackles who march around on your lawn? They’ll happily eat fleas. Robins in the spring? Fleas don’t stand a chance. Songbirds that eat insects? Fleas are a natural part of their diet.

Right now, as the wildflowers of summer have begun to go to seed and insect populations are at their highest, natural foods are plentiful, one of the ways birds can survive thousands of miles of migration. If you’ve maintained a wild area in your backyard where birds can recognize their native foods, birds will find you, stop for a meal and a bath and a long drink of water like an avian B&B.

Ways to feed

So put out your feeders early, while the migrants are arriving and natural food is still plentiful so they’ll settle in more readily. Use as much black oil sunflower seed as possible since it’s the universal favorite of birds which commonly visit feeders and gives the most energy for the energy expended to open the seed and eat it and it’s easily recognizable for birds just passing by. In fact, those silly “bird bells” you see in the grocery store, bell-shaped clumps of seeds made to hang outdoors, are highly effective to attract and feed birds. Place them either where you want a feeder to be hung later, or where you see birds gathering, and if you want to feed birds in a particular place, move it slowly to that spot.

Another way to feed without mess and give birds the most for their effort is to get a shell-less fruit and nut mix. These are not inexpensive but attract the greatest number of birds—you’ll see species you may have never seen or known visited your yard. I get a small bag of it, chop the nuts into smaller pieces and put out just a small amount, like one-quarter cup, in feeders where I can watch the birds arrive and eat.

woodpecker and wren at feeder
Ms. Wren had better watch her step

Suet for extra energy and moisture

If they aren’t finding your feeders, or if you don’t want bird seed and empty shells spilling all over your yard just yet, try adding a suet cake to the display. Suet cakes aren’t just for winter feeding—they provide concentrated high-protein, high-energy food that’s easy to eat and easy to digest. Birds not only need this to keep warm in the winter, but also while they travel hundreds of miles each day to reach their winter destination, often without stopping for more than an overnight.

In fact, a recent study of migrating Swainson’s thrushes shows that birds pack in the fat not only to sustain energy while traveling, but also to provide water without stopping to drink. Suet cakes won’t melt in warm weather, so don’t worry about a mess. If you can’t find suet cakes yet, or find they are a little expensive, I have a recipe for homemade ones, though these may soften if temperatures rise above 80 degrees or they are in direct sun for some time.

The most important—water

sparrows in birdbath
Sparrow Bath

But a water source is just as important as the food and even more of an attractant, since flowers and seeds and insects are everywhere, but water sources can be scarce especially in the dry heat of August and September. Keep your birdbath full until the temperatures drop below freezing, or if you have a special watering station you use in winter you can set it out now so they become accustomed to it.

Don’t worry that feeding birds will take away their interest in their natural diet—studies show that birds get only about 10% of their total food intake from seed feeders. Feeding them while migrating helps reduce mortality and keeps them overall healthier. And if insects are their diet, they’ll still happily devour any insect that visits your yard, including those that hatch on a warm day!

For great tips on birdfeeding, attracting birds and identifying birds, visit the Project Feederwatch website under Birds and Bird Feeding.

Plus, they’ll provide lots of entertainment for your cats, which might sound like a luxury but it’s a very important element in an indoor cat’s daily life.

four black cats looking out window
Let us at him!

For more information on bird feeding and Backyard Wildlife Habitats, visit my Backyard Wildlife Habitat page.

For more information on naturally controlling fleas in your yard year round, read Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Fall Cleanup, Bird Feeding and Fleas, and also Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Begin in Sp[ring to Control Fleas.

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Read other topics about managing your backyard wildlife habitat.

Read the four-part series on developing your backyard wildlife habitat.

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!


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