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BACKYARD SECRET: CHICKADEES ARE NOT TOTALLY DEPENDENT OF FEEDERS FOR THEIR WINTER FOOD

A number of studies have found the birds that visit backyard feeders are not overly dependent on feeders to meet their winter food needs.

       In the case of the black-capped chickadee (a close relative of the Carolina chickadee that ranges throughout the state), revealed food supplied in bird feeders provided only 20 percent of their daily energy needs. 

       However, when the winter survival rates of the chickadees that regularly fed at feeders was compared to those of chickadees that never visited feeders, the black-capped chickadees that dined at feeders were higher than those birds that ate only wild foods.

       Interestingly when the researchers removed the feeders from the birds that frequented them, their survival rate dropped to what would be expected of a chickadee population that did not visit feeders.

 

 

 

BACKYARD WILDLIFE ENTHUSIAST SHARES BALTIMORE ORIOLE FEEDING TIPS

         After posting the blog entitled Baltimore Oriole Sightings, I received an email from a backyard wildlife enthusiast that  lives in the southeast Alabama community of Ozark.

       According to the author of the email she has enjoyed having one oriole visit her hummingbird feeder for the past four years. This year the male oriole appeared accompanied by a female.

       In hope of enticing both birds to stay, she purchased an oriole feeder.  She has stocked the feeder with nectar, and halves of satsumas.  The food offerings apparently did the trick as she has been with being able to enjoy watching the birds ever since.

       A few days ago she offered the birds some red grapes and watched as the hungry birds quickly devoured them.

       She went on to say she also offered the birds store-bought tangerines and found the Baltimore orioles did not like them as much as the satsumas and grapes.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE SIGHTINGS

Prior to the frigid weather that gripped the state during the first week of January, I had not received a single report of a Baltimore oriole appearing in a backyard.  Since then two homeowners have let me know orioles have arrived in their yards.

       A woman that lives in Roswell made the first report.  The second came from a resident of Lizella.

       The Lizella blogger wrote her oriole was feeding on mealworm cakes.  This marked the first time anyone has reported to me a Baltimore oriole dining on this unusual food offering.

       In case you are not familiar with this odd food, a mealworm cake is nothing more than hundreds of freeze-dried mealworms compressed into a long rectangular cake.  The cakes are offered to birds in a wire mesh feeder.

       Interestingly, during the past week a wildlife enthusiast that lives in Woodland told me that five eastern bluebirds were dining on her mealworm cake.

       Perhaps this is something you might want to try at your feeders.

       For more information on feeding Baltimore orioles in winter, go the search bubble on the blog and type in Baltimore orioles.  Hit the search button and a blog I posted on April 4, 2017 entitled, Odd Foods Eaten by Baltimore orioles will appear.  The piece includes a list of other foods Baltimore orioles will eat in Georgia backyards.

BACKYARD SECRET: HOW MUCH FOOD DO AMERICANS FEED BIRDS?

It has been estimated that Americans spend $3.5 billion annually to feed birds in their backyards.  This means during each calendar year somewhere from 0.5 to 1.25 million tons of sunflower seeds, millet, milo, and other seeds are used solely to feed our feathered backyard neighbors.

CHIPPING SPARROW FEEDING ON WHITE MILLET - 4 Jan 2018

To put this in perspective, this staggering amount of food closely matches what the United States government sends overseas each year to help alleviate hunger in Africa.

Source:  Marzluff, John M. 2014. Welcome to Subirdia. Yale University Press

 

IS SALT HARMFUL TO BACKYARD BIRDS?

       At this time of the year, most of us are making New Year’s resolutions.  One resolution many of us try to live by is to eat less salt this year.  Although the harmful effects of a high salt diet on humans are well documented, is the same true for the birds that visit our backyard feeders?

       The truth of the matter is we really do not know for sure.  However, contrary to some reports, anecdotal evidence suggests it more than likely is not a problem.  However, that is not to say that seeking salt does not have its risks.

       In north Georgia where salt is often spread on highways to melt ice, wild birds are sometimes struck by vehicles when they gather on and alongside the salt-treated pavement.  

       Birds have historically been known to eat salt at natural salt licks.  Here they eat salt laden earth.  Nowadays hunters, particularly those in the northern half of the state, put out salt for deer; like salt licks provided by Mother Nature, these manmade licks will also attract birds.

       Some birds definitely eat more salt than others do.  Birds that are drawn to salt include, purple finches, pine siskins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, and crows. 

