YES, MANY HAVE FLOWN THE COOP—er, the local landscape—heading for milder spots to spend the offseason. But many other birds are arriving, settling in for the long haul alongside year-round garden residents. It’s time, says Ellen Blackstone of BirdNote, the daily public-radio show, for us humans to do a few bird-oriented chores—and also to engage with birds more fully. Here’s how:
In the Q&A that follows, Ellen’s answers contain green links to audio files from BirdNote’s archive that you won’t want to miss. A recap of earlier stories in our ongoing series is at the bottom of the page, along with information on how to get BirdNote daily.
fall bird tasks: my q&a with ellen blackstone
Q. Obviously nobody’s using my nestboxes to raise a family right now—should I take them down?
A. Yes, it’s time to take down your nestbox, at least temporarily, and clean it out. It’s a good idea to wear gloves and a dust mask while you do this. Use hot soapy water and a scrub brush, and rinse it with a pot of boiling water for good measure, to get rid of pests. (Please no pesticides or bleach.) Can you imagine the mess the little chickadee family in the photo below made before they fledged?
After the box is fully dry, tuck it into the garage or shed to protect it from weathering. Or you could put it back out for small birds to roost in during the winter. Listen to or read all the fall nestbox-care details.
Q. What about birdfeeder care?
As with the nestbox, a scrub brush and some mild soapy water will do wonders; skip the bleach. (Elbow grease is often the very best cleaner, isn’t it?!) Rinse everything thoroughly.
On BirdNote, we covered the topic of responsible birdfeeding in this show—probably good to listen now for a recap.
And put a note on your calendar to sign up for the citizen-science bird-counting project called Cornell’s Project FeederWatch, which begins mid-November.
Q. My neighbor—a better person than I am!—has many bluebird boxes and monitors each one all breeding season, like this. Should I be doing that?
A. It’s easy to forget to take notes about what birds nested in the box, how many times, and whether they were successful—but it’s great information to have. You’ve probably been taking notes about your garden all summer long. Now’s a good time of year to catch up your bird journal. Here’s some expert inspiration.
Maybe next year, you can sign up for Cornell’s NestWatch; it’s another citizen-science project.
Q. Any other tactics for making the birds happier in our gardens in the offseason?
A. Perhaps this should be the year to spring for a birdbath heater (or if you have a larger garden pool, to keep a hole in the ice with a floating pond “heater” that birds will appreciate, like this). Unfrozen water in either case will keep your feathered friends happy and hydrated on a cold winter’s day and save you some trips in and out to provide needed water.
The way you clean up your garden can help, too. Leave seedheads on some flowers and other plants, and you’ll feed finches and other small birds long into the autumn. And quick: Take a good look at those bright little American goldfinches before they molt into their drab plumage, such as on that sunflower in the top photo (here’s how the molt process works).
If you have the time, space, and inclination, you could create a brush pile for the wild critters that share your outdoor space. Song sparrows and towhees will love you for it!
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says: “Few wildlife management practices can provide a more important part of wildlife habitat for the amount of effort than brush piles.”
Snags, too–that is, dying, dead or damaged trees left standing rather than cut down–are helpful to wildlife. Now’s a better time to *create* a snag than when birds might be nesting in the tree. We covered this on a BirdNote episode about the winter garden.
Also: It’s never too soon to start planning next year’s garden—and in fact, October is prime planting time for many wildlife-friendly plants. As always, consider the birds. If something worked particularly well as an attractant this year, maybe you can plant more. And don’t forget the hummingbirds! (That’s an Anna’s hummingbird, below.)
learning more, getting involved
‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ season could be a good time for you to learn something new, too, says Ellen, since it’s the time of year when most Audubon chapters gear up with classes and field trips. Find your local Audubon here.
“Or do something good for the world by getting your hands dirty,” she says. Each September, for instance, is National Public Lands Day. (Listen to the BirdNote National Public Lands Day segment.) Take your family out to a nearby park or refuge to help with invasive-species removal, facilities clean-up, trail repair, or other activity. “Public lands benefit birds 365 days a year!” says Ellen. Take this one day, at least, to celebrate public lands.
how to get birdnote
Meantime, listen to BirdNote’s latest podcast anytime on the player below, or by visiting their website. Subscribe to the podcast or RSS, free. More than 100 public radio stations playing BirdNote are listed here; if you like what you hear, why not ask your local station if they’ll carry it.
The BirdNote backstory: In 2002, the then-executive director of Seattle Audubon heard a short public-radio show called StarDate. “We could do that with birds,” she thought. In 2005 the idea became a two-minute daily public-radio show. Lucky for all of us!
past installments of our series
IN CASE YOU MISSED anything from my ongoing series with the daily public-radio show BirdNote, the whole archive is at this link or here are some specific links:
- Week 1: How do birds make themselves at home—even in winter?
- Week 2: hummingbird migration, and on flying in formation.
- Week 3: on daring behavior, such as when a mob of small birds chase after a bigger one, or a woodpecker drums on a house.
- Week 4: whether birds mate for life, and how long they live.
- Week 5: What senses birds of prey use to hunt.
- Week 6: Bird houses, or nest boxes.
- Week 7: Bird songs and calls! What you’re hearing.
- Week 8: The complex nests of songbirds.
- Week 9: Crow, or raven?
- Week 10: The biggest bird nests of all.
- Week 11: Fledging, when young leave the nest.
- Week 12: Why the “dawn chorus” quiets in midsummer
- Week 13: Hummingbird migration.
- Week 14: Fall chores (nestbox and feeder care and more).
- Week 15: What “our” birds do in winter.
- Week 16: Wild turkeys.
- Week 17: The indefatigable brown creeper.
- Week 18: The antics of baby birds.
(Photo credits: Goldfinch on a sunflower seedhead, © Roger Lynn; chickadees nestbox © Thomas LeBlanc; Pine siskin on feeder © Ann McRae; Anna’s hummingbird © Daniella Theoret.)