Archive | January 2019


          If you feed birds in your backyard, eventually you will either see or find evidence that one or more of the birds drawn to your backyard bird cafe fell victim to a hawk.  Thanks to the data collected by thousands of volunteers that have participated in Project FeederWatch since 1987, ornithologists are now able to provide us with a better understanding of this activity.        

         The ongoing Project FeederWatch study is sponsored by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, National Audubon Society and the Canadian Nature Federation.

         You might find it surprising to learn the leading cause of death in and around bird feeders is actually window strikes.  In fact, birds being killed when they fly into windows is estimated to less than one percent of the birds that fly south in the fall.  Roughly, half of all deaths documented by Project FeederWatch volunteers were attributed to window strikes.

         In comparison, cats were responsible for 30 percent of the reported mortality.  Hawks were involved in roughly a third of the bird deaths tallied.  Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks were linked if some 50 percent of these cases.

         Although sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks are similar in appearance, they have different feeding preferences.  The diet of the sharp-shinned hawk consists primarily (95%) of small birds.  During the study, sharp-shinned hawks were reported to feed on 28 species of birds.  The six birds most commonly caught were European starlings, house sparrows, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins and mourning doves.  It is interesting to note, three of these birds (the European starling, house finch and house sparrow) are not native to Georgia.

         For some reason, during the reporting period, sharp-shinned hawks were most often seen hunting in suburban yards than those located in urban or rural areas.

         On the other hand, birds comprise only about fifty percent of the diet of the Cooper’s hawk.  Out of the 22 birds captured at feeders by this hawk, by far, its favorite food was the mourning dove.  Other birds preferred by the Cooper’s hawk were house sparrows, European starlings and dark-eyed juncos.

         The study emphasized hawk predation was not a common occurrence.

In fact, an analysis of the data collected found each winter during the study period neither of the hawks was ever seen in most of backyards.


         There seems to be little information available on which wild birds will eat dry dog food.  However, I suspect the list of birds that dine on dry dog food is longer than we may realize. The problem is few people have experimented offering this food to their feathered neighbors.   

         I have rarely intentionally fed dog food to birds. However, on a number of occasions I have seen American crows and common grackles toting off chunks of dog food left behind by our family dogs.  In some cases, the birds carried the food to a nearby birdbath where they thoroughly doused the chunks of food in water before trying to eat them.

        Others have reported house sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, common ground doves, eastern bluebirds, blue jays, and European starlings will eat dry dog food. 

American Crow feeding on dog food.

        I honestly believe if dry dog food were offered more often in feeders, the list of birds known to eat this unusual food offering would be considerably longer. 

       When you think about it, there is no reason why dry dog food should not be popular with wild birds.  Major brands of dog food contain protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.  In fact, some dog foods are probably more nutritionally balanced than some of the food they typically consume.   

        Why don’t you join me in this mini experiment?  Perhaps we will learn something about the merits of feeding dry dog food to birds. 



        Do you have the feeling you see more blue jays feeding in your yard during the winter than summer?  If so, it is probably not your imagination.  In fact, it is very likely you do see more blue jays in winter than summer.

        This is because, for reasons biologists do not fully understand, some blue jays migrate while other remain homebodies throughout the year.  In one study involving tracking the movements of over 100,000 blue jays living in the Northeast, researchers found 89 percent of the blue jays studied did not migrate.  However, one of the remarkable things the biologists also learned was birds that migrate do not always do so every year.  In truth, some stay home one year, migrate the next, and they ride out the winter at home the following year.

        The biologists also discovered older birds are less likely to embark on an arduous migration than young blue jays.

        Since untold numbers of migrating blue jays winter throughout Georgia, we are more apt to see them at our feeders at that time of year.  In addition, when the migrants arrive they often form flock of anywhere from 15-50 birds.  These birds will move about looking for food.  If your feeders are located in a flock’s feeding territory, these winter visitors are likely to return to gorge themselves day after day.

        Oddly, it has also been reported that blue jays will often feed almost exclusively at some feeders while totally ignoring feeders located close by in another yard. 

Blue Jay

        Banding studies have revealed that blue jays are creatures of habit and will often return to the same neighborhood and feeders year after year.

