Archive | January 2017

DO BIRDS CHOKE ON PEANUT BUTTER?

peanut-butter-feeder

peanut butter feeder

Years ago when I had just begun feeding birds, I was advised not to feed peanut butter to birds as they often choke trying to swallow the sticky food. According to some, peanut butter poses a threat because birds do not have salivary glands and therefore cannot moisten the thick, oily food before trying to swallow it.

Since that time, I have tried to unearth evidence that peanut butter does actually pose a danger to hungry birds. My effort to unearth any documented cases of birds dying from eating peanut butter have been fruitless.

For years, I have feed birds this nutritious food offering it in holes drilled in logs or smeared on pinecones. Never once have I seen any indication that peanut butter posed is a problem.

In fact, I once read an article by the father of birding, Roger Tory Peterson, where he stated that had never seen any proof that peanut butter should not be fed to birds.

Consequently, it does appear that birds choking on peanut is nothing more than a myth.

However, if you are still not convinced that birds do not choke on peanut butter, you might try mixing cornmeal, chopped peanuts, seeds, or even grit with the peanut butter you serve to patrons of your backyard bird cafe. These additives will add texture to this smooth, thick popular bird food.

 

DON’T FORGET COVER!

       One of the things that you will find that I often mention in this blog is that all wildlife need food, water, and cover to survive.  However, often seems we homeowners tend to overlook the importance of cover.  This is unfortunate as an argument can be made that it is perhaps the most important element of all.  Perhaps this is so because many folks do not understand what constitutes cover.

       As far a backyard birds are concerned, cover refers to places where animals can find shelter from harsh weather, escape from predators, nest, feed, and roost.

       At this time of year, providing backyard birds with winter cover is extremely important.

       In winter, birds must routinely cope with low temperatures (often subfreezing), bitter winds, rain, ice, and snow.  The need for this type of cover is especially acute at night when they go to roost.  As such, birds simply cannot survive without areas where they can escape the ravages of the harshest season of the year.

       Trees and shrubs that do not lose their leaves in winter provide many birds with a safe refuge during these trying times.  All of these cover plants have tick foliage.  Two native woody plants that best provide birds with this invaluable type of cover are wax myrtle and eastern red cedar.  Both plants are hardy and easy to grow.

       With that in mind, if you want to make sure that your feathered neighbors have places to roost on frigid winter nights, as well as throughout the rest of the year, make sure your have provided them with plants that are blanketed with thick foliage.

       If you are going address this need with shrubs, plant them in bunches—don’t set out a leafy shrub as a standalone plant.  Birds seem to prefer large patches of cover.

       If you adopt this simple suggestion, you might be pleasantly surprised just how many birds will benefit from your thoughtfulness.

Eastern Red Cedar trees

       Eastern Red Cedar trees

                                                          

THE DYNAMIC TRIO

brown-headed-nuthatch

If you are as of fond of nuthatches as I am, this is this is the winter for you.  It seems this winter many Georgia backyard wildlife fanciers have the opportunity to see the three species of nuthatches known to occur in the state.

Most years the majority of us see only the brown-headed nuthatch.  This handsome little bird nests throughout the Peach State.

The white-breasted nuthatch also nests in Georgia; however, its nesting range is much more limited.  It is considered uncommon to locally common in those counties situated north of the Fall Line.  If your home is situated in the Coastal Plain, you are most likely to see the bird if you live in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state.  However, since some of these birds do move about in winter, a white-breasted nuthatch just might show up at a feeder anywhere.

Although the red-breasted nuthatch does not nest in Georgia, some of these birds appear in Georgia during what biologists refer to as an irruptive year.  This is an irruptive year.

The Red-breasted nuthatches that make their way to Georgia are thought to nest principally in the coniferous forests of the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada.  Here the birds feed mostly on the seeds of larch, red spruce, and balsam fir.

These trees are known to produce large crops of seeds in some years and very few in others.  When seeds are abundant, more red-breasted nuthatches are able to survive the frigid northern winters than when seeds are difficult to find.  Consequently, more nuthatches breed and produce young the following spring.

When this is followed by a crop failure, many red-breasted nuthatches leave their homes and migrate southward looking for something to eat.  When this happens, they suddenly appear at feeders across the state.

