For The Answer
PRIMETIME NEWSPAPERS WEEKLY COLUMN
Week of May 28, 2001By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
SUMMER BIRD FEEDING
The American goldfinches have left for points north after a long season in San Antonio utilizing our thistle feeders. Some bird enthusiasts remove the thistle feeder now until the goldfinches arrive again in early winter. I generally leave mine up. With the American goldfinches gone it does not require much seed for the few lesser goldfinches and house finches that still use the feeder. Each year, however, the English sparrows get more adept at using the thistle and this year, for the first time, I noticed that the white wing doves were scavenging under the feeder. If those two dominant species are going to benefit by the thistle feeder, it may be time to remove it, too.
I do discontinue feeding sunflower, safflower, mixed seed and suet for the summer. There are still cardinals, titmice, chicadees, golden-fronted woodpeckers, and Inca doves feeding, but the large majority of the seed is consumed by white wing doves and English sparrows. Starlings dominate the suet cakes. In my mind, the summer feeding break reduces any tendency for artificial support of expanded sparrow, dove and starling populations. Raccoons and squirrels get to be special nuisances in the summer as well. The squirrels have still not figured out how to remove seed from the steel feeders with weight sensitive perches, but from time to time the raccoons completely disassemble mine just to remind me who is in charge.
Hummingbirds are raising their first young of the season. As the summer progresses they will become less territorial and you will notice more birds around the hummingbird feeder. The birds you see in the summer in San Antonio with white bellies and throats are females or first year, young black-throated hummingbirds. The males have a dark throat that varies in color from black through purple to red, depending on how the light reflects.
In the fall the ruby throated and rufous hummingbirds will pass through San Antonio and will stay in neighborhoods with good hummingbird plants (shrimp plant, salvia, Turks cap, cape honeysuckle, lantana, and cigar plant) for several weeks. Some rufous hummingbirds spend most of the winter in San Antonio. Although they hang out by available sugar water feeders, the experts assure us that having the sugar water available in the wintertime does not entice the birds to stay longer than they should.
If you have never tried feeding hummingbirds, it is easy and great fun. There is a large selection of feeders at the specialty bird feeding stores, but if there is not one in your neighborhood look for the feeders at the place you buy your pet feed, your favorite plant nursery, or even the supermarket. Select one that is easy to clean without too many crevices and decorations. Hummingbird feeders need to be rinsed every week and brushed and rinsed every two weeks in the summer.
Mix four parts water by volume with one part sugar. Boiling the solution and food coloring is optional.
Hang the feeder where you can see it as you do dishes, sit at the dining room table, or near the picnic table. Under the eaves works well.
In addition to the hummingbird feeders, water is a great way to attract summer birds. Bird baths are available everywhere. Rinse and refill a bird bath every day or two and the birds will make great use of it. Place the bird bath near enough to a shrubby cover that the vulnerable bathing birds can escape overhead hawks but not close enough that cats can spring from cover to grab the bathers.