Backyard feeders attract native and migrating guests


Although cardinals, titmice, chickadees, and blue jays live in Central Texas year round, Baltimore orioles and most warblers begin to appear only when temperatures drop and days shorten in autumn. Then, as winter comes, sparrows and waxwings, along with hummingbirds, also appear. During winter months—and periods of extended drought—seeds and blooming plants on which birds feed are often in short supply. Backyard birdfeeders, carefully set up and maintained, can serve as a helpful source of food for native species and migrating guests.

“Feeders become an important food supply in winter months when seed-producing plants have gone dormant,” says Mary Ann Melton, a member of the Good Water Master Naturalists. “Feeders also provide opportunities for observing more bird species and bird behaviors.” Karen McBride, a birder with the Williamson Audubon Group, agrees. “In winter, birds really need help because seeds are gone and nothing is blooming. For wintering birds, pickings can be slim indeed. Drought conditions can affect what food will be available. Some years there are plenty of seeds, but in drought years, seeds are few and far between.”

Setting up a backyard birdfeeder can be as simple as choosing a feeder and a type of bird food, but Karen and Mary Ann recommend doing a little research to ensure the chosen feeder provides for only feathered guests and not squirrels, rats, and other creatures. They also recommend choosing food that best meets the birds’ needs. For example, Karen notes, “In winter, buy a mixture of seed so sparrows can feed on little seeds knocked out by larger birds [eating] sunflower seeds. Suet also serves as a good high-energy food. In spring and fall, [choose] black-oil sunflower seeds, which keep away nuisance birds like white-winged doves and grackles.”

Once a feeder has been set up, Karen notes, the area around it needs regular care and cleaning. “Rake up and remove all seeds regularly, and clean feeders often,” she recommends. “If feeders are not kept clean, disease can occur. Seed can mold quickly, and seeds spilled underneath feeders can ferment and cause diseases that can be passed from bird to bird, as well as attract rodents and snakes.” She and Mary Ann also recommend adding a birdbath or other water feature. “In summer around here, water can be very important for birds,” says Karen. “Sometimes birds that do not eat at feeders will readily come to clean, fresh water.”

For help with setting up and maintaining a backyard bird feeder, contact the Williamson Audubon Group at

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