If you’re like most folks, you feed the birds in your backyard during the winter, while in the summer you change to feeding the hummingbirds – allowing the songbirds to forage for food on their own when insects, seeds and fruits appear plentiful. It is true that spring and summer brings the bounty of foods needed by most birds, and the dependence on backyard feeders may diminish. However, in times of drought, floods, or other weather extremes, birds do well with filled feeders nearby. This can be especially true during the summer when bird pairs are actively raising their young.
For example, I recently paid a neighbor of mine a visit, where he has one large feeder in the center of his yard. Planted along his property lines he also has several shade trees, honeysuckle vines, and various shrubs in which the birds can nest. Cardinals, catbirds, robins, thrashers and many other birds sat in treetops or shrubbery, whistling, calling or flying from thicket to thicket. While we watched, a flaming red cardinal flew to the bird feeder, fed there for a few moments, then flew to a honeysuckle bush in a corner of the yard, where a noisy clamor of young cardinals gobbled up kernels offered by the parent. It was evident the birds were actively using the feeder to supplement the diets of their young, not long out of the nest. Both parents worked feverishly to feed the young ones.
By feeding birds in the summer, you can enjoy increased involvement with birds – more species, and in different cycles of their lives. It is possible, for instance, to leave suet out in the summer, too, although in smaller amounts and in the shade. Downy woodpeckers may bring their young to the suet to give them a headstart in nutrition. It can be a delight to see parent woodpeckers pick up pieces of suet and poke them down the throats of young birds. Warblers and even wrens will sometimes eat suet, too. Foods offered in the summer as well as in the winter include: oatmeal, raisins, bread, cake, biscuits, and peanut butter. Birds like nutmeats, especially expensive walnuts, but shelled peanuts and pecans can attract many kinds of birds, including migrating warblers that may visit your backyard from time to time. Crushed, dried eggshells can also be rewarding as many birds feed on them for the calcium they provide.
Of all the foods that will attract summer birds – robins, bluebirds, catbirds, thrashers, thrushes, mockingbirds and others – fruits and mealworms seem best. Sliced apples, raisins, soft cherries, grapes, bananas, and even oranges may bring these birds to your backyard feeders. The mealworm, found at bait shops is also a great favorite – just place them out in a dish or tray and watch what soon happens. Keep in mind when offering fruits, however, that insects enjoy these, too – so keep a watchful eye out for yellow jackets and ants.
It is important to remember when feeding birds in the summer to be extra careful that the food you offer is fresh, to only offer what can be consumed in a day or two, and that the feeders are kept clean. In doing so, you can help ensure this delightful added dimension to your backyard wildlife enjoyment is a healthy pleasure for the birds too! (Or… you can always hang a hummingbird feeder.)
This article is a publication of Clemson University Cooperative Extension's Forestry & Natural Resources team.
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