One of the hobbies Americans of all ages have discovered is attracting wild birds to their backyards. The pastime has gone well beyond dropping a few bread crumbs on the lawn.
The hobby has become a popular pastime for many. Once considered the domain of the elderly, it has expanded to include all age groups, with the fastest growing segment being children.
Today, an estimated 48 million people are actively enjoying the pastime. In Florida alone, over $3 billion is spent on viewing and enjoying birds, and nature in general.
These statistics are according to figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Bird feeding and watching are year-round activities.
Each season brings its own pleasures, rewards, and new discoveries. As summer begins to wane, so will the activity level around backyards.
The migratory birds that suddenly began to appear in spring will gradually disappear from the area. You will not notice at first, but this will set in as the sounds and activities of your feather friends begin to dissipate.
The transition is more evident in northern areas, but gradually by late fall, a certain tranquility begins to descend on our backyards. As the colors change around us, so too do the visitors we can expect to see around the feeders and birdbaths.
It’s subtle. The migratory species that are dependent on insects, wild fruit, and berries are the first to take heed of the imminent changes in the weather.
Purple martins and various swallow species that earn their keep consuming and controlling our insect population are among the earliest to depart. They also have the longest journey to their ancestral homes in the tropics. This is where the insects and plants are plentiful.
So before the danger of frost and snow that can destroy their northern food sources occurs, they are on their way to Central and South America without even a single adios.
Hummingbirds, who have earned a special place in the hearts of backyard bird watchers, will often linger at our feeders into late September and even deep into October. Some of the hummers we see late in the season are transients that have begun their journey south from Canada.
On their way south, they make R & R stops along the way for replenishment and an energy boost. It is important that hummingbird feeders be kept up and maintained even into November, to help out the stragglers.
Orioles usually precede the hummers, so keep putting out oranges and nectar for them as well.
You may notice in that in early autumn, great flocks of starlings, blackbirds and grackles begin swarming in the sky, like great undulating schools of fish in swooping in exotic flight patterns.
This is the time for final assembly of those species, on their way back to warmer climes. One day you will look up and notice that they are all gone.
At about the same time, our harbingers of spring, the robins, will disappear as well.
Weather patterns have brought some changes, with the movement of species during the seasonal transitions. If you are fortunate enough to have attracted eastern bluebirds to your backyard nesting boxes, you may have noticed that many bluebirds are staying year round.
They use nesting boxes or tree cavities for winter shelter, and you may find an entire extended family of bluebirds with you all winter. They will survive if there are wild berries close by.
You can help them with servings of suet balls made especially for bluebirds, and the meat of sunflower seed (hearts). They can’t eat whole sunflower seeds because the shells are difficult for them to crack with their special type of beaks.
Those that stay will be the first to begin nesting come springtime. With such an early start, they can nest up to three times during the season.
Other neat summer visitors such as flickers tend to migrate, as do red-headed woodpeckers. The downy and hairy woodpeckers stay with us.
On the plus side, northern bird watchers can look forward to a few new winter arrivals when the juncoes, the birds we lovingly call “snowbirds,” begin appearing.
They are larger than chickadees, and usually dark grey. Their bottom half looks like they have been dipped in a bucket of white paint. They appear suddenly, often just before the first snow, after spending the summer in the arctic regions. They visit our northern tier of states in the winter to enjoy the relative warmth and spend the season.
It’s all relative, and in the end when you may be most in need of a hobby or a distraction to get yourself through the long, gray days of winter, you will have plenty of visitors to your backyard feeders .
Who can you expect to see around your winter feeder and backyard? The following are the most common feeder birds, but you can always expect a few unusual visitors along the way.
Common Feeder Birds in Your Back Yard - North America
rose breasted grosbeak
red breasted nuthatch
Just for fun, check off the species as they begin to show up at your feeders. Better yet, get your hands on a good wild bird field guide that you and the entire family can use to get started in earnest with what could become a lifelong passion. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America is a good choice.
When getting ready for the birds of winter, you should set up feeding stations that will best suit the specific feeding needs of the birds in the neighborhood. Some birds, such as doves, prefer to eat close to or on the ground.
Others, like goldfinches, house finches and chickadees, will gravitate to tube type seed or nyjer feeders. Larger birds seem to like hopper style feeders that provide them with adequate space and a steady seed supply.
As important as the feeders themselves are, the seeds and other food options available and just as critical. Thanks to the efforts of the wild bird feeding industry, great strides in educating people on the feeding habits and preferences of birds have evolved.
Hobbyists can feed smarter and attract more interesting birds with the help of the pros. One thing is for certain: buy only top quality bird seed.
Don’t waste your time and money on bargain basement seeds. Once again, talk to the pros and you will be amply rewarded.
Fall is when the specialty bird stores have their best sales on bird seed and feeders . Take advantage of the sale prices and make sure you are equipped to handle the demand at your backyard feeding stations.
Some of the stores offer free storage programs that enable you to buy bird seed at sale prices, and then pick it up fresh as needed. There is no need for you to take up your storage space and risk invasion from pests and insects. Ask about programs like this at leading backyard bird and nature stores.
A question that’s often asked is, why should we feed the birds year round? There are several reasons.
The best is simply this: We feed them during the pleasant days of summer for our close up enjoyment. We feed them in winter to help them survive the elements. It’s one little way mankind can give a helping hand to our wild creatures, with whom we share this earth.
Come next spring, they all return and the cycle begins again.