There is no telling how many plastic feeders I have purchased over the years. Although the birds used them all, many lasted only a season or two. Since they were cheap, when they cracked or got cloudy, I simply bought another.
Eventually it dawned on me I could save a lot of moneyby spending a little money up front and buy a plastic feeder that would last for years. The problem was how I could tell if I was actually buying a better feeder or simply spending more money for a feeder that would not last very long.
When I told a friend about my dissatisfaction with plastic feeders, he recommended I purchase clear plastic feeders made of a polycarbonate named Lexan™. He told me he has been using a feeder made of the material for a couple of decades.
After hearing his praise, I did some research on Lexan™. It seems since this manmade material is transparent, impact and crack resistant and resists ultraviolet rays and clouding, it is ideal for many types of feeders.
With that in mind, if you are looking for a long-lasting feeder, before you purchase one, check the label and make sure it is constructed out of a polycarbonate such as Lexan™ Do not let its sticker price keep you for buying it. Keep in mind; it should outlast a host of far more inexpensive models and save you money in the end.
Chances are, if you fill a feeder with sunflower seeds during the winter, you are going to attract tufted titmice. Once they find a feeder stocked with sunflower seeds, they spend much of their time making forays to the feeder. On each visit, they daintily pluck one sunflower seed and quickly fly away with it.
If you have spent any time watching titmice feed, you have probably wondered how many titmice you are feeding. Whenever I have attempted to estimate the winter titmouse population in my backyard, I quickly discovered I could never come up with ananswer more definitive than more than one.
Fortunately, for those of us that ponder such questions, there are ornithologists that have conducted studies concerning the winter habits of titmice in winter. Their findings have revealed during the winter titmice form small flocks principally made up of family members. As such, a flock often numbers no more than three individuals (a mated pair and one of their young that hatched the previous spring). At times, one or two others join them.
The group will forage for food throughout an area ranging from 15-20 acres in size. This tract will include the adults’ nesting territory.
One day about the time winter has loosened its icy grip on the Peach State it will dawn on you tufted titmouse seem to be visiting your feeder less frequently. This is a sign the winter flock has broken up. After the breakup, often the only birds left in the area will be the pair that nested there the previous year. The others will be elsewhere trying to find their own nesting territory.
By that time of the year, I am willing to trade my not being able to see tufted titmice as often as I have over the previous few months for the arrival of spring.
How many northern mockingbirds are wintering in your backyard? Believe it or not, whether you have none, one, two, or more is an indication of the quality of the winter bird habitat in your backyard.
Typically, a single mockingbird claims my backyard as its winter residence. However, this year I was pleasantly surprised two mockingbirds have staked out my yard as their personal domain.
Anyone that has watched mockingbirds for any length of time knows mockingbirds are territorial. They definitely do not like to share food with other birds, let alone another mockingbird. As such, unless it is a mate, a mockingbird will quickly try to discourage other mockingbirds that happen to cross over the invisible border that delineates its turf.
Each year with the approach of winter, mockingbirds carefully select their winter homes. Since sixty-five percent of the mockingbird’s winter diet is made up primarily of fruits and berries, the availability of these foods is a primary concern. Consequently, even if mockingbirds nested in your yard the previous summer, if a yard is not blessed with an abundance of winter foods, there is a good chance they will winter elsewhere.
The size of a mockingbird’s winter territory is determined by food abundance. When food is scarce, territories will be larger than in locales where food abounds.
Banding studies have shown when two mockingbirds occupy the same winter territory; invariably they are a male and female. In comparison, if one bird is present it is either a single male or a single female.
I find it satisfying to know that I am hosting a pair of mockingbirds this year. It tells me that my efforts to enhance the wildlife habitat in my yard are paying dividends.
Like most folks when I first tried to attract mockingbirds and other birds to my yard, I tried to do so by putting up a bunch of bird feeders. Nowadays feeders still play a key role in my efforts to attract backyard birds. Currently I am offering mockingbirds such comfort foods as cornbread, suet, grape jelly.
However, over the years, in addition to installing a couple of birdbaths, I have tried to plant or encourage a number of plants that bear fruit and berries throughout the winter. As a result, this winter hungry mockingbirds can also dine on the berries and of greenbrier, flowering dogwood, Callaway crabapple, American holly, persimmon, coral honeysuckle, and red cedar. Before they were gobbled up, early in the winter, mockingbirds were also dining on the berries of American beautyberry, and pokeweed.
If you would like to be the winter host for more than one mockingbird, this winter, begin planting fruits and berries that persist well into winter. Then when you somebody wants to know how many mockingbirds are wintering in your yard, you can proudly say, “TWO!”
A number of studies have found the birds that visit backyard feeders are not overly dependent on feeders to meet their winter food needs.
