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 is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018