June Birds In The Yard

Here in the Midwest, June is one of the really exciting bird months in the yard.   This is prime nesting time for many species of birds.

Orchard Oriole

Many of the year-round birds start nesting before this month, such as bluebirds, robins, house finches, and mourning doves.  But, for those long-distance migrants that arrive in May, June is when they are seriously getting going with raising a family.

What kinds of birds fit this June nesting pattern?  Barn swallows, Orioles, Hummingbirds, Warblers, Wrens, Catbirds, Grosbeaks, Flycatchers, and Buntings are just some of the active nesters this time of year.   Still, the “other” birds can and often are nesting now too.  We have active bluebird and robin nests right now for example.   So, June may be the month of they year when you have the largest variety of birds around!

One thing you might notice, is many birds will often cease singing as much right now making you think they aren’t around.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Nesting birds need to be careful not to “broadcast” the fact they have a nest to watchful predators.  Singing birds are often males and usually still trying to attract a mate.  You also might observe that behavior too right now.  However, once they have “paired up”, the singing usually ceases.  Exceptions might be birds like Indigo Buntings that will typically continue to sing well into the summer.

One interesting thing to do is pick a nice day around now, find a nice shaded spot to sit and a pair of binoculars, and observe the birds that fly around your yard.  Notice what they are doing and where they are going to and coming from.  You might get lucky and see where an interesting bird may be nesting.  For example, we noticed a pair of Orchard Orioles hanging around a particular lilac bush in our yard on numerous occasions.  (See the picture of a male Orchard) Since our habitat is good for these beautiful members of the blackbird family, we are suspicious they are building a nesting in the lilac.  Unfortunately, our efforts to spot a nest have not been successful – yet.  The point is that birds are experts at locating and hiding the locations of their nests.  So, you may not even know of a nest until the fall when the leaves fall off the tree!

Another thing we’ve learned in watching the yard is how amazing Cedar Waxwings are at knowing exactly when certain berries (their favorite food) are going to ripen.  We have a Serviceberry Tree (also known as Juneberry for when the fruit ripens) that the Waxwings absolutely love.   These beautiful birds are notorious wanderers and highly social, and often travel around in small groups or flocks.  Maybe that’s how they find fruit trees?   The more eyes that are looking, the more food they can find collectively.  Anyway, this time of year, we can see them coming and going all day to the tree as more fruit becomes ripe.

If you want to attract even more June birds into the yard, just follow our suggestions on our resource pages on feeding the birds and the use of water and plantings.  Many beautiful bird species aren’t interested in seed at all.  But they will respond readily to water or fruits on shrubs and trees you have planted.   Also, insect eating birds will love your yard if you have a big variety of plantings that provide homes/food for a lot of insect species.

So, enjoy this fun time of the year in your yard!

Hummingbirds In Your Summer Garden

This time of year is my favorite time to watch those jewels of the garden, hummingbirds.  Hummingbird feeding at red flower Sometimes they look like huge insects as they fly from flower to flower in search of nectar.  But hummingbirds very fast and straight flight is what makes them easier to distinguish than the zig-zag, slower pattern of insects.

In this area of North American, we “just” have one species of hummingbird – the Ruby-Throated.  If you live in areas of the southwest or west, you are likely to have more species.  When we lived in southern California, it was wonderful to have “hummers” all year long due to the mild weather and flowers that were always in bloom.  And we are really blessed living in North America since hummingbirds are strictly a New World species that is not seen in Asia, Africa, or Europe.

This time of year, it’s possible to see not only adult hummingbirds, but young fledglings as well.  Typically, hummingbirds will have 2 young in their tiny nests placed in trees or shrubs.  And the female does all the young rearing with the “deadbeat Dads” going elsewhere to look for other mates or defend feeding territories.

