Many of us who enjoy the beautiful plumage and songs of birds want a chance to observe birds better. We tend to do that by placing bird feeders and baths in our yards. But what many of us do not consider is what we should be feeding and when.

Birds need our help the most from feeding in late winter, in early spring, during extreme temperature swings, and during migration. As a result, feeding in the summer is not necessary for most birds as they can more easily find food sources naturally or switch to mainly insects when rearing their young. The exception to birds that could do with our help in the summer are birds like goldfinches, which are much later to nest than other birds, as well as hummingbirds with their constant high energy expenditure and constant need of nectar to fuel their body. Therefore, we do not need to be filling our feeders for all bird species year-round.

For winter feeding and migratory feeding, you will want to provide options high in both proteins and fats for your wild feathered friends. Things like black oil sunflower seeds, white proso millet, peanuts, corn, Nyjer seeds, and suet blends are great options! Winter feedings and autumnal feedings will be similar for the options offered.

In the spring, it is recommended to use insects, bird safe fruits and vegetables, basic high-energy seed mixes like Nyjer seeds, and calcium-rich foods such as crushed eggshells as bird food. Also, it’s always a good idea to offer them nesting materials such as strips of cloth, string and yarn pieces, pet fur, or—if you do a nice quarantine haircut—human hair.

In the summer, you will want to offer hummingbirds nectar, and goldfinches Nyjer seeds. You can continue to offer your same seed mixes from other seasons, you just may not see the same use you do during other seasons. Instead, if you do want to continue attracting birds to your yard, you can offer freeze-dried or live insects, such as mealworms and other similar grubs. A bird bath is also a great idea to help attract birds to your yard!

The last thing you’ll want to consider when feeding birds year-round is the type of birds in your area or what you’d like to try to attract to your yard. Ground-level feeders are great for attracting birds like doves, sparrows, and robins. “Table level” platform feeders are great for birds like cardinals, finches, and jays, and hanging feeders work well for finches and will also attract chickadees and titmice. If you have any woodpeckers, nuthatches, or wrens in your area they will benefit most from tree trunk–mounted feeders.  

While offering food for all bird species year-round is not required, it’s still doable, and if you want to get the most out of your birdwatching experiences, it’s always good to target the right seasons and foods for the birds to get the most activity in your yard.

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