John Sterling Poole
Bird Feed and Seed in the Summer Heat
Well it is here. The dog days of the summer. While it is excellent beach weather, sitting on your back porch to watch birds is not as enjoyable as it used to be, no thanks to the Charleston humidity however! People all notice that there is a drop in feeder activity, or at least they think there is a drop. As with all seasons, birds are simply adjusting their behavior to make survival easier. However, you can make that survival a whole lot easier!
The biggest change in the summer is that feeding has just shifted its schedule! Instead of eating throughout the day, birds will be seen eating earlier in the mornings and later in the afternoon/early evening. It makes sense why because that helps them beat the heat! During the middle of the day, birds are usually hiding out in some shade. Occasionally they will drop down to bathe. Since the birds are still eating plenty, be sure to keep those feeders stocked! However, the Charleston humidity can pose a problem.
This is the time of the year when customers rush into the store for feeder cleaning because the humidity can get trapped in tube feeders and make a real mess. This is avoidable, though! It is always a good rule to not fill those tube feeders to the brim (I like to leave an inch of space). This leaves some room for the feeder to breathe and should some moisture make its way in. Another good rule of thumb is to shake those tubes after every rain. That gets the seed shifted around for the birds, but also that can get some of that moisture moving out of the feeder. If a feeder gets too mildewed or moldy, the birds will leave it alone altogether. Lastly, should you still have trouble keeping your feeder dry, put some Feeder Fresh in there. Feeder Fresh is a harmless ingredient that absorbs moisture. It works wonders and keeps your feeder clean for longer!
This probably goes without saying, but this time of the year is when clean, fresh water is crucial for the birds. I am always an advocate for a birdbath or some sort of water feature in your yard, but at the very least, put a pie tin out in your yard with water. This makes all the difference for birds, because they can end up expending a lot of energy in search of water. Water can keep them cool and clean. Having clean feathers is important for both flight but also temperature regulation for birds.
Now I am going to get more specific with two types of feeding, because I have found a lot of questions revolving around these two: nectar feeding and suet.
Hummingbird nectar (also known as sugar water) is notorious for spoiling in heat. This is why feeding the hummingbirds can be such a hassle, since July in Charleston is so intense. If you have your feeding in direct sunlight, you might have to change the nectar daily. My recommendation is to put those feeders in the shade for that reason but also for the comfort of the birds. To tell if the nectar is spoiled, folks will start to see wispy white clouds floating around in the nectar. That is a sign as is having dark spots on the bottom of the feeder. Also, rain water can dilute the solution. So if you are not seeing your hummers shortly after a big rain storm, it might be best to change out that nectar. The hummingbirds are going to thank you greatly for keeping them well fed as they as the most nutrient needy bird you will have in your yard!
Moving on to suet. A lot of folks think that suet is only to be used in the winter since it melts in the heat. That is correct, however, there are no-melt dough cakes that can withstand the heat and humidity. You should have these out in your yard, since they offer the fat, energy, protein, and nutrient benefits that suet offers without the mess! Some folks think that the no-melt cakes are not drawing in the birds, since they see mold on the outside of it. This is all quite natural this time of year. Instead of disposing the whole cake or cylinder, just shave off the moldy outside layer with a butterknife. Beneath it is the fresh cake that the birds love!
Another way you can help your birds out is by leaving brush in your yard. I know I have talked a good bit about the benefits of brush piles in your yard (protection, social gathering space, etc.), but this post I want to emphasize one benefit in particular: shade. If the birds have a shady area near a feeder, they will use it. Brush piles can be quite cool and birds will congregate there in order to beat the heat.
Now that you know what to expect when the July heat really kicks, start prepping now! Shake those feeders, fill up that pie tin, change that nectar, and get those no-melt dough cakes out in your yard today! You can make all the difference in a bird’s survival! Next month, we will be talking about molting! Until then, happy birding!