It is well known that during the winter eastern bluebirds sometimes roost together in the same cavity or nesting box. Although much is yet to be learned about this behavior, observations of bluebirds roosting in a nest box in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather provide us with insight into the fascinating roosting habits of this popular bird. The event I am describing here took place in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather.
Throughout this spell of frigid weather, as many as 14 bluebirds used a single nesting box as their nighttime roost. It is interesting to note that while a number of other apparently suitable boxes stood nearby, all of these birds used the same box night after night.
The roosting birds did not simply pile atop one another after they entered the box. To the contrary, they carefully arranged themselves in two to three layers. The birds comprising each layer positioned themselves so they looked like spikes on a wagon wheel. Once each bird settled in, it faced toward the outside of the box.
Birds arranged in such a manner would have little chance of suffocating during the night. By so doing, the warm air expelled by each bird would also help keep the interior of the nesting box warm.
Over the centuries, a number of wildlife-related legends regarding the birth of Christmas have surfaced. Perhaps you have heard the one that explains why the robin has a red breast.
Supposedly, Mary was concerned that the small fire that was burning in the stable where she gave birth to Christ was not providing the newborn baby with enough warmth. Consequently, when a robin flew into the stable to escape the winter’s chill, Mary asked the bird if it could fan the fire. In response to her plea, the robin flew down, stood beside the fire, and began rapidly flapping its wings. As the bird continued to beat its wings, the fire grew brighter. Soon the flames leaped upward filling the stable with both light and much-needed heat. Since the robin was standing so close to the now raging fire, the bird’s breast turned dark red.
Woodpeckers excavate cavities for nesting and roosting. These tree hollows are also essential to birds that cannot chisel out their wood-lined nesting sites. Among the birds that nest in abandoned woodpecker holes are backyard favorites such as tufted titmice and eastern bluebirds. Unfortunately, these cavities are highly prized by non-native birds such as the European starling.
The truth of the matter is in most parts of state, demand for natural cavities far exceeds the availability of such natural nesting sites. When an aggressive alien bird such as the starling competes with these a native bird for the same cavity, the starling invariably wins out, often leaving the native bird without a place to nest.
It is a sobering fact that starlings usurp half of all cavities created by red-bellied woodpeckers.
One of the birds rarely seen feeding at Georgia bird feeders is the brown creeper. This odd 5.25-inch brown bird spends most of its time wintering in Georgia gleaning insects and their eggs from the bark of trees. However, from time to time they are seen feeding elsewhere.
When a creeper does seek food at a feeder, the brown creeper invariably feeds on the smallest tidbits of food. In fact, these small morsels of food are best described as crumbs.
Perhaps the most unusual food item the bird will sometimes dine on is boiled potatoes. They will also eat pieces of baked goods, seeds (such as sunflower seeds), and suet.
Some of the folks that have been lucky enough to attract brown creepers report they feel the key to their success has been smearing suet or peanut butter into crevices in the bark of a tree, or placing food in a suet feeder mounted directly on a tree trunk.
The barred owl is a bird that we are more apt to hear than see in our backyards. Even in wild areas, it is a true will-o’-the-wisp. However, from December through March you are more apt to see or hear a barred owl than at any of other time of the year.
There are a couple of reasons for this. During the winter months, as food become scarcer, barred owl will expand their feeding territories to include residential areas. In addition, these large owls begin breeding in December. Consequently, the birds become more vocal. This special time of the year extends into February and March, with the peak occurring in mid-February and March.
Most Georgians are familiar with the owl’s Who cooks for you, who cooks for ya’ll call. However, since the barred owl has this most extensive range of calls of any of our owls, they also vocalize a collection of wails, gurgles, cackles and other strange sounds that just might raise the hair on the back of your neck. I have heard some people say the calls sounded like they were made by a band of monkeys. Others liken the calls to the sound made by a pack of baying hounds hot on the trail of a raccoon.
With that in mind, during the next few months take the time of venture out into your yard just as the sun melts below the horizon. Then pull up a lawn chair and listen. If any barred owls are nearby, you will soon hear the birds.
The best nighttime concerts take place when two birds are courting. These events often begin at twilight and extend well into the night. If you are lucky enough to hear the birds’ concert, it will be a show you will long remember.
There are roughly three billion fewer birds flying about North America today than there were 50 years ago. This amounts to a staggering 29 percent decline in the continent’s diverse bird populations.
This is sobering conclusion of a study entitled Decline of North American Avifauna recently published in the journal Science.
This assessment was reached after a group of scientists studied data regarding populations of 529 species of birds. According to the paper’s lead author, Dr. Ken Rosenberg, a senior scientist with the Cornell laboratory of Ornithology, and the American Bird Conservancy, “This major loss was pervasive across all bird groups.”
Throughout the fall and winter mockingbirds live in areas (territories) predicated on the availability of food. Consequently, how many mockingbirds you will see in your backyard this winter depends greatly on how abundant food is in your neck of the woods.
Often these territories measure an acre or two in size. However, as you might expect, if food is scarce, mockingbirds will defend larger areas.
If you hosted a pair of mockingbirds in your backyard this past summer, this winter they may share the same territory or, yet again, each might stake out its own turf. Consequently, lone females or males will also claim some territories.
Last winter a pair of mockingbirds lived in my backyard. However, in previous years, a single bird claimed my yard.
For reasons that are not fully understood, each year some mockingbirds don’t establish their own feeding territories. When this happens, they often try to raid territories claimed by other mockingbirds. Remarkably when this happens, mockers from adjacent territories will join in the fight to chase away these interlopers.
I hope that this information will help understand why you have none, one or more mockingbirds living just outside your backdoor this winter.
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Thank you to all who have been following my posts! Terry
We often hear it said feeding birds in our yards exposes wild birds to more danger than they face elsewhere. Have you ever wondered if this is true? According to Project FeederWatch, data collected by thousands of volunteers, such is not the case.
Since 1987, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society, and the Canadian Nature Federation have joined hands to conduct a continent-wide survey to bird feeding. Each year more than 10,000 volunteers collect and submit data on the bird feeding activities in their yards.
One of the many things the study has revealed is the birds that feed in our backyards are not facing any greater risks than they are exposed to at other locations. Project FeederWatch data have revealed that throughout the course of a winter, on the average, only one bird death per every two feeders takes place, for any reason (predation, disease, and accidents). This is considerably lower than the researchers’ prediction that at least four or five birds would die per feeder over the course of a winter. Actually, the mortality rate turned out to be a tenth of what was predicted.
It is interesting to note, roughly 35-40% of all songbirds die annually.
I sure you agree it is good to know our backyard feeders are far from death traps for the valued backyard neighbors.