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Feeding Birds in the Spring


May 1, 2024

Feeding birds in the spring is not just an act of kindness but also plays a crucial role in supporting them as they resume their place in the ecosystem. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or simply someone who enjoys the presence of birds in your yard, understanding how to feed birds during this time can enhance their health and ensure the variety of your local bird population.

A femaie hummingbird in spring in her nest with baby birds.

Understanding Spring Bird Feeding

Feeding wild birds in the spring is about more than just continuing the feeding routines of winter. It marks a transition to a period when birds’ nutritional needs shift due to migration and the onset of the breeding season.

Can you feed birds in spring?

Yes, and it can be particularly beneficial for them.

It helps support both migrating species like grosbeaks, swallows, and tanagers, and numerous year-round residents. While the migratory birds replenish energy for their journeys and breeding activities, the year-round birds also prepare for the season of nest building and raising young.

Offering a variety of foods at feeders addresses the diverse nutritional needs during this time, ensuring a healthy bird population across our gardens and natural spaces.

However, in eastern states where bears are active in spring, it’s wise to be cautious. Natural food becomes more abundant, and to avoid attracting bears, consider not putting out feeders.

Alternatively, products like Sizzle N’ Heat (disliked by bears for its spicy taste) can be a safer option for feeding birds without attracting unwanted wildlife.

Wild Delight, Sizzle N' Heat Bird Seed, 5 lb.

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What can you feed birds in spring?

A black and orange bird eating from a bird feeder in spring.

The arrival of spring brings an increased number of birds, including House Wren and Western Tanagers, and each species has unique dietary needs. While some continue to thrive on the seeds they seek during the colder months, others may require a shift in their diet.

It’s essential to tailor your bird feeding strategy to accommodate these changes. Here are a few spring bird feeding ideas:

Single Seed Options:

  • Black oil sunflower seed: Known for its high-fat content, it provides much-needed energy for migrating and nesting birds. Species like chickadees, finches, grosbeaks, and nuthatches show a particular fondness for these seeds.
    • If you have a non-covered bird feeder or there is a lot of rain in the forecast, opt for in-shell sunflower seeds instead of sunflower hearts. Sunflower hearts soften and mold quickly when exposed to water.
    • Sunflower hearts are preferred by kinglets (when suet isn’t available), juncos, sparrows, meadowlarks, thrushes, and more.

Nature's Nuts, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, 40 lb

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  • Safflower seeds: These attract a variety of songbirds while often being less appealing to squirrels and birds that tend to take over your feeder (like starlings and Brewer’s blackbirds). Just note that if you use safflower seeds exclusively, you may deter other desirable birds.
  • In-shell peanuts: Rich in fats and proteins, in-shell peanuts are preferred by jays, crows, and some woodpeckers.

Nature's Nuts, Premium Whole In-shell Peanuts

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  • Shelled peanuts: Some birds prefer peanuts from the shell, like nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and woodpeckers.
  • Nectar: Including nectar feeders can support the high energy needs of early arriving hummingbirds and those that might stay year-round.
  • Nyjer® seeds: Also known as thistle seeds, Nyjer® is a favorite among finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls. These tiny, oil-rich seeds are packed with energy, making them an excellent food source for these small birds.

Nature's Nuts, Permium Nyjer Thistle Seed

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  • Mealworms: Mealworms can attract insect-eating birds such as bluebirds, wrens, warblers, and robins. Feeding live mealworms is the most appealing. Dried mealworms work as well, but just not as much. They can be offered in a shallow dish or a platform feeder to make them easily accessible to wild birds.
  • Cracked corn: Cracked corn is a favorite of towhees and is also enjoyed by juncos and sparrows.

Nature's Nuts, Premium Cracked Corn, 4 lb

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Mixed Seed Blend Options

An image of a spring mixed seed blend for birds in the Pacific Northwest.

Mixed birdseed blends are great at attracting various species, but they’re not all created equal.

When selecting mixed seed blends, avoid those with filler ingredients that birds don’t eat – like Milo, oats, and wheat. These fillers can lead to waste and uneaten seeds in your yard, which could attract pests.

Instead, look for high-quality blends that contain seeds and nuts favored by the birds in your area, like the ones listed below:

  • Sunflower, millet, and chips blend: This mix caters to the dietary preferences of ground-feeding and perching birds, like finches, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice.
  • Sunflower, pumpkin, peanuts, sunflower hearts, millet, corn, and safflower blend: This mix attracts chickadees, nuthatches, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows, and doves.

Nature's Nuts, Deluxe Bird Lovers Blend

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  • Peanut Pieces, Sunflower Hearts, Tree Nut Pieces, and Shelled Pumpkin Seeds: This mix attracts songbirds, chickadees, finches, woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, and nuthatches. It’s also a “no mess” blend so that no seeds will be left behind!

Nature's Nuts, Premium No Mess Supreme

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  • Black oil sunflower, white millet, and cracked corn: Designed to cater to various songbirds that feed on the ground and at elevated feeders. Attracts finches, mourning doves, juncos, grosbeaks, sparrows, jays, and quail.

Nature's Nuts, Premium Wild Bird (No Milo) Bird Seed

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Concerned about squirrels in your feeders? Read How to Keep Squirrels Out of Bird Feeders for help.

Can you feed suet to birds in spring?

A woodpecker eating suet in the spring.

Yes and no.

Suet (a high-energy food made from animal fat) is particularly beneficial during the colder months and for nesting birds in the spring. But in warm weather, suet tends to melt or go rancid, potentially attracting unwanted pests or causing bird illness.

