Watching the birds at our bird feeders is certainly a source of relaxation and enjoyment since warmer weather allows us to sit on our decks and patios. The cool breezes through open windows at night also ushers in the sounds of birds singing at the crack of dawn replacing the alarm that reminds us it is time to get up. Yes the late winter we experienced is but a memory now and the spring rains promise an easing of the persistent drought. Spring is a time of renewed life after a long period of dormancy.
Spring is also a time of an incredible shift in bird distributions across the continents. Our winter avian visitors have returned north to their breeding territories while those birds that retreated south for the winter have reappeared in our area to begin summer nesting. Of those migratory birds that bring excitement into our lives as they pass through during the spring only a few stranglers remain, soon to be headed further north as well.
We continue to enjoy those old friends, the Cardinals, Chickadees, woodpeckers and others, that remain with us through cold winters and hot arid summers. These are our resident birds that are staples at the bird feeders and bird baths we maintain joined now by our summer birds such as the Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.
But there are other birds among us during the summer that will not be visiting our bird feeders, bird baths, or nest boxes. The trees, skies, woodlands, and prairies are filled with exciting birds. There are many birds that have arrived in our area that may visit our yards or soar over our towns and neighborhoods paying little attention to the feeds we provide their avian cousins. They can be as enjoyable to watch as a bright red male Cardinal visiting our feeders. All we have to do is look and Wild Bird Habitat would like to encourage everyone to take the time and look beyond the bird feeders during the summer months.
From Chimney Swifts to Kingbirds, Flycatchers to Swallows and many others, these summer birds are well worth taking the time to observe and enjoy. Their primary prey is the insects we find so bothersome, not just to us, but to our gardens as well. These, and many other aerial birds, provide us a great service preying on pests and we should do what we can to acknowledge their presence and promote their conservation.
Another summer favorite is the Common Nighthawk. Not a true hawk by nature, but a voracious insect eater. They can be seen flying above the city lights on a hot summer’s night consuming mass quantities of mosquitoes, beetles, and other flying six legged creatures. Often all that is visible to us in the dark sky from below are the two white bars on the under wings illuminated by the street lights. But its hawk like call as it hunts the night sky can be easily heard as it reminds us of the natural world that lies just a short distance beyond the theaters and restaurants of a busy city.
So take the time this summer to explore and enjoy the other birds that share our space. They will only be here for a few short months, long enough to raise a family, and they will be gone. Winter may be the farthest thing from our mind as summer does not even officially arrive until June 21st, but for our summer birds, time is of the essence. After all, by August they are already preparing for the return trip south.
As of the writing of this newsletter in late May I find it unusual to still have a number of Pine Siskin visiting my thistle feeder. I am certain they will be gone within a few days headed north to their nesting territory. The northern Goldfinches we enjoyed during the winter months have long since left, leaving us with our resident Goldfinch population. These resident finch are becoming more restless as they prepare to move into rural areas where they will begin nesting by the end of the month. A few unmated Goldfinch may continue to visit our Nyjer thistle feeders in the city during the summer, and we can be assured that the House Finch will certainly continue to feed on Nyjer thistle. These busy little finches also have a huge appetite for Safflower seed
Goldfinch are late nesters due to the fact they do not feed their nestlings insects, but only small thistle like seeds. This late nesting assures there will be an ample supply of seeds to feed their young. Another late nester is the Cedar Waxwing, undoubtedly because they are waiting until the first crop of berries and other fruits mature. These late nesters are also waiting for the proper nesting material to become available. Goldfinches build a tight grassy nest then line it with down from thistle plants. The nest is so tight that when it rains the adult bird must be on the nest to prevent the nest from filling with water, floating the eggs out, or drowning the nestlings.
Keep vigilant for adult birds bringing their newly fledged young to the bird feeders. No doubt many have already witnessed the first crop of grackles and starlings, and their deafening squawks. But the best is yet to come. You can easily recognize Cardinal fledglings by their gray beak. That and the fact they all appear to look like the female. It will be late August before these youngster’s beaks turn the bright orange of the adult and the males gain their red plumage. Had the male fledglings carried the bright red colors of the adult when they left the nest they may have been chased off by the territorial adult male as an intruder.
