In May, people in the northern United States begin seeing orioles and hummingbirds visiting their feeding stations. If there is a cold snap, sometimes other colorful birds will check out feeders like yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, and the occasional scarlet tanager.
These birds (hummingbirds included) eat lots of insects as well as seeds. When they return north, they take advantage of the myriad of bugs we have around to keep their bellies and their young nourished. If it is too cold for an insect hatch or for larvae to develop, they have to scrounge for other sources of food. The best way to locate food is to see what competing birds are eating, and that’s when they show up to feeders.
Since these birds don’t receive all the nutrition they need from seed, it’s not what will keep them around. Typically warblers and tanagers might check out suet, especially if it is plain- or a berry-flavored. If really desperate they may even search for seeds out of the shell like hulled sunflowers. There are, however, some things you could provide to give birds a nutritional boost.
And you can offer some of these all summer.
If you ever spend time at bird feeders in Central America in winter you will see people do not offer seed, but bananas. At a feeder at Canopy Lodge in Panama, you can find the American robin’s cousin, the clay-colored thrush, crimson-backed tanagers, and blue-gray tanagers chowing down. Sometimes our northern migrants also pop in like wood thrushes or summer tanagers.
You can offer bananas in tray feeders here, too. You can either chop up the banana or offer it whole – just make sure to pull back some of the peel so they birds can access the flesh inside.
Oranges are well known favorites of Baltimore orioles, and sometime house finches and gray catbirds will come in for a bite. Lots of birds, in fact, will eat them. South Padre Island in south Texas is a well-known migratory hot spot. In April when birds finish their journey across the Gulf Mexico, they doggedly forage the ground looking for sustenance. Volunteers bring orange halves placing them in easy reach of the migrants, and warblers, grosbeaks, and tanagers join the orioles for a nibble.
But there’s other fruit to try, too. Consider grape halves, apple quarters, blueberries, and melon cubes. And not just during migration! You can offer them all summer. Resident birds may need time to realize you’re offering this source of food, but it’s worth a try.
Also, on warm days, if the fruit starts to attract fruit flies, watch closely: Hummingbirds will come in for the protein.