Feeding Wild Birds Year Round – Is This a Good Idea?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approximately 54 million residents of the United States feed wild birds at backyard feeders. This is important due to the fact that our environment has changed drastically over the last fifty years. Not only do wild birds have to deal with loss of habitat, they must also compete with birds like starlings and house sparrows that are not native to North America.

Feeders provide a supplement to natural food supplies for wild birds. Rarely do they comprise the bulk of their diet. In general, wild birds depend on foods they find away from bird feeders and they find them with incredible efficiency. If all supplemental feeding stopped overnight, there would probably not even be a noticeable decline in bird populations and the joy of introducing children and adults to bird watching is reason enough to attract wild birds to backyard feeders. There are several good reasons to feed wild birds year round.

Early spring is an important season to feed wild birds because most of their preferred natural foods have been consumed during the winter. Backyard food supplies along with fresh water are especially attractive to migrating birds because of the incredible amount of energy needed for their migration. Your supplemental feeding station will provide useful refueling stations for these birds. If other requirements exist in your backyard, the availability of a constant supply of food and water may entice nesting birds to breed on your property. An ample food supply is necessary for birds to attain breeding condition.

Summer is the season of greatest natural food supply for wild birds but it is also the time of their greatest need. With a nest of rapidly growing young, the parent birds must feed themselves and their offspring. During this rapid growth phase of young birds they need high protein diets. This is why most birds feed their young a diet of mostly insects. A suet feeder containing a mixture of one part peanut butter, four parts corn meal, one part flour and one part vegetable shortening will help supply the parent birds and their young the protein they need. Mealworms are also an excellent source of protein during this time.

Summer feeding can also attract fruit eating birds as well as seed and insect eating species. Overripe fruits and bananas are favorites. You can cut fruit open showing the inside and put them on trays or feeding spikes. This is also the season for feeding nectar eating birds. According to the Audubon Society, at least 53 bird species in North America are known to visit sugar water feeders. They consume the same sugar solution as the hummingbirds do.

Even though natural foods such as fruits and insects are abundant in the fall, this is also a season of great food demand. Bird populations are at high levels due to their new crop of fledglings. A protein rich diet of insects is important as most birds replace all of their feathers before migrating. These migratory birds must also put on ample fat to power their long migrations. Sunflower seed and Nyjer seed are both oil-rich seeds that will help birds increase their body fat. Also by feeding birds in early fall you may have a better chance of seeing fall migrants.

Winter is the most difficult season for birds living in the north. The cold weather and short days mean they need more food and have less time to forage for it. At the same time natural food sources are scarce. During this time of year supplemental feeding is most useful to wild bird populations. Both seed and suet should be provided during the winter months along with fresh water.

My strong advice is to keep your bird feeders full all year. You will be helping many wild birds on their migratory flights and supporting the resident birds in your area as well.