Glorious summer is in full swing in North America, and although your backyard birdwatching might not be as spectacular as spring or fall, there are still many species who rely on you for food and water. This week we have some tips to keep the birds you love to watch around, and how to keep aggressive birds from hogging your feeders.
Chickadees eat berries and insects, but in the backyard, they love suet and peanut butter at feeders. Carolina Chickadees love sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet.
Lack of high energy and hot temps challenge birds in the summer
Birds have incredibly high metabolisms and need high energy food – not just hummingbirds who thrive on sugar highs. When temperatures are high, it’s critical to keep not just feeders, but birdbaths full. If you have space, add additional sources of water using planter bases or garbage can lids with rocks and small branches so that your birds can easily access water. Check out our Pinterest Boards for great DIY birdbath and feeder ideas.
Orioles love oranges – as well as northern mockingbirds, western tanagers, scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks, among others. Photo: Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Attract the birds you want to watch
With the right food you can attract virtually all species of birds in your region, but not all birds play nice in the backyard when a meal is at stake. It’s best to think of what birds you want to attract and then select the best food that will attract them. If you love Orioles, it’s easy – they love oranges – as well as northern mockingbirds, western tanagers, scarlet tanagers and rose- breasted grosbeaks, among others.
King of the feeder: Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds come in two varieties: black oil, with thin shells, and striped, with thick shells. Using the thicker striped shells will keep House Sparrows and Blackbirds away, but all sunflowers attract squirrels, which require special protective feeders. Sunflowers can be placed on platforms, tubes and hoppers for hours of bird watching in the backyard or through a living room window.
The Prince: Safflower seeds
Safflower also has a thick shell and is loved by cardinals, grosbeaks, doves and some sparrows, but is not favored by House Sparrows, aggressive European Starlings, and squirrels. It’s a great backyard choice if you don’t want these aggressive birds to ruin your backyard bird watching.
Tiny but mighty Nyjer
Tiny black Nyjer, or Niger seeds, are devoured by smaller birds such as Lesser Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings, Pine Siskins and Common Redpoles. They are best served in thistle sock feeders for smaller birds, making for great bird watching.
White Millet for ground feeders
White Millet is great for ground feeding birds like American Sparrows, towhees, juncos and cardinals but also attracts the undesirable cowbirds, blackbirds and House Sparrows. If you ground feed, make sure to sweep up uneaten feed to avoid contamination.
Goldfinches at a squirrel-proof Nyger feeder. Photo: Activistas
FIVE THINGS TO AVOID FOR SUMMER BIRD FEEDING
- If you buy wild seed mixes, look for fillers such as millet or flax. These often end up on the ground and can breed fungus and bacteria that can make ground feeding birds sick.
- Make sure your suet cakes or tree smears are not in direct sunlight – both animal fat suet and peanut butter can become rancid in high temperatures.
- Don’t put out black oil sunflower seeds. They have a thin shell making them easy to ingest for many types of birds who don’t play nice with the other backyard birds.
- Don’t put out peanuts or corn in the summer. Both attract other animals and if they get wet, spoil quickly, putting birds at risk of contamination.
- Don’t use suet made from animal fat as high temperatures can make the suet rancid – even peanut butter can become rancid at high temps.
House Finches at sunflower seed mix tube feeder. Photo: Jennifer Lint/Great Backyard Bird Count Courtesy of the Audubon Society.
Summer suet tips
Suet – cakes or a mixture smeared on trees - is made of fat, nuts and fruit – is the energy king for birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers, warblers, titmice, kinglets, nuthatches, jays, wrens, thrushes, brown thrashers and starlings. The cakes you buy can simply have cornmeal, or include seeds such as black sunflower, fruit and insects.
Many people make their own suet with peanut butter. Birds who like suet, like peanut butter, and at-home makers often mix vegetable oil and peanut butter together with their seed concoctions for blends birds will love.
In the summer, suet made from animal fat can get rancid in the high temps. In the summer, it’s best to use suet cakes made from vegetable oils or peanut butter, or a blend of the two. Click here for more information on suet and other bird food information.
Our next Beyond the Feeder blog will give tips on feeding and caring for hummingbirds in the summer.
Sources: All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology); Birds & Blooms