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YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH A CHIPPING SPARROW MUST EAT TO SURVIVE THE WINTER

       The feeding activity around my bird feeders has picked up over the past few weeks. One of the birds that is becoming more common with each passing week is the chipping sparrow.  Although it is small, weighing only 0.43 ounces, it has a hefty appetite.

       Ornithologists have found that a chipping sparrow must eat some two pounds of seeds to survive the winter.  In other words, a winter flock of 24 chipping sparrows will consume 48 pounds of seed before spring arrives.

       What is even more amazing is that much of their diet consists of tiny seeds.  Most folks offer chipping sparrows and other birds