I know there are some people who stop feeding the birds in the summer months for various reasons; some are going to be gone too much to keep the feeders filled, others remove the temptation for raccoons and bears, while others have the mistaken belief that the birds don’t need our help in the warm, growing season. There is also the myth that by providing bird seed in the summer, birds will become lazy and forget how to forage naturally. This is simply not true. Research has shown that birds typically get no more than 25 percent of their daily food from feeders, and for many species the total is even lower.
At our house, the bird feeders stay up all year round and even though some months have fewer visitors than others, they are an ongoing source of pleasure and entertainment. We do have to make certain adjustments, such as bringing in the suet and hanging tube feeder each night, since we have experienced the aftermath of raccoon and bear visits, but it is a small concession to make.
It helps to have these feeders close to the house – in our case, hanging next to our deck. We also keep the suet feeders filled, since they are a mix of fat, fruit and seeds, they don’t melt in the heat, but they also hang on the branches of a leafy maple tree and aren’t exposed to direct sunlight.
While it’s true that there is more abundance of wild grown food for the birds, we have observed over and over parent birds bringing their youngsters to the feeders. If nothing else, providing extra food in the form of bird seed, eases the never ending task for the adults of keeping the young fed. In this way, it may very well assure a better outcome for the overall population. Typically, at least 50% of birds that hatch die in their first year of life.
An adult Hairy Woodpecker on the left transfers food to a juvenile.
We have witnessed a series of bird species with their full size, but still vulnerable fledglings being fed by the parents. First it was the Woodpeckers, and then the Nuthatches – both Red-breasted and White-breasted – flying from the feeding platform where they grab a sunflower seed, fly back to the tree, pound the shell until it gives up the nut inside and then turn to the ‘kid’ perched nearby with wings fluttering in anticipation.
A Black-capped Chickadee gives its fledgling a seed. Note the low posture of the little one.
There is no rest for the weary in the bird world. If the parent flies to another tree to catch its breath, the youngster just follows and starts up with its pitiful begging calls and displays. For a human watching this drama play out there is a feeling of admiration and appreciation for the parent bird’s devotion.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been bringing their full sized juveniles to the platform feeders and showing them how to pick through the offerings. Life can be made even easier by providing hulled sunflower seeds, or shelled peanuts, which also means less mess under the feeder.
This Cardinal is in the process of moulting its feathers – replacing them after the nesting season.
Besides the needs of their offspring, adult birds will also be moulting their feathers, as they prepare for the coming fall migration. This is an energy intensive process, so seeds and nuts which are high in protein are also beneficial. For those of us living in the northern states, the month of August is the ‘last hurrah’ for migratory species of birds; it is a time to fully enjoy and appreciate their presence in our lives.
By Kate Crowley