Birds at a bird feeder. (Pause to Feather Creations/Facebook photo)

Column: Making life better in the Shuswap with birds

The Great Outdoors by James Murray

It would seem that autumn is here.

The days are getting shorter, the leaves on the trees have begun to turn colour and there has already been an early morning frost on the ground.

The winds are getting cooler too with each passing day. Summer is definitely over.

There are small but definite changes happening everywhere.

The hummingbirds that came to the feeders all summer are gone.

The squirrels in the yard seem more active, more focused on the task of storing up food for the winter.

I have looked up to feel the warmth of the sun on my face only to see flocks of ducks and geese winging their way south.

Knowing that many different bird species are in the process of migrating to warmer climates somehow adds to the sense of urgency that I must start preparing for winter — getting the tires changed over, hauling out the winter clothing and cleaning up some of the bird feeders around the yard.

Fall is also a good time to start feeding the birds that are beginning to show up at backyard feeders.

While some summer resident population of birds leave for migration, a number of more northern migrants will be arriving.

These newcomers will welcome the opportunity to find easy food at bird feeders.

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Birds rely less on feeders in autumn because of the natural harvest abundance of wild berries, fruits, grains and seeds, but bird feeders will still see plenty of activity.

Some people mistakenly assume that if you supply birds with a steady source of food in the fall they will be less inclined to migrate.

In fact, a number of ornithological sources say that a reliable food source is only a minor factor that affects how birds migrate.

Daylight levels, climate and instinct also play important roles in seasonal migration, and feeding birds in autumn does not prevent migration, but can help it.

Migrating birds require tons of calories for the energy necessary to fly hundreds or thousands of miles, and feeders can provide an energy boost to passing migrants as well as help resident birds build up fat reserves for their journey or to survive falling temperatures.

The thing to remember is that if you are going to start feeding birds you have to continue through the fall and winter months with regularity.

Especially in the hard winter months when natural food sources are scarce and birds can become largely dependant on food put out in feeders.

In order words, offer supplemental food as natural food sources begin to be depleted. This will help birds imprint on the location of reliable food sources so they will return to the same place in the spring.

It will also encourage winter bird species to remain nearby all season.

In effect, by feeding birds in autumn, not only are you assisting migrating birds, you are also helping then learn where to come next spring, which will increase the size and diversity of your backyard flock in years to come.

To give both resident and migrating birds the best possible nutrition, it is important to put out foods which contain high oil content and many calories.

Offer a variety of different foods ensures that different bird species will find a tasty treat at the feeders.

The best fall bird foods include black oil sunflower seeds, millet and cracked corn.

However, there is more to feeding birds than just providing the right foods.

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Make sure your backyard is a safe environment for birds. Protect them from predators such as cats and hawks.

Check for damage to feeders that may have occurred over the summer months and do any necessary repairs so they are safe for both autumn and winter.

Keep feeders clean and filled even in poor weather and make sure any bird baths are filled with fresh, clean water.

Squirrels too are looking for food sources in the fall so if you are inclined to feed one creature over another, you should try to squirrel-proof bird feeders to prevent foraging squirrels from depleting the birds’ food supplies.

Don’t feel bad though if you do because squirrels are more than efficient at finding and storing food for the winter. They are also pretty good at finding warm places to call home.

Feeding birds is a responsibility that must be carried through from one season to another.

It can also be a very satisfying and rewarding way to enjoy the changing of the seasons.

Now if there was only a way that I could actually enjoy winter.

James Murray is an avid outdoors enthusiast and a former photographer with the Salmon Arm Observer.


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