Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birds Welcome Insect Boon
July 18, 2009
By Steve Grinley
It is hard to believe that the summer is half over and that the fall migration has already begun. The shorebirds are the first to start migrating through our area in mid-July and a few have already shown up on Plum Island. Short-billed dowitchers, least sandpipers, greater yellowlegs and a few black-bellied plovers are being seen in the mud flats and salt pans. A few red knots and a white-rumped sandpiper have also been observed.
The wet and cold weather that we experienced during June here in New England was even worse in northern Canada and, reportedly, had a devastating effect on nesting shorebirds. It is expected to result in much lower numbers of shorebirds returning south this season.
Even many of our resident birds have had a difficult time this nesting season. The lack of insects during June had negative effects on many birds including bluebirds, tree swallows and purple martins. Bluebirds are on their second or third broods now, with more nest failures and lower fledgling rates being reported. The swallows have had lower success rates in their reproduction this year, as flying insects were particularly scarce in June. The warmer and, somewhat, drier July should help those birds that did fledge, as they will need to add much fat before their southward migration.
Many of our songbirds are also dependent upon flying insects and they will welcome an insect explosion to help feed their offspring. Even the tiny hummingbirds feed gnats and mosquitoes to their young.
June brought many more birds to the feeders to supplement their loss of insects. We had up to a half dozen orioles and a pair of catbirds coming to our jelly feeders here at the store. We were going through a two pound jar of jelly a week. But I’ve noticed that just in the past week, as temperatures have warmed and insects have become more plentiful, there have been many fewer visits to the jelly.
Those that continue to feed birds have enjoyed the numbers of birds that have been visiting and, now, the fledglings that are visiting with their parents. Young orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, house finches, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees and titmice have all been enjoyed by customers who have been feeding them into the warmer weather. Many customers are watching young bluebirds, orioles and Carolina wrens enjoy the mealworms that they are still offering in their feeders.
I’ve been told by more than one customer that someone had told them that they shouldn’t feed birds during the summer. There is no reason not to. Birds are just supplementing their natural food during the summer months and they don’t become dependent on just your feeders. Neither will their offspring. It is a source of food that they will take advantage of when it is there, but they are opportunistic and will turn to natural food as it becomes available. You’ll see birds in the summer that we don’t get during the winter months and some of our year ‘round birds, such as male goldfinches, are much more brightly colored during the summer months.
If the birds have suddenly turned away from your feeders completely, it may be time to give the feeder a good cleaning. All the wet weather we had caused havoc with feeders, allowing mold and mildew to build up in the bottom of the feeder. One customer admitted that some of their seed had sprouted in their feeder – definitely not a good sign! Moldy feeders spread disease and birds will stay away. Now is a good time to check and clean all of your feeders by taking them apart, washing them thoroughly with soap and water (and 10% bleach, if they are particularly moldy.) Then rinse, dry them thoroughly, and fill them with fresh seed. You’ll be surprised how quickly the birds return to enjoy a clean meal.
Also, don’t forget to continue to offer clean, fresh water to the birds this summer. Despite the amount of rain that we had, good clean water will attract many more birds to your yard. Many birds don’t eat seed or visit feeders, but most all birds need water. Adding a dripper, mister, waterfall rock or other water movement device helps attract more birds and keeps water from getting stagnant. With moving water and clean feeders, your yard is sure to be an oasis for birds during these summer days.
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