Summer Bird Feeding Precautions

summer bird feeding

Summer bird feeding requires such careful attention that many people close their feeders for the duration. It is not necessary if we are careful to help the birds and not to hurt them.

March and April are dangerous for winter finches, which often eat on the ground. Seeds and seed shells accumulate under feeders, promoting the growth of bacteria and mold. Periodic thawing as spring progresses hastens the process, and so each year outbreaks kill ground-feeding backyard birds. Collect spoiled seeds whenever weather and soil conditions permit, and sift compost bins to exclude birds. Seed collectors are also useful if they are emptied before the seeds in them become too wet. Seeds growing on the floor, in seed catchers and in feeders indicate that cleaning is in order.

Sunflower hearts eliminate the mess of seed shells but spoil faster, and wet cracked corn is also dangerous. Limit the amount you offer in the summer to what the birds will eat in a day or two.

At any time of the year, bird feed can subsidize rodents. Effective squirrel guards keep rats out of feeders, but spilled seeds attract rats. Seed collectors under the feeders help but, again, empty them every few days.

Songbirds focus much more on insects than on seeds during the nesting season. For a few years it was fashionable to offer nesting birds, especially bluebirds, as many live mealworms as they could devour, but mealworms are deficient in calcium. Providing a few mealworms once or twice a day can be helpful, especially in cold, wet weather, but when chicks are overfed, it inhibits proper bone development.

The carbohydrates in grape jelly help fuel migratory flights and give catbirds and orioles extra energy when nesting, but take the feeders if they bring their chicks more than once or twice a day . Growing birds need protein, not carbohydrates.

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Do not make a summer hummingbird mix stronger than a quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Sugar water ferments, so change it every two or three days and every day in hot weather.

Birds drink and bathe in birdbaths, and mosquito eggs hatch and mature quickly in hot weather, so clean birdbaths daily or every other day. Wetting yours down while wiping with a scrub brush minimizes algae growth.

Many people provide nesting material in the summer. The fibers should be shorter than about 8 inches long to avoid tangling and dull in color for camouflage. Never use dryer lint: it’s nice straight from the lint filter, but after getting wet it shrinks, hardens and crumbles.

Dog or cat fur taken from a grooming brush from animals that have not been treated with flea and tick medication is ideal nesting material. But what if you use flea and tick preventative products, either by mouth or in the form of drops? I am not aware of any studies of nests with fur from animals treated with these drugs. The chemicals in the fur may help control lice and mites in the nest, but they may also harm incubating birds or baby birds. Until scientists investigate the matter, I think prevention is better than cure.