Inexperienced backyard birders may thing autumn is a bad time to attract birds, but in fact attracting autumn birds can be a fantastic opportunity to see both migrant species and arriving winter residents. By attracting these birds, birders can not only enjoy a backyard fall flock, but can also see passing migrants they might not see at other times.
How to Attract Birds in Autumn
Attracting fall birds is as easy as meeting their three primary needs during this changing season: food, water and shelter.
It is a popular bird feeding myth that leaving bird feeders up during fall migration will stop birds from migrating, condemning them to a cold death as winter sets in. In reality, feeders give migrating birds an easy and convenient spot to refuel on their long journey, and offering foods high in fat and oil will help tired birds replenish their energy reserves in a nutritious way. Suet, black oil sunflower seed and Nyjer are some of the most popular fall bird foods, and leaving leaf litter on the ground will give birds the opportunity to forage for nuts and insects as well. Trees and shrubs with berries or fruits are another vital source of fall food that will attract autumn birds.
Migration can be thirsty work, particularly as many small streams and other natural water sources may dry up and become in accessible during the last hot days of summer. Providing fresh, clean water in a bird bath will attract autumn birds, and adding a bubbler or dripper will keep the water moving and make enough noise to attract birds from a wide range. Add a simple heater or switch to a heated bird bath in late fall as overnight freezes become more common, and keep the bird bath free of fallen leaves and other debris so it will attract the greatest number of birds.
Birds need a place safe to rest, whether they're just passing through on migration or they're establishing winter territories. Leave up bird houses or put up bird roost boxes in early fall to provide safe, comfortable shelter, and use fall prunings to build a brush pile that augments natural cover. Planting evergreen shrubs and trees will also help provide shelter for birds in every season, and these trees are particularly attractive in autumn as deciduous trees are losing their leaves.
The fourth necessity for attracting birds, nesting areas, is not essential to provide in fall as most bird species have finished breeding for the year. In southern climates with temperate conditions year round, however, some birds may raise additional broods and backyard birders can still attract nesting birds by providing nesting material in addition to fulfilling the birds' needs for food, water and shelter.
Keeping Autumn Birds Safe
Autumn birds face a lot of risks as they migrate long distances, and exhausted birds are more susceptible to predators, illness and injury. Likewise, inexperienced juvenile birds that have not migrated before may not be as aware of the hazards on their journey. Backyard birders can work to keep autumn birds safe by…
- Taking steps to protect backyard birds from cats, either pets or feral cats
- Keeping feeders and baths clean to minimize illness among large migrating flocks
- Being prepared for early winter storms that can disorient and harm birds
- Using multiple techniques to prevent window collisions, including encouraging a "Lights Out" campaign for tall buildings and office parks during peak fall migration
Quick Tips to Attract Autumn Birds
While providing for birds' basic needs is the best way to attract them to your backyard, there are simple steps that can bring and even larger, more varied fall flock to your door.
- Offer a wide variety of foods to attract migrating birds with different tastes
- Plan bird-friendly landscaping with flowers and foliage that last well into autumn
- Add artificial color to your yard with a gazing ball or yard sculptures to attract birds' attention
By taking steps to meet birds' basic needs in autumn, backyard birders can not only enjoy attracting fall birds, but can be satisfied by knowing they've helped those birds survive their annual migration so they are sure to return in spring.
Photo – Warbler in Autumn © Superior National Forest