For the Birds Radio Program: Feeding in mid-autumn

Original Air Date: Sept. 29, 1986

This is an excellent time to get your feeders up and running.

Duration: 3′31″


Bird Feeders

(Recording of a Sharp-shinned Hawk)

Now that fall migration is well underway, it’s a good time to get a bird feeder going. You’ll attract migrating birds like white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, and residents like chickadees, grosbeaks, and finches. Right now most of the birds that will be wintering in the Northland are checking out feeding places for the long winter ahead. If you want your feeder to be on the regular feeding circuit of a lot of birds, you’ll have to make sure it’s full during this restless fall period.

Feeders are available at a lot of Duluth hardware and gardening stores. If you want only one, it’s best to get one for sunflower seed. Just about every species of bird that regularly visits Duluth feeders comes to sunflower–Mourning Doves, chickadees, nuthatches, grosbeaks, finches, sparrows–even Downy Woodpeckers. Many authorities recommend the black oil-type variety, which is supposed to be more nutritious for birds, but some people swear by the normal striped sunflower seed. If you don’t have a preference, just get whichever is cheapest.

A single feeder can attract several birds, but two or three feeders bring in a lot more. And the more birds you have, the more interesting the variety, and the greater the chance that you’ll attract rarities. This is an advantage for the people in your house who watch birds, but a disadvantage for the one who has to rake up the shells.

Suet is another good food to offer. Butchers used to give it away, but now that they’ve figured out that people will pay for it, they usually charge. If you don’t have a suet feeder, you can use a mesh onion bag hung from a tree. Or you can attach some hardware cloth to a board, stuff it with suet, and tie it to a tree trunk or fence post. Suet attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. Sometimes a late warbler or kinglet will visit a suet feeder. Unfortunately, suet is also a favorite of the European Starling.

Cracked corn is loved by Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, grackles, and squirrels. Peanut butter is a favorite of jays and chickadees. Robins and late orioles and catbirds like sugar water, in bowls and sometimes in hummingbird feeders. There haven’t been any hummingbirds reported in Duluth in a couple of weeks, but I’ll be keeping my feeder going a little while longer. Two Rufous Hummingbirds–a western species–were seen at feeders further south in Minnesota in the past few weeks, and you never know… Hope springs eternal in this birder’s heart.

In September and October, bird feeders frequently attract hawks, who interpret the expression “bird feeder” a little differently than most people. Sharp-shinned Hawks are small accipiters–bird hawks–that eat birds from warbler to blue-jay and flicker size. It’s a hard way to make a living–for all the millenia that hawks have been evolving their skill at hunting, songbirds have been evolving their skill at evading hawks. In the many years that I’ve been watching birds, I’ve seen hundreds of sharp-shin attacks on other birds, and yet only once have I actually seen one succeed in snatching up a meal. Hawks would probably be happy to pick up their meat already killed, the way we do–but until McDonalds and Super Valu invite hawks in, they’ll have to go on getting their food the only way they know.

(Recording of a Sharp-shinned Hawk)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”