Summer can be a rewarding season to have a suitable bird buffet in your backyard, and these summer bird feeding tips can help you attract a varied flock of feathered friends. By understanding the needs birds have in the summer and how to meet those needs with the most nutritious foods, backyard birders can be sure all their summer guests have a great diet.
Should You Feed Birds in Summer?
A persistent bird feeding myth is that feeding birds during the summer will make the birds dependent on handouts or lazy when seeking natural food sources. This is simply untrue—studies have shown that wild birds typically receive no more than 25 percent of their daily food from feeders, and for many backyard species the total is even lower. In fact, summer is an ideal time to feed birds because of the following:
- Long days give backyard birders more time to observe feeders and see many different hungry visitors.
- Birds are in their breeding plumage during the summer months, making identification easier and more enjoyable with bright colors and clear markings.
- Birds are raising their families, giving backyard birders the opportunity to watch nestlings mature as they learn to visit bird feeders.
- There is a greater variety of birds in northern areas during the summer months, and birders who only offer food in the winter will miss many amazing species.
At first, it may seem that fewer birds visit feeders in early to mid-summer, making the season less desirable for backyard birding. During early summer, however, many birds are nesting and are naturally more secretive, and while their chicks are very young these birds visit feeders only briefly. Furthermore, this is the time of year when many natural food sources—fruits, insects, seeds, etc.—are more readily available, decreasing birds' use of feeders. Persistent birders, however, can enjoy a bounty of summer birds by ensuring their feeders are filled with nutritious treats.
Best Summer Bird Foods
Offering a variety of nutritious foods is the best way to attract feeding birds in any season. During the summer months, many birds also eat fruits and insects in addition to popular seeds, and offering a wider range of choices at the feeder will attract more species.
The best foods to offer during the summer include the following:
- Seed: All types of birdseed are suitable for summer fare, but black oil sunflower seeds, hearts, or chips are the most popular option for a wide range of bird species. Nyjer will also attract finches, while mixed seed caters to different songbird species.
- Fruit: Many songbirds eat fruit. Apple chunks, banana slices, and orange halves will attract orioles, northern cardinals, gray catbirds, summer tanagers, and other colorful birds. These foods can be offered in a platform feeder or used to fill a suet cage for easy hanging.
- Jelly: Just like fruit, jelly is a sweet treat for many birds. Both apple and grape jelly can be used to attract woodpeckers, American robins, gray catbirds, and orioles. Small dishes of jelly are best, just be sure that it doesn't go rancid or moldy in the summer heat before birds consume it all.
- Nectar: Hummingbirds are the most popular types of birds that enjoy nectar, but other birds, such as orioles, woodpeckers, and nuthatches have also been known to sip at sugar water feeders in the summer. In addition to nectar feeders, plant a variety of nectar-rich flowers for an abundant natural food source.
- Mealworms: Insect-eating birds will appreciate mealworms at backyard feeders, particularly when they need to supply hungry nestlings with dozens of insects each day. Mealworms are especially attractive to bluebirds, wrens, grosbeaks, and warblers. Fresh mealworms are best, but dried mealworms can also be added to seed mixes for birds to enjoy.
- Peanuts: Shelled or whole peanuts are popular with jays, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, and they can be offered in platform feeders, small dishes, or specialized peanut feeders. Small bits of peanuts can also be added to seed mixes. Avoid seasoned, flavored, or coated nuts, however, all of which are unsafe for wild birds.
- Suet: It may seem contrary to offer suet during the heat of summer, but no-melt suet mixes (made with less fat) will attract woodpeckers, chickadees, and jays. They are a great source of energy during busy summer days of caring for hungry nestlings. Suet can also be crumbled, chopped, or shredded and offered in small dishes.
Foods Not to Offer Summer Birds
While a greater variety of foods will attract more birds, backyard birders should take care not to offer less nutritious options during the summer when baby birds need the best food for healthy growth. Kitchen scraps, for example, are not suitable to feed birds during the summer. While small quantities of bread, cooked rice, and other scraps won't harm adult birds when offered as very rare treats, these foods offer no nutrition for nestlings and other young birds. Avoid offering this "bird junk food" during the months when young birds need a healthy diet to grow into strong, mature adults.
Other foods to avoid providing to birds in the hottest summer months include the following:
- Peanut butter: Since it melts quickly, peanut butter could damage birds' plumage when it sticks to their feathers. Peanut butter can also go rancid very quickly on hot days.
- Soft suet blends: This type of food will not withstand the summer's heat and instead will spoil or melt quickly, grow mold, or foster bacteria that can be dangerous to birds.
- Nectar: Avoid putting out large quantities of nectar for hummingbirds or orioles since it can spoil and ferment before the birds can drink it all.
Problems With Summer Bird Feeding
While summer can be a great season to feed the birds, it can also be problematic. Other animals, including rats, mice, raccoons, deer, and bears may visit backyard feeders hoping for an easy meal, and different foods can quickly spoil in the summer heat and humidity.
To counteract these problems, check that each bird feeder is operating correctly without loose ports or broken hinges that would invite pests to dine. Only put out enough food that can be eaten in one to two days, and consider putting feeders in a secure shed or garage at night to deter other animals if necessary. Check seed regularly for mildew, clumps, or spoilage, and keep feeders clean to prevent spreading diseases or parasites to other birds or humans.
If unwelcome guests do become a problem, it can be best to remove all bird feeders for a few days. The birds will find other food sources and other pests will move on to different foraging areas. After a week or two, the feeders can be put out again and the birds will quickly return.
Tips for Feeding Summer Birds
To make your summer bird feeding even more enjoyable for both you and the birds, use the following tips:
- Keep feeders in shaded areas to minimize spoiled seed and help birds keep cool, encouraging them to feed longer and visit more frequently.
- Choose mesh or open feeder styles that will dry out quickly if the seed gets damp, and use baffles or covers to keep the seed from getting soaked in summer rainstorms.
- Decrease the quantities of millet or cracked corn to attract a greater variety of birds instead of just house sparrows, European starlings, and brown-headed cowbirds.
- Keep cats indoors and take steps to discourage feral cats in your yard to protect ground feeding birds and immature fledglings just out of the nest.
- Protect birds from window strikes by positioning feeders correctly and using anti-reflective techniques to make windows more visible.
- Add a bird bath for a fresh water source that will attract not only feeding birds but also species that need water but do not frequently visit feeders.
Summer is a great time to feed the birds, and with the right summer bird feeding techniques it is possible to enjoy dozens of beautiful bird species right in your backyard.