First year Robins are easily detected by the speckled striped breast unique to the Thrush family, which includes Bluebirds. In fact, most birds newly hatched are easily defined by their common characteristic of fluttering wings and open beak as if to say, “feed me” “feed me”.
Suet during the summer months is always a treat for the woodpeckers. After all, it takes a lot of energy to defend a territory while raising and feeding a family. Woodpeckers will consume 30% more animal protein during the summer months than all winter long. And don’t be surprised to see some immature woodpeckers recently hatched brought to the suet feeders by the adult birds. It is always entertaining to watch these youngsters trying to figure out how to feed on the suet, especially if it is an up-side down suet feeder. It won’t take long for them to figure it out. In the past many people considered suet a winter feed product, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy feeding suet in the summer as well.
Feeding mealworms can add some excitement to your backyard bird feeding. Bluebirds will readily take these live worms when they are placed in a dish on or near the ground close to their nest box. They will collect them and return to the box to feed the nestlings. But what if you live in an urbanized area where bluebirds don’t nest? Well you can still add mealworms to your backyard bird feeding menu. Robins, Cardinals, Jays and others will enjoy them as well. You can just toss a few on the patio, or put them in a dish. Just remember, when feeding mealworms it is best to ration them. Think of it as a daily treat for your birds. Do this at approximately the same time each day and you may find the birds will be waiting for you to deliver.
Keep your bird baths cleaned and filled with fresh water. Not only is it vital that birds have clean water to drink, but to bathe in as well. It is also very amusing to watch young birds attempting to figure out just how to go about taking a bath for the first time. They are not quite sure what to do on their first encounter with water but will quickly learn watching more experienced birds. You can keep your bird bath replenished with fresh water during times of high usage, or when hot weather speeds up evaporation by adding a dripper to the bath.
Enjoy woodpeckers and smaller birds more with one of our caged seed tube bird feeders. These feeders keep grackles, starlings, and squirrels out while allowing woodpeckers, finches, Chickadees and others to feed without being harassed by Grackles. Caged bird feeders are one of our most popular summer feeders.
Add a platform or ground bird feeder to your backyard bird feeding program stocked with safflower seed or Nutra-Saff safflower seed. You’ll find an open platform is a great feeder for attracting Cardinals, House Finch, Doves, Jays, and many other backyard favorites while deterring squirrels and greatly reducing the impact of hoarding blackbirds.
Spring is the time to plant flowers so you are ready for the return of the hummingbirds in August. Although folks that reside along riparian areas may have hummingbirds nesting and coming to the nectar feeder all summer long, most of us won’t see them again until they begin migrating south in early August. Flowers that attract hummingbirds are those that are tubular. Tubular flowers contain a high concentration of nectar which attracts these little jewels. This is why hummingbirds have a long bill with a lapping tongue allowing them to reach deep into the flower. Red Salvia is one of my favorite annuals. It is easy to grow, inexpensive, has a stock of tubular flowerets, and can be deadheaded to produce an abundance of stalks. Make a few plans now on planting specifically for hummingbirds and you’ll enjoy weeks of enjoyment watching them on their slow trek south from August to October
I cannot encourage everyone to look beyond your bird feeders this summer and even venture outside your backyard to enjoy all the avian life happening around us. Linda and I take numerous walks during the summer around Holmes Lake and are fascinated by the bird life we observe. A short walk along a creek, around a lake, through a nature center or city park, even around your own neighborhood can be produce some exciting bird viewing. If you’ll be packing for a vacation make sure to include binoculars and a field guide and keep them readily available. If you go camping for the weekend, boating, hiking or any other summer activity, take the binoculars and field guide along. Even on a short jaunt to visit friends or relatives may produce some exciting bird observations. Keep your ears and eyes open and enjoy all our summer birds.