       Likewise, the mourning dove also has an affinity for salt.  For this reason, some unscrupulous hunters will bait fields with rock salt in hopes of drawing flocks of mourning doves within shooting range.

       I personally have never seen anyone purposely offer salt to backyard birds.  However, it has been reported when it is, birds will avoid it.

       However, when you come to think about it, we all offer salt to birds in other forms.  For example, alt is a major ingredient in the bake goods we feed to birds.  In addition, who hasn’t fed salted nuts to birds?  As such, our own personal experiences suggest the small amount of salt contained in these foods is not killing the feathered diners at our backyard feeding stations.

       If you want to see if birds are attracted to salt laden soil, you might want to sprinkle some salt on a small bare spot in your yard.  It will not take long for the salt to dissolve into the ground.  Then, keep an eye on the spot and see if any birds eat the salty soil.

       One word of caution:  I would not recommend you try this in an area where deer are abundant.  The last thing you want to do is attract white-tailed deer to your yard.

       I hope I have answered any questions you may have regarding the possible dangers of feeding salt to wild birds. 

       In the meantime, if you have had an experience with birds eating salt, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me.

MOURNING DOVES EAT A VARIETY OF SEEDS

       Regardless of whether you live in the city, suburban neighborhood or in the country, chances are one of the patrons at your backyard bird diner is the mourning dove.

       When they fly in on whistling wings more often than not they are looking for black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, peanuts, cracked corn or mixed seed containing a variety of other seeds such as canary seed and rape. 

       If you have a pecan tree that drops pecans on your driveway, you have probably noticed that mourning doves are also fond of broken pieces of pecans created when car tires run over the nuts.

       If you are not offering any of these preferred foods, the birds will sometimes settle for a variety of other offerings such as scratch feed, popped corn, baked goods, and even milo (sorghum).

       In case you are unfamiliar with milo seeds, these are those round, reddish brown seeds most feeder birds ignore.  As a rule, the better seed mixes contain less milo than the bargain brands.

       Mourning doves relish both fairly large and tiny seeds.  For example, they will consume peanuts and kernels of corn as well as extremely small grass seeds.  One biologist took the time to count all of the grass seeds found in a mourning dove’s stomach.  When he completed this arduously task, he found the bird had consumed 17,200 seeds!

       Another important item in the mourning dove’s diet is grit.  Grit is nothing more than small pebbles, gravel, small chunks of concrete, and other hard objects.  The bird uses grit to grind up seeds it has eaten.  Biologists have found a mourning dove will swallow anywhere from 50 -100 bits of grit daily.  Often this grit is found along highways.

       Although mourning doves will feed at feeding tables and other above ground feeders, they much prefer to feed on the ground.  With that in mind, try to scatter only enough seeds that you feel will be eaten in a single day.  When too much seed is spread across the damp ground, you increase the chance that it will become moldy before the birds can eat all of it.

 

 

A HERMIT THRUSH FOR CHRISTMAS

After Ron Lee sent me a series of pictures of a hermit thrush, I immediately knew what I wanted for Christmas — a hermit thrush showing up at my backyard feeders.

       Although this thrush winters throughout Georgia, it is not a bird that frequents our feeders.  The exception to this rule is Ron and Jennie Lee’s backyard.  The Lees have hosted a hermit thrush in their backyard for several winters.

       These winter visitors are drawn out of the thick shrubs surrounding his year by cornbread that is scattered on the ground.

       The bird that has made the Lee’s backyard its home this winter has become exceptionally tame.  When Ron goes out into the yard to replenish the cornbread the thrush will suddenly appear and begin feeding.

       Ron says that a ruby-crowned kinglet has also developed a taste for cornbread.

       My wife and I have been feeding cornbread to the birds for many years.  Although this delicacy is regularly eaten by mockingbirds and other backyard diners, we have never attracted a hermit thrush. 

       Hermit thrushes are known to feed on the ground and in elevated feeders such as bird tables and trays.

       Aside from cornbread, they are also known to eat sliced apples, doughnuts, cracked corn, pieces of pecans, suet, and peanut butter.  White bread is also listed among the foods consumed by hermit thrushes.  However, Ron reports that when he has tried to offer his hermit thrush small pieces of white bread, the bird tosses them aside and seeks out the cornbread.

       Over the years, I have tried all of these feeder offerings without success.  I guess I need to see if Ron and Jennie will share their cornbread recipe with me.  In the meantime, I hope Santa will bring me a Christmas hermit thrush.