Tricks & Treats

     Summer has slipped away in a blaze of Autumn glory. Leaves turn and whirl a final colorful farewell. Like the leaves, many of the birds I have enjoyed throughout the warm months dance through the trees in spectacular waves of color, all heading south. I love watching the transformation take hold as every living creature makes preparation or jumps ship in the face of the coming winter. We see the changes in squirrels and jays, in deer and in crows. The work of man, too, must follow suite. The time of harvest, and of cleaning, repairs and storage takes us outside and close to nature. It feels good to share something of the changing seasons with the natural world around us.
     October’s list of fall yard projects starts with cleaning all the feeders and raking up the old seed. Harmful molds grows in damp seed and bird droppings that accumulate around feeding stations can spread avian disease. Ideally feeders should be cleaned every month with hot water and a little bleach. It’s easy to forget this important task, but try to do it at least four times a year. I do my cleaning around the fall and spring Equinox and the summer and winter Solstice.
     I rearrange my feeding stations in the fall. Moving the feeders gives the lawn a chance to recover and makes winter maintenance easier. Place the feeders close to the house or near a path that you plan on keeping clear. Concentrate your feeders in front of one or two of your favorite windows. Once snow piles up, no one wants to trudge through the drifts to fill feeders the middle of the yard. For this reason I like window mounted feeders for Finches, Chickadees, and Nuthatches. If you have a deck, better yet! Special hardware allows you to mount most feeder styles over the edge of the railing, keeping the mess off the deck. On the deck the feeders are easier to get to and easier to fill. Best of all, it brings the birds up close for great winter viewing.
     With the onset of colder weather our feathered friends will be looking for reliable winter food sources. Sunflower seed contains a high percentage of calorie rich oil. A good winter blend will contain at least seventy percent sunflower seed. Suet and shelled peanuts are also winter staples, enjoyed by Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees and Jays. Soon our wintering native sparrows will arrive. Juncos, White-throated, and Tree Sparrows all prefer to forage on the ground like Mourning Doves for millet and cracked corn. Providing a sturdy platform feeder on short legs will keep these birds coming to your yard all winter. Thistle, offered in tubes or sacks will continue to attract flocks of Goldfinch (despite their lack of gold!)
     Fall is a great time to put out a few extra treats for the birds and other wildlife. An Autumn Harvest arrangement is fun to put together and even more fun to watch! Dried sunflower heads and corn stalks serve as the base. Add branches of wild berries like Highbush Cranberry and Nannyberry. Mountain Ash produces beautiful, large orange berry clusters that Robins and Cedar Waxwings love! Another large abundant seed head can be found on Staghorn Sumac. Bluebirds and Woodpeckers are very fond of fuzzy red sumac berries. Gourds, squash and pumpkins all contain a wealth of nutrition. Make an opening in the fruits exposing the seeds and flesh. Small gourds can be hung from twine and larger squash placed at the base of the arrangement. Don’t forget to save a few bushels of Black Walnuts, Hickory Nuts and Acorns for your friends! Spread them on the ground or serve them in an old bushel basket for that “country living” look. Even wormy windfall apples are welcome additions to an Autumn Harvest feeding station. To top off this work of edible yard art I like to add a few home made cornbread birdy muffins baked in small metal buckets. Finally, add a few ribbons and scarecrow to turn this Trick into a real Treat for the birds!

Resources:
Landscaping for Wildlife
Published by MN DNR
Carrol Henderson

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022