        I am certain my yard is in the feeding area of a flock of blue jays.  While I have no idea how many are using my yard, every day I see many of them feeding on sunflower seeds as well as drinking water and bathing in my birdbaths.

        I once heard Roger Tory Peterson say the blue jay was one of his favorite birds.  Although some folks are not particularly fond of the blue jay, like our most renowned birder, I like them too.  Do you welcome this large, handsome bird at your feeders?  I hope so.



        Have you ever wondered if climate change is affecting the birds that visit our backyards?  A recently completed study of house finch nests has shed some light on how the warming of the globe is affecting this common backyard resident.

       Biologists found house finches appear to be nesting earlier in California in response to climate change. 

       This conclusion is based on an analysis of museum records of house finch nests collected over more than 100 years (1895 to 2007).  When these data were compared to the spring temperatures recorded in the areas where the nests were collected, it was found the finches were nesting four and a half days earlier for every degree Celsius the spring temperature has increased in the locales were the house finch nests were collected.    If you would like to know if house finches in the Peach State are altering their nesting dates in a similar manner, you should consider becoming a citizen scientist and conduct your own study based on house finch nesting records collected in your backyard, neighborhood, or county.


        I cannot remember a time when my wife and I have not hosted mockingbirds in our yard.  During this time, we have learned mockingbirds dine on a wide variety of foods.  In fact, after watching these fascinating birds for more than four decades, we thought we had a pretty good understanding of what mockingbirds will and will not eat. 

        Each spring we compete with these vocal birds for blueberries.  Later in the year, we always enjoy watching them defend our berry-laden dogwood trees, refusing to allow other birds to feed on the trees’ shiny red berries.  We have observed them feast on pokeberries as well as the berries of the American beautyberry.  We have also seen them devour all kinds of insects, earthworms and even a small lizard or two.  Much to our chagrin, they seem to relish plucking black swallowtail caterpillars from bronze fennel plants.

        In winter, we have watched them dining on slices of apples and oranges.  They also seem to eat more than their share of suet laced with peanuts and peanut butter.  While we frequently see mockingbird land on seed feeders, never had we seen one eat a single seed at these feeding stations.  That all changed earlier this week when I watched a mockingbird feed on white millet for several minutes.  This particular bird landed on a platform feeder filled with white millet seed.  Upon landing, it began feeding by thrusting its bill forward scooping up several seeds at a time.  Time after time, it repeated the process until it suddenly flew away.

        If it is indeed true that mockingbirds rarely eat white millet seed at backyard feeders, I cannot help but wonder why this bird chose to partake in the shiny, round seeds.  It will be interesting to see if the bird returns to dine on millet again.  If not, perhaps this adventuresome mocker quickly learned why generations of its kin chose to ignore this common backyard bird food.


          In spite of the fact that there are dozens of wild bird foods to choose from, the vast majority Georgians feed their feathered neighbors mixed seed, or black oil sunflower seeds.  If you want to expand your feeder menu, consider pecans.

          Since pecan meats are loaded with calories, and laden with fat, they are a great alternative food for birds, especially during the winter.  In addition, they are popular with many feeder birds.  In one study conducted in the Peach State, the nutmeats from a wide variety of nuts were tested to determine which were preferred by birds.  The study revealed pecan meats were the second most preferred nutmeats tested.  Surprisingly, black walnut meats topped the list.

          Pecans can be fed to birds in a number of ways.       

          Suet containing bits and pieces of suet can be purchased from your favorite bird supply store. 

          While you can place whole pecans in your feeder, it has been my experience that, if you do so, crows and large birds as well as squirrels will be the only diners that will avail themselves of the nuts. 

          In an effort to let birds know the nuts are a source of food, some folks crack a large hole in the shell of each pecan.  This allows smaller birds access to the meats.    However, most folks either simply crush pecan meats into small pieces or buy nutmeats that have already been crushed.  If cracked pecan meats are not available at your bird supply shore, they can be purchased at any grocery store.  Better yet, if you live near a pecan processing plant, check and see if you can buy either rejected nuts or bit and pieces of nuts there.

          As you probably know, pecan meats will get rancid.  This problem is particularly acute in warm weather.  With this in mind, it is a good idea to store your supply of pecan meats in a freezer.

          If you offer your feeder visitors pecan meats the birds most likely to dine of them are Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, and woodpeckers.