Minnetonka Manager Carol Chenault shares how she readies her backyard for the change in seasons.
Addressing Nectar Feeders
As I bid the Baltimore Orioles farewell the first week of September, the transition to fall backyard bird feeding begins. Taking down the oriole feeders, washing them well with soap and water and disinfecting them with either bleach (1:10 ratio of bleach to water) or white vinegar (50:50 vingar to water) is an autumn routine. However, I keep my hummingbird feeders full of fresh nectar. Though male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds leave in early September, some females and juveniles remain until late October.
I do like to rearrange things (just ask the staff at the Minnetonka store), so the departure of the orioles leads to feeder cleaning and rearranging of the feeding stations. It’s a good time to disassemble, soak and scrub feeders and clean out birdhouses. Leaving some birdhouses out for the winter may provide shelter as a winter roost for chickadees and nuthatches. I replace the oriole feeders with feeders for suet and Peanut Pick-Outs to entice Red-breasted Nuthatches, woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees. Though disguised in their dull olive-yellow winter plumage, we do have American Goldfinches in the yard all winter. Adding a feeder filled with Nyjer™ & Chips will provide more feeding volume just in case it’s a winter that brings redpolls and Pine Siskins here in numbers. I also sprinkle some Nyjer™ & Chips on the ground for the Dark-eyed Juncos that return in September.
Changing Up Food Offerings
A favorite fall activity at our house is watching the Blue Jays cache peanuts in the shell and whole corn kernels. I prefer to feed Blue Jays at their own feeding station about 20 feet from the other feeders. This allows them to visit without disturbing the smaller birds. Blue Jays warn other birds of impending danger from predators like owls, hawks, cats and snakes. We have often heard them call the alarm and send the other birds fleeing, saving them from hawks like the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks during the winter months.
Flocks of migrating grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds move through Minnesota until late October. Feeders filled with golden safflower seem to be less inviting to grackles, starlings and Red-wings but the Northern Cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, House Finches and others love it. After fall migration is completed, I might switch to a no-mess seed like Medium Sunflower Chips or Kracker Jax. These have no shells, leave no mess and won’t germinate in the spring. The pre-shelled seeds provide for quick energy for less effort and help birds to survive severe weather.
Gardening, Keeping Autumn Birds in Mind
Fall garden cleanup commences but I leave the stalks and seed heads standing of the rudbeckia, sunflower, bee balm, aster and coneflower. They are a fall feast for goldfinches and chickadees. When trimming shrubs, leaving V-shaped branches encourages American Robins and cardinals to nest in the spring. Creating a brush pile in the back corner of the lot provides cover for the birds and protection from predators, wind and weather.
Autumn brings Cedar Waxwings, robins and cardinals to berry-producing bushes and trees like the high bush cranberry, red osier dogwood and crabapples. Their visits to the birdbath are a delight.
Preparing the Heated Birdbath
At some point the heated birdbath will be needed. If the bath has lime deposits, I fill it with water and white vinegar (50:50), let it sit overnight and scrub it out with a birdbath brush in the morning. I hope for a long, beautiful fall with no need for the heated birdbath, but it will be cleaned and ready to go when needed.
Minnetonka All Seasons Wild Bird Store manager Carol Chenault has been helping our customers since 2003 and feeding birds for as long as she can remember.
Reprinted from our Sept/Oct 2017 edition of Bird’s-Eye View