Jun 19, 2014 | Featured Web Article

Five Tips for Summer Birding

Learn how to make the most out of summer birding! See tips below.
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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 had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cleaned...so cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018