It used to be that most backyard bird-watchers fed their visitors only in winter. Times have changed, though, and birders are starting to realize how much fun it is to feed birds year-round. To get more birds (and more kinds of birds) at your feeder, just follow these simple seasonal tips.
Feeding Birds in Winter
Not all birds head south in the winter. Lots of your favorites, like cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches and juncos, will stick with you through these cold, dark months and maybe even brighten your days a bit.
Birds flock to feeders in winter, especially during cold spells, heavy snows and ice storms. You’ll want to use large-capacity feeders so you don’t have to trudge through the snow as often to refill. Bring bird feeders up close to the house, since most of your viewing will happen from inside.
Keep those seed feeders filled with a mix of mostly sunflower and some white millet. Fill feeders in late afternoon so food is available just before nightfall and at daybreak, when birds need a boost after the long, cold night. Add an extra suet feeder to give woodpeckers and others another high-calorie dining spot.
Thistle is a winter must. Pine siskins, common winter visitors, love this seed.
Feeding Birds in Spring
Springtime is when birds are most active. A wide variety of colorful songbirds are coming home to nest, while others are just passing through, so pull out all the stops by offering a banquet.
For seed, using a mix of black-oil sunflower, white millet and sunflower chips (sunflower seeds without the shells) will cover most of your spring bases.
Chickadees, nuthatches, house finches and cardinals love sunflower, and so do migrating rose-breasted grosbeaks. The millet that falls to the ground might attract migrating white-throated, white-crowned and chipping sparrows. Sometimes even buntings show up at a feeder this time of year if it has some white millet.
Warblers and robins might eat the sunflower chips. Although these insect eaters can’t crack shells easily, they’ll eat chips. But by the time bugs become plentiful later in the spring, you probably won’t see many warblers, buntings or tanagers at your seed feeders.
Suet is a favorite of woodpeckers all year, but in the spring, tanagers, warblers, bluebirds and kinglets also relish this high-energy treat. Feed live mealworms to bug-loving new arrivals like bluebirds, robins, wrens, warblers and mockingbirds. It’s a nice high-protein snack.
Offering nectar in the spring beckons hummingbirds and even orioles. Here’s a spring must: Display fresh orange halves, meat side up, on a spike or dead tree branch. Orioles and tanagers can’t resist them.
Feeding Birds in Summer
Summer means lots of hungry young bills to feed, with some birds having as many as four or five broods of babies. Even though nature provides plenty of bugs, berries and seeds, it’s fun to watch fledglings flap their wings, squawk and beg their patient parents for food at your feeders.
Young and old birds alike will continue to eat your seed mix if it’s loaded with black-oil sunflower. Chickadees, house finches, sparrows, cardinals, nuthatches and more will bring their babies to your seed feeders for a lesson in finding a free lunch.
Suet eaters like woodpeckers are around all summer and love to bring the family over for a bite. Often, when you see several woodpeckers together at a suet feeder in the summer, you’re seeing parents teaching their big, awkward babies where to find a snack.
Both seed and suet eaters are attracted to seed cylinders if they’re heavy on sunflower and nuts. These large cylinders last a long time and need little maintenance, making them perfect when you’re away on vacation.
Goldfinches are sought after year-round but are only bright yellow in the summer. Feed fresh thistle (nyjer) all summer long to attract these beauties.
Summertime is hummer time, which means sugar water is a must. If you surround your feeder with honeysuckle, salvia or trumpet vine, you should see increased hummingbird action, especially in mid- to late summer as young ones join their parents at the feeder.
Feeding Birds in Autumn
Think of fall as spring migration in reverse, only with more birds, including young ones making their first trip south.
Feed a mix with sunflower, millet and chips to see some of the same migrants you saw last spring. Watch for white-crowned, white-throated and chipping sparrows as they move through.
Warblers and kinglets might join the year-round woodpeckers and nuthatches at your suet feeder. The arrival of the juncos every fall is the highlight of the season for many. Juncos stick around all winter and love to eat millet from the ground.
Orioles may make a pit stop at your jelly or nectar feeder as they head south. Hummingbird activity often peaks in September as local parents and babies join migrants from further north on the road to Mexico or Central America.
Year-round residents like cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays and chickadees are hunkering down for the winter and are looking for regular sources of food and cover to get them through the cold months ahead.
Keep your seed and suet feeders filled so your yard becomes a regular stop on their feeding circuit. Make sure your seed feeder has enough space so larger birds like cardinals and grosbeaks are comfortable. A hopper feeder, tray feeder or tube feeder with a tray all work well.
You might consider adding a ground feeder this time of year, too. Also, freely toss seed mix loaded with millet on the ground in several places around your yard. Lots of juncos, migrating sparrows and towhees can spread out to eat with plenty of elbow room.
Bird Feeding Seasonal Checklist
Chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, jays and woodpeckers all love peanut pieces. Add some to your seed mix, or hang a special peanut feeder to attract extra attention.
High-fat, high-calorie suet is the perfect food to help birds get through longer nights and colder temps. Don’t be afraid to place them right outside your
window for prime viewing (like this hairy woodpecker).
Put out a seed block, making sure it’s heavy on high- fat sunflower and nuts that birds love. Avoid seed balls with mostly millet and milo.
After the holidays, recycle your Christmas tree to give birds a convenient cover. You can also hang up seed ornaments and other treats.
Don’t stop feeding the birds just because it’s warming up. Less natural food is available in early spring than at any other time of the year, since most berries and seeds from plants have been eaten throughout the winter and little growth has begun. It’s also too early for insects, so keep the food coming!
Starlings, grackles and squirrels can dominate feeders, so consider switching to safflower to break their habit since they don’t like it. Also focus on thistle for a while, bringing in beauties like goldfinches (above).
Fresh oranges lure orioles to your backyard and might even tempt tanagers, grosbeaks and house finches. Apple halves attract cardinals, mockingbirds, woodpeckers and others.
Many think of suet as a fall and winter treat, but it’s also a secret weapon for attracting spring migrants like warblers, tanagers and kinglets.
Make nectar for hummingbirds by mixing 4 parts water to 1 part white sugar. In hot weather, sugar water can ferment quickly, so change the nectar in your feeder at least twice a week. Don’t give up if you don’t attract them right away.
Thistle seed (nyjer) is definitely more expensive, but it’s a real treat for finches. Buy it in bulk and store in a cool, dry place.
Frequently replenish birdbath water during hot weather. Maintain a depth of no more than a couple of inches to allow birds to stand while bathing.
Bluebirds and robins love bugs. Try feeding live or roasted mealworms to entice these insect eaters.
Don’t take your sugar-water feeder down until late fall. No, it doesn’t interfere with hummingbird migration, and you just might get some stragglers.
Double the number of seed and suet feeders around your yard as birds are currently flocking, and there are more mouths to feed (like this black-billed magpie).
Switch to hopper-style feeders, which are more practical than tray feeders at times when the moisture from rain and snow can ruin food. Tube feeders work well in inclement weather, too.
Check the condition of your feeders and squirrel baffles to make sure they will make it through winter. Replace the ones you can’t repair.