May 1, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2016

Birdsquatch: Bird Feeding and Housing

It's perfectly fine to feed birds during the warmer months, but you need to be wise about it.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

Is it wrong to feed birds in summer? I don't want to keep them from eating insects and other natural foods.

—TODD, CLEAR LAKE, IOWA

Dear Todd,

Isn't Clear Lake where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens took their last plane ride? Now I've got "Bye-bye Miss American Pie..." running through my brain. Thanks Todd! And Don McLean!

To answer your question, Todd: yes and no. It's perfectly fine to feed birds during the warmer months, but you need to be wise about it. First of all, feed the birds in moderation. Don't give them all the mealworms or suet dough they can handle because these fatty foods can cause health problems. Imagine if you stuffed yourself with only pizza every day. Soon you'd experience some health issues. Offering a limitless supply of mealworms or suet dough may cause your birds to undertake extra nesting attempts, which results in unnecessary stress to the parents—especially the females.

Secondly, it's vital to keep your feeders (and the bird bath) clean in the summer months, when disease, fungus, mold, and other nasties can hang around and cause problems. Cleaning feeders and baths with a light bleach-water solution (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) will do the trick.

Finally, don't worry about affecting the birds' feeding habits or foraging behavior. For insect- and fruit-eating birds the bounty of natural food in spring and summer is irresistible. They'll forego sunflower seed for a nice juicy caterpillar or some other seasonal chow almost every time. Just remember to feed all foods in moderation. After all, we feed the birds because we like to bring them in near to us—not because the birds are reliant upon us for survival.

"Took the Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry..."


Dear Birdsquatch:

When should I put out my bird houses in the spring? I've heard that it's bad to leave them out all year long.

—SARAH, BAY CITY, MICHIGAN

Dear Sarah,

It's always a good time to put out a nest box. Hang that bird house out today!

Some cavity-nesting birds—such as woodpeckers—can carve out a new nest or roost hole anytime they want. Others (such as bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, tree swallows) lacking the chisel-bills and excavation talents of woodpeckers, must rely on the secondary market. That is, they will take over old, vacant woodpecker holes, or find natural cavities (such as a hollow tree), or look for nest boxes to use for breeding and roosting. Since you're up there in the thumb of Michigan, your winters are cold. I'd bet my all-natural fur coat that any nest boxes you left out over the winter months would get used as roosting spots by somebody. If you want to really provide some cozy shelter, block up the ventilation holes in the nest box using weather-stripping clay and place a small handful of soft, dry grass inside the box. Face the box entrance away from prevailing winter winds. In the spring, clean it out and remove the weather stripping.

If you live in a part of North America where nest box predators are present, make sure your boxes are mounted on metal poles with predator-proof baffles mounted on them. Predator baffles are easy to make and are very effective at protecting box-nesting birds. My friends at Bird Watcher's Digest have simple instructions for making a nest box baffle at this link: tinyurl.com/SPbaffle. Good luck!



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018