Attracting Birds to Your Yard During Fall Migration

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Have you noticed the days are getting shorter? The birds have, too, and our migratory species are gearing up for their journeys south for the winter. Some birds will be leaving us very soon, like Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers, and some stick around until fall, like Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Bluebirds. There are lots of species who will be passing through our yards during migration, here's how we can turn our yards into bird-friendly habitats to help them on their trip.

Gray Catbird feeding on oranges and BirdBerry Jelly

Offer a varied selection of foods
Migration periods are the best times to offer a wide variety of foods in your yard. Seed and suet are great, but think bigger for this season if you want to really wow the birds flying through. In addition to the basics, try sunflower chips, BirdBerry Jelly, Bark Butter spread on trees, Bark Butter Bits, live mealworms, and even fruit like blueberries or blackberries. Many birds who don't typically visit feeders like Pine Warblers and other warbler species, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, and Scarlet Tanagers will stop for fuel if the right food is presented.
  • BirdBerry Jelly & fruit will attract: Gray Catbirds, Tanagers, Orioles, Robins
  • Sunflower chips will attract: Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Titmice
  • Bark Butter will attract: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown Thrashers
  • Live mealworms will attract: Eastern Bluebirds, Orioles, Gray Catbirds, Grosbeaks

    * Find foods mentioned above here

Plant native fruit-bearing shrubs
Growing native plants in your yard is key when it comes to attracting wildlife and creating a truly bird-friendly habitat. We are fortunate in Ontario to have a plethora of native flora available to us to not only make our yards pleasing to the eye, but to create habitat for our wildlife species to thrive in. Why choose native over non-native - plant's a plant, right? Not quite. Native plants help to stabilize soil, and typically require less water and management in comparison to non-native plants. Native plants know the land. They know our wildlife, and our wildlife knows them. They co-exist with our natural species, rather than compete with them. Studies have shown that our native bird species will actively seek out native fruit-bearing species to feed on before non-natives. In the fall, fruit is an important source of nutrition for many of our migratory species as insect populations dwindle. Some tree and shrub species to include in your yard to attract a wide variety of fruit-eating birds (orioles, waxwings, thrashers, catbirds, bluebirds, warblers, and more) include:

  • Staghorn Sumac, Red Osier Dogwood, Canadian Serviceberry, Chokecherry, Mountain Ash, Nannyberry, Winterberry, Elderberry. Click here to learn more about plants in your area, and for tips on choosing the right species for your yard. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Provide clean water
Providing a consistent source of drinking and bathing water is one of the most important elements you can incorporate in to your regular backyard birding regime. Water is a requirement for all birds year-round, and is a great way to invite all species into your yard. During fall migration, you may have some interesting warbler species show up in your yard just to get a sip of water before they take off again, allowing for a glimpse at these beautiful little birds. Keep in mind that bird baths should be cleaned and disinfected with a 10% bleach solution on a regular basis to reduce the risk of bacteria and mold growth, even during cooler weather. 

Leave your leaves and seed heads
I know this is repeated year after year, but it really does make a difference for our wildlife! Lots of migratory species like sparrows, spend most of their time foraging through the fallen leaves for insects and seeds hidden amongst them. When we rake up our leaves and throw them in the trash, we inevitably take all that food along with them. If you must rake the leaves, try to pile them into garden beds (they make great mulch!) or in a pile somewhere around your yard for the birds to access to forage in. In addition to leaving the leaves, leave dead seed heads on any flowers that have seeds left in during the end of the summer and throughout fall and winter. Flowers like Black-eyed Susans or Purple Cone Flowers produce an abundance of seeds that many birds love to feed on during migration.

Red-headed Woodpecker feeding on Bark Butter

This time of year is almost as exciting as spring migration with so many birds leaving us, while others are returning. It's also a great time to see some rarities who are passing through from further north or maybe got lost on their route - keep your eyes peeled, you never know what you'll see at your feeders!

Happy trails!
- Shayna 

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