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Preparing Your Wild Bird Feeders for Autumn and Winter

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Early September is late summer in our world, but our avian neighbors are already well into their preparations for the upcoming winter. By mid-August in the USA’s northern states, insect-eaters such as Hooded Warblers, Flycatchers and Scarlet Tanagers have already begun to work their way south. Vireos, Redstarts and a host of others join them in September, after which hundreds of species begin to migrate in earnest. By preparing early, birders can enjoy the spectacle to its fullest while making life a bit easier for their favorite creatures…the following suggestions should help start you on your way.



Dendroica fuscaKnowing what types of birds you can expect to see year-round and during the migration season will assist you in attracting them to your feeders. Field guides and your local chapter of the National Audubon Society are both very useful in this regard. Don’t forget to check for lists of unusual visitors and “strays” (please see Rare Bird Alerts, below). Fall and winter bring many surprise guests…winter birding in NYC has rewarded me with Snowy Owls, Crossbills, Northern Shrikes, Snow Buntings and a host of other unexpected species.


Clean Your Feeders

Prepare your feeders for the busy season by giving them a thorough cleaning. I prefer Nolvasan (6 tablespoons/gallon water), but many rely on diluted household bleach. It is effective, but should only be mixed and used in an open area, as toxic fumes may accumulate indoors (zookeeper co-workers of mine have reported becoming dizzy while using bleach to clean cages). Hummingbird feeders are particularly difficult to clean, so be sure to use a good feeder brush.


Add/Upgrade Feeders

Keeping seed and other foods dry in bad weather can be a major headache. Steel feeders with wide, overhanging roofs that keep out rain and snow are ideal. Locating feeders below fir trees, porches or other cover will help as well. Window feeders will bring birds very close and allow for great photos; these are more likely to be visited during winter, when hunger may overwhelm caution. Don’t forget the resident Hummingbirds. In recent years, several species have been staying in their summer ranges well into autumn. As their high metabolisms demand lots of food, feeders will be especially critical as flowers die off. Water is hard to come by when all is frozen solid; you can help out by pouring hot water into iced-over birdbaths or using a birdbath de-icer.


Choose Appropriate Foods

You can increase your chances of attracting specific types o
f birds by learning their preferences and then providing favored foods. Freeze-dried mealworms may attract Bluebirds and other insectivorous species that ignore seeds. Also useful are seed mixes specifically formulated for Quails, Doves, Finches, and other birds. Fat and protein packed suet cakes are a vital winter food for almost all feeder visitors.


Prepare for Furry Visitors

Chipmunks, squirrels and other mammals are likely to be drawn to feeders during the fall and winter, especially during early cold spells. Gray Squirrels can sometimes be dissuaded by specially-designed feeders or cayenne-infused seeds, but many folks just set up a squirrel feeder and enjoy the show. Flying Squirrels are a great favorite of mine, and a real treat to observe…please check out this video:

Black Bears and White-Tailed Deer are becoming increasingly accustomed to people, and may be drawn by even very small amounts of food. You should not encourage or approach either (Deer can be dangerously aggressive at times); please contact your state wildlife authority for assistance and advice. Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible. Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.


Further Reading

More articles on feeding wild birds – Feeding Wild Birds Bird Migration Chart – Attractwildbirds.com Rare Bird Alerts: state-by-state notices of unusual sightings – Birder.com

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Mdf.

Goldenfeast Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat – Product Review


While looking over some information on Goldenfeast’s Sweet Potatoes Bird Treat it occurred to me just how often I have used these tasty vegetables during my life as a private and professional animal keeper.  I would hazard a guess that, with the possible exception of bananas, yams and sweet potatoes have figure in the captive diets of a greater variety of animals than any other food item.  Animals ranging from African dwarf mice to African elephants, golden pheasants to ostriches, millipedes to land crabs and iguanas to Galapagos tortoises consume them avidly (at an aquarium in Japan, I was astonished to see Australian lungfish gobbling them up as well!).

It turns out that sweet potatoes are an ideal food item – high in fiber and packed with valuable nutrients.  Goldenfeast’s dehydrated sweet potatoes offer a convenient method of providing your birds with their benefits.  Although marketed for parrots, I suggest you offer small bits to your finches and softbills as well.  If you keep shama thrushes, mynas, Pekin robins or similar birds, you might try soaking the potatoes in water for a few minutes to re-hydrate them.


Resources dealing with the nutrient content of sweet potatoes are listed at:


Feeding Insects to Pet Birds – useful products designed for reptiles

Almost all pet birds known collectively as “soft bills” (those which are not parrots) consume live insects as part of their natural diets. Insects are especially important during the breeding season – in fact, the sudden availability of insects, either in captivity or the wild, is an important trigger in bringing many species into breeding condition. Insects also form the bulk of the diet of most nestling soft bills. I have long fed insects to a variety of birds commonly found in the pet trade, including canaries, many finches and waxbills, mynas, Peking robins, red-crested cardinals, red bishops and various weavers.

It is standard practice at many zoos to use light traps to collect wild insects for the bird collection. The explosion of interest in keeping reptile pets has resulted in the marketing of a number of products that are of great value to bird keepers as well. I have used Zoo Med’s Bug Napper to trap moths, gnats, beetles and other tasty treats for my birds (be sure you can identify dangerous insects, and those, such as fireflies, which may be toxic). I do not know of any cases of secondary pesticide poisoning, even after decades of trapping at the Bronx Zoo, but urge caution in areas being sprayed to control West Nile Virus.

A number of reptile-oriented companies produce whole, (pre-killed) canned insects and invertebrates, offering bird keepers a very convenient method of adding valuable variety and nutrients to their pets’ diets. I strongly recommend experimentation with the following:

Exo Terra Mealworms, Grasshoppers, Silkworms, Snails

Zoo Med Can O’ Grasshoppers, Caterpillars, Snails

Repto Treat Delica Bloodworms

Of course, live mealworms and crickets, the old stand-bys, are very useful. I’ll address the best ways of keeping and using them in the future. You should also investigate other commercially-bred insects, also generally used for reptiles, such as silkworms, tobacco hornworms, roaches, waxworms, locusts and house flies.

An article examining the nutritional value of commonly used feeder insects is posted at:


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