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COMMON GRACKLES ARE NOT ALWAYS WELCOMED AT OUR FEEDERS

        Most of us enjoy hosting a variety of birds at our feeders.  However, the common grackle one bird that is not always a welcomed guest in our backyards.

       The common grackle is one of the larger birds that frequent our feeders.  Common grackles measure anywhere from 12-12.5 inches in length.  This makes them three to four times larger than a finch.  I often hear people say the common grackle uses its large size and threatening bill to bully other smaller birds away from feeding nearby.  This does not endear it to people that enjoy watching other birds partake in their feeder offerings.

       If that is not enough to turn public opinion against them, the bird has an appetite that matches its size.  A single grackle can eat a huge amount of food in a very short period to time.  This problem is especially acute when a flock of wintering grackles descends on our feeders.  As anybody that feeds birds knows, a flock of grackles can wipe out a feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds in a matter of minutes. 

       They also love suet.  I personally have seen them devour a cake of suet in a single afternoon.

       Whenever I make presentations dealing with bird feeding people often ask, “How can I deal with this problem?”

       Although there is no perfect solution to this dilemma, here is a list of a few of the ways in which you can deal with common grackles devouring too much food are your feeders.

       When grackles arrive, stop feeding birds on feeding trays and hoppers.  Grackles seem to prefer feeding at flat, open feeders and feeders equipped with large perches.  Replace them with tube feeders with short perches.  You can also purchase feeders with removable perches, which prevent larger birds from using them.  Feeders surrounded with wire cages are also available.  These wire barriers prevent larger birds from taking seeds from the feeder standing in the middle of the cage.

       During times when grackles are a problem, begin offering foods that grackles do not like.  For example, avoid feeding scratch feed or mixed seed containing a high percentage of cracked corn, milo, wheat, and oats.  Since grackles avoid nyger and safflower seeds, feature them at your feeders.

       There are a couple of ways to deal with suet.  I simply remove suet when grackles become a problem.  However, suet can also be placed in feeders suspended in wire cages, or use feeders that require birds to feed while hanging upside down.

       Fortunately, in my neck of the woods, common grackles do not pose a problem until the first couple of weeks in February roll around.  When the birds do make their annual appearance, I activate my grackle action plan.  If everything goes well, grackles do not hang around too long and I can resume my regular feeding regime.

             

BACKYARD SECRET — WHERE DOES THE DOWNY WOODPECKER GET ITS NAME?

        There are at least two different explanations as to why our smallest woodpecker is named the downy woodpecker. 

       Some say the bird’s name refers to the downy white feathers that run down its back.  These feathers contrast with the thicker, dark feathers that cover the rest of the bird’s back.

       Others suggest that the bird is named for the downy nasal feathers seen around the base of the bird’s bill.

DON’T GIVE UP ON AMERICAN HOLLY BERRIES

       If you are fortunate enough to have an American holly (Ilex opaca) growing in your yard, you might wonder if this tree really does live up to its reputation of being an outstanding wildlife food plant.  This is because countless bright red berries can still be seen hanging among the thorny leaves of this native evergreen.  It seems as if birds and other wildlife simply do not eat them. 

 

       The truth of the matter is the tree’s berries are eaten by a variety of birds.  In fact, they are considered an important source of food for a long list of birds that includes, but is not limited to, the eastern bluebird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, cedar waxwing, American robin, northern mockingbird, northern flicker, and northern cardinal.

       The reason these berries are often seen on a holly tree in early January is, in order for the berries to be more palatable to birds and other wildlife, they have to go through a number of freeze-thaw cycles.  This helps guarantee that birds and other wildlife will have a source of food well after many berries and seeds have disappeared.

       Since this is the case, late in the winter or early spring, it is not uncommon for a flock of robins, cedar waxwings or other birds to devour all of the berries found on a small holly tree in a single morning or afternoon.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES ARE HERE RIGHT NOW!

       Not too long ago, I would never have believed that Baltimore orioles would become regular winter residents in Georgia.  However, if they offer the right food Georgia bird-feeding enthusiasts can honestly say they now have a legitimate chance of enticing a Baltimore oriole to their yard during the coldest months of the year.