Which brings me to attracting hummingbirds.  The easiest and fastest way to attract hummingbirds is with a nectar (or sugar water) feeder.  There are many styles of feeders for sale on the market and they generally don’t cost much.  I prefer the saucer shaped feeders where the birds feed from above (see the photo).  Hummingbirds at nectar feederThese are easier to fill and clean, and don’t leak like the traditional gravity-fed feeders where the birds feed below where the nectar is stored.

You should locate the feeder in a garden where there are flowers or insects the birds will be attracted to.   I like to mount them on short crook poles that locate the feeder just above the flower level.  This makes them easier to find.  Feeders with some red-colored parts help to get the birds’ attention.  But if it doesn’t have any red, simply hanging a red ribbon from the feeder will suffice.

One huge key in attracting hummingbirds with feeders is keeping the nectar fresh.  Replace the nectar every 3-5 days WITHOUT FAIL even if you’re not seeing birds come to it.  The nectar will start going bad after this time.  You don’t need to buy commercial mixed nectars either – especially the ones with the red dye.  Just mix regular table sugar with water at the ratio of 4 parts water to one part sugar.  Boil the water, mix in the sugar until it dissolves, let it cool, and refrigerate what you don’t use.

The other major way to attract hummingbirds is with flowers they’re attracted to.  The best types of flowers to plant are ones with long, tubular flowers as these are the ones hummingbirds have evolved to cross-pollinate with their long beaks and tongues.  Examples are penstemon, fox gloves, columbines, coral bells, fuschia, and trumpet vine.  And many people don’t realize that hummingbirds can’t live on nectar alone.  They need to eat tiny insects too, which they also feed to their young.  The flowers will help attract these insects as well.

Unfortunately, most hummingbirds leave the northern states in the fall as they head south to Mexico and Central America to spend the winter.  However, as I had mentioned states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico can have hummingbirds all year round.   So, it’s important to keep your feeders up through most of October in most northern and central states.  That will help in case a few “stragglers” are moving through late.

 

 

Backyard Birds Love Serviceberry Trees and Shrubs

I always like to tell people that bird feeders and nest boxes will only attract so many kinds of backyard birds. Serviceberry is loved by birds. If you REALLY want to attract a lot more species, add many kinds of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers to your yard.  (Water also helps a lot, but that’s another post or two!)

One of the best berry-producing trees or shrubs you can plant is serviceberry – which also goes by a number of other names like Juneberry or Shadwood.  Birds love serviceberry because of the succulent berries it produces,  usually in June in areas of the eastern and Midwestern U.S.  The berries not only taste good to birds, they are also liked by people as well.  Serviceberries have a blueberry-like flavor and can be eaten raw or baked into pies, muffins, etc.

Birds that especially like serviceberry include Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Catbirds, Mockingbirds, and Thrashers.  And they seem to know when the berries are going to ripen!  I will see different birds coming by to check out the tree for days before the berries actually start to ripen.  And when they do ripen, you’ll see a never-ending parade of birds stopping by to stock up!  In fact in most years, I never see any ripe berries fallen to the ground.  The birds eat them ALL!

For whatever reason, this year our tree produced far more berries than it ever has.  Even the legions of Waxwings and Robins can’t seem to eat them all, prompting my wife and I to consider harvesting some for ourselves!

Serviceberry comes in upwards of 20 varieties ranging from trees getting up to 60 feet high to low-spreading shrub-types.  The most popular kind is an ornamental tree that is less than 20 feet high.  In mid-spring they produce pretty white blossoms that lead to the succulent berries in June.   One piece of advice is to place the tree a little distance away from areas where you park cars or walk by frequently.  The berries can make a bit of a mess if there are more than the birds can eat.

So, if you want to attract more birds to the yard using plantings, seriously consider adding one or two Serviceberry trees/shrubs.  The birds will put on a show when the berries ripen that will be worth the effort.

May Is Prime Bird Watching Time In The Yard

This is THE most exciting time of the year if you’re a birdwatcher – at least in the northern half of North America.  Backyard BirdwatchingMany of the passerines (songbirds) are migrating through local areas in large numbers.  This offers the best time to see a lot of colorful birds like warblers, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks, and orioles to name a few species.

