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Fall Bird-Feeding Tips

Red River Basin Commission

Fall is a dynamic season of change and adaptation for birds, providing you the opportunity to attract migratory birds in addition to the permanent residents that visit your bird feeders year round.

Food habits change as seasonal food supplies change. The high-protein insect diet characteristic of many birds in summer changes in the fall to fruits like mountain ash. The best way to feed birds is to adjust the foods and the feeders with each changing season.

Fall is also an excellent time to trim shrubs and trees. Use the trimmings to create a temporary brush pile that will provide perches and hiding places for migrating songbirds between visits to your bird bath and feeders. The size of the brush pile should be three to four feet high and four to eight feet in diameter, and it should be located about 10 feet from your feeders. Any closer and it may provide a hiding place for cats to ambush the birds.

Create your brush pile when you see the first fall migrants arriving at your feeders, then dispose of it in late November to early December when migration is complete.

One of the best ways to enhance a backyard is to provide a water source in the vicinity of the feeders. A quiet pool or bird bath is acceptable, but any type of moving, splashing or misting water in very shallow pools will generate considerable attention from birds.

The presence of juncos in fall requires a greater amount of millet mix or cracked corn than is appropriate for summer or winter use when house sparrows and grackles primarily benefit from these foods. About 30 per cent of the bird food in the fall should be white proso millet or millet mixes scattered on the ground-feeding sites. Red proso millet and milo (grain sorghum) are used much less than white proso millet, and are generally unnecessary as an ingredient of fall birdseed mixes.

Peanuts, peanut butter, commercial suet cakes and suet from the meat market are all beneficial fall foods that are high-energy sources that benefit birds as they go into the winter season. They are popular with chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays.

Peanuts can be fed in quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth feeders. Suet can be suspended in wire mesh cages or mesh string bags. Peanut butter and suet mixes can be smeared onto tree bark or pressed into holes drilled in small tree branch sections that can be hung as bird feeders. Although most birds will readily use suspended suet, pileated woodpeckers seem to prefer suet firmly attached on top of a solid feeder platform.

The Red River Basin Commission is a grassroots organization that is a chartered not-for-profit corporation under the provisions of Manitoba, North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota law. Our office in Winnipeg can be reached at 204-982-7254, or check out www.redriverbasincommission.org.

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