In the case of the black-capped chickadee (a close relative of the Carolina chickadee that ranges throughout the state), revealed food supplied in bird feeders provided only 20 percent of their daily energy needs.
However, when the winter survival rates of the chickadees that regularly fed at feeders was compared to those of chickadees that never visited feeders, the black-capped chickadees that dined at feeders were higher than those birds that ate only wild foods.
Interestingly when the researchers removed the feeders from the birds that frequented them, their survival rate dropped to what would be expected of a chickadee population that did not visit feeders.
After posting the blog entitled Baltimore Oriole Sightings, I received an email from a backyard wildlife enthusiast that lives in the southeast Alabama community of Ozark.
According to the author of the email she has enjoyed having one oriole visit her hummingbird feeder for the past four years. This year the male oriole appeared accompanied by a female.
In hope of enticing both birds to stay, she purchased an oriole feeder. She has stocked the feeder with nectar, and halves of satsumas. The food offerings apparently did the trick as she has been with being able to enjoy watching the birds ever since.
A few days ago she offered the birds some red grapes and watched as the hungry birds quickly devoured them.
She went on to say she also offered the birds store-bought tangerines and found the Baltimore orioles did not like them as much as the satsumas and grapes.
Prior to the frigid weather that gripped the state during the first week of January, I had not received a single report of a Baltimore oriole appearing in a backyard. Since then two homeowners have let me know orioles have arrived in their yards.
A woman that lives in Roswell made the first report. The second came from a resident of Lizella.
The Lizella blogger wrote her oriole was feeding on mealworm cakes. This marked the first time anyone has reported to me a Baltimore oriole dining on this unusual food offering.
In case you are not familiar with this odd food, a mealworm cake is nothing more than hundreds of freeze-dried mealworms compressed into a long rectangular cake. The cakes are offered to birds in a wire mesh feeder.
Interestingly, during the past week a wildlife enthusiast that lives in Woodland told me that five eastern bluebirds were dining on her mealworm cake.
Perhaps this is something you might want to try at your feeders.
For more information on feeding Baltimore orioles in winter, go the search bubble on the blog and type in Baltimore orioles. Hit the search button and a blog I posted on April 4, 2017 entitled, Odd Foods Eaten by Baltimore orioles will appear. The piece includes a list of other foods Baltimore orioles will eat in Georgia backyards.
It has been estimated that Americans spend $3.5 billion annually to feed birds in their backyards. This means during each calendar year somewhere from 0.5 to 1.25 million tons of sunflower seeds, millet, milo, and other seeds are used solely to feed our feathered backyard neighbors.
To put this in perspective, this staggering amount of food closely matches what the United States government sends overseas each year to help alleviate hunger in Africa.
Source: Marzluff, John M. 2014. Welcome to Subirdia. Yale University Press
At this time of the year, most of us are making New Year’s resolutions. One resolution many of us try to live by is to eat less salt this year. Although the harmful effects of a high salt diet on humans are well documented, is the same true for the birds that visit our backyard feeders?
The truth of the matter is we really do not know for sure. However, contrary to some reports, anecdotal evidence suggests it more than likely is not a problem. However, that is not to say that seeking salt does not have its risks.
In north Georgia where salt is often spread on highways to melt ice, wild birds are sometimes struck by vehicles when they gather on and alongside the salt-treated pavement.
Birds have historically been known to eat salt at natural salt licks. Here they eat salt laden earth. Nowadays hunters, particularly those in the northern half of the state, put out salt for deer; like salt licks provided by Mother Nature, these manmade licks will also attract birds.
Some birds definitely eat more salt than others do. Birds that are drawn to salt include, purple finches, pine siskins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, and crows.
Likewise, the mourning dove also has an affinity for salt. For this reason, some unscrupulous hunters will bait fields with rock salt in hopes of drawing flocks of mourning doves within shooting range.
I personally have never seen anyone purposely offer salt to backyard birds. However, it has been reported when it is, birds will avoid it.
However, when you come to think about it, we all offer salt to birds in other forms. For example, alt is a major ingredient in the bake goods we feed to birds. In addition, who hasn’t fed salted nuts to birds? As such, our own personal experiences suggest the small amount of salt contained in these foods is not killing the feathered diners at our backyard feeding stations.
If you want to see if birds are attracted to salt laden soil, you might want to sprinkle some salt on a small bare spot in your yard. It will not take long for the salt to dissolve into the ground. Then, keep an eye on the spot and see if any birds eat the salty soil.
One word of caution: I would not recommend you try this in an area where deer are abundant. The last thing you want to do is attract white-tailed deer to your yard.
I hope I have answered any questions you may have regarding the possible dangers of feeding salt to wild birds.
In the meantime, if you have had an experience with birds eating salt, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me.