Autumn can be a confusing time for garden bird lovers. The weather is getting colder, the leaves are falling from the trees, but the birds who’ve entertained you all summer may be noticeably absent from your bird table. what is going on with our garden birds in autumn? Don’t worry, there’s a very good reason why you may not see them around so much, and they’ll be back soon!
What to Expect From Garden Birds in Autumn
A Time Of Plenty
I love runner beans, but if I have to eat another one any time soon I may just scream! Beans are the seeds to the plant and it isn’t just the runner bean producing seeds, everything in the garden is at it.
With fresh seeds, fruits and nuts available in abundance in our gardens, meadows and hedgerows it’s hardly surprising that familiar garden visitors are showing less interest in what we offer on our bird tables.
Birds prefer natural food if there is enough of it around, and in autumn there often is. That is all set to change as we head into winter.
End of the Moult
Many of our garden birds moult and lose their feathers in late summer, with new ones still growing in as autumn arrives. The moulting process is energy-intensive, and being without some of their feathers can hamper flying and make birds more vulnerable to predation.
For this reason, many garden birds lay low and try to remain inconspicuous until their new plumage is fully grown in.
Arrivals and Departures.
Autumn is migration season for many of our birds and during these months we can expect to witness plenty of comings and goings.
Species that have spent the summer further north arrive to take advantage of our much milder winters. These include swans, geese, bramblings, fieldfare, and waxwings.
The sight and sound of a skein of geese flying overhead is one of my personal autumn highlights.
The ranks of some of our year-round residents like robins and starlings are swelled too with winter migrants from northern Europe who will head back home to breed come the spring.
Leaving us for warmer climates in southern Europe or even Africa are our summer visitors: swifts, swallows, house martins and cuckoos. These birds migrate south for the winter but will be back next summer to breed and raise young here in the UK.
Flocking Together – Not Just for birds of a Feather
Many migrant birds form flocks to travel, but the onset of colder weather causes many of our year-round resident birds to flock together too.
Many birds that live in small groups or nesting pairs during the summer months come together into larger flocks during the winter. These include many birds of the tit family, house sparrows. finches such as the goldfinch and of course starlings.
They form feeding flocks and come together for warmth when roosting. Interestingly winter feeding and roosting flocks are not species-specific and may contain a whole range of different small birds.
Starlings provide our most spectacular autumn flocking show with their amazing murmurations. October and November are the best months to catch one of these stunning displays.
How To Help Garden Birds in Autumn
Although garden birds may not be quite so noticeable around our feeders in late summer and early autumn they still need our help. And there is plenty that you can be doing to prepare for the harder months ahead.
Keep Bird Food Fresh
Keep an eye on how much food is being taken and feed birds accordingly to ensure the food you offer is always fresh.
Remove any food that has been sitting around for a couple of days or become wet and replace it with a small quantity of fresh food.
As the weather gets colder, and seeds and berries start to disappear from the garden, you will notice your bird food disappearing more quickly and can start to increase your servings again.
Keep Bird Baths Clean
You may find that there’s little need to top up birdbaths daily at this time of year, nature may well be doing that for you if the weather is wet.
But do be sure to check that birdbaths are clean each day. Autumn winds can blow in fallen leaves and other detritus which will quickly clog up your birdbath and make an unappealing spot for a dip, let alone a drink!
Clean Bird Feeders and Tables
With less demand for bird food from our feathered friends at this time of year now is a great time to give your garden feeders and bird table a thorough clean.
If you like to give your table an annual weatherproofing treatment to prolong its life now could be the ideal time.
Place New Nesting Boxes, and Clean Out Old Ones
Now the breeding season is over it’s the perfect time to clean out your nesting boxes ready for next year.
Autumn is also the ideal time to put up any new nest boxes. Although nesting doesn’t happen until spring many of our familiar garden visitors such as robins and blue tits will check out suitable nesting sites during the winter months.
If your nest boxes are already in place and familiar to wild birds in your garden they are in with a better chance of being used next spring.
Try Some Roosting Pouches
Cold winter nights are a huge challenge for garden birds. It’s a struggle to keep warm when you are so small.
Birds will flock together for warmth, they may even take shelter in nesting boxes. And you could think about adding a couple of roosting pouches to your garden to provide shelter from the cold and wet for blue tits and other small birds
Don’t Cut Back!
Autumn is traditionally a time for clearing up in the garden. Raking up dead leaves, cutting back plants that have gone over, giving the lawn a good short cut before winter sets in.
But for the sake of wild birds and other garden wildlife, it’s better to hold back on the tidying and let things stay a bit messy over winter.
Plants that have “gone over” still provide seeds for birds and small mammals. Dead leaves and vegetation and long grass offer food and shelter for invertebrates, which in turn provide a meal for garden birds.
And an overgrown border or veg patch left to its own devices over winter can even provide shelter from the worst of the elements for the birds themselves.
Plan Wildlife Friendly Planting
Autumn is when we have chance to look back on what has worked well in the garden this year, and what we would like to do differently for next spring and summer.
It’s a great to time plan and even start some wildlife-friendly planting.
A wildflower meadow, even if it’s just in a big plant pot, will bring a wealth of invertebrates into your garden and birds will follow. Autumn is an ideal time to sow the seeds
And you can attract birds to your garden in greater numbers next autumn and beyond by planting some shrubs with berries to feed the birds.
Thanks for Reading
Feeding birds in the garden can be a huge source of pleasure right through the year. Late summer and early autumn may not offer that much action on the bird feeders, but there is still plenty we can be doing to help prepare for the tough winter months ahead.
Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you have questions or suggestions we’d love to hear them. Leave us a comment below.