Midsummer offers a much different birdwatching experience compared to spring or fall. For example, the many migrating species that use our region as merely a rest-stop have moved on by this time. Therefore most of the birds you can expect to find out and about during midsummer aren’t going anywhere because they are here to build a home and raise a family.
Foliage is another factor that affects a birdwatcher’s strategy. Finding birds in the summer requires more listening than looking, as many of our summer species like to hide in the upper reaches of trees or are masked by the now dense growth of plants. Fortunately, many of these friends have very distinct voices and an outsized volume for how tiny they are. Digital guide apps are a major plus as they allow you to compare the sounds you hear directly with confirmed observations and without needing to guess what a guide might mean by “ethereal.”
The birds we see most often this time of year are those that frequent our feeders or prefer to live near humans. It would be a stretch to call them domesticated, but many bird species have learned to flock around humans because we leave out tasty meals for them or have made them homes near ours. Other oft-spotted avians are the soarers that spend most of their time in flight looking for food. They use several forms of lift-producing air currents to travel, including thermals—regions of warmer air that rise faster than their surroundings—and updrafts—air forced over mountains and other large pieces of terrain.
Bird Finding Tips:
Try to locate the source of the bird call before looking through binoculars or scopes
Keep your eyes looking at the location while raising the binoculars or moving eyepieces
Remain quiet and still, patience pays off when watching for birds
Have a field guide or birding app nearby to match what you see and hear in real life with illustrations and recordings
Mark frequently used pages in field guides or apps to make finding them easier in the moment
If bird behaviors change suddenly, look for predators like cats or hawks
Some of the more common birds you can find are detailed below. They are broken into two groups based on where you are most likely to see them: out about in the forest or otherwise away from homes and buildings, and near suburban areas with lots of feeders and nest boxes.
Red-eyed Vireos are one of the most plentiful summer forest birds. They are incredibly difficult to spot as they prefer to hang out in the very tops of the trees in summer and are camouflaged with green and white coloration. Despite their tendency to hide, they are easily the most vocal soundtrack in the summer woods with individual males singing 20,000 or more times a day. Their call is similar to a robin’s, but the habitat you’re in can help you decipher between the two. If you hear what sounds like a robin in the woods, it is likely a Red-eyed Vireo.
With a call that can be heard over hundreds of yards, ovenbirds are the rock stars of the bird world. Despite their big voices, they are tiny in size and weigh about half as much as a tennis ball (about 1 oz.). Their distinctive “Teacher-Teacher-Teacher” increases in volume over the course of the song. Their loud voice makes their tiny body a little easier to spot as it flits about under the cover of closed forest canopy. Males will often sing in pairs or small groups, though, so differentiating an individual bird can be a little trickier from a distance.
Step outside in the early morning or evening for a chance to hear the distinctive call of a Wood Thrush as it lilts from deep in the woods. If ovenbirds are rockstars singing the hits, then the wood thrush is a church chorister producing a three-part cantata. Truly a songbird, the many flutelike notes produced by the wood thrush come from two different vocal structures enabling them to produce two harmonizing notes at the same time. They are mostly vocal in the limited light of dawn and dusk, so it can be tricky to find them in their preferred habitat of dense trees.
Rarely heard but often seen are ubiquitous Turkey Vultures (not that you would ever want to hear one as they make a very aggressive hissing sound). They soar on air currents from North to South America using dihedral—the V-like position of their wings—to maintain stability during flight and stay aloft for extended periods without constant adjustment. They can be seen on most days and from most places with a clear vantage across the sky, often cruising in large circles or congregating in groups using the same lift.
The House Finch is likely one the most frequent visitors for those who keep a feeder full in the summer. They tend to gather in loud groups that hunt for new feeders to swarm and devour their favorite food, black oil sunflower seeds. The males are usually clad in a bright red chest and head, distinctly marking them from other common feeder birds.
Another very common bird to see around homes are Purple Martins, though not because they like feeders. For thousands of years people have been building homes for Purple Martins from gourds and now most of those along the east coast nest in man-made cavities. Purple Martins tend to eat harmful insects like mosquitos and biting flies making them ideal to have around your home. Their chipping calls are similar to other swallows and swifts though they are much more robust than their sleeker cousins. Unfortunately, they are victims of invasive species as European Starlings and House Sparrows will often force them out and take over their nest boxes.
Eastern Phoebes are another species that have adapted to be around humans. Their nests—a jumbled mass of mud, leaves, and grass—are often built under eaves or other protected alcoves near homes, though they are much less happy to share spaces with us and will fly away from humans while letting out quick calls. They are members of the flycatcher family and can often be seen darting after flying insects. Eastern Phoebes are not born with their calls as many other species are. Instead, they learn their calls from their parents.
Lastly, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common sights near gardens for a fleeting month or two before turning around and returning to Central America. Their tiny bodies burn through energy quickly and so they need to eat nearly constantly to maintain their furious pace. Their constant drive for food makes them relatively bold in that they can be seen feeding on flower and feeders while people are nearby. In fact, you are almost guaranteed to see hummingbirds if you have a properly maintained feeder in June and July.
The Mid State Trail runs through Poe Paddy and the tunnel along the route also offers a quick reprieve from he sweltering summer heat and once on the other side the trail is a wide and easy to navigate rail-trail. The odd Bald Eagle has also been known to cruise through in the summer to catch a fish out of the nearby Penns Creek.
The Scotia Barrens contains a wide assortment of forest birds and many of the trails pass through areas designated as important bird areas for some threatened species. Starting out at the Patton Woods parking area along Circleville Road grants immediate access to the woodland habitat with Scarlet Tanagers often calling just beyond the end of the parking lot.
The Spring Creek Canyon trail, accessed at any of the three main trailheads, gives a stream-side view of many of our feathered friends. In the early evening many insect-eating birds will flock to the water to try and catch some of the hatching insects on the water making for a good show in the cooler part of the day.