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, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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