It is easy to tell the three species from one another.

The brown-headed nuthatch is small ( 4 1/2″).  It has a brown crown, white nape spot, under parts, and blue-gray back, and wings.  The famous artist and bird expert Roger Tory Peterson described the bird’s call as sounding like a rubber toy—an often-repeated kit, kit, kit.

The white-breasted nuthatch is the largest nuthatch (5 3/4″) your will see in Georgia.  It is our only nuthatch that has a white face and under parts as well and a black or gray cap.  This bird’s call sounds like a nasal yank, yank, yank.

       The red-breasted nuthatch is roughly the same size as the brown-headed nuthatch.   It is our only nuthatch that sports a black stripe running across its eye, highlighted with a white line above.  This bird’s crown is black and its under parts are cinnamon.  Like the other two nuthatches, its wings and back are blue-gray.  The red-breasted nuthatch’s call is a distinctive ank, ank, ank.  This call is often likened to the sound made by a toy horn.

All you have to do to attract these three very active birds is to provide them with black oil sunflower seeds and suet.  These two foods are irresistible to these feisty, feathered dynamos.

 

 

 

BIRDS FLUFF THEIR FEATHERS TO KEEP WARM

The photo is of a chipping sparrow fluffy its feathers to keep warm on a cold winter day.

The photo is of a chipping sparrow fluffy its feathers to keep warm on a cold winter day.

When the weather turns cold, it is not unusual to see chipping sparrows, northern mockingbirds, and other feathered backyard residents look much larger than normal. These birds have not suddenly put on an excessive amount of weight.  To the contrary, they are simply trying to keep warm.

       Birds have a number of ways to keep from freezing when temperatures plummet.  One way is to fluff out their feathers.  This works because when a bird fluffs its feathers, air pockets are created between a bird’s skin and the feathers.  The heat generated by the bird’s body is trapped in these air pockets.  In turn, the combination of the feathers and air pockets acts as an excellent insulation.  In fact, feathers provide more insulation than hair.

       If you wear a down-filled coat in winter, you can attest to the ability of feathers to ward of the cold.

       When we go outside to brave the cold we have to put on clothing to keep warm.  Birds, on the other hand, are able to protect themselves with additional insulation by simply fluffing out their feathers at will.  This is accomplished thank to an amazing network of tiny muscles that move each individual feather into position to create a fluffy appearance.

       Interestingly, small birds such as chickadees have greater heat loss problems than larger birds.  This is because larger birds possess less surface area over which heat can be lost in comparison to their volume than smaller birds.

       American goldfinches and some other small birds actually grow more feathers when winter looms on the horizon.  Since the additional feathers offer added insulation, this problem is partially alleviated.

       Nature is indeed amazing!

 

        

DO CEDAR WAXWINGS HAVE WAX ON THE TIPS OF SOME OF THEIR FEATHERS?

If you have ever taken a close look at a cedar waxwing, you probably noticed that some of the feathers on its wings seem to be tipped in red wax.  In truth, it is not wax at all.

The red that we see is located in the flattened tips of the main shafts (rachis) of the bird’s secondary wing feathers.  The material that produces the brilliant red color is a carotenoid pigment.  For the first few years of a cedar waxing’s life, the number and size of these droplets increases each time these feathers are molted.  Consequently, the wings of young cedar waxwings display few, if any, red tips.

The function of this plastic-like substance remains a mystery. cedar-waxwing

BACKYARD SECRET: Birds are not totally dependent on backyard bird feeders.

female-cardinal-chippings__-sparrows-feeding

If you feed birds in your backyard each day. you are likely to see a parade of familiar birds such as northern cardinals, chipping sparrows, house finches, tufted titmice and Carolina chickadees making frequent forays to feed at our feeders. Consequently, it is easy to assume that the birds that visit our feeders on a regular basis are totally dependent on our food offerings.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A number of studies have found that bird feeders provide our feathered guests with only fifteen to twenty-five percent of the food they need to survive.

If that is indeed true, backyard wildlife enthusiasts might ponder why they should feed wild birds.

Perhaps naturalist Kathi Hatton said it best when she penned, I don’t feed the birds because they need me, I feed the birds because I need them.