       This is truly remarkable, considering that Baltimore orioles have historically wintered from southern Mexico southward to Columbia.  If you have any question that the Baltimore oriole is expanding its winter range, simply look at recent data collected during the Great Backyard Bird Count.  During the 2020 edition of the count 302 reports of wintering Baltimore orioles involving 976 individuals were received.  The vast majority of these reports (95%) were submitted from volunteers living in a broad band of coastal states ranging from Virginia to Texas.

       This year I have received reports of Baltimore orioles feeding in backyards from College Park to Glynn County.  I am certain many more birds are going unreported. 

       While Baltimore orioles eat a wide variety of foods during the winter, you probably stand your best chance of attracting one these birds if you begin offering grape jelly at your feeders.  This recommendation is based on scores of reports I have received over the years from individuals that successfully hosted orioles in their yards.

       I might also add that most of these fortunate folks highly recommend that you use Welch’s grape jelly.  This belief is based on their contention that less expansive jellies do not contain as much fruit juice as Welch’s.  I might add that I personally cannot attest to the validity of this claim.

       If you decide to try to attract a Baltimore oriole to your yard with jelly, you can display it in any number of ways such as in a feeder specially designed for this purpose.  You can also place the jelly in small plastic containers.  I use the small containers used by restaurants to serve sauces.  I simply fill the containers with jelly and place them in the corners of a hanging platform seed feeder.

       If you are successful, instead of briefly glimpsing these birds as the pass through your yard on migration, you will be able to see one of our most colorful birds on a regular basis.  What a treat!

CHIPPING SPARROWS REGULARLY VISIT MY FEEDERS THROUGHOUT THE WINTER

       Each winter one the birds I most enjoy seeing at my feeders is the chipping sparrow.  I am not sure why that is the case.  Perhaps it is because this sparrow is undoubtedly my most abundant feeder bird.  Throughout the winter flocks of chipping sparrows, varying in size from a dozen or so to upwards of 100 or more birds descend on my two backyard feeding areas.  Yet again, maybe my fondness for these tiny brown birds stems from the fact that they have healthy appetites, and I do indeed enjoy watching birds feed on my food offerings. 

       The chipping sparrows that visit my yard prefer white millet above any of the other foods that are available to them.  Since the birds regularly feed on the ground, I scatter white millet seeds all around my feeding areas.  However, they will also eat white millet seeds from elevated feeding trays and feeders.

              If you would like to vary the chipping sparrow’s diet, offer it a seed mixture that contains large quantities of white and red millet.  The chipping sparrow will also consume suet, scratch feed, bits of cookies and breadcrumbs, doughnuts, cornbread, peanut hearts and crushed pecan.  It will also dine on mealworms.

       When you watch these small birds feed, it easy to be lulled into believing they are not consuming much food. Actually, they are eating a seed every few seconds.  Studies directed at chipping sparrow feeding habits have revealed that during the winter a single chipping sparrow can consume 2.25 pounds of seeds.  This is a lot of food for a bird that is only 5.25 inches long.

       Although I realize I am picking up tab for these voracious eaters, I will never complain. They have repaid me many times over by providing me with hours of enjoyment.

ARE THE GOLDFINCHES FEEDING IN YOUR BACKYARD LOYAL TO YOUR FEEDERS?

        Whenever we discuss bird feeding with other people we sometimes refer to the birds visiting the feeders in our yards as “our” birds.  It could be argued that when we make such a statement we are inferring that the birds using our feeders are not visiting other feeders in our neck of the woods.  In the case of the American goldfinch, the truth of the matter is that during the winter these songbirds are unfaithful.  With respect to the American goldfinch, the truth of the matter is more than likely we share “our” birds with multiple bird feeding enthusiasts.

      This assessment is based on studies that found that during the winter American goldfinches are not homebodies.  Indeed not.  During a single calendar day, a flock of American goldfinches sometimes flies four miles or more to visit feeders in a number of locations.

       Wow!  I guess all I can do is keep my feeders stocked with nyger and black oil sunflower seeds and hope these roving bands of goldfinches will find the feeders in my little corner of the world.

BACKYARD SECRET — THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD IS A MIGRATION CHAMPION

      Each winter a smattering of rufous hummingbirds spend the winter in backyards throughout Georgia.  In fact, the rufous has the distinction of being our most common hummingbird during this time of the year. That being the case, I thought you would like to know that this tiny bird also holds title of being the North American bird migration champion.

