Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie
Backyard bird watching in late summer: What can you expect to see at summer bird feeders? There might be more going on than you initially thought!
Quiet Summer Bird Watching
Late summer tends to be a quiet time for backyard bird watching. Most backyard birds (other than goldfinches) breed in the spring, although some may produce additional summer clutches. Summer typically brings less visits to feeders as spring birds have fledged and bird parents get a break. Feeders are also supplemental to nature’s more abundant summer food sources, so some species may not spend as much time at summer feeders.
There are up sides and down sides to this. For one, you may not spend as much money on bird seed during the summer. And often you won’t see as many nuisance birds like Common Grackles and European Starlings at feeders. But other birds you enjoy watching may be more scarce at feeders as they find fresh bugs elsewhere. (For example, Eastern Bluebirds may not visit dried mealworm feeders as often in summer.) And migrating birds tend to move in the spring or fall. So summer feeders are usually visited just by the locals.
Summer Bird Behaviors
But quiet summer feeders can still be interesting. This is a time to really get to know your local birds. When you first start bird watching, your focus is often on identifying birds and labeling them with a name. As you spend more time watching birds, you start to pay attention to behaviors.
Birds do some interesting things and each species has its own quirks. Pay attention and get to know them a little better. For example, what times of the day do various birds show up at feeders? Do they spend all day at your feeders or do they come and go? Do they seem to magically appear as soon as you re-fill the feeders? Are they easily startled and will they return quickly or slowly afterwards? Do some birds let you come fairly close while other species fly as soon as you move? Which birds prefer which foods?
Look for patterns and watch for unusual behavior too. How do birds behave toward other birds of their species and toward other species? Do some birds give way to other more dominant birds?
Watch what they do away from feeders too. What are they eating elsewhere? Where do they look for bugs and other foods? Do you see patterns for where they like to perch? Where do they go to hide when a predator appears? How do they handle rain or wind? There are all kinds of things to watch.
Bird Solos, Pairs, Families & Flocks
Another interesting thing to pay attention to is how birds interact with their own species. Many birds hang out in pairs when breeding or in a family group when introducing fledglings to feeders in late spring and early summer. But that doesn’t always last.
Bird Solos & Pairs
You’ll notice that some birds almost always seem to show up at feeders alone and may even chase others of their species away from feeders. Red-Bellied Woodpeckers behave that way in my yard this time of year.
Other birds are almost always in pairs year round. In my yard, if you see a male Northern Cardinal, there is almost always a female nearby and vice versa. Once their young fledge, you might in addition see juveniles hanging out with mom and dad in the summer months. Even if you see additional adult cardinals, they also tend to arrive in pairs.
Birds in Small Groups
On the other hand, some birds seem to move in family groups. Blue Jays are like that in my yard. I think there are at least two groups of jays that visit my feeders. Typically they arrive in groups of five to seven. If you see only one jay at the feeder, they are likely waiting on their buddies to show up soon. When a family arrives, they take turns swooping down on the feeder to grab a peanut and fly off with it. But if two groups arrive at once, they bicker.
Other birds frequently hang out in small mixed species groups. For example, I often see a pair of Tufted Titmouses, a couple Carolina Chickadees and a White-Breasted Nuthatch arrive at feeders at about the same time. You might see them foraging in trees in a loose group as well.
And then there are the birds that always seem to move in flocks. For example, House Finches and American Goldfinches typically come in clumps and rarely alone. The large flock of Mourning Doves that settle on my feeders tend to come and go almost as one. The exception seems to be a single Mourning Dove who often sticks around, almost saying, “but I’m not done yet. See you later!”
Listen To Summer Birds
Summer tends to be quieter for another reason too. Many birds sing during late winter and spring when breeding but don’t tend to sing the rest of the year. But some do sing year round. (In my yard it is the Carolina Wrens that keep their clear, loud songs going all year.)
But even if they are not singing, birds are often still calling. You might hear two birds calling from different spots to keep track of each other. Or you might hear a bird making an agitated call when there is a predator around. Blue Jays have lots of different calls. Sometimes they are announcing loudly that there is a hawk or a crow in the area. But they might make a very different call when they excitedly discover peanuts in the feeder.
