Top 10 Summer Backyard Enhancers for Your Birds

Water sources with recirculating pumps both keep the water clean and add motion to the surface, which attracts birds more readily.

Here are 10 suggestions for enhancing the bird-friendliness of your backyard during the summer months, no matter where you live in North America.

1. Nesting Boxes. There's no better way to engage with your backyard birds than by providing proper housing for them. Even though not all of our backyard birds will use a nest box, those that do are incredibly interesting: chickadees, titmice, swallows, bluebirds, martins, and even some flycatchers, ducks, hawks, and owls. All sorts of resources exist for the aspiring backyard landlord both in print and online. We're pretty partial to our Backyard Booklets series.

2. Nesting Material. We touched on this in the April 2013 issue of Watching Backyard Birds with our Bird Bits suggestion for offering hair trimmings (see page 5). String, hair, and animal fur are good things to offer to your nest-building birds. Just be sure that you are offering short pieces (2 inches or less) and offering it in dry weather. Even a pile of dried weeds or grass clippings can be a handy source of nest-construction materials. Mesh onion bags work great as a nesting material holder.

3. Source of Water. Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Birds that cannot bathe will have trouble flying and may have difficulty maintaining their body temperature. Birdbaths should be low to the ground, away from (but not too far from) deep cover. Keep the water shallow (2 inches or less) and clean (scrub out at least once a week). Water sources with recirculating pumps both keep the water clean and add motion to the surface, which attracts birds more readily.

4. Patch of Loose Soil. Some birds prefer to bathe in dust! It's true. Thrashers, grouse, turkeys, and even some sparrows will happily roll around in loose sandy or dusty soil. This helps to remove feather mites, ticks, and other insect pests. You can create a dust bath in your yard simply by breaking up the soil until it's very fine. Choose a place in the open, where the sun will hit the soil and where you can easily observe your dust bathers in action.

5. Flowering/Fruiting Plants. Summertime is growing time. It's when many of our bird-friendly plants begin to provide a benefit to birds in the form of food such as berries, fruits, nuts, and nectar from blossoms. Plants such as cherries or crabapples offer flowers in the spring and fruits in later summer and early fall. Plan your backyard habitat with the cycle of blooming and fruiting/food production in mind. Having something for the birds in each month will make your yard a mecca for the feathered tribe.

6. Eggshells. During the nesting season, egg-laying females need extra calcium. We can help them find it by providing a safe and healthy source of eggshells. Wash your breakfast's eggshells well and place them in a pie tin in the oven for 20 minutes at 350oF. When they look slightly brown, take them out and crush them into small bits. Then spread them on your patio, driveway, roof, or deck railing for passing birds to see. Swallows, sparrows, finches, and other birds will take advantage of your thoughtful offering.

7. Snags. Summer means flying insects. Flying insects are what fly-catching birds are all about. A snag placed in the open will offer your fly-catching birds a launching pad from which they can hunt. Find a dead tree branch or small sapling. Dig a hole a foot or two in the ground and insert the snag. Fill around its base and tamp down the soil. Watch for birds to use the snag as a convenient perch for hunting, singing, sun bathing, and preening.

8. Weedy Patch/Don't Deadhead. Let a part of your yard go to weeds in late summer. The seed-eating birds visiting that patch in fall and winter will really appreciate it. In addition, consider resisting the urge to deadhead your garden and flowerbed plants. These heads may contain insects, seed, and other edibles, which will be a great source of food for foraging sparrows, finches, chickadees, and others.

9. Keep Feeding. Just because it's summer doesn't mean you need to stop feeding. Sure, if you live in a hot-summer part of the continent it's probably a good idea not to feed suet when the outside temperature is 100°F. But you can offer other foods just the same as you do in fall and winter. Fruits and seeds are a great summer feeding menu. Just be sure to keep cleaning your feeders regularly since disease can spread more easily in warm weather.

10. Hummingbird Feeders. Lest you think we've forgotten the glittering garden jewels of the hummingbird clan, we haven't! Summer hummer feeding is the bomb! Make sure you have plenty of feeders and plenty of nectar (4 parts water to 1 part white table sugar, boiled, then cooled). When a bully hummingbird sets up his turf at your feeders, add more feeders nearby. Eventually he will tire of trying to defend them all and the other males, females, and young of the season can feed in peace.

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