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THE DROUGHT INCREASES THE NEED TO PROVIDE BACKYARD BIRDS WITH WATER

       With much of Georgia suffering from drought conditions, the need to provide our backyard bird neighbors with water grows each day.  Consequently, in many neighborhoods, nearby water is difficult or impossible for birds to find. Here are some of the reasons why a lack of water can have negative impacts on birds.

       This year drought conditions surfaced during the spring when young birds are venturing out into the world for the very first time.  As we all know, these inexperienced fledglings are vulnerable to a host of predators.  When hapless youngsters are forced to travel greater distances to reach water, their chances of becoming a meal for predators are greater than they would be if water was available in or near our yards.

       In the case of birds that are still nesting, when nesting birds are required to travel greater distances for water, they are forced to spend more time away from their young, increasing the odds their nests will be discovered by predators.

       On the average, wild birds lose an average of 15 to 25 percent of their body weight each day. Larger birds generally lose less weight, in relation to their body mass, than smaller birds.  Water plays a role a bird’s ability to maintain its physical health. The high temperatures that have recently plagued the state, has increased their need for water.

       Water also allows birds to maintain their plumage.  This allows cleaning their feathers as well as helping control parasites.

       With that in mind, one of the most important things we can do for birds in our backyards to provide them with a dependable, safe source of water. Anything from a shallow pan to a birdbath will suffice.  While you are at it, put at least one water source on the ground to benefit those animals that cannot reach a birdbath on a pedestal.

       Although bird enthusiasts make providing a clean, dependable source of food their top priority, maintaining a place for birds to feed and drink is important too.   This is especially true right now when many of the natural sources of water used by birds have dried up.

UPDATE ON THE AVIAN FLU IN GEORGIA

        Several weeks ago, I posted a blog regarding the presence of avian flu in Georgia and its possible impact on the birds that visit our feeders. At that time, I promised to provide you with any new information that becomes available.  A May 17 news release issued by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division updated the status of the disease in Georgia.

       According to the Division’s wildlife biologists, data regarding the incidence of avian flu suggests that the vast majority of Georgia’s songbirds are not at risk of catching the dreaded disease. The songbirds that are at the highest risk are those living near domestic poultry flocks that have become infected with the disease.  However, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division emphasizes that the only birds share an elevated risk of catching the disease are scavengers such as vultures and crow.

       Fortunately, to date, avian flu has not been detected in any domestic poultry flocks in Georgia.

       The short list of birds that have been infected by the disease in the Peach State is restricted to waterfowl and eagles.    

       For those of us that feed birds in our yards, the bottom line is we can continue to feed birds at our feeders without the fear that our efforts are helping spread the disease.

      However, Wildlife Biologist Todd Schneider emphasizes that feeders and feeding areas should be kept as clean as possible.  This will ensure our feathered friends will not suffer from house finch disease, or one of a host of other fatal or debilitating diseases spread by organisms that thrive on wet, and moldy seeds.

BACKYARD SECRET—CPT. JOHN SMITH NAMED THE OPOSSUM

     Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum. 

     Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe.  When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.”  The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face.  However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted.  This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum.  Is this story true?  We may never know for sure.  What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.

BACKYARD SECRET—THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD’S BRAIN IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

        I am truly amazed at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s memory.  For example, studies have revealed rubythroats can remember the locations of every feeder and flower they visit in our yards as well as how long it takes each flower to replenish its supply of nectar.  They can even remember the locations of the feeders and flower beds that provided them with food the previous year.

       Wow! It must take a truly large brain to accomplish such mental fetes.  In truth, the rubythroat’s brain is smaller than a pea.  While that is indeed physically very small, comparatively speaking it is larger than our brains or those of any other bird in the entire world.  Let me explain.

       The hummingbird brain makes up about 4.2 percent of its body weight.  This makes its brain is proportionally larger than the brains of all other birds.  In comparison, our brains comprise only about 2 percent of our body weight.

      

       

LOOK FOR BEGGING AT YOUR FEEDERS

        At this time of the year, it is common for adult birds to appear at our feeders accompanied by their fledglings.  When this happens, we are able to observe the young begging for their parents to feed them.