       Each year the rufous hummingbird’s annual migration takes it from its breeding range along the Pacific Coast of North America as far north as southeastern Alaska, to its winter home in Mexico and back again.  Scientists have estimated that, in order to accomplish this phenomenal athletic fete, the rufous hummingbird flies approximately 49 million times its body length (3.75″).  When this figure is compared to the distances flown by other North American birds relative to their body lengths, it turns out that the rufous hummingbird makes the longest migration of any North American bird.

WE PROVIDE CHIMNEY SWIFTS WITH PRACTICALLY ALL OF THEIR NESTING SITES

      The chimney swift is one of our most recognizable birds.  From daylight to dark from spring into fall, we hear its constant twittering and see these cigar-shaped birds, flying from daylight to dark over our yards in quest of flying insects and other invertebrates.  However, what is far less known is that the chimney swift is almost totally dependent on humans to provide them with nesting sites.

       Before the arrival of European colonists chimney swifts nested predominantly in hollow trees.  However, as a wave of colonists swept westward across America, vast acreages of forests fell to the axe.  As these forests were cut, the hollow trees found there also toppled.  This resulted in an extreme shortage of suitable chimney swift nesting sites.

       Fortunately, for both the birds, and us chimney swifts started using manmade nesting sites.  Chimney swifts began nesting in chimney, silos, and barns.  The chimney swift’s adoption of this new nesting habit has been extraordinary.  According to noted ornithologist, Dr. Roger J. Lederer, “Chimney Swifts are so accustomed to nesting in human-made structures that only 10 instances of the bird nesting in the wild in the last century are known.” 

BACKYARD SECRET – MOST RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS THAT WINTER IN GEORGIA ARE LIKELY MALES

      Remarkably, close to three-fourths of the ruby-crowned kinglets captured during banding operations conducted in Florida throughout the years have been females.  This has lead ornithologists to suggest that more than likely male ruby-crowned kinglets winter farther north than do females.

       Consequently, there is a good chance most of the ruby-crowned kinglets we see in our backyards here in Georgia during the winter months are males.  Unfortunately, the only safe way for us to tell which is which is to see the scarlet red crest found only on the males.  The problem is the male only displays his flashy, colorful crown when he is agitated. This apparently does not happen very often since many birders have told me they have never seen the male’s crown.  It defies the laws or probability that they are only looking at females.

       Until banding studies reveal the sex ratio of the ruby-crowned kinglets wintering in Georgia, the majority of the times we see this sprite of a bird we are going to have to be content in not knowing whether we are looking at a male or female.  That will not bother me, as I am always pleased to just being fortunate enough to host this winter guest in my backyard.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH NUMBERS AT GEORGIA FEEDERS VARY FROM WINTER TO WINTER

       Anybody that sets out a smorgasbord of food for the birds wintering in their backyards can tell you that, for no apparent reason, the numbers of American goldfinches they feed from year to year can vary widely.  Let’s take a close look at this apparent dilemma and see if there is an explanation for this odd phenomenon.

       Studies have shown that nationwide, on an average, those of us that feed birds during the month of January will see an average of 10 American goldfinches at our feeders on a regular basis.  However, some years flocks of upward of 100 or more American goldfinches descend on our feeders.  Likewise, in other years, if you are like me, you do not come close to hosting even 10 birds.

       The answer to this mystery is linked to the goldfinch’s breeding and winter ranges and average January temperatures.

       The American goldfinch has a large breeding range that extends in a broad band that sweeps across southern Canada and the northern two-thirds of the contiguous United States. 

       In Georgia, American goldfinches breed throughout much of the state with the exception of the southeastern slice of the state.

       Meanwhile, the bird’s winter range encompasses its breeding range and the entire South.

       However, some years American goldfinches breeding in the northern portion of their breeding range might not migrate at all.  However, if food supplies are inadequate and/or winter temperatures average 0˚F or below, many will take wing and migrate upwards of 1,000 or more miles southward to escape the cold and locate food.

       In comparison, during a normal winter our homegrown American goldfinches stay pretty close to home each. When this occurs, we are likely to see few goldfinches feeding on nyger and sunflower seeds in our backyards.

       That being said, it is apparent the only way we can predict whether we are going to host a lot of American goldfinches at our feeders this winter is to watch the weather reports for those parts of the continent north of Georgia.