Spring is a prime birding season as birds arrive in their bright breeding plumage, and while winter birds are always welcome, the return of colorful spring birds signals warmer temperatures, fresh growth and longer days perfect for birding. Backyard birders who feed birds in spring can enjoy these birds right at home and encourage them to stay nearby throughout the season.
Backyard Birds in Spring
While woodpeckers, chickadees, starlings and other common backyard birds stay nearby all year round, some of the most highly anticipated spring birds are migratory and backyard birders eagerly anticipate their return as the season begins to change. As winter fades, watch for these types of birds to return to bird feeders:
- Orioles: These brightly colored songbirds add a splash of orange to the backyard. Baltimore orioles and orchard orioles are the most common in the east, while Bullock's orioles are the most common western species.
- Grosbeaks and Buntings: The northern cardinal may be a year-round resident, but the return of rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, lazuli buntings and painted buntings signal the beginning of spring.
- Tanagers: These bright passerines are absent in winter but return in late spring to the delight of backyard birders. The three most common species are the summer tanager, scarlet tanager and western tanager.
- Warblers: Always iconic spring birds, warblers are less common in backyards but may still be spotted foraging in fresh foliage. The yellow-rumped warbler is one of the earliest returning spring migrants and is a sure sign that warmer temperatures and longer days are on the way.
- Swifts and Swallows: These aerial acrobats are beautiful to watch over open fields and waterways. In spring, the return of purple martins, tree swallows and barn swallows to backyard nesting areas always makes birders smile.
- Hummingbirds: These flying jewels are some of the most highly anticipated returning migrants, and many birders eagerly await spring hummingbird migration. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common eastern hummer, while the black-chinned hummingbird, broad-tailed hummingbird and rufous hummingbirds are the most common west of the Mississippi River.
While not all of these spring backyard birds will appear at every feeder, knowing which birds to expect can help backyard birders offer the best foods to attract them.
Why Feed Spring Birds?
While flowers are starting to bloom and fruits are starting to grow in spring, it can still be a slim season for early migrants. After a long winter, many prime food sources will be depleted, and backyard feeders provide easy foods for birds to take advantage of at a time when they need to replenish after an arduous migration. Spring is a busy season for birds as they claim territory, seek out mates, build nests and begin to raise their young, and offering foods for spring birds can not only invite them to your backyard, but can also help them survive late season storms and other hazards.
Best Spring Bird Foods
In any season, providing a variety of different foods for backyard birds is the key to attracting a wide range of species to feeders. Different foods will also provide more well-rounded nutrition to support brooding birds and parent birds feeding young chicks. The most popular foods to offer spring birds include:
- Birdseed: All types of seed are welcome to spring birds, but black oil sunflower seed and hulled sunflower seed are the most universally nutritious and attractive choices in any season. As feeder species change during spring migration, the exact seeds preferred may vary, with less Nyjer necessary as winter finches retreat to the north and more millet consumed as doves and buntings return.
- Mealworms: Live mealworms can be offered in feeders such as the Eco Fly-Thru Mealworm Feeder or in similar dishes, and they are an ideal option for warblers, thrushes and flycatchers, as well as many early nesting birds that will appreciate the protein source to feed nestlings. Dried mealworms can also be mixed in to birdseed or offered in dishes for all types of birds.
- Fruit: Bright-colored birds such as orioles and tanagers always enjoy the bright-colored treat of fresh fruit, especially when fruit trees have not yet produced a crop in early spring. Orange halves, apple chunks, raisins and other fruits offered in platform or specialty feeders will be appreciated by many spring birds.
- Nectar: Nectar is ideal for spring hummingbirds, especially if there are no nearby spring-blooming flowers that provide a natural nectar source. Hummingbirds have excellent geographic memories and will return each year to reliable food sources, so it is vital to put out hummingbird feeders early in spring for returning migrants.
- Suet: Early spring is still cool enough to offer any suet variety, and this high-fat food provides abundant calories and rich nutrition for many birds. As the season warms, however, it may be necessary to switch to no-melt suet varieties or else discontinue feeding suet so it does not go rancid and become less attractive to backyard birds.
- Calcium: Calcium is just as important for wild birds as it is for humans, and is especially critical during the nesting season for birds to lay strong eggs. Young birds also require calcium to develop strong, healthy bones. Some premium birdseed or suet blends will include a source of calcium such as bits of mollusk shells, and adding pieces of chicken eggshells to a backyard buffet is another way to provide birds with calcium.
The greater the variety of foods you offer for spring birds, the greater variety of species that will stop to sample the buffet. As the birds discover a rich and reliable food source, they are more likely to remain nearby throughout the spring and summer, providing months of enjoyable backyard birding.
More Tips for Feeding Spring Birds
Have you added a wide range of foods to your feeders but aren't yet seeing spring birds enjoying a meal? These tips can help:
- Spring clean your bird feeders and check that they're repaired if necessary.
- Avoid insecticides as much as possible so birds can enjoy insects in their diet.
- Add extra feeders around the yard to accommodate a greater number of birds.
- Plant early-blooming flowers to attract hummingbirds with a good nectar source.
- Provide fresh water to attract birds that may not be interested in feeders.
- Offer nesting material to tempt spring birds to raise their families nearby.
- Use colors and sounds that will attract birds even before natural foods are abundant.
Not seeing spring birds yet at your bird feeders? Learn where to find spring birds and enjoy their return to popular birding hotspots while you wait for them to discover your backyard buffet!
Photo – Rose-Breasted Grosbeak © thefixer