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WILL FEEDER BIRDS SURVIVE IF THEY ARE NOT FED WHILE YOU ARE AWAY ON A HOLIDAY TRIP?

       If you are one of the many of folks that take a trip during the Christmas holiday season, you might be wondering whether you should be concerned that the birds that have been visiting your backyard feeders will have enough to eat while you are away.

       In most cases, your feathered backyard diners will not suffer greatly if they are not fed for a few days.  The primary reason for this is studies have revealed that most of the birds that visit our backyard diners obtain only about 25 percent of their daily food from feeders.  This is especially true for birds that are members of a wide-ranging flock such as mourning doves, and chipping sparrows.  Each day these birds forage for food across a feeding territory that is many acres in size.

       However, if your feeders represent the primary source of food for stay-at-home birds such as the eastern towhee, your absence may create a problem.  This situation would be especially dire if a heavy snow falls and/or temperatures plummet below freezing.  This has been borne out by reports of juncos and finches that were suffering from a lack of food actually dying during extremely cold nights.

       With that in mind, if you are at all concerned about the fate of your birds while you are away on a holiday trip, arrange for a neighbor or friend to feed your backyard neighbors while you are away.

BACKYARD SECRET: CAROLINA CHICKADEE WINTER FOOD

       During the winter, a Carolina chickadee must eat an average of 150 black oil sunflower seeds per day just to survive the bitter cold. 

       The birds rarely depend solely on our food offerings to survive.  However, our feeders offer the birds a dependable source of food when natural foods cannot always provide the tiny birds with enough food to meet their nutritional needs.

       Although the birds prefer sunflower seeds to all other feeder offerings, they will also dine on suet and pieces of various nuts.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES ARE BACK!

              This week a blogger from Warner Robins reported that Baltimore orioles have shown up at her feeder.  This is the first report I have received of Baltimore orioles appearing in the Peach state this fall.

              As anybody that follows this blog knows, Baltimore orioles have become regular winter visitors throughout the state.  As such, those of us that feed birds are constantly trying to offer foods that will attract these gorgeous birds to our backyards.

       Recently during a talk gave in Warner Robins, I mentioned grape jelly seems to be the oriole’s food preferred winter food.  However, I mentioned that repeatedly folks that have fed orioles grape jelly claim the birds don’t cater to just any jelly.  It is their contention the birds far and away prefer Welch’s grape jelly to all other brands.

       One of the people in the audience that day added grape jelly to her backyard bird-feeding menu that includes such favorites as black oil sunflower seeds, and dried mealworms.

       This week she thrilled that Baltimore orioles have shown up at her feeders.  While she expected the birds would partake in the jelly, she was surprised to see the birds are currently only dining on mealworms.  

       Based on this experience I am adding mealworms to the list of foods bloggers have reported being used by Baltimore orioles.

       Here is a complete list of these foods:  grape jelly, sasanqua petals, hummingbird nectar, satsumas, grapes, and dried mealworms.

       If orioles show up in your yard this winter, please let me know when they arrived and what foods they are eating.

       For a complete list of all of the blogs I have written on Baltimore Orioles, type the word oriole in the search bubble found in the top right hand corner of the first page of the blog.

THE PINE SISKIN IS A BOOM OR BUST BIRD

        As far as Georgians are concerned, the pine siskin is a boom-or-bust bird.  By that, I mean some winters they feed at our backyard feeders in large numbers and then are not seen again for years.  

       This year is shaping up to be a boom year.  Many Georgians have already been treated to the sight of pine siskins visiting their feeders

       This behavior is not unique to the pine siskin.  The list other birds exhibit this behavior includes the purple finch and red-breasted nuthatch. This odd behavior qualifies them as being irruptive.

       An irruptive species is one that irregularly winters well beyond its normal winter range.  Although, it is extremely difficult to predict when an irruptive winter flight will occur, such flights often occur every two to ten years.

       A number of factors seem to trigger these movements.  However, in most cases, a failure of the bird’s most important winter food crops is the culprit.  In the case of the pine siskin, failures in pine and alder seeds crops seem to be linked to their mass migrations into the Deep South.

       To me, pine siskins display a subtle beauty.  They are smaller than an American goldfinch.  Their bodies are covered with brown streaks.  However, their tails and wings are highlighted will yellow feathers.  On the other hand, pine siskin bills are short and far more sharp-pointed compared to the bills of goldfinches, house finches, and sparrows.

       If you are like me, you enjoy hosting pine siskins.  It seems you rarely see one or a few siskins.  If they are wintering in your areas, chances are the diners will arrive in a flock. 

       One reason backyard wildlife enthusiasts are so fond of them is they are extremely tame.  If you slowly approach them while they are feeding, the birds will often allow you to walk to within a few feet before flying off.

       Although they will occasionally eat suet, they are particularly fond of nyger and black oil sunflower seeds.  They also routinely drink and bathe at birdbaths.

