Sep 13, 2017 | Featured Web Article

Fall Tip: Save Your Summer Berries for Winter

Looking for a great way to attract birds in the winter? Try freezing wild berries and offering them at your feeding stations during the winter months.
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This has been one of the best fruit-growing years I can remember. The natural crop of berries and other fruits should sustain our wild birds well into the winter. Everywhere I look on my farm there are wild cherries, grapes, pokeweed, persimmons, dogwoods, and wild apples waiting to be eaten.

The abundance of wild-growing fruits reminds me of a trick a savvy photographer friend once shared with me. The late John Trott was a wonderful naturalist, writer, photographer, and teacher—and former contributing photographer to Bird Watcher's Digest—who lived in northern Virginia. When age and weather made it difficult for him to go afield to photograph birds, John would bring the birds close to his house. One of his most successful methods for attracting birds was to offer them foods in winter that they could not find naturally at that season. In fall, John would gather wild grapes, pokeweed berries, American bitterweet, and sumac fruits and freeze them in plastic storage bags. Late in the winter, these fruits, placed near his regular feeding station, would lure hermit thrushes, eastern bluebirds, and American robins close enough for John to photograph. Other species that would sample the fruits included northern mockingbirds, red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-rumped warblers, and over-wintering gray catbirds and brown thrashers.

In my experience, although store-bought fruits such as seedless red grapes and oranges may go largely untouched by wild birds in winter, naturally occurring fruits such as wild grapes and pokeweed berries rarely go unnoticed. While the weather is still fairly mild (and before our first heavy frost), I fill a few bags of grapes and pokeweed and save them in the freezer for the birds. I'll put them out of the freezer in late January or February when I see that the natural food supply is depleted.



About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson, III, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020