One of the first things beginning birders learn is when they hear what they are sure is a red-shouldered hawk, they cannot be certain the call is that of a red-shouldered hawk. The reason for this is blue jays often mimic the call of this well-known predator.
Recent research has revealed much about the mimicry practiced by the blue Jay. For example, we now know blue jays do not just mimic red-shouldered hawks. The truth of the matter is they also mimic other predators such as the osprey and Cooper’s hawk.
It is apparent that blue jays mimic the call of the red-shouldered hawk in an effort to warn other jays living nearby that a predator is in the neighborhood. However, some ornithologists believe that blue jays may also mimic the call of a hawk in an effort to scare other birds such as grackles enough that they drop their food as they make a hasty flight to cover. Once the bird leaves, the blue jay can fly down and consume the acorns or other food left behind by the startled birds.
If you have a theory that helps explain why blue jays mimic hawk calls, I would love to hear it.
With only days remaining until Christmas, I thought you might appreciate a gift idea for someone that feeds birds. This gift is not attractive; however, it is practical, inexpensive, and will benefit both backyard wildlife enthusiasts and the birds. The gift I am referring to is a trash bag stand. Now before you dismiss this suggestion, let me explain.
One of the tasks that nobody that feeds birds enjoys is cleaning up discarded seed hulls and rotting seeds beneath seed feeders. In an earlier blog (check archive), I wrote about a couple of handy tools that make this job easier. I would like to add another tool to this list of valuable devices. This tool is a collapsible trash bag stand.
The device is little more than a metal frame. To use it, all you have to do is place a trash bag in the center of the frame and stretch the opening of the bag around the top of the frame. Once the bag is in place, the frame and bag will stand up on their own.
The reason it is so helpful because you can easily deposit the seeds, hulls, and the directly into the bag for disposal in your trash. Trying to place the waste collected in a dustpan, wheelbarrow, or shovel into a bag that you have to hold open with one hand while disposing of the waste in the bag with the other in no easy task. As far as I am concerned, this is the most difficult step in the whole process. However, when you use a trash bag stand, it is far easier and quicker to deposit the waste through the wide opening of a bag stretched open in a trash bag stand. When you have accomplished the task, simply remove the bag from the stand, tie off the top and you are ready to dispose of it and its contents in the trash.
The birds benefit because you dramatically reduce the chance they will contact any of the variety of diseases that flourish in damp, rotting seeds and their hulls.
Trash bag stands come is a variety of sizes ranging from 30-35 gallon models to those that hold 13-gallon bags. The bags are collapsible and cost as little as $11 to $25.
Since it makes the whole process of keeping a bird feeding areas clean, perhaps we would be more apt to clean our bird feeding areas more often. Now that is not a bad thing.
If you are lucky enough to see white-breasted nuthatches in your yard, have you ever wondered why you rarely see more than one or two nuthatches at the same time?
The reason for this is they are territorial. As such, they vigorous defend their turf against other nuthatches. In woodland (both hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood) areas, these territories typically range from 25 to 30 acres in size. However, in areas broken up in a patchwork of small woodlots and other habitat types, a pair’s territory can easily measure 60 acres or so.
If you happen to see more than two white-breasted nuthatches visiting your feeders, chances are your yard is located where the territories of two pairs of white-breasted intersect. In addition, pairs will often make brief trips into the territories occupied by other pairs. In years when their favorite food is scarce, they can show in a variety of locations.
We backyard wildlife watchers have good idea what birds we will likely see at our feeders each winter. For example, the lineup of resident birds that I expect to see at my feeders includes year round residents such as chipping sparrows, downy woodpeckers, house finches, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, eastern towhees, northern cardinals, and mockingbirds. In addition, the winter residents that typically make an appearance at my feeders are ruby-crowned kinglets, as well as both song and white-throated sparrows. Most years I never see a pine siskin or purple finches. During those times when large numbers of pine siskin’s and purple finches invade the south, I might see them every day.
However, if you are like me, you are always on the lookout for a visitor that you have never seen in your backyard. I know my chance of spotting one of these rare birds is slim. However, according to an analysis of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count data, if this trend continues, our chances of seeing a rare winter warbler in the southeastern states might be increasing.
For example, during last year’s Christmas Bird Count, a number of warblers that typically spend the winter outside our borders never left the United States. This list of warblers these unusual winter residents includes the prothonotary, chestnut-sided, blue-winged, American redstart, yellow and Tennessee.
This report has bolstered my hopes that one of these neotropical migrants will decide to spend some time in my yard. However, even if one does not show up, I know I am going to have a great time watching the regular diners at my backyard bird smorgasbord.
Although I have studied wildlife my entire life, I find that my thirst for knowledge regarding these fascinating animals is far from being slaked. In fact, I honestly believe it has increased. One reason for this is that the nuggets of information I uncover constantly amaze me. For example, I recently stumbled across a fact concerning the ruby-crowned kinglet that is nothing short of unbelievable.
The ruby-crowned kinglet is a winter resident in Georgia. However, due to the habitat it occupies while it is spending the winter here, unless you went out looking for the bird, you might not realize that it is one of your backyard neighbors.
The ruby-crowned kinglet spends its time foraging for food among the limbs, branches, and foliage found from the tops of trees to thick shrubs looking for its favorite winter foods such as tiny insects and other invertebrates as well as their eggs. They also dine small berries and seeds. These tiny birds seem to be full of energy, constantly flitting about from spot to spot on their endless quest for food. As such, you would think that they are constantly burning up huge amounts of energy.
According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, such is not the case. Studies of the ruby-crowned kinglet’s metabolism have revealed these remarkable birds suggest that it may only use approximately 10 calories a day. This is unbelievable! I do not know of any other backyard bird that burns up so few calories per day.
I am now determined to learn more about this astounding claim.