Should You Feed Wild Birds in the Fall?

Greater roadrunner foraging in autumn leaves

SD Reynolds / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Fall is a great time to feed the birds. The right autumn feeding tips can help birders attract a wide variety of both resident species and migrating birds to their backyard buffet. However, several myths surround fall feeding, and many beginning backyard birders mistakenly assume that feeding birds in the fall will hurt their feathered friends.

Top Bird-Feeding Myths

The biggest misconception is the idea that if the birds have a steady source of food available in autumn, they won't migrate, and then, when those feeders are empty, they will starve.

A reliable food source is only a minor factor that affects how birds migrate. Daylight levels, climate, and instinct also play important roles in seasonal migration. Feeding birds in autumn does not prevent migration—it can help it. Migrating birds require a significant number of calories for the energy necessary to fly hundreds or thousands of miles.

It is also a myth that there simply aren't birds around to feed in the fall. While many birds rely less on feeders in autumn because of the natural abundance of wild berries, fruits, grains, and seeds, bird feeders will still see plenty of activity. Backyard flocks will change as some resident birds leave for migration and more northern migrants arrive, but they will all welcome the opportunity to find an easy snack at bird feeders.

Reasons to Feed

Autumn is a dynamic, ever-changing season, and it can be a very rewarding time to feed birds. Besides helping migrating birds gather resources at the feeder, birders should always keep their feeders stocked in the fall for additional reasons:

  • To help resident birds build fat reserves to survive falling temperatures
  • To help passing migrating birds replenish their energy
  • To give birds a reliable source of food once natural food sources begin to deplete in colder weather

Plus, a stocked bird feeder can attract the first winter bird species and encourage them to remain nearby all season. This helps birds remember the location of reliable food sources so they will return to the same place in the spring. By feeding birds in autumn, you'll be able to increase the size and diversity of your backyard visitors.

Best Autumn Bird Foods

To give migrating birds the best nutrition and abundant energy for their long journeys, backyard birders should provide foods with high oil content and many calories. At the same time, offering a variety of different foods ensures that all passing migrants can find a tasty treat at the feeders. The best fall bird foods include:

Birders should watch their fall flocks carefully and adjust food supplies as necessary to meet their birds' needs. Migrating hummingbirds may mob nectar feeders in early fall, for example, but later in the season, nectar will only be a minor part of their backyard buffet.

Maintaining the Feeders

There is more to feeding fall birds than just providing the right foods. By keeping the backyard safe and meeting birds' other needs, a fall flock will be healthy, active, and diverse. Periodically check feeders for damage, particularly after heavy summer use, and repair them so they are safe for autumn birds. Keep feeders clean and filled, even in poor autumn weather, to prevent the spread of diseases among migratory flocks.

However, maintaining the feeders isn't the only thing you can do to help keep the birds healthy. Here are other steps you can take:

  • Choose fall plants for your yard that offer evergreen cover. Select ones that have lasting berries, nuts, or fruits for fall and winter food.
  • Keep birdbaths filled with fresh, clean water. Add a heater to the bath or a de-icing basin in the late fall to guard against early freezes.
  • Allow leaf litter to build up under trees. This can attract birds needing shelter, insects, fallen seeds, and other foods.
  • Squirrel-proof bird feeders. Use different tactics to prevent autumn foraging squirrels from depleting birds' food supplies.

Feeding autumn birds can be a rewarding way to enjoy the changing season just as a backyard flock is changing. By following these autumn bird feeding tips, you'll ensure that you'll attract a wide range of bird species that will happily feed throughout the season.