Fruit For Birds
Something has always puzzled me in my years working in the bird feeding industry: why don’t we offer more fresh fruit to birds in our yards? Oh sure, you can find mixes with dried fruit like banana chips and raisins. Heck you can even find mixes with heavy fruit flavoring…but why don’t we offer fresh fruit scraps to birds on tray feeders instead?
Many are familiar with offering orioles orange halves when they arrive in spring. The common wisdom is to also offer grape jelly and nectar. When the orioles arrive at my feeder, they definitely have a preference for the grape jelly to the orange–who doesn’t love to chow down on that high fructose corn syrup?
Here’s an image I took of a Plain Chachalaca in Harlingen, Texas coming in for grapefruit originally intended for orioles. All sorts of birds can be drawn in by fruit. Many backyard birding books recommend offering fresh fruit and a few bird feeding companies have even attempted to build feeders to offer fruit to birds but it’s not as popular as offering seed and suet. Is it a convenience issue?
One of my favorite things about Central America are the bird feeders. Above is a photo that I got with my Wingscapes BirdCam when I visited Canopy Lodge in Panama last year. That’s a Chestnut-headed Oropendola eating at a banana feeder. Banana was all that was offered and it brought in a huge array of birds.
Here’s a flock of Blue-gray Tanagers mixed in with one Broad-billed Euphonia. All sorts of birds from saltators to warblers flew in to eat the bananas. If the feeders were empty, the birds kept careful eye on the tray until a staff member piled them on (making sure to peal a bit of the banana to allow the birds access to the soft nourishment inside). Some of my happiest memories were sitting on the deck with a big ole’ cup of coffee and watching the parade of birds come in for the fruit. Okay, so you are not going to see oropendolas coming to fruit, but why not Scarlet Tanagers or Summer Tanagers? They are species that breed in the US and then spend the winter in Central and South America, eating what’s avialable–especially fruit.
This is a photo that my friend Larry Sirvio took in Belize. Check that out, it’s a Wood Thrush coming to a papaya feeder. Fruit is something that migratory birds could eat and worth trying in your yard in North America. It may take time to get birds used to the idea of coming to it regularly, but isn’t that true of any new bird food? Nyjer (aka Thistle) for goldfinches was introduced from Nigeria–someone had to experiment with that. Grape jelly for orioles was an experiment too. And think of all the people who offer mealworms to bluebirds. That was an experiment of training Eastern Bluebirds and Mountain Bluebirds to eat out of plastic dishes as bluebird montiors wanted to offer food to these birds that do not traditionally come to seed feeders. Where there is a will and some patience, there is a way.
Also, don’t be afraid to let the fruit get old and mushy. This will attract fruit flies and hummingbirds will come in for those too.
Anyone out there in the US had good luck with fruit already?