Autumn Birding Essentials

Autumn Blue Jay
Prepare Your Backyard for Autumn Birds
Autumn is a beautiful season to be outdoors, and there are many backyard birding opportunities to take advantage of when temperatures drop and leaves change color – for birders who are ready for them. With just a few easy steps, you can prepare your backyard for fall birds and invite both residents and migrants to visit.
When Is Autumn?
The exact timing of autumn depends on many factors, but the calendar dates for the season are generally accepted as September 22 to December 20 in the Northern Hemisphere and March 1 to May 31 in the Southern Hemisphere. The further from the equator a birder's backyard is located, however, the earlier autumn will set in, and higher elevations also experience the change of seasons more quickly. Watching for clues such as ripening harvests, changing foliage, shortening days and dropping temperatures can signal that autumn has arrived, and with it, fall migration and the opportunity to enjoy many autumn backyard birds.
Fall Preparations for Backyard Birds
Birds seek safe refuges in all seasons, and autumn birds are looking for good food sources, fresh water and secure shelter that can sustain them during an unpredictable season. By meeting birds' basic needs not only with supplemental feeders, baths and houses but also with bird-friendly landscaping, backyard birders can provide an autumn sanctuary many bird species will appreciate.
Bird Feeders
Providing nutritious food in every season is essential for attracting backyard birds, but birds' feeding preferences change seasonally.
To prepare your feeders for fall birds…
- Thoroughly clean bird feeders and inspect them for damage after a busy breeding season. Make repairs as necessary.
- Switch to larger capacity feeders such as the 2-In-1 Triple Tube Feeder or add more feeders to accommodate hungry migrating flocks.
- Offer a wide variety of the best fall foods for birds, including high-fat, high-calorie options such as suet, Nyjer and sunflower seeds.
- Harvest any garden sunflowers to save them for winter before birds have eaten all the seeds, but leave a few flower heads for autumn birds to snack on.
- Take steps to keep hummingbird nectar from freezing, but leave hummingbird feeders up for at least 1-2 weeks after the last hummingbird sighting so stragglers have a ready food source.
- Since autumn tends to be a wetter season, add baffles or rain guards to feeders to help minimize moisture that can cause birdseed to spoil.
- Take steps to squirrel-proof bird feeders to prevent these feeder pests from usurping all seeds and nuts for their winter caches.
Bird Baths
Fresh water is welcome in every season, and offering water to birds will attract species that won't come to bird feeders.
To prepare your bird baths for fall…
- Clean baths frequently and keep them from clogging with fallen leaves, dirt or other debris that can contaminate the water.
- Keep water sounds such as bubblers, bird bath fountains or drippers available as long as possible – the sound will attract more birds.
- To be sure birds are never without water, switch to heated bird baths later in fall when the risk of freezes and frosts increases.
- Take additional steps to winterize bird baths long before winter actually arrives, which will make it easier to maintain the baths so they are always available to birds.
Bird Houses
While fall birds are no longer nesting, properly maintained bird houses can still be useful to birds in autumn.
To prepare your bird houses for autumn…
- Remove bird nests and thoroughly clean bird houses after the last families have fledged.
- Take steps to winterize bird houses, such as adding a layer of wood shavings or switching convertible houses to a winter configuration.
- Add bird roosting boxes or other snug shelters to the backyard for overwintering birds to take advantage of.
The natural food, water and shelter in a well-planned landscape can be the best way to attract birds in autumn, but a little maintenance is necessary to be sure the yard is as useful to birds as possible.
To make your fall landscaping even more bird-friendly…
- Add containers with fall flowers in colors that attract birds.
- Leave the heads of seed-bearing flowers for birds intact and leave some fruits on trees to provide a ready food source for foraging fall visitors.
- Leave some leaf litter available for the food, water and shelter it can provide birds.
- Prune trees and shrubs minimally, leaving excess growth until spring so birds can take advantage of the shelter in the fall and winter.
- Check any brush piles for decay and reinforce them with a new layer of branches or brush if necessary.
- Plant new trees for birds, including evergreens that will be ideal autumn shelter.
- Take steps to prevent window collisions that can threaten both resident and migrating birds.
An autumn-ready yard will not only help meet birds' basic needs, but it will easily attract even more fall migrants, turning an already bountiful season into a very birdy one for every backyard birder.