       The fledglings’ parents have been feeding their young in the nest for quite some time.  Interestingly, once their brood leaves the nest the adults will continue to feed young birds for anywhere from one to three weeks.  During this time the young birds will make their first attempts to feed themselves. However, most fledglings would undoubtedly starve if their parents did not continue to feed them.

       When a family of birds arrives at your feeding station the youngsters will sometimes perch atop or nearby a feeder waiting for a parent to feed it.  However, it seems that more often than not a fledgling will perch alongside a parent that is dining on seeds or other foods.  In an attempt to coax a parent to feed it, a fledgling will typically anxiously chirp at an adult while rapidly fluttering its wings.  This usually does the trick and the parents succumb to their youngsters begging.

       This morning I watched a family of house finches arrive at one of my sunflower feeders.  Immediately the fluffy, drab youngsters began begging for food.  Their irritating behavior worked and quickly the parents were placing food in the large, gaping mouths of their young. 

As I watched this fascinating behavior, I said to myself, “Little guys, you had better enjoy the free lunch while you can as it won’t be long before you will be fending for yourselves.”   

BACKYARD SECRET—ORCHARD ORIOLES OFTEN NEST CLOSE TO EASTERN KINGBIRD NESTS

     For reasons that are not fully understood, some orchard orioles will nest close to the nests of eastern kingbirds.  This might come as a surprise since eastern kingbirds have the reputation of aggressively defending their nests.  Well, many experts believe that this is the reason why orchard orioles will choose nest sites sometimes within mere yards from the nests of eastern kingbirds.

     It seems obvious that kingbirds do not feel threatened by North America’s smallest oriole.  However, when kingbirds fly out to confront a crow, common grackle or other potential avian nest predator flying close to their nests, they unwittingly also defend the nearby nests of orchard orioles.

 

    Some studies suggest that this behavior may translate into real benefits for the orchard orioles.  Studies have shown that, when the nesting success of orchard orioles that nest close to eastern kingbirds was compared with the success of those that do not, they discovered the nesting success of orioles that nest some distance away from eastern kingbird nests was lower.  In fact, there also seems to be a correlation between kingbird populations and orchard oriole populations.  When eastern kingbird numbers are high orchard orioles are more abundant too.

     

REDUCE COMPETITION FOR NEST BOXES BETWEEN CAROLINA CHICKADEES AND BLUEBIRDS

       Since there is a paucity of natural bird nesting cavities throughout Georgia, Carolina chickadees often have to compete with eastern bluebirds for the same nesting boxes. When this occurs Carolina chickadees usually end up looking for another place to nest.  There are, however, ways in which you can provide a nesting site of Carolina chickadees.

       One approach is to equip a nesting box with an 1 1/8-inch

entrance hole instead of the 1½-inch hole featured on standard bluebird boxes—bluebirds simply cannot squeeze through a 1 1/8 –hole.

However, Carolina chickadees can enter nesting boxes 1 1/8 inches or larger in diameter. Consequently, even if a pair of Carolina chickadees begins nesting in a standard bluebird box, the pair is not guaranteed their nesting attempt will be successful.   

       One reason for this is bluebirds will actually run off chickadees even after they have begun nesting.  It has also been documented that bluebirds will deposit their own nesting material over Carolina chickadee hatchlings.

       With that in mind, consider dedicating one or more nesting boxes for Carolina chickadees.  If Carolina chickadee nesting boxes are not readily available in your area, and  you don’t have the means to build your own box, all you have to do is install a metal hole guard featuring a 1 1/8-inch hole over the 1½ hole cut in the box.  Problem solved.

AVIAN FLUE AND BIRD FEEDING IN GEORGIA

       Recent reports that a new virulent strain of avian influenza (HPAI) has been found in wild birds in Georgia and more than 29 other states have raised concerns that feeding backyard birds might play a role in the spread of this deadly disease in the Peach State.

       To date, the only species affected by the disease in Georgia have been lesser scaup, gadwall, and bald eagle.  However, avian flu has been detected in at least 100 species of wild birds and other animals.

