One of the most common myths in the birdwatching community is that you shouldn’t feed birds during the summer. Some birders reason that with an abundance of food sources during the warmer months, continuing to provide seeds and other foods will make the birds lazy and stop seeking out natural food sources. The truth is that keeping feeders running during the summer months will not make your backyard birds dependent. In fact, studies have found that birds only receive a quarter of their daily nutrition from feeders. For some species of birds, this percentage may be even lower.
The Benefits of Feeding Birds in the Summer
When most people think of feeders in their back yard, they often think of fall and winter, times when birds need nutrition before migration, and when the change in seasons may produce a shortage of natural food resources. However, there are several benefits to feeding backyard birds during the summer months:
- The increase in daylight hours offers birders more time to get outside and watch their feeders.
- Identifying species of birds will be easier since birds are in their breeding plumage with bright colors and clear markings. This is especially helpful for the new birdwatcher who is beginning to learn how to identify birds visiting their back yard.
- During summer, birds are nurturing their families, giving birdwatchers a ringside seat to see nestlings mature as they learn how to feed themselves at backyard feeders.
- With a greater variety of birds in northern areas, summer offers backyard birders a chance to see some species that they would miss if they only feed birds during the winter months.
1. Keep Your Bird Feeder Safe in the Summer Heat
There’s no need to make drastic changes to your backyard feeders in order to provide nutritious and healthy food for your birds. These four simple tips will help you offer birds a healthy diet and safe conditions to eat in:
- Keep your seed dry. Hot and humid weather is the perfect condition for mold. Mold can produce a byproduct that is deadly to birds called aflatoxin. To prevent mold from occurring, only fill your feeders halfway, but refill them frequently. Feeders packed to ‘the gills’ may sit for too long a period, raising the risk of mold. If you find any mold on your seed, throw it away and clean out your feeder with warm water and a gentle soap solution. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely before filling again.
- Move suet feeders to shady locations. Though there are some packaged suet that are no-melt, there is still the chance it can spoil. The other risk is that the sun softens the suet and it can hurt a bird’s feathers in high heat. If you’re unsure about using suet in summer, consider using a hummingbird feeder instead.
- Keep feeders clean—especially in the summer. Regularly wash your feeders every two weeks to offer a clean, sanitized feeder for your backyard birds. Take your feeders apart and wash with soap and boiling water or a diluted bleach solution. You also have the option to run the feeders through the dishwasher on a hot setting. Whatever option you choose, be sure to rinse thoroughly and allow time to dry before refilling.
- Keep feeders in a shaded area. This will help minimize spoiled seed and help birds keep cool, encouraging them to visit frequently and feed for longer periods.
- Reduce sun glare. The glare of the sun can often confuse a flying bird in summer. Keep your backyard visitors safe from window strikes by making sure your feeders are positioned accordingly to the sun’s direction. You can use anti-reflective techniques to make windows more visible such as adding decals, sun catchers, and windsocks in front of windows.
2. Offer Birds Healthy Food Options
Keeping your backyard bird feeders in the right location and in pristine condition is the first step to healthy bird feeding during the summer. It’s also vital to know what foods to offer and what to avoid when feeding the birds during the hot summer months.
- Seed: As you do in the cooler months, you can put out all types of birdseeds in summer. If you want to attract a wider range of species, be sure to add black oil sunflower seeds to your mix. Nyjer seeds will also help bring finches to your feeders.
- Fruit: You can attract songbirds to your yard with a variety of fruits such as chunks of apples, banana slices, and orange halves. Cardinals, gray catbirds, tanagers, and orioles are all fruit eaters. Offer fruits in a platform feeder at least two feet from the ground, or you can fill an old suet cage and hang it from a tree branch.
- Jelly: The sweetness of jelly, like fruit, will attract many birds. You can use apple or grape to attract woodpeckers, robins, gray catbirds, and orioles. It’s best to use a small dish, as putting out more than might be consumed will result in the jelly going rancid or moldy. Small quantities will ensure the birds consume it all.
- Nectar: The most commonly used nectar is hummingbird nectar. However, other birds will sip this sugar water at a feeder in summer. Orioles, woodpeckers, and nuthatches are known to enjoy nectar. Additionally, add some nectar rich flowers to your yard for added nutritional support.
