Sunday, June 6, 2021

3 Reasons fall is best time to start bird feeding

Most people feed birds in winter when natural foods are in short supply. Feeders more quickly attract birds then.

But waiting to set up your bird feeders until winter arrives may actually be too late!

So, when is the best time to set up your bird feeder and start feeding birds?

Put out bird feeders and start to feed birds in the fall to bring the most birds to your feeders, during migration and all through the winter! September and October are good months to set up your bird feeder.

Photo of a bird feeder all set up and ready

You may certainly feed birds all year-round. And, if so, then it doesn't matter when you start. Today is a great day to set up your bird feeders and start feeding birds! 

However, there are three main reasons that fall may be the best time to set up your bird feeders.

  • Reason 1: Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help local breeding birds
  • Reason 2: Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help migrant birds
  • Reason 3: Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help wintering birds

Photo of Black-capped Chickadee at bird bath
Black-capped Chickadee is a resident breeder in the North. Greg Gillson.

Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help local breeding birds

Summer and early fall generally have ample natural food to keep local breeding birds well fed. There are insects, fruit, and seeds.

However, as autumn continues on, natural foods start to dwindle. You will note many young birds visit your feeders in fall.  The extra supply of food provided by your bird feeders may help more young birds survive these critical early weeks and months.

Pay attention and you can spot these birds-of-the-year. Younger birds tend to be less colorful and more streaked than adults. But this juvenile plumage doesn't last long. Within a few weeks the young and adults of many species at your feeder may be hard to tell apart. 

You may notice that some resident birds, such as nuthatches, chickadees, and jays, are grabbing food in autumn and flying off with it. They are caching the food--storing it and hiding it elsewhere. You will go through a lot of bird seed at this time. But these birds will eat this cache of food later in winter, when natural foods are running low.

Photo of Black-headed Grosbeak at bird feeder
Black-headed Grosbeaks are migrants through much of the West. Greg Gillson.

Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help migrant birds

Your local resident birds will help migrant birds to find your bird feeder.

Migrant seed eating birds survived summer in boreal forests or other areas north of you. They fly all night. At dawn they seek a safe place to feed and rest.

While flying over your neighborhood in early morning, they may see or hear noisy resident birds at your feeder. Then they'll drop in and spend a day or three before continuing on their migration.

Your feeders are very important refueling stops for these migrant birds. Set up your feeders in early fall to have more of these birds visit.

Depending upon the weather and wind, you may notice waves of migrant birds have arrived at your feeder overnight. Some days there may be few, other days many. They'll remain until the winds are favorable to continue flying south.

Fall migration can actually start as early as July, but September and October are the peak, with migrants showing up at your feeder through November. 

Keep track of which migrants are early migrants and which are later migrants--each species is different. And you may notice that adults and first-year birds may not migrate at the same time (usually adults migrate first).

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow on fence post
White-crowned Sparrows are winter visitors in much of the US. Greg Gillson.

Start feeding birds in fall to attract and help wintering birds

By early December the autumn migration is over. Migrant birds have arrived on their wintering grounds.

Birds that winter in your area will settle in where there is ample food, water, and protective cover. They will spend the entire winter and early spring in this small area.

If you already have your feeders set up in earlier fall to attract them, then birds will likely chose your immediate neighborhood in which to spend the winter.

However, if you wait until winter to set up your feeders, you will only attract those birds that already are in your neighborhood.

The earlier you set up your bird feeders in fall, the more numbers and different kinds of birds will remains through the winter.

Set up your bird feeder and start feeding birds in fall. When the cold days of winter arrive you'll already have a lively bird feeder filled with a wide variety of birds for you to enjoy!

Related articles you may enjoy:

Quickly attract birds to your feeder

Types of bird feeders

Secrets to feeding birds in winter

What birds come to feeders in winter?

What birds come to feeders in summer?

When to stop feeding birds in summer

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