Summer may seem like a safe, bird-friendly season when so many birds are visiting feeders and lovely weather encourages enjoying the outdoors, but there are many threats summer birds face that can increase mortality of both adults and young birds. Understanding those dangers can encourage birders to take steps to safeguard summer birds.
How Summer Threatens Birds
It is true that summer is a bountiful season for birds, with abundant food sources and plenty of places to raise their young. There are many dangers that threaten summer birds, however, including:
- High Temperatures: Extreme heat can affect birds in several ways, including overheating birds and smothering chicks, despite the different ways birds have to keep cool. High temperatures can also cause food to spoil more quickly and increase the risks of disease.
- Storms: Sudden storms such as tornadoes, hailstorms or thunderstorms can destroy bird food sources and nesting areas, and summer flooding or hurricanes can damage bird habitats and kill birds.
- Competition: Birds compete for nesting sites and the best food sources in the summer, and aggressive birds can kill their competitors or dislodge active nests and helpless chicks.
- Drought: Severe drought eliminates water sources necessary for birds to stay cool and healthy. Piscivorous birds, ducks and shorebirds that rely on aquatic food sources can also suffer when drought impacts their food supplies.
- Disease: Summer temperatures increase the chances of diseases that affect birds, such as West Nile virus. Because birds gather in large flocks in summer for colonial breeding or in late summer when migration begins, diseases can spread more quickly, wiping out large portions of bird populations.
- Predators: Bird predators frequently attack nests, either eating the eggs or killing the parent birds and chicks. Young birds have a high mortality rate, and for species that only produce a single brood of chicks each year, a bad breeding season with high instances of predation can decimate the species' population.
- Wildfires: Just like droughts and storms, wildfires devastate bird habitats for breeding and nesting, as well as critical food sources. Fires also eliminate secure shelters for birds, exposing them to greater risk from predators. While some birds can thrive from periodic habitat renewal, others require old growth regions for survival.
- Beach Use: Unwary beachgoers can be a harsh influence on summer birds, particularly shorebirds that may nest and feed on popular beaches. Human activity can destroy shorebird nests or startle adult birds so badly that they abandon their nests. Loose dogs on beaches can also attack birds or destroy nests, and beach litter can be harmful to birds.
- Pesticides: Pesticides and insecticides used in agricultural areas can be extremely harmful to summer birds. Not only do these chemicals eliminate insects that can be a critical food source for birds, but they can build up in birds' bodies to create a wide range of toxic effects. While the most harmful pesticides, such as DDT, are banned in many areas, even less potent chemicals can still be detrimental to birds.
- Spoiled Food: Backyard birders mean well by providing feeders for their feathered friends, but spoiled food can be more harmful to birds than one less food source. Rotten seed or rancid suet can foster disease, and foods contaminated with bird feces can also spread avian diseases.
- Unsafe Bird Houses: A bird house can be a great piece of real estate for nesting birds, but if that house is not equipped with predator guards, proper ventilation or safe materials, it can actually endanger the birds it shelters.
- Fishing Line: Fishing may be a popular summer pastime, but discarded fishing line can strangle birds and cause severe injuries or death.
- Fireworks: Many summer celebrations feature fireworks, and personal fireworks are also common in the summer months. The loud noises from fireworks can disturb roosting birds, however, and firework debris can be toxic to birds that might nibble it as a food source or incorporate it into a nest. Fireworks can also cause fires that create even more hazards for birds.
How You Can Help
Despite the wide range of threats that summer birds face, there are many ways birders can mitigate those threats to help birds thrive all summer long.
- Provide water for birds and incorporate shaded areas into backyard landscaping to help birds keep cool.
- Keep bird baths clean and filled with fresh water to minimize the spread of diseases. At the same time, consider adding a fountain, dripper or wiggler to bird baths to keep the water moving, which will help it stay clean and attract more birds.
- Offer the best summer foods for birds so they have reliable food sources, which can help parent birds provide their chicks with proper nutrition and adequate food.
- Keep bird feeders clean and use baffles and other tactics to make feeders squirrel-resistant.
- If you notice birds showing signs of disease, take steps to prevent the spread of those diseases to other birds, and be aware of how to dispose of dead birds properly to minimize any contagion.
- Take steps to make bird houses safe and convenient for all birds that will use the houses, and monitor the houses regularly to be sure the houses stay safe for all the summer's broods.
- Obey all beach habitat warnings to protect nesting shorebirds, and keep pets leashed anywhere near where birds may be nesting.
- Pick up any tangled fishing line you may find while walking, and always remove all your fishing debris after finishing.
- Always thoroughly extinguish all fire sources, such as campfires or fireworks, to avoid the risk of unintentional wildfires.
- Minimize chemical use on lawns and gardens to avoid potential toxic contamination to birds. Birds will appreciate the insects they can feed on, and they can provide natural pest control in the garden.
- Know how to help baby birds you may come across, and know when the best way to help is just to leave those birds alone.
- Be aware of your local bird rescue organizations and wildlife rehabilitators in case you need their services. A fast response and proper care can make a great difference to helping a sick or injured bird survive.
Summer may seem like a great season for birds, but there are many threats summer birds face, from competition for food and nesting sites to natural disasters, diseases and predators. Understanding those threats is the first step toward helping protect all summer birds so they can raise their families in peace and safety.
Photo – Wildfire © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region