When you first start bird watching, keeping track of all the songs and calls can seem overwhelming. But learning your local backyard birds’ voices is a great place to start. Then if you then go birding elsewhere, recognizing a familiar bird call or song or realizing it is something different, can help narrow down a bird ID.
If you hear a bird, try to get eyes on it if possible. Often seeing the bird singing or calling helps you to make the connection to the bird in the future when you only hear it. Or go at it the other way. Look up your local birds on All About Birds and listen to their songs or calls and then listen for them in your yard. Sometimes the site will also have a video of birds singing or calling. For example, check out the “Sounds” page of Northern Cardinals.
Should You Feed Birds in Summer?
Some people feel you shouldn’t feed birds during summer months. They say it is unnecessary or worry that birds will become dependent on feeders. For myself, I enjoy watching birds and like giving them a little help with a steady reliable food source. I do also notice that feeder birds are often on the lower end of the concern spectrum on conservation lists.
It’s my choice to continue feeding them year round. But if my budget didn’t allow it, I would not feel guilty if I couldn’t feed them in the summer. Birds are adaptable. My feeders are not their only food source.
If you are going to draw birds to feeders, you need to keep them clean and as safe as possible though. Even if you may not be filling feeders as often, still keep an eye on them. Clean them when they need it to reduce disease spread.
What Should You Feed Birds in Summer?
Many birds eat more bugs and other native foods in warm months and so may eat fewer seeds from feeders. (Keep in mind that native plants support native insects that birds eat so your plant purchases can help feed them as well.) But you will find that the same foods you offer in the cold months will have takers in the summer.
Seeds & Peanuts
In my yard, the Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and House Finches are still eating safflower each day. Local Blue Jays still swing by when I put peanuts out. And the American Goldfinches will be eating nyjer and sunflower chips and the woodpeckers are regulars at the suet feeders. And of course, the hawks will also come through fairly regularly to try and grab a Mourning Dove. They are part of the life of the yard too.
I continue to offer these birds safflower seed and sunflower chips/hearts in summer, as well as peanuts for the Blue Jays and Tufted Titmouses. While Eastern Bluebirds don’t come for the dried mealworms as often in summer months, Carolina Wrens still enjoy them, so I continue to offer them.
And I add one or more hummingbird feeders filled with a mix of sugar water to entice the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that also come to my flowers. (My local hummingbirds seem to particularly love salvia flowers.)
Suet continues to be popular with woodpeckers year round. Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees also still eat suet in summer months in my yard. Suet feeders are usually less competitive in the summer as annoying grackles and starlings have mostly moved on. And some other birds that feed suet to their young in the spring are now less interested in it.
If you continue to offer suet, be sure to use no-melt versions. And if you get a lot of hot humid or rainy weather, keep an eye out for surface mold.
Offer Birds Water in Summer
One of the best things you can do for summer birds (even if you decide not to put food out) is to offer water. If you can afford a moving water feature in your yard and have the space, that would be awesome. The birds would probably love it. But even a simple birdbath can be quite popular on a hot summer day.
You do need to keep an eye on summer birdbaths. They can get dirty fast. I check mine each day. If the water isn’t clean, I dump it and give it a quick scrub with a birdbath brush. Then I rinse and re-fill it with water from a drinking-water type hose or a small pitcher filled from the house.
To fight mosquitoes attracted to standing water, I keep a Mosquito Dunk floating in each birdbath. (Note: Dunks will last quite a while, but sometimes critters will take a bite out of them and/or carry them off. So I do need to replace them at times.)
Birds & Sprinklers
An additional fun way to offer birds water is to run a gentle sprinkler. I use one to water garden bed with a tree, a shrub and a variety of plants around a birdbath. My soil is sandy and dries out quickly. While it is best to water before the day gets hot, sometimes I have to run the sprinkler later in the day than is ideal.
Sometimes when I run the sprinkler on a hot day, birds will get on tree or shrub branches to enjoy the shower. They will flit around and puff up their feathers to take advantage of the falling water. Sometimes they will bathe in the birdbath as the sprinkler rains water over it. It’s fun to watch and they really seem to enjoy it. They don’t take advantage of it every time the sprinkler runs, but often enough that I watch for it.
Summer Bird Watching
There really is more going on a summer bird feeders than you might initially think. What birds are you seeing at your feeders in these summer months? (As always, comments and/or questions are welcome below.)
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