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Southeast Gardening: Tips for Attracting and Feeding Birds

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Learn how to attract birds by putting out seeds and also by growing the plants they like to eat in the Southeast.


The first cool snap of autumn has settled on my Alabama garden, and as I filled the bird feeders yesterday I asked myself, “If I were as free as these birds, where would I spend the winter?” Answer: The tropics, of course! They agree, and with October comes the annual migration.

The avian appetite for black-oil sunflower seed at my feeders has tripled. However, the activity at the hummingbird feeders has declined after peaking last month. Most of the birds have already left, although I still see and hear a few. I feed resident birds, as well as those just passing through on their way to warmer climes. I’m pleased that my feeders and my garden serve as refueling stations. I hope my feathered guests will pass this way again in spring on their way back north.

I can’t remember when I didn’t feed birds, but I started feeding hummers after hearing my birding heroes, Bob and Martha Sargent, speak. Theirs was a retirement hobby that grew, and so the Hummingbird Study Group was born. Now summers on our porch are rarely quiet, but I enjoy the chatter of hummingbirds and the whir of their wings.

The Sargents advise leaving hummingbird feeders out in autumn, long past the time most birds have migrated. Feeders will not make them stay, but they will nourish stragglers or western species that have gone off course.

I try to grow food for the birds as well. Just having a garden with diverse plantings means that birds will find insects to eat. Also there are berry-laden plants, and lots of coneflower seed heads left standing for the goldfinches. I love to see the seed heads swaying atop the dried stalks. Although the flower color is long gone, I get another season from the winged flowers passing through.

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