       Avian influenza also infects chickens, wild and domestic waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans), quail, pheasants, and other domestic birds,

       The disease is spread in the droppings and nasal secretions of infected birds.  It has also been reported healthy birds can also catch the disease when they walk across surfaces contaminated by infected birds.

       While it is possible for wild birds to contract the disease form domestic poultry, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that, in every case they have investigated this year, domestic flocks were infected by wild birds.

       Fortunately, as of March 30, no commercial or backyard flocks of poultry have been infected in Georgia.  However, such is not the case in 23 other states. Most of these outbreaks have occurred in the Midwest and East.   This has resulted in the slaughter of 27 million chickens.

       If you enjoy feeding birds in your yard, you are probably wondering if you should cease feeding bird in your backyard until the disease subsided.   So far, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section has not recommended that people stop birds in their yards.

      However, the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section urges the public to report dead or sick eagles to their office in Forsyth (478-994-1438). (Three bald eagles were found killed by the disease along the Georgia Coast.)

      In comparison, the USDA suggests that homeowners can continue feeding birds unless they keep domestic birds.  On the other hand, extension specialists at Cornell University recommend that the public cease feeding “until the threat of the disease has passed.”

      I will let you know if the outbreak becomes more serious in Georgia and if Georgia officials issue any recommendations concerning feeding wild birds.  Those bloggers that live in other states should check with their state wildlife agencies to see if they recommend that feeding birds be discontinued in their states.

ATTRACTING MIGRANTS TO YOUR BACKYARD WITH MOVING WATER

  Currently, scores of species of songbirds are migrating northward.  Many of these birds will pass over and even stop in our backyards.  However, since many of these birds rarely visit feeders, they are often only seen by those among us that have time have learned their vocalizations and take the time to scan the bushes and treetops surrounding their homes looking for these magical birds.  There is, however, another way that you can catch a glimpse of these often rarely seen birds; they can be attracted with moving water.

       Although many of these birds will visit a birdbath, those birdbaths that are equipped with a mister or dripper are far more likely to attract these long-distance migrants.  The reason for this is the sight and sound of moving water act as a magnet to both resident and migrant birds alike.

       Some of the simplest ways to create moving water range from hanging a hose of a limb and allow the hose to slowly drip water into a birdbath or pan.  You can also punch a small hole in the bottom of a bucket or soft drink container full of water and hang it above a birdbath.

  

    I personally have had better success in attracting birds to my birdbath using misters and drippers.  The best misters and drippers are engineered specifically for birds use.  They vary widely in price and design.  While they all work, the ones that I prefer permit me to adjust the flow of the water passing through them.  I often use this feature to adjust the nozzles so that they emit both a mist and water droplets.  This creates ripples when the droplets fall onto the surface of the water below.  When it is windy the mist is often blown away from the birdbath.  When this occurs, I simply adjust my mister nozzle so that it emits only droplets.

       If you want to catch a glimpse at some of the warblers, tanagers, vireos and other songbirds that may be stopping in your yard, go ahead and install a mister.  Even after the migration has passed, a mister will help attract backyard residents throughout the entire year.

       These devices are readily available at stores that specialize in birding supplies.

SHOULD I HELP BLUEBIRDS FEED THEIR YOUNG?

 

   

       I am sure you have wondered if eastern bluebirds have difficulty feeding their young in the spring when temperatures are low a rainy weather dominates the weather for days on end.  Actually, bluebird parents can sometimes find it hard to find enough insects and other invertebrates to feed their seemingly insatiable nestlings during times when these important food items are not moving about.

       If you suspect this is happening in your yard, you can offer the adult bluebirds a number of supplemental foods.  Here are some of the food items you might try:  mealworms, fruits and berries, sunflower hearts and suet.   Some bluebird enthusiasts even feed bluebirds scrambled eggs during these trying times.

     Experiment with different foods until you determine which delicacies are favored by your bluebirds and then focus on feeding the bluebirds only their preferred foods. 

     Your feeding efforts can actually save the lives of many young bluebirds. However, even if the parents don’t actually need additional food to meet the demands of their young, the extra food you provide will most likely be gobbled up by other birds.  In the meantime, you will sleep better knowing that you did all you could to ensure a new generation of bluebirds lived through a potential food shortage.