Tuesday, July 21, 2020

When to stop feeding birds in summer

Do you love to feed birds in winter? It can be a source of joy on those dreary winter days.

However, there is much confusion about when to stop feeding birds when winter is over. When should you stop feeding birds in summer? Here is the good news!

You don't have to stop feeding birds in summer. You can feed birds all year round. The one exception is if you live in bear country. If you have bears, stop feeding birds when bears come out of hibernation. But, of course, you may stop feeding birds whenever you get tired of it! You may stop feeding birds when spring migration is over. You may stop feeding birds when all you have left at your feeders are the summer House Finches and House Sparrows. 


Photo of Black-headed Grosbeak at a platform feeder
Black-headed Grosbeak at a summer feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

You don't have to stop feeding birds in summer!


For most people who feed birds there is no reason to stop feeding birds at the end of winter. The spring migration and summer nesting season brings new seed-eating birds to your backyard feeder. And if you vary the type of food you offer birds, the variety of birds you may attract increases dramatically.

Across the United States in summer there are the bright red House Finches with their lively songs. American Goldfinches come to your feeders in their brightest yellow and black summer plumage. Colorful Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the East and Black-headed Grosbeaks in the West are common backyard birds that will visit your feeders. Northern Cardinals visit feeders all year-round in the East.

And don't forget that across the U.S. there are Downy Woodpeckers that visit feeders year-round. So do Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches in the northern states, Carolina Chickadees and Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the East. And Mourning Doves visit feeders throughout the year in all parts of the Nation. Oh, and I nearly forgot about the Eastern Towhees and the Spotted Towhees.

There are jays and House Sparrows, too. Though most people don't really care to feed these latter birds.

Don't worry that your feeders will keep the wintering birds from migrating back north in the spring. It just doesn't happen. The migratory urges are stronger than even food.

And don't worry that if you stop feeding birds they'll starve. Summer or winter, bird feeders only provide supplemental food. They can survive without our feeding them except, perhaps, during extended snow or ice storms.


A good reason to stop feeding birds in summer!
Image by Marie Gayas from Pixabay

Stop feeding birds in summer if you live in bear country!


There is one good reason to stop feeding birds as soon as early spring, though--bears!

When I think of bear country, places like Maine and Minnesota and Yellowstone come to mind.

But there are bears in Upstate New York. There are bears in Florida. There are bears throughout California--even within 100 miles of Los Angeles!

Even if you live in these areas, chances are you may never have seen a bear outside a zoo. But those people who live on the edge of the wilderness, or in mountain communities, have to be aware of bears. Basically, if you live in bear country, you cannot leave out any trash or food--including bird seed. Otherwise they'll keep coming back and becoming a nuisance.

In some places, because of bears, it is only safe to feed birds from mid-December to mid-March ("Christmas to St. Patrick's Day"). Check your local ordinances. Many communities in bear country have regulations concerning when bird feeding is allowed.

But for most of us, the thought of bears at the feeder doesn't even come to mind.

Other times to stop feeding birds in summer


Depending upon where you live, you may wish to stop feeding birds in the summer, even if you don't have to. Here are some reasons that come to mind. Perhaps you can think of more.

Stop feeding birds when spring migration is over


You can stop feeding birds as soon as the cold and snowy winter weather is over. Many people stop at this time.

But I suggest waiting until May or even June to take down your feeders. Your winter birds may wait until late April to leave. And there is another reason to keep your feeders up until summer.

The reason to wait is that many seed eating birds will be passing through your yard during migration. And they'll be hungry!

Much of the sparrow migration happens in March and April. Widespread White-crowned Sparrows migrate north across the country, White-throated Sparrows in the East, Golden-crowned Sparrows in the West. Other sparrows, too. Savannah Sparrows. Chipping Sparrows. Lark Sparrows. These all visit feeders in spring.

The buntings and grosbeaks migrate through in April and May. These are beautiful birds. Indigo Buntings in the East. Lazuli Buntings in the West. And we've already talked about the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the East and Black-headed Grosbeaks in the West.

These birds may pass through your backyard on the way north. Or you may live where these birds breed. Thus, they'll be around all spring, and bring their young birds to your feeder in later summer.

House Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

Stop feeding birds when all you have left are House Finches and House Sparrows


In southern areas, or perhaps more urban settings, there may not be many birds at your feeders in summer.

In more northern areas, though, there are many seed eating birds that visit feeders all year.

The resident House Finches and House Sparrows may be all you have in summer. If so, I don't blame you for stopping feeding the birds. These flocking birds can be kind of noisy and messy, and eat a lot.

Even the local Mourning Doves may stop visiting the feeder during the nesting season.

By September or October you may see additional birds migrating back south.

Don't wait too long to set up your winter bird feeders, though! These fall birds move around looking for the best place to spend the winter. By mid-December they are in place. If you wait until then to set up your feeder you won't attract as many birds. Set up your feeders in November to attract more winter birds.

Stop feeding birds when you get tired of it


Yes, you may just get tired of feeding the birds in summer. It's oaky; you can stop. You're not obligated. It doesn't make you a bad person!

But rather than just stop, try this. Use this break to clean the feeders. Wash them with soap and water or a bleach solution. Take them down and put them away. Clean up the ground under the feeders.

You may find that your feeders need to be replaced. Take note of what feeders you liked, what ones had problems. Then you can purchase feeders that attracted the most birds and worked for you.

You may also use this break to think about planting and landscaping your yard with bird-friendly plants and flowers.

You may stop feeding the birds in summer. But that doesn't mean you have to take down the bird bath. Water can still attract birds to your yard all summer!

Photo of Hooded Oriole on tree branch
Hooded Oriole
Photo by Greg Gillson

Don't stop feeding birds, but try different foods for summer


Perhaps you'll want to stop or reduce the amount of seeds you feed in summer. Experiement with other foods, such as fruit or mealworms.

In the heat you may want to move your summer feeders into the shade. It may keep the foods (especially fruits and nectar) from spoiling as quickly.

And you will want to stop offering suet in summer, when the temperature is consistently over 80° F. It will melt and go rancid quickly.

You may wish to switch to only a thistle sock or feeder in summer with Niger seed. The goldfinches are late summer breeders, even feeding small seeds to their nestlings. So they may appreciate having a reliable source of small seed nearby.

Also, summer is when you should be feeding hummingbirds (really, your feeders should be out in early March to attract the first migrants). Four parts water and one part sugar is the ideal 20% sucrose level that is found in the flowers hummingbirds like.

No matter where you live in the United States there should be at least one species of hummingbird you can attract to your feeders--and more if you live in the West or Southwest.

The nectar solution for hummingbirds is exactly the same recipe as for orioles. You can put up special oriole nectar feeders in summer. Sometimes woodpeckers feed from these! Orioles also eat orange slices and grape jelly. Have you tried it?

When and whether you stop feeding birds in summer is up to you!


Related:

5 Simple ways to attract more birds to your feeder

When to put up and take down your hummingbird feeders

10 fruits you should be feeding backyard birds



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