Spring Flings & Summer Secrets

     Oh, the joys of spring! I revel in the intoxicating rush of sound and colour brought on by the return of migrant songbirds. When I find my first Showy Orchis or hear the first trill of toads in the night, I savor the moment. The rains come, the sun shines down to warm the cold soil and the morels spring forth. A profusion of culinary delicacies waiting to be discovered. I willing suffer thorn and mud and tick to ferret them out of their secret haunts. Why? if for no other reason - It gets me out there!
     And then one day the Orioles return and with them the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, the Catbirds, and Indigo Buntings. It’s time to set the table for our new guests. The birds of winter continue to use the feeders kept full of sunflower and safflower. American Gold Finches, in their new yellow coats, are still happy at the three thistle socks I have hanging. But many of the new arrivals have no interest in these offerings. They ignore all the seed, no matter how fresh or tastefully presented.
     Many summer birds are insect eaters, they’re into that protein diet thing. Others are into fruits and veggies. And some are into a liquid diet, sweet flower nectar. I’ve had my hummingbird feeders up since the middle of April. Yes, April! Some hummers do return this early, following the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as it journeys north. When the Sapsucker drills a new sap well in a tree, a hummer may be close behind waiting for a drink. These meager meals are supplemented with a diet of small insects that are drawn to the dripping sap. Knowing that hummingbirds also eat insects may come as a surprise to some folks. Skilled hunters, they take small flying insects and aphids. A spider’s web makes a great fast food restaurant for a hungry hummingbird. Just take a seat and wait for some hapless insect to get caught, then fly up to the window and your on your way! Yes, hummingbirds need protein... who would want to raise a couple of unruly youngsters on sugar alone!
     So this summer I’m going to try a tip I got from Carrol Henderson. Carrol heads the Nongame Wildlife Department at the MN DNR. He suggests hanging a mesh bag of old bananas or melon rind near your nectar feeder. Sounds messy..but rotting fruit soon attracts a colony of fruit flies. Perfect for hummingbirds and migrating warblers! I can’t wait to see the ariel antics of these aggressive little hunters up close. I’m putting my fruit bomb right outside the window on a suction cup hook! I use an ant moat over all of my sweet treat feeders. I learned long ago that it’s no fun cleaning hundreds of dead ants out of clogged nectar feeders. I used to put out apples, oranges, and jelly only to end up with giant ant parties. It was frustrating. The birds I wanted to attract were frustrated too. Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Orioles, none of them wanted to put up with a hoard of irritating little ants running all over their feet. I didn’t want to use poison, something else might eat those dying ants. Then I discovered the ant moat! Just a small cup with two hooks. Fill it with water and hang your sweet treat under it. Surprise...Ants Can’t Swim! No more irritating ants. Lots more beautiful birds.

This summer...
keep it sweet with these four tips:
1. Provide fresh fruits on the ground and in hanging feeders.
2. Offer jelly, it’s not just for Orioles any more.
3. Try something different, experiment with live insects.
4. Protect your sweet treats from ants, bees and wasps.

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022