We’ve all heard the phrase “the dog days of summer.” Referring to the most oppressive days of summer, the term applies to the period from early July to mid-August. Come summer, many birdwatchers decide to wait until autumn to spot any more birds on their life list. If you’re like most people, you’re probably not looking forward to those weeks of hot air and unrelenting sun. But before you put away your binoculars and hide away in the air conditioning, consider adding these five birds you can find in July to your life list.
A “Black” Guillemot Only in July
You can find this striking member of the puffin family swimming and diving along rocky shorelines in the Northeast. Outside of mating season, the Black Guillemot flies solo. They will, however, come together over feeding areas.
The Black Guillemot is a diver that uses its wings to swim. If its prey is small, the bird will swallow it while still underwater. Larger prey is held crosswise in its bill and brought to the surface to eat. In fact, the unusual way this bird holds its prey is one of its most unique traits. With fish being its main source of food, the Black Guillemot can stay underwater for as long as two minutes.
Interestingly, the “Black” Guillemot appears as an inky black bird only in summer. In the winter, you may not spot this bird that is mainly a snowy white. The one trait that will help you be sure you’re spotting this bird is its red feet.
See the Spotted Sandpiper Before its Spots are Gone
Though natural habitats for this water bird are diminishing, resulting in declining populations, you are more likely to spot these quirky spotty birds in July. Outside of the summer season, these birds lose most of their spots. They forage at the shore but look for herbaceous cover for nesting. Though they are considered the most widespread breeding sandpiper in North America, their numbers have declined due to not only loss of natural habitat, but pesticide use as well. Their habitats include pebbly shores, ponds, streams and shorelines of beaches.
A hot July day is the perfect opportunity to head to the shore and look for the spotted sandpiper. Look for a small spotted bird bobbing the rear half of its body up and down in a quirky teetering motion. Skittish if startled, this bird will skim away, flying low over the water. Even if you spot the Spotted Sandpiper with its own kind, it is rare to catch sight of a flock of these birds.
See also: Tips for Safely Feeding Birds in Summer
Spot the Smallest of Mergansers: The Hooded MerganserJuly is the perfect time to plan an outing to a freshwater pond or river where the Hooded Merganser can be found. During the summer, these small ducks nest in holes in trees along ponds or rivers.
The “hoodie” is a slender duck with a notably thin bill. It is the smallest of the three species of mergansers found in North America. Look for the mainly black male with a distinctive white patch on its head, whereas the female will be a dull brown.
Feasting on fish and aquatic insects, the Hooded Merganser dives for its prey. The Hooded Merganser is the one species of water birds that can find its prey underwater by sight thanks to a third eyelid that acts like a pair of goggles, protecting the eyes during swimming. Agile swimmers and divers, they are surprisingly clumsy on land with legs set awkwardly far back on the body. In the air, you will recognize them by their telltale sign of rapid wingbeats.
Boat Out to Spot the Least Bittern
The Least Bittern’s habitat is the marsh, which poses a dilemma for birdwatchers wanting to add this bird to their life list.
As with most bird species, the colors of the male Least Bittern are a rich black, chestnut and buff. As ground nesters, their main sources of food are fish, frogs and tadpoles. These marsh dwellers look for cattails or any dense plant cover. Like other marsh or shore-dwelling birds, when startled, the Least Bittern will burst into flight, seconds later dropping back down into the marsh to conceal itself.
Before planning an outing to spot the Least Bittern, birdwatchers will need to address the specific obstacles this bird’s habitat presents. As with any time you are going into a bird’s natural habitat, it is important to not stress the bird and to avoid harming or damaging the habitat. The marsh where the Least Bittern is most likely to be spotted offers trails that follow dikes and higher grounds. This makes slogging through the marsh impossible as it will damage the grounds and disturb not only the bitterns but other marsh inhabitants.
Birding by Boat
Spotting the Least Bittern is one time when a birdwatcher will need to consider birding by boat. Renting a canoe or kayak in July makes this a memorable summer birdwatching outing. The canoe or kayak, both nearly silent to operate, offers you access to the areas you are sure to spot these birds without injuring their habitat. They will also not alarm the birds you are hoping to spot. Using a spotting scope, you will want to scan and focus on the areas where reeds meet the water so as not to miss spotting these small birds. The curious Least Bittern might even come out to look at you.
High and Dry with Seed Feeders: American Goldfinches
If birdwatching in the marshes isn’t for you, you can stay high and dry and catch sight of the American Goldfinch, a common summer visitor. This stunning backyard visitor will brighten your yard in July with its sunny yellow body, black and white wings, and distinguishable black cap.
This bird is the latest breeder of North American birds, only beginning to nest in late summer. One reason for this is that the goldfinch waits for milkweed, thistle and other fibrous seed-producing plants they use these to build their nests and feed their young. Planting these native plants will help attract them to your yard.
You can attract this bird to your backyard feeders with a supply of sunflower and nyjer seeds. The goldfinch will not only feed at your seed feeders but will happily eat the spilled seeds on the ground. Keeping the heat and humidity of summer in mind, keep feeders clean to avoid them becoming breeding grounds for bacteria and mold. Wash them with soap and water or a weakened bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly and be sure feeders are dry before refilling them with fresh seeds. Keeping them clean saves you seeds and keeps the goldfinches healthy. Also try to remove the hulls that collect in your feeders on a weekly basis.
See also: 10 Best Foods for Bird Feeding
There’s no reason to wait for cooler weather to continue enjoying birdwatching. With these five birds to find in July, you can enjoy birdwatching even during the dog days of summer.