Autumn is a great time to get started feeding birds, and not only will your resident backyard birds appreciate a delicious buffet, but migrating birds will also stop by for a snack and juvenile birds from the summer's broods still have hearty appetites. Backyard birders who know the best foods for autumn birds will help migrants fuel up for their long journeys, keep young birds growing strong and give every bird a healthy diet. But what foods are best to offer autumn birds? While exact feeding needs will change throughout the season and will depend on which birds are visiting your feeders, the following foods are good bets for fall bird feeding.
Sunflower seeds, whether black oil, striped or hulled, are the single best food to offer birds in any season. They are high in nutritious oil and easy for many songbirds to eat, and can be offered in platform, tray, hopper or tube feeders. If you've grown sunflowers, birds will eat directly from the ripe flower heads.
TIP: Learn how to harvest and save sunflower seeds from your garden for nutritious seeds you can offer birds all through the autumn and winter.
When hummingbirds begin migrating, flowers may be abundant, but as the season progresses those flowers fade and nectar is scarce. Providing fresh nectar can attract hummingbirds even late in fall, and the hummingbird nectar recipe can be adjusted to a slightly sweeter solution for even more energy. Keep feeders up 1-2 weeks after the last bird visits so late migrants can find them as well.
TIP: If you get late season hummingbirds, take steps to keep your nectar from freezing so they always have something to drink.
Suet and fat balls are a high energy food ideal for fall birds. There are many types of suet to choose from, including cakes, balls and plugs that come in many blends and flavors. Offer suet in cages or soften it to smear on trees for woodpeckers, nuthatches and creepers. Suet can also be chopped or shredded for platform feeders or dishes.
TIP: Make your own suet with a simple bird suet recipe and customize it to be exactly what your backyard birds like best.
Nyjer seed is the favorite food of many winter finches, and those finches will begin to appear at feeders in autumn. Goldfinches, siskins and redpolls are all especially fond of this high-oil seed, and will happily cling to sock or mesh feeders to eat. Use a tray or fine mesh net beneath the feeder to catch spilled hulls and make cleanup easy.
TIP: Learn how to offer Nyjer to your backyard birds and be sure to keep a good supply on hand for winter irruptions of hungry finches.
White proso millet is a starchy grain that is preferred by dark-eyed juncos, sparrows, quail and grouse. Because many of these birds are ground feeders, offer millet in open tray or platform feeders, or sprinkle it among fallen leaves for birds that forage in the leaf litter. Millet can also be a great component of a customized seed mix.
TIP: For a fun seasonal feeder, add millet to a pumpkin bird feeder and enjoy the harvest theme.
Bird seed mixes are great to offer birds in any season, and in autumn, a mix high in sunflower seeds adds a good amount of nutritious oil to give birds extra energy. Avoid mixes with a lot of fillers such as milo, however, because birds may not eat those seeds as readily before moving on. Offer mixed seeds in any feeder, including platforms, trays, hoppers and tubes.
TIP: Mixed seed can be offered in any feeder, but clean bird feeders regularly to help keep autumn birds healthy.
Peanuts are a great autumn food for birds, and many jays will cache nuts for a winter food supply. Offer peanuts in nut or tray feeders, and they can be either whole or shelled. Peanut butter is another great option that many smaller birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches, will enjoy. Avoid feeding birds salted or flavored nuts, however.
TIP: Offer your birds natural nuts by planting trees for birds such as oak trees for acorns or pine trees for pine nuts.
Natural foods left in your yard after the summer ends are great for migrating birds that may recognize them better than unknown feeders. Seed-bearing flowers and windfall fruits from your fruit trees can attract a wide variety of hungry birds in autumn, as can seeds from ornamental grasses and old berries still clinging to your bushes.
TIP: Leave your leaf litter intact in your yard for birds to forage for seeds, insects and nuts – and it's a great excuse to avoid raking!