Many of these birds are heading toward more northern habitats or higher elevation areas where they breed.  Others will settle down locally to raise their young.  Either way, migration is exhausting for birds, so they’ll be very active looking for food to replenish themselves.  Between this and trees not being completely leafed out yet, the birds will be easier to see.

So, it’s a great idea to keep your bird feeders and bird baths stocked up to help these tired travellers.  And have your binoculars ready to pick up and use at all times.  You can see many different kinds of birds in your yard that may not normally be seen.  The more trees and shrubs you have for shelter and foraging, the more birds you’re likely to spot.

Even if you can’t see these interesting birds all the time, sometimes you’ll be able to identify them by their songs.   Warblers for example often hide in dense cover or up in tree tops.  Plus, they’re very small birds to begin with and are harder to see.  But, as their name implies, they make a variety of warbling, high-pitched songs and calls that alert you to their presence.  Learning bird calls by either buying one of the CD collections or downloading an app for your phone is time well spent.

It’s Prime Bluebird Nesting Season Now.

In most areas of North American, it’s prime bluebird nesting season right now. Male eastern bluebird The only exceptions might be in some of the high elevation areas of the west where it can still be quite cold.  But whether you have Eastern, Western, or Mountain bluebirds, the #1 these gorgeous birds are looking for that we can provide is a nesting box.

All bluebirds are what’s known as secondary cavity nesting birds.  That means they prefer to nest in hollowed out cavities in trees AND can not create the cavity themselves.  They depend on natural decay in the wood or other species of birds like woodpeckers to make the cavities.   A nesting box imitates a natural nesting cavity and bluebirds are always actively looking for new place to raise their young in early spring.

Bluebirds prefer wide open, grassy habitats like farmland, pastures, meadows, golf courses, and open subdivisions.  So, if you live in an open habitat with lots of fields and grassy areas, you may be able to attract “America’s Favorite Bird”.

The easiest way to attract bluebirds is to put up a bluebird house (or nesting box) on a metal pole in a very open grassy area of your property.  The pole should be about 5 feet high after installing it in the ground (which may need to be around 12 to 18 inches more depending on how loose your soil is.

You can make a bluebird house or buy it.  They come in a lot of varieties and shapes.  But, the most critical features are:

  • At least a 1 1/2″ diameter entrance hole – 1 9/16″ is better for Western and Mountain bluebirds.
  • Thick wood construction – at least 3/4″ cedar or pine is best.  Also, recycled plastic is becoming a more popular material.
  • Ventilation gaps or openings at the top.
  • A side or front panel that can be swung open for nest checks and cleaning out.
  • An overhanging roof in the front of at least 2-3 inches for cooling and shelter from wind-driven rain.

Once you put up the nesting box, you’ll also want to protect the pole from climbing predators like raccoons or snakes.  A metal predator baffle like the one shown in the picture work well.  You can also try waxing or greasing the pole to prevent easy climbing.

Another important task to ensure greater nesting success of your bluebirds is to periodically opening the box to monitor what’s going on.  This can be done once or twice a week and involves quickly checking inside the box to see if birds are nesting, what species is nesting, and whether there is any evidence of problems from predators or insects.  Also, you need to check if house sparrows are attempting to nest in the box.  House Sparrows are common across much of North America and are very aggressive, non-native invasive birds that will kill bluebird adults and young sometimes.  Remove their nests if you find them in the box.

Bluebirds build a tighly woven nest out of grass and/or pine needles.  The female will lay 3-6 pale blue eggs (sometimes white though) and sit on them for about 12-14 days.  Then, the young hatch and will take another 16-18 days before they are ready to leave the box.  After that, they will stay with their parents for at least two weeks while learning to feed on their own.

You can also attract bluebirds by putting out birdbaths, feeders, and planting shrubs and trees they’re attracted to.  But that’s a topic for an entire other article!

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology