How to ... attract summer birds to your yard

  • Updated: May 29, 2014 - 3:01 PM

This Baltimore oriole fed on grape jelly. Feeders containing jelly will attract many additional species.

Photo: Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Some homeowners pack away their bird feeders once spring arrives.

That’s a mistake.

Summer birds provide just as much or more pleasure than winter birds. The males of the various species are dressed in their courting plumage, and their glorious calls seem to emanate from all directions.

A back yard that is adequately landscaped and outfitted with a variety of feeders and nesting boxes will attract far more species than anything done to attract winter birds.

To draw a variety of summer birds, a homeowner should provide lots of different foods. Sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, millet, corn and suet are all good choices. Be sure to place several halved oranges throughout the yard, plus a single container filled with grape jelly to attract orioles, catbirds and other fruit-loving birds. If you’re really lucky, scarlet tanagers will dine on your sweet offerings. Don’t forget to install nectar feeders for hummingbirds and the fruit-eating species mentioned above.

It’s also important to use several types of feeders to offer these foods. Suet can be placed in a wire basket to attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and even catbirds, brown thrashers and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Sunflower seeds are best offered in a standard gravity-type feeder to lure finches, jays, blackbirds, grosbeaks and cardinals. A tube feeder is best for dispensing thistle, the favored fare of finches, sparrows and buntings. Ground-feeding birds such as mourning doves and sparrows prefer to feed from tray-type feeders placed low to the ground. Cracked corn and a finch mix will attract these birds and more.

Provide water for the birds if you can. A simple birdbath works fine, but a small wildlife pond is even better. Consider digging a pond liner into your yard. An electronic pump can provide a waterfall, if you like. If you have lowland on your property, consider excavating to reveal a wetland. You won’t believe the number of birds that will use a water fixture to drink and bathe.

The feeders’ location can be key. If possible, install your feeders in a spot that is out of the wind and away from heavy cover where predators such as house cats and birds of prey can hide. Most people feed birds for enjoyment so locate your feeders where you can see them from a window.

It’s a good idea to put a generous amount of distance between each feeder. This allows large, intimidating birds to use one feeder while smaller, skittish birds use another. For example, blue jays and grackles prefer corn and sunflower seeds over thistle seed. Try installing your thistle feeder in a remote location to allow goldfinches and indigo buntings a chance to feed undisturbed by the larger birds.

As I write this column, I can see from my home office window a number of bird species using my feeders. There’s a colorful orange and black Baltimore oriole eating grape jelly. A number of goldfinches are consuming thistle seed from the tube feeder. Earlier, a ruby-throated hummingbird was sipping nectar from a feeder filled with sugar water.

Thanks to the diversity of feeders placed on my property, it takes only a few minutes to see more bird species appear.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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