"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Help birds during the summer heat



Here's my latest column that ran today in the Southern California News Group newspapers including the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze,Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and the Riverside Press-Enterprise.


 Summer means family time for birds. It’s the transitional period between the frenzy of spring breeding and their preparation for fall migration. But that doesn’t mean birds are just kicking back for the season. There’s still plenty going on in the avian world.

“Many birds are still actively nesting and taking care of their little ones,” said Diann Tomb, assistant manager at Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo. “I heard a mockingbird singing near my house recently, which meant he was still in the breeding stage.”

Musical territory

Male Northern Mockingbirds sing to reinforce the bond with their mates and defend their territories, she said. Their songs are a warning to other males to stay away. These all-night songfests continue through their nesting cycle, which generally extends through July.

Male mourning doves could recently be heard cooing from rooftops as well, which is their advertising call for a mate. Because these birds have a long breeding season with up to six broods per year, they nest into late summer.

And then there are the American and lesser goldfinches, which are typically the last birds to breed in Southern California. “They generally wait until late summer when thistle is blooming and food is plentiful,” said owner Alan Barry, of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo. “Though this year, they left a little earlier than previous years.”

Barry tracks them through the sales of nyjer seed, a favorite of the goldfinches. “The birds are known to nest in the foothills, where there is an abundance of food,” he said. “When they’re gone, customers stop feeding nyjer and sales of the seed drop dramatically.”

In general, mid-to-late summer tends to be a quieter period in bird land. People often report fewer birds visiting backyard feeders. Summer is prime time for natural food. Insects and berries are at their peak. During this time, birds are feasting on insects to feed their young. As the juveniles grow, they will often accompany their parents back to the feeders.

Beating the heat

Bird behavior tends to change when temperatures skyrocket.

“I’ve noticed birds disappear from my yard midday when it’s hot,” Barry said. Like many other species, birds become less active in the heat, retreating to the shade where they can hide and cool off, he said.

Homeowners can help birds through the drought and scorching heat by keeping birdbaths clean and filled with fresh water, he said. “Even putting out a plate of water will help. I’ve noticed birds in the street gutters, trying to get a drink from sprinkler runoff.”

Birds are attracted to moving water. And a birdbath or fountain in the yard will attract species that don’t normally visit seed feeders, he said.

“Be sure to keep hummingbird feeders clean and filled,” he said. “A general rule of thumb is to replace the nectar every one to three days when temperatures are over 80 degrees.”

In extreme heat, nectar can spoil in as little as one day. If the liquid becomes cloudy, it’s time to replace. Adding red dye is unnecessary, he said.

Time to molt

Customers have already reported seeing a few species of songbirds in molt, Barry said. “Black phoebes and Bewick’s wrens are among the birds showing signs of molt.”

Because molting requires a lot of energy, it generally begins after breeding. Every bird from the smallest hummingbird to the largest eagle goes through a systematic process of replacing their feathers. Birds in molt can look bald, scruffy and bedraggled.

The way they molt differs among species. Many birds undergo a complete molt near their breeding grounds, which allows them to migrate south with a new set of feathers. Some have a partial molt before fall migration. Typically, birds shed feathers in regular patterns, though it may take weeks or months for them to complete the molting cycle. However, birds are not normally in a full molt when flying long distances.

Birds tend to become secretive during this time, vocalizing infrequently and hiding in the vegetation, Barry said. “They’re more vulnerable to predators during molt, especially when growing new flight feathers.”

Help our fine feathered friends by offering quality sunflower seeds to help boost the protein and fat in their diets needed to grow new feathers, he said. Suet also provides great nutritional value.

If you’re visiting lakes and ponds this summer, Barry suggests bringing along cracked corn if you’re allowed to feed the ducks. Pieces of torn lettuce and thawed frozen peas are also acceptable.

Just leave the bread at home. “It’s difficult for the birds to digest and bread has also been linked to avian botulism,” he said. The disease can cause paralysis and death in birds.



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