For the Birds Radio Program: Attracting Birds in Late Spring

Original Air Date: April 24, 1989

Recast from 6-9-86. (3:30), date confirmed.

Audio missing


Attracting Birds in Late Spring

Aargh–For the Birds! For the Birds!

(Recording–Evening Grosbeaks)

A lot of people don’t feed birds in summer–they figure the birds might need some help to survive winter, but do just fine without human interference when the weather’s nice. I don’t know–they may be right. But I suspect that a lot of busy parent birds enjoy having a quick meal at the avian equivalent of a fast food restaurant even in summer, so I keep my feeders going.

Baby birds grow incredibly fast. A crow reaches adult size less than a month from hatching. An oriole or catbird is ready to fly two weeks after hatching. And a young Chipping Sparrow is ready to leave the nest in just nine days. To grow that rapidly, baby birds need a lot of protein. They get it from animal food–insects, grubs, worms, and, for larger birds, from mice, eggs, and even other species of birds.

Parent birds spend almost all their waking hours searching for food for their hungry young. If you’ve ever had a robin nesting in your yard, you probably noticed that the male sings almost constantly while the nest is constructed and while the female incubates the eggs. But his singing stops abruptly as soon as the young hatch. Now he spends almost all his time searching for food. He’ll start singing again in late June or July, when the young are on their own.

Food availability is probably the most critical factor in the survival of young birds. When the weather is cool or insect populations are low, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of baby birds starve in the Northland. Keeping a feeder going helps keep up the strength of adult birds while they are searching for bugs for their young. Sunflower seeds are the best seeds to set out in summer–they’re high in nutrition, and less attractive than mixed seeds for house sparrows and starlings.

Adult Evening Grosbeaks pig out in the afternoon after a long morning of feeding their babies. Once the fledglings are full grown, the parents introduce them to bird feeders. The babies beg for food from any adult–that is, any grosbeak with a green-colored beak. That’s another advantage to spring and summer feeders–you notice when the evening grosbeaks’ bills turn lime green.

Most people take in their suet by May–it gets soft and messy when the weather gets hot and quickly grows rancid.

Orioles stop eating oranges by the beginning of June. A tablespoon of grape jelly or a cup of sugar water in a bowl can keep orioles coming to your window–and catbirds or thrashers and warbelers. One migration a pair of Cape May Warblers stayed in my backyard for three weeks. They spent most of the day gleaning tiny insects from the bark and leaves of trees, and flycatching among swarms of gnats, but they still came to the jelly at dawn and dusk for a quick pick-me-up.

All in all, keeping a bird feeder going in summer is a lot of fun for people, and may be a big help to the birds, too.

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”