Plenty of options for summer bird feeding

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Frequent questions this time of year include, “Is it OK to feed birds all summer long, and is it necessary to feed birds all summer?” The simple answers are “yes, and no.”

Birds don’t need to be fed at any time of year. There’s plenty of natural food available all year long. We feed birds to attract them to places where we can see and appreciate them. So feel free, but not obligated, to feed birds all summer. Just vary the menu to reflect seasonal tastes. Nectar, mealworms, oranges, peanuts and Nyjer are great warm weather foods for a variety of backyard birds. And don’t forget a supply of clean, fresh water every day.

Sweet selection

Nectar (one part table sugar, four parts boiling water, mix, cool and refrigerate) attracts hummingbirds, orioles, and a surprising variety of other birds that enjoy a sweet drink. Nectar can also be used to attract a variety of insects that attract a variety of birds. Begin with some hummingbird nectar, then add some stale pancake syrup, juice from canned fruit and blend the mixture with a soft, over-ripe banana.

Place a small container of this sweet cocktail on a tray feeder. You may want to put this feeder in a far corner of the yard because it will attract bees and wasps as well as myriad other insects. And shortly after the insects arrive, so will the birds. Most nesting birds feed their young insects (except finches), so expect almost any bird at an insect feeder during the nesting season. Even hummingbirds, will hover above the slurry and pick off gnats, fruit flies, and other soft-bodied insects. Another option is to paint the trunk of a tree with the sweet concoction to simulate a natural sap flow.

Another option

Mealworms are the larval form of darkling beetles. They keep for weeks in the refrigerator, and live food is irresistible. Birds feed them to their chicks during the nesting season. Offer a small handful in a shallow dish on a tray feeder. Mealworms are grown commercially for pet and bait shops, but they’re expensive. Two dollars buys just a few dozen. Online sources are more economical — 5,000 mealworms for less than $30. I use www.grubco.com.

Another option is to grow your own mealworms. All you need is a large plastic container (a sweater box works well) with a lid, a supply of wheat bran, cornmeal, or oatmeal for food, several brown paper bags, and an apple. For more details about starting a colony of mealworms, click on “My Column” at www.drshalaway.com.

For a virtually limitless supply of mealworms, start several cultures at monthly intervals. Each square foot of culture should yield more than 1,000 mealworms each cycle. And live mealworms can be stored in a refrigerator for several weeks to prevent pupation. Waxworms, a type of moth larva, are another popular live food, but they’re more expensive.

Cost effective

Gray catbirds, Carolina wrens, and orioles are among the birds that visit a small dish filled with grape jelly. Keep costs down by using the cheapest generic jelly you can find. To satisfy seed-eaters such as cardinals and towhees that visit my feeding station during the warmer months, I always keep one small tube feeder filled with black-oil sunflower seeds.

And I also provide Nyjer (aka “thistle”) for goldfinches year round. After nesting, they bring their newly fledged broods to feeders. Unlike most birds, goldfinches eat seeds almost exclusively. I’ve also found that in-shell peanuts attract a steady procession of woodpeckers, blue jays, titmice, and nuthatches. Orange halves attract red-bellied woodpeckers and orioles.

Feeder options

In addition to nectar feeders for hummers, my favorite summertime feeding station consists of just two feeders. Droll Yankees’ “Covered Platform Feeder” is a 13-inch diameter tray that I sprinkle with black-oil seeds, whole peanuts, and a few mealworms.

Hanging on a hook beneath it is a Bird’s Choice “Recycled Orange Oriole Feeder” from which I offer two orange halves, one dish of grape jelly, and one dish of mealworms. Action is nonstop all day long.

With the right combination of foods, feeders and water, a warm weather feeding station can be just as busy as one in mid-winter.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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