By: Brent, Co-Owner, Brent & Becky's Bulbs
Here on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, we are in a prime location when it comes to birds. We happen to be right along the Atlantic Flyway, which, every year, thousands of birds use to migrate south for the winter. As they come down, they concentrate right here on the bay, filling our communities with hundreds of species of birds of all shapes and sizes. In fact, over 400 different species have been catalogued in our region alone!
Birds in Fall
Fall - or as I like to call it, bulb planting time - is an interesting time of the year for birds. It’s peak migration season, meaning it’s the ideal time to catch a glimpse of all our favorite flying wonders. You can see them all right outside your window this time of year as they settle down for a rest before they continue their travels.
In my time, I’ve seen hundreds of birds decorating my backyard at this time of year. Frequent flyers are familiar faces such as eagles, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and blue jays, who have been visiting my yard for as long as I can remember. Of course, there’s also the classic crows and kestrels, too, that line up along my power lines waiting for the food to arrive.
While I’ve come to know and love many of the repeat visitors, I’m still amazed every year by new appearances popping up on my patio. Just last week I saw a new bird that I have yet to see in my seventy-odd years! Tucked in amongst the ground-feeding juncos, sparrows, and cardinals was a white-headed bird I couldn’t place. At first, I thought it might have been an albino bird of some sort, but no! It was a snow bunting! The first I’ve ever seen, which tells you there’s always something wonderful and new happening in the world of birds here.
Feeding the Birds
While the birds may be around at this time of year, not all of them are looking to swoop into every yard. They’re looking for a safe haven - and safety usually goes hand in hand with a full belly. You can convince them to spend some time in your yard with the right food and feeders.
In your feeders, you’ll want to use a variety of seeds to make sure you have a little something for every poking beak. I’ve found the biggest hits in any mixed variety are black oil sunflower seeds, suet, and safflower seed. These bites are particular favorites of chickadees, titmice, and finches for their high calories and fatty oil content, which keeps them warm when the weather cools.
For ground feeding, I’ve tried many mixes and varieties, but have narrowed my search down almost exclusively to proso millet. You can try other mixes, too, like milo, if you’d prefer, but I’ve found they just don’t get used as much by the birds at all. If you like crows, though, throwing in a couple of pecans never hurts! When my pecan trees are ready, I just can’t keep them away!
Of course, you’ll also want to keep some water out for them, as well. Birds need to drink as much as any other animal and will appreciate somewhere to quench their thirst after a big meal. To prevent bugs from settling in the water, though, keep water dripping on your pool.
As I mentioned earlier, birds are looking for a safe haven - which also includes shelter to keep them protected both from the elements and from danger.
The best shelter you can give them are birdhouses - which are great for both decorating your winter landscape and keeping little hands busy during the holidays. Every year, I bring our 6 grandkids out to the workshop at Thanksgiving to make their own! Place your houses where they’ll be in the sun, but sheltered from the wind for protection.
While they’ll love their constructed homes, birds also need natural shelter to make them feel safe, as well. When danger strikes, their first instinct will be to flee, usually into bushes and trees where it is harder to chase them. Make sure you place your houses and feeders near plenty of shrubs for them to dart into should they feel threatened.
Squirrels are the bane of every birder’s existence. They love the tasty treats we feed the birds as much as the winged ones, themselves, but the two don’t always play well together. This often results in a bird feeder quickly turning to a squirrel feeder as the birds flee in fear. Keep them out of your feeders by placing it just out of reach of the height they can jump. You can also try adding a baffle to your post or giving them a treat of their own - they particularly love whole corn, which you can throw on the ground to distract them.
Windows can also pose quite a threat for fleeing birds, as they mistake the clear window for an escape route and thud into it at full speed. To help them better recognize the window as a surface, you can buy adhesive silhouettes that appear clear to us, but fall on the part of the spectrum the birds can see. Another favorite trick of mine, though, is to hang beautiful stained glass pieces, which is a treat to our eyes but also a color break the birds can see!
Birding to me is so incredible and a great part of my life. I enjoy it everywhere I go - from coast to coast - but my favorite place is always my own backyard. I encourage you to do the same in your backyard to not only keep the birds happy and healthy as they visit here, but also to take part in the wonderful world of our winged companions!
- Brent, Co-Owner, Brent & Becky's Bulbs
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