So it’s best to avoid feeding suet to birds when the temperature rises, particularly in the later spring months and summer.

If wish to continue feeding suet in warmer weather so you can keep attracting suet-loving birds (like kinglets, bushtits, and warblers), here are a few tips:

  • Only to put out what birds will eat in a day
  • Place the suet in the shade
  • Monitor it closely for any signs of going bad
  • Avoid suet on hot days since it melts at 90 degrees.

Plants That Attract Birds in Spring

Integrating plants that attract birds into your yard creates a vibrant ecosystem that supports and nurtures local wildlife.

What plants should I put in my yard to attract spring birds?

Flowers

A small bird on a spring flower planted in the backyard.

Flowers are a fantastic way to attract wild birds to your garden with their bright colors and nectar-rich blooms.

  • Sunflowers are particularly beloved by birds, such as chickadees and finches.
  • Zinnias have colorful blooms that draw in various birds, including hummingbirds and finches.
  • Marigolds can attract insects, which in turn bring insectivorous birds and are known for being low maintenance.
  • Cosmos can grow quite tall, offering both seeds and shelter for birds.
  • Nasturtiums, offering nectar and seeds, are versatile plants that attract a wide range of birds.
  • Salvia, with its vibrant spikes of flowers, is a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies, providing both nectar and a splash of color to the garden.
  • Red Hot Pokers’ bold, torch-like flowers attract various nectar-loving birds, including hummingbirds, grosbeaks, and waxwings, with their rich hues.

Berry Bushes

A bird eating a berry from a berry bush in the spring.

Berry bushes serve a dual purpose in the bird-friendly garden: they provide nutritious fruits, dense foliage for nesting and protection, and attract species of birds that seed don’t (like waxwings).

  • Blackberries offer the added benefit of producing energy-rich fruits, essential for birds during breeding and migration.
  • Elderberries are a magnet for many birds due to their nutritious, dark purple berries.
  • Serviceberries offer white spring flowers and sweet, edible berries, attracting birds like robins and cedar waxwings. Their multi-season interest includes fantastic fall foliage.
  • Huckleberries, native to the Pacific Northwest, provide small, delicious berries birds love. They thrive in forested environments but can be adapted to garden settings.
  • Raspberries provide nutritious fruits for birds during the late summer, and their dense thicket offers protection and nesting opportunities.

Bird Feeder Placement

Three bird feeders in a backyard for spring bird feeding.

Proper placement of bird feeders is crucial for bird safety and to maximize your bird-watching enjoyment. It also plays a significant role in preventing the spread of diseases among bird populations.

Here are some key tips on placing feeders:

  • Visibility: To prevent window strikes, it’s advised to place bird feeders either within 3 feet of your windows or more than 10 feet away.
  • Safety and shelter: Placing feeders near trees or shrubs offers a balance between providing safety and attracting birds who might prefer feeding within these natural shelters. While some birds appreciate feeders hung directly in trees for the cover they provide, others benefit from feeders placed a bit away from dense foliage to reduce the risk of predator ambush. The key is offering enough distance to allow birds to quickly retreat to safety if threatened. Placing feeders 10 to 12 feet away from trees or shrubs is usually recommended.
  • Height considerations: Position feeders at a height similar to the natural feeding patterns of the birds you wish to attract. For example, ground feeders like doves prefer feeders closer to the ground, while finches and sparrows prefer elevated feeders.
  • Avoid busy areas: Keep feeders away from busy sidewalks or patios where frequent activity can deter birds from visiting.
  • Multiple feeders: If you have multiple feeders, space them out to reduce competition among birds, provide various feeding options to attract a range of bird species, and place them in spots convenient for filling and monitoring.
  • Regular cleaning: Regular maintenance, including cleaning and disinfecting feeders, is essential to prevent the spread of diseases among bird populations. When choosing a feeder’s location, ensure easy access for cleaning.

Read A Comprehensive Wild Bird Feeder Guide for help picking out the right bird feeders for your yard.

Woodlink Tube Bird Feeder

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Pennington Cedar Nature's Friend Bird Feeder

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Audubon Hopper Granary Bird Feeder

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Songbird Essentials, Hanging Platform Bird Feeder

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Perky Pet Mason Jar Wild Bird Feeder, 8 port

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Water for Birds

A spring bird drinking from a backyard water bubbler.

While we often focus on providing birds with seed feeders, water is equally important. Birds require water for two primary reasons: drinking and bathing.

By providing water sources, you can significantly enhance the attractiveness of your yard to birds. A reliable source of fresh, clean water draws many bird species searching for hydration and a place to bathe.

Additionally, the sound of water moving from a water fountain or bubbler can attract bird species that don’t visit feeders or birds that are migrating and are typically scarce in your area – allowing you to spot rare birds!

Backyard Expressions, Water Barrel Fountain, 912709

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Alpine, Old-Fashion 3 Tier Pump Fountain

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Black Bear Cascading Beehive Fountain

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From simple birdbaths to elaborate waterers, water complements the food offered at feeders, creating a comprehensive birdscaping strategy.

Regular cleaning is needed to ensure the water source remains appealing and safe for birds. Changing the water frequently and scrubbing the bath or waterer is important to remove algae, bacteria, and accumulated debris.

Preparing for Spring Birds

By understanding and integrating the needs for varied nutrition, shelter, and water, you can attract various bird species and support their well-being throughout the seasons.

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