I have had a lot of questions about why birds aren’t coming to feeders this Spring. The simple answer is – it’s Spring. As insects emerge our resident birds begin feeding on the bugs as they prepare to breed and raise their chicks. Some species, such as Blue Jays and White-winged Doves, might still mix their protein-rich insect diet with seeds, but for the most part they will happily eat the bugs we find annoying. As for the songbirds on the Spring migrations: they pretty much only dine on insects as the protein fuels their long distant flights. In short, it is okay to take down your feeders during the spring and put them back out in August when the breeding season is over and the insect population is not as robust.
The same is true for hummingbirds. Black-chinned and Ruby-throated pass through our area to points north. Some Ruby-throats will nest in the area and people are generally surprised to learn that they eat millions of tiny insects every spring. If you want to put out a hummingbird feeder the best time to do so is mid to late summer. What’s even better is to plant native plants that bloom from April to September. If you do put out a feeder please do not use the premixed stuff with red dye in it. Be sure to replace the sugar water frequently. Fermenting liquid can cause a hummingbird’s long tongue to swell and prevent them from being able to eat.
The best thing to put out this time of year and all summer is water. A shallow bird bath is a wonderful way to bring in the birds and offer them something they really need. Just make sure you keep the water and bath clean, and out of reach of predators including dogs and cats.
Some folks have inquired how winter storm Uri impacted the birds. Biologist are still studying the long-term impact; however, it is safe to say several species were hit hard. Prior to the storm large flocks of Cedar Waxwings were moving about the state and in our neighborwood. They were fueling and flocking up in preparation for their migration to their breeding habitat in the boreal forests of Canada. The winter storm froze the berries and insects they depended on for food. During the summer, forest fires and drought also took a toll. I’ve only had one flock of six birds in my yard this year. It will take time for their numbers to recover. You can help them by removing invasive plants from your yard and planting only native shrubs and trees that produce berries in the fall and spring for them to enjoy: https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
The live oak, little walnut and native pecan trees are like an HEB for many species of birds. It’s not the acorns or pecans they eat, but rather the myriad of insects they house throughout the year. Keeping your live oaks healthy is important. Oak wilt (https://texasoakwilt.org) is a devastating disease that can kill the trees so please be sure to only trim the oaks in the dead of summer or after the first hard freeze in winter.
If you are interested in learning more about birds in Central Texas, I highly recommend joining Travis Audubon to take advantage of the many bird walks and speakers series they offer. If you are looking for cool places to go birding in Texas in any season, check out Parking Lot Birding: A Fun Guide to Discovering Birds in Texas at https://www.bookpeople.com.