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BACKYARD SECRET-FEEDERS DON’T EXPOSE BIRDS TO MORE DANGER THAN THEY FACE ELSEWHERE

      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.

BACKYARD SECRET: BROWN THRASHERS CAN BE ATTRACTED TO FEEDING SITES

       The brown thrasher is a bird that rarely visits feeders. When it does appear in a feeding area, it prefers to feed on the ground.

       If a brown thrasher takes up residence in your backyard this winter, here is a tip that just might allow you to see the bird more often. Although, this technique does not always work, it has proven successful for others.

       Scatter a small amount of scratch feed on the ground close the shrubby cover near your wild bird feeding area. Although thrashers will sometimes venture away from such cover to feed, they definitely do most of their feeding in or nearby shrubby spots.

DO YOU SEE MORE MALE THAN FEMALE JUNCOS AT YOUR FEEDERS?

      The dark-eyed junco, commonly referred to as the snowbird, is one of my favorite winter visitors.  Like too many other birds, however, I do not see it as often as I did in the past.  In fact, I am ashamed to say some winters I do not see it at all.  I find this remarkable as data collected in Project Feeder Watch suggest the junco is seen around bird feeders more often (80%) than any other bird.

       In spite of the fact that I do everything I can to attract this visitor from the far north, most bypass my yard.  Knowing that the small sparrow-like birds prefer millet seeds over sunflower seeds, I spread white millet on the ground beneath my feeders This is done because the bird spends 65% of its time on the ground and seems to prefer eating there over dining in elevated feeders.

       I also maintain two birdbaths that offer it easily accessible places to drink and bath.

       My yard is also blessed with several thick trees and shrubs that provide much-needed cover on cold winter nights.

        Recent studies have begun to unravel some of the secrets surrounding dark-eyed juncos.  For example, we now know that each fall adult females migrate before immature females and males.  In addition, females have a tendency to travel farther south than males.  This can result in more males being seen during the winter in the northern states than the Southeast.  This is illustrated by the fact that during one study documented 72% of the juncos seen in Alabama were female.

       I would like to know if the same holds true in my yard.  With that in mind, this winter I will be paying close attention to the sexes of the juncos that visit my backyard. 

       Have you noticed whether females out number males in your yard? 

ATTRACTING FLICKERS TO FEEDERS IS A CHALLENGE

       Attracting the northern flicker to a backyard feeder is a challenge.  However, you have the best chance of doing so during the winter months.

       Roughly, 75% of the northern flicker’s diet is composed of a variety of insects.  As anybody that has watched a northern flicker forage for food on their lawn realizes, the bird is particularly fond of ants.

       The remainder of the bird’s diet consists of a number of native fruits, berries and seeds produced by plants such as the sumac, dogwood, hackberry, pine, oak, black gum, and Virginia creeper (the bird is particularly fond of the berries produced by this vine).

       It has been reported northern flickers can sometimes be attracted to feeders stocked with shelled peanuts and hulled sunflower seeds.  Since animal matter makes up the majority of this large woodpecker’s diet, it should come as no surprise to learn flickers will often also dine on suet.  Some folks feel hungry flickers prefer suet laced with insects, however, the truth of the matter is the birds also eat regular suet cakes.

       I must confess I have never been able to attract a northern flicker to my backyard feeding area.  However, from time to time, one will drink from a birdbath.

       If you are looking for a challenge this winter, consider trying to attract a northern flicker to your feeders.  By winter’s end, if you are successful, I suspect you will be one of an elite group of homeowners that successfully met this daunting challenge.

BLOGGERS SHARE EXPERIENCES WITH BIRDS EATING DOG AND CAT FOOD

       Some months ago, I posted a blog regarding backyard birds eating dry dog food (the blog can be found by using the blog’s Search feature).  Since that time four backyard wildlife enthusiasts have shared their experiences concerning birds eating both dog and cat food. 

       One woman reported that, on a couple of occasions, she has seen sparrows venturing into her carport to dine on cat food.

       Another blogger said he successfully raised a young crow feeding the bird a mash consisting of water and Purina Puppy Chow.  The bird eventually fledged and remained flying about his neighborhood where it was remained throughout the summer before finally disappearing.

       Another backyard birder wrote that she pours regular dog kibble into a sunflower feeder.  This unusual offering has attracted dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice.

      Yet another fan of backyard wildlife shared his experience with an American robin.  It seems several years ago he was surprised to see an American robin feeding on dry dog food served in a shallow pan sitting on his deck.  For three consecutive days, the robin flew in, nestled in the dog food, and leisurely feed on the chunks of food while his Eskimo Spitz calmly watched nearby.

       If you would like to share your experiences regarding birds eating pet food, please send them to me.  I am sure other folks would like to read about them.

BLUEBIRDS NEED WINTER ROOST SITES

        Since the weather has abruptly changed from being more like autumn than summer, my wife and I have been seeing eastern bluebirds inspecting some of our nesting boxes.  I am certain the birds are not checking out potential nesting sites–it is much too early for that.  The birds may be just curious, or perhaps the onset of cold nights has triggered a search for suitable roost sites.

