Posts Tagged ‘get ready for fall’

Male Dark-eyed Junco | Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male Dark-eyed Junco | Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

It’s “the lull” – that period of time when the activity around many Northwest feeders noticeably quiets down. A handful of the usuals are still around, like finches, chickadees, Steller’s Jays, but they’re a skeleton crew for the most part — keeping things running until everyone else comes back.

(Happily, I have a family of House Finches — parents and babies — who’ve been noisily emptying my feeder lately. If it weren’t for them, I might be taking this lull personally!)

“Everyone else” will be back shortly, counting on us to provide seed and suet through the winter. We’ll begin seeing more Dark-eyed Juncos joining the Spotted Towhees foraging below the feeders. A new batch of drab little birds — the molted American and Lesser Goldfinches, who really aren’t new but look to be — will hit seed feeders and thistle socks again, possibly with their Pine Siskin buddies in tow.

And the migratory birds we saw this spring before they headed further north will put in appearances on their way to warmer locales, giving us a brief chance to see some of our spring favorites.

If you feed hummingbirds, it may be quieter for you because the Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds have already gone South. (Calliope and Black-chinned hummers typically breed east of the Cascade Mountains. Rufous Hummingbirds, while more common in the Puget Sound area, are seen on both sides.) Don’t take down your feeders, however — if you live west of the Cascades, Anna’s Hummingbirds are more than happy to enjoy that nectar year-round.

Here are some things you can do to keep your backyard birds (and yourself) happy throughout the upcoming fall and winter.

1. Clean your seed feeders. Actually, this is a good thing to do after each rain storm, when mold can grow quickly inside birdfeeders. Feeding birds from dirty feeders can promote sickness among our avian friends. If you notice a lot of mold growth in your feeder and cleaning it doesn’t help, consider replacing it. I like to replace my seed feeder a couple of times a year, anyway, and tube seed feeders can be pretty inexpensive. I’ve noticed the birds at my feeders prefer these to the fancier feeders; more of them are able to fit on it at once and have an easier time getting to the seeds than other feeders I’ve tried. Platform feeders also work well, but are best when used in combination with a weather dome. Considering our climate, it’s a good idea to use weather domes, anyway, to help inhibit mold growth and curb the spread of disease.

To learn more about the diseases birds can catch and what you can do to help stop these illnesses from spreading, read this fact sheet from the USGS: Coping with Diseases at Bird Feeders.

2. Clean your nectar feeders. Anna’s Hummingbirds are permanent residents here in the Pacific Northwest and rely on us to keep their nectar feeders filled regardless of the season or temperature. At least once a week, even in winter, take the feeder apart and thoroughly clean it using a special brush or toothbrush kept just for the task. I found some skinny toothbrushes at the dollar store that work very well for cleaning the inside of the bottle, and will also use cotton swabs to clean the ports. You’ll want to use bleach if the feeder has a film of mildew on the inside, but if you clean your hummer feeder often, Dawn dish soap and very hot water works just fine with only a periodic cleaning with bleach. Whatever you use to clean your nectar feeder, rinsing the feeder very well is a must.

By the way, please do not use commercial nectar for hummingbirds, whether it contains dye or is “dye-free.” You can make your own using one part granulated sugar to four parts boiled water. Cool, pour into your feeder, and keep the rest in the fridge. My hummers will drink nothing else.

3. Pull some weeds, do a little pruning. If your feeders are away from your deck or patio, take the time to make sure the grass around the feeding station is mowed, weeds are pulled, and bushes are trimmed back. This will allow for ground-feeding birds like Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, finches, sparrows, and jays to reach the seed that’s fallen to the ground. Pruning shrubbery away from the feeding area will give neighborhood cats less room to hide for stalking and hunting these birds.


4. Empty out any birdhouses. Now that nesting season is over and done with for another year, it’s time to empty out and clean any birdhouses (also known as nest boxes) you may have. Do the birds a favor, however, and put them right back up, as they will use them in the fall and winter months as shelter from the cold and from storms. If you didn’t hang any birdhouses this year, why not put up a couple?

5. Become a citizen scientist. Now is the time to join Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. This is a fun program I’ve taken part in a few times now, and it feels good to be a part of something that helps bird research. It’s not too difficult: Watch the birds at your feeders for a certain amount of time each day, tally how many you see of each species, then go online and share that data with Cornell. As an added bonus, you may see birds at your feeder that you hadn’t noticed before. Sign up here: Project FeederWatch.

6. Stock up on birdseed and suet. If you live in an area that typically gets heavy snow, you’ll want to stock up not only on food for yourself, your family, and your pets, but for the birds, too. Once birds know where a food source is, they’ll frequent it regularly, and will be especially counting on it when natural food is hard to find. If you’re on the west side, like me, you should stock up, too. Our winters have been mild for a few years, but the reappearance of La NiƱa could possibly change that and bring us some real winter weather over the next several months.

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

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