- Mealworms: Birds who depend on insects for nutrition will be attracted to mealworms at backyard feeders. These are especially beneficial to birds feeding hungry nestlings and looking for dozens of insects daily. Bluebirds, wrens, grosbeaks, and warblers will all feast on mealworms. Fresh should always be your first choice, but birds will also enjoy dried mealworms added to a seed mix.
- Peanuts: Blue jays, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers all love peanuts, whether shelled or whole. Offer peanuts in platform feeders at least two feet from the ground. You can also add bits of peanuts to seed mixes. Unlike humans, birds cannot consume seasoned, flavored or coated nuts, so keep that in mind when shopping for peanuts for your backyard birds.
- Suet: As mentioned above, suet can be offering during the summer, provided it’s of the no-melt variety. This suet is made with less fat but will still attract woodpeckers, chickadees, and jays. Suet is an excellent source of nutrition for birds caring for hungry nestlings during hot summer days. You can offer suet crumbled, chopped, or shredded in small quantities in dishes.
Foods to Avoid Feeding Birds in the Summer
Though a great variety of foods will attract more birds to your backyard feeders, it’s important not to offer foods that are less nutritious during summer, especially with baby birds needing nutrition for healthy growth. While table scraps might be okay occasionally for Fido, they are not safe for birds during summer. A bit of bread won’t harm adult birds as an occasional treat, but they offer no nutritional value for nestlings and young adult birds. Avoid offering bread to your backyard birds, especially during the summer months. Additionally, avoid giving peanut butter to birds, as it melts too quickly and can damage the birds’ plumage as it can stick to their feathers. Peanut butter also goes rancid rapidly in the heat.
3. Provide a Source of Water
Don’t forget to maintain your backyard birdbaths. All backyard birds need a source of fresh water for both drinking and bathing. A backyard birdbath will also attract species of birds that do not frequent bird feeders but need a cool refreshing drink. Hydration during the hot summer months is of utmost importance for birds.
As during any other season, keep the depth of your bird bath no more than three inches at its deepest. A clean
bird bath is as vital as keeping your feeders clean. Be sure to clean it two to three times a week using a stiff
brush. This will help to prevent any growths due to heat or an infestation of mosquitoes hoping to lay their eggs.
4. Offer a Shady Respite
Just as you might seek out a shady break from the hot summer sun, shade is important for birds as well. Adding tiered landscaping to your yard with broad-leafed native plants is one way to provide cool, shaded respite for your backyard birds. Vegetation around tree trunks or at the sides of a structure in your back yard, such as a shed, offers additional shelter. Native trees, vines, shrubs, and plants offer not only shade, but shelter and nourishment for backyard birds. These are perfect spots to protect birds from the heat. They also do double duty by providing protection from predators.
Place a feeder or two in shaded areas to give birds a cool spot to eat as well as keep oily seeds from spoiling as rapidly. Most importantly, move bird houses to shady locations and make sure they have adequate ventilation holes to provide cooling air circulation—especially vital for nestlings. Keep in mind that many species of birds may not be comfortable nesting close to busy feeding stations, so maintain some distance between the two.
5. Leave Baby Birds Alone
It’s not uncommon to find a baby bird out of its nest in the summer. Many people make the mistake of picking the nestling up and bringing it inside. If you find a nestling out of the nest, it’s best to leave it where it is. Most times the parents are nearby and know best how to care for their chick. The one exception to this is an injured bird. In this instance, you can take the bird to your local wildlife rehabilitation center to be treated and released.
6. Let Nature Take Over
Across most suburban areas, it’s not uncommon to see homeowners mowing and trimming their property. A meticulous, landscaped yard is considered by some, the gold standard. During the summer months, consider letting nature take its course in at least part of your yard. Let the plants and grasses grow wild. Refrain from trimming back the bushes. Let the native plants grow with abandon. Even a small, wild area like this will offer your backyard birds a source of food and shelter during the hot summer months. In turn, you will have the reassurance that you are not disturbing nesting birds. Grass left uncut also offers nesting grassland birds a haven as their young prepare to take flight.
7. Skip the Pesticides
Consider skipping the pesticides this summer. Sadly, even products labeled ‘safe’ have negative consequences for birds. A common ingredient found in many garden products, neonicotinoids, have been linked to the deaths of birds and bees, even in the smallest amounts. If you must use pesticides, check a list of products found on the Center for Food Safety’s website to see which products pose the least danger to your backyard birds. You can also talk to your local conservation center or Audubon Society about natural alternatives, or concoct your own mixture using natural products.