       In addition to the bluebird, a number of familiar backyard birds also roost in cavities and nesting boxes including screech owls, woodpeckers, tufted titmice, brown-headed nuthatches, and Carolina chickadees.  In the case of the bluebird, they typically roost alone in warm weather.  However, when temperatures dip below freezing, a cavity or nesting box might harbor anywhere from a couple to more than 20 bluebirds. 

       The advantage of nesting together is the birds share their body heat.  During an extremely frigid night, the additional heat offered by a group of roosting birds may spell the difference between life and death.

       With that in mind, as we enter the harshest portion of the year, keep an eye on your nest boxes.  There is a good chance one more bluebirds or other cavity-nesting birds are roosting in a box erected to provide a place for them to nest.

       The best times to look for such activity is late in the afternoon when the birds are going to roost, or first thing in the morning when they are leaving for a day of foraging.

       You can also peek inside a box.  If you see some downy feathers scattered about the bottom of a box, chances are birds are roosting there.

WHAT NATIVE PLANT SEEDS ARE IN THE TUFTED TITMOUSE’S WINTER DIET?

       Throughout the winter one of the most frequent visitors to our backyard feeders is the tufted titmouse.   Invariable these birds fly in snatch a single sunflower seed and then fly off to either cache it away for another day or chisel it open with their sharp black beak. As such, it is easy to believe sunflower seeds are the only seeds consumed by this feisty songbird. The truth of the matter is these permanent residents eat a surprising variety of wild seeds.

       Studies have shown that plant material (mainly seeds) comprise anywhere from 70 to 75 percent of the tufted titmouse’s winter diet. In addition to the sunflower seeds we enthusiatically provide them they also gobble up the seeds of American beech, locust, loblolly and longleaf pine, hickory and oak (such as water, live, post, turkey willow).

       It should be noted they also dine on the seeds of the pecan (not native to Georgia).

BACKYARD SECRET—BLUEBIRDS ARE MORE COMMON IN GEORGIA IN WINTER THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME OF THE YEAR

         Here in the Peach State, the eastern bluebird is often associated with spring and summer. This is the breeding season for the gorgeous blue-colored bird–a bird that nests in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. Although thousands of bluebirds nest throughout the state, the total size of the bluebird population flying about during these months pales in comparison to the numbers of birds that winter here.

        This is because Georgia is a favorite winter home to thousands of bluebirds that migrate here from their breeding grounds far to the north. Here they intermingle with our resident bluebirds. When this happens, our bluebird population swells significantly. How much does it increase? A study conducted just south of Georgia offers some insight into this matter. Researchers in the Tallahassee area found that during the winter the local bluebird population in their study area increased 100 percent.

ALERT: FALL MIGRANTS ARE STILL PASSING THROUGH OUR BACKYARDS

        When October arrives, many of the songbirds such as the orchard orioles that entertained us with their beauty and songs during much of the spring and summer have long since passed on south.  Fortunately, permanent residents such as mockingbirds, cardinals, towhees, Carolina wrens and others still offer us great backyard wildlife viewing opportunities.  However, over the past week or so a couple of our fellow bloggers have taken the time to report their sightings of migrating songbirds that at still passing through the Peach State.

       Ron Lee has been hosting rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder during the past several days.  

       At the same time, Walter Brown was lucky enough to see a female American redstart and several yellow-throated vireos.

       If you would like to increase your chances of spotting a southbound migrant or two just outside your backdoor, there are a couple of things you can do.  For example, keep your feeders stocked with seed (rose-breasted grosbeaks are particularly fond on sunflower seeds). 

       However, more different species of birds can be drawn to your backyard with water than seeds.  With that in mind, keep birdbaths full of clean water.  Better yet, install a mister or dripper over your birdbath.  Moving water acts like a bird magnet.

       If you are successful in attracting migrants to your personal wildlife haven during the next few weeks, please let me know.  I am sure many other bloggers will also love to hear of your success.

A BIRD NAMED FOR ONE OF ITS FAVORITE FOODS

       When I was growing up the yellow-rumped warbler was called the myrtle warbler.  Although I had never seen this tiny warbler, I was intrigued by its name.  I guess that was due to the fact that one of my favorite aunts was named Myrtle.

       Much to my chagrin, later on the official name of the myrtle warbler was changed to the yellow-rumped warbler.  Although I understood the reasoning behind this change, to this day, I still prefer the name myrtle warbler to yellow-rumped warbler.

       The more I have studied birds the more I have become intrigued with the reasons why birds were given certain names.  One of the first birds I researched was the myrtle warbler.  This search revealed the bird was named after one of its favorite foods – waxmyrtle berries.  I also learned it is a choice food for many other birds such as tree swallows eastern bluebird, gray catbirds, northern flickers, and eastern towhees.

      This hearty shrub is an important source of winter food for many other birds that winter in Georgia.  It is also provides bird with cover from predators and the elements.  If you enjoy seeing yellowrumps and other birds around your yard, set out a border of waxmyrtle bushes.

       Meanwhile, in my mind, the yellow-rumped warbler will forever be the myrtle warbler.