Jun 19, 2014 | Featured Web Article

Five Tips for Summer Birding

Learn how to make the most out of summer birding! See tips below.

Now that the buzz and tingle of spring migration is over, we birders can shift our attention to the low thrum of summer and the nesting season. This can be a tough transition. Bird numbers don't match those at the height of migration, bird activity such as singing is beginning to wane, and the weather (depending upon where you live) can get uncomfortably hot. A birding friend of mine said recently, "Summer birding is boring, if you don't know how to get into it." She's right.

So here are some tips for "getting into it!"

  1. The Early Birder Gets the Birds. Just like humans, wild birds try to beat the heat of summer by getting a start in the cool, early morning hours. From just before dawn until about 10 a.m. my yard is crazy with bird song, feeding, fighting, and attending to young. Once the heat of day is upon us, the birds seek the shade and wait out the midday hours. They may even take a siesta! Often bird activity picks up again in late afternoon or early evening when both the sun and the temps drop.
  2. Hot Days, High Hawks. When the day begins to heat up, scan the skies for soaring raptors. These large birds of prey use the heat rising off the land (a phenomenon known as thermals) to aid their flying and soaring. When it's hot, look up. You might be surprised at what you see.
  3. Sit Still, Watch, and Listen. Find a shady spot on the edge of the woods, or in the woods, and sit still for a while. If you can remain motionless, birds and animals will cease to perceive you as a threat. Then they will go about their business of living. I once had a wood thrush hop into view while I was sitting still at the base of a large oak tree in the middle of our woods. The thrush foraged all around my legs for more than 20 minutes—too close for me to use my binoculars. It was a stunning experience for me!
  4. Visit Nesting Colonies.* Early summer is a great time to visit a heron rookery, a beach-nesting colony of black skimmers, a neighbor's purple martin condominiums, or the cliff-face nests of seabirds such as gannets, kittiwakes, or guillemots. These concentrations of birds offer non-stop action as birds come and go from their nests and foraging areas.
  5. Behavior Watching.* Careful observers can discover which birds are nesting and where simply by taking the time to follow a bird's behavior. Birds flying past with a bill full of food are likely feeding nestlings. If they carry nesting material, could they be building a new nest for a second brood? When young fledglings are about, the action and behavior really ramp up as frantic parents struggle to feed and protect their offspring.
* Always stay a respectful distance away from nesting birds. We humans leave scent trails that predators can and will follow to find nests and consume the eggs and young of nesting birds. If you are unsure what "respectful distance" means, watch to see if your behavior has the bird wary or not. If you are making the bird wary, or your presence is altering the bird's natural behavior in any way, you're too close. Back off a bit and watch again.

About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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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