Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
March is a Crucial Month to Feed Birds
March 03, 2023
By Steve Grinley
This time of year is particularly hard on many birds, especially the songbirds that depend on seed and fruit for survival. The winter supply of natural food is depleting and there is more competition for what is left on shrubs and trees. Birds are seeking more food at bird feeders.
Yet we see so many bird feeders empty. There is the misconception that the weather is getting milder and, therefore, birds can fend for themselves. The nights are still cold and the sudden storms that March can produce put added stress on birds. Being able to supplement their natural food with seed and suet at feeders is very welcomed this time of year. It can sometimes mean the difference between survival or not.
In a National Wildlife Federation newsletter, George Harrison wrote: “March is the most difficult month of the year for birds to find adequate food to survive winter in most of North America. That’s because the supplies of natural food … last year’s seeds, fruits, berries and insect eggs and larvae … are at their lowest levels after months of birds feeding on them. March is too early for a new crop of seeds, fruits, berries, and insects to be available. Therefore, birds have to work harder to find sufficient food during a month when it is still very wintry in much of the country.
“That’s why March is the best time of the year to feed birds in the backyard. They will respond more readily to feeder foods offered in March than at any other time of the year. Isn’t it curious that in fall … October and November … when natural foods are most abundant, people take the greatest interest in feeding birds? It is in fall when there are the greatest number of bird seed sales, bird feeding seminars, bird store sales, and start-up backyard bird feeding efforts. By March, the interest in bird feeding has waned, at a time when the birds need it most.
“Though birds are not dependent on feeders for their survival (studies have shown that birds glean 75 percent of their daily food from the wild, even when feeder foods are available), feeding them in March will make life a little easier for them, and under severe conditions, may even save them from starvation.”
The birds may not be showing signs of stress. Many are sounding more joyful as spring nears. The spring song of cardinals, chickadees, house finches and song sparrows in the morning lifts our spirit for spring’s arrival. The first red-winged blackbirds and grackles are arriving and their less-melodious songs also remind us that warmer weather is near.
Great horned owls are still hooting back and forth to each other in courtship and some are already on the nest. Red-tailed hawks are courting and will be starting early nests as well. Soon screech owls will be courting and begin nesting in the weeks ahead.
Bluebirds are already checking out nest boxes. Now is a good time to check your old nest boxes and make sure that they are clean and ready for habitation. Now is also a good time to put up a new bluebird box as bluebirds do start nesting in March if the weather cooperates. This gives them a jump on the tree swallows that often compete for the same nest box. Tree swallows don’t arrive until late March or early April.
Chickadees, tufted titmice and nuthatches are also early nesters and it is good to make sure that you have houses ready for them soon. Phoebes will be arriving in March and they often return to the same eaves or nesting shelf that they occupied last year. They often will build another nest right on top of the old one.
If you look closely at the finches at your feeder, you might notice a little extra yellow in the male goldfinches already. It will be April before they change completely into to their handsome breeding plumage, but it is already starting. They provide further evidence that spring is not far away!