       Interestingly while they are in Georgia, pine siskins are extremely nomadic.  A flock feeding in your yards today might suddenly leave and feed in backyard miles away.  In one instance, a wintering pine siskin did not stay put in the yard where it was banded.  Later is the same winter it was recaptured at a feeder located some 450 miles away.

       If you have never seen a pine siskin in your backyard, this may be there year you will.  If you have hosted pine siskins in the past, the winter of 2018-2019 may be the year you will get to renew an old acquaintance.

BACKYARD SECRET: OTHER NAMES FOR CARDINALS

       BACKYARD SECRET – In winter, we are more likely to see groups of cardinals than at any time of year.  When several cardinals are seen flying about or feeding together, we commonly call such a group a flock.  Everyone understands this term.    However, some bird enthusiasts employ far more imaginative words when referring to gatherings of cardinals.  These names include a Vatican, radiance, deck, conclave and college. If you tried out one or more of these fanciful terms on your friends, do you think they would know you were referring to a bunch of cardinals?

SOME RARE WINTER BIRDS NEED TO BE DOCUMENTED

      Sometimes backyard bird enthusiasts spot birds the field guides say should not be seen in Georgia during the winter.  If you see such a bird, what should you do?

       The worst thing you can do is assume you have misidentified the bird.  Even though the odds of seeing such a bird are slim, it is always possible a bird that should be wintering in the Caribbean Islands, Central or South America remained behind.

       Since your sighting might be a new state seasonal record, you should document your sighting.  With that in mind, try to photograph of the bird.  Far too often folks try to take a picture through a window.  In most cases, such photos are not focus.  However, you can enhance your chances of taking a crisp photo of the bird by placing the lens of your camera up against the window glass.  In many cases, whether or not a bird sighting is accepted is based on photographic evidence.

       Also, make detailed notes of the sighting.  Record arrival and departure dates, behavior, food eaten, and the like.  Also, record the bird’s plumage pattern and colors, as well as its bill characteristics.  If possible, also make a sketch of the bird.  It is also important to record or describe any vocalizations.

       Here is a short list of some of the birds that need to be documented when seen in winter.

       The sighting of any thrush other than the hermit thrush needs to be verified.  Very few winter records of other thrushes have been accepted for states east of the Mississippi River.

       In spite of the fact there have been a number of winter sightings of the eastern wood pewee have been received, none have ever been accepted by state record committees.

       The Georgia Ornithological Society has never accepted any winter sightings of Epidonax flycatchers (e.g. Acadian, yellow-bellied, and least).  If you find what you believe is one of these small flycatchers, your sighting will only be confirmed if you hear the bird calling.

       Several years ago, I was a member of a group of birders participating in the Lake Blackshear Christmas Bird Count that found what we were certain was an Epidonax flycatcher.  Our sighting was not affirmed because the bird remained silent.

       Although eastern kingbirds are common summer residents in the Peach State, there is only one accepted winter sighting of the bird in North America.

       Years ago, an eastern kingbird was reported on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area.  Sadly, the two folks that spotted the bird did not take a picture of this rare winter resident.  Consequently, this remarkable sighting was turned down.

       In spite of the fact that yellow-throated vireos occasionally winter in south Florida, to date, nobody that has seen this bird in winter has provided enough corroborating evidence to have this species listed as a winter resident in Georgia.

       I hope that you will be lucky enough to have a truly rare bird magically appear in your backyard this winter.  If you do, make every effort to document your sighting.  Your sighting might rewrite the record book.

BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCHES USE TOOLS

     Most ornithologists believe there are somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds in the world.  Out of all of these species, only 270 actually use tools.  Remarkably, the brown-headed nuthatch is the only North American bird that regularly uses tools.

       The tool most often employed by the bird is a bark scale.  The bird uses scales as a pry bars.  Holding a scale in its long, slender beak, red-breasted nuthatches insert this primitive tool under a scale firmly attached to a tree.  It then tries to pry the stubborn scale loose from several directions trying to uncover hidden foods such as caterpillars, spiders, cockroaches, and other invertebrates.

       More often than not, if a nuthatch is successful in dislodging a scale, it will immediately drop the scale held tightly in its beak.  However, at times, a bird will use the same scale to wedge loose three to four scales before discarding the slender tool.  Those observers lucky enough to witness the remarkable behavior have reported brown-headed nuthatches will use up to three tools during a feeding event. 

       I should note that, in addition to bark scales, nuthatches have also been seen employing pine needles and twigs as tools.

       Both adult and young nuthatches use tools to obtain food.  However, as far as we know, young nuthatches only employ tools during the first few months after they fledge.

       It appears that this tiny nuthatch engages in this behavior most often while looking for food in longleaf pine trees.  This could be because the birds can more easily remove the flaky scales found on the trunks of these trees than the scales covering other trees.  Who knows?

       At any rate, be on the lookout for this behavior in your backyard.  Since we know so little about this fascinating behavior, anything you see in your backyard could enhance our knowledge of the behavior of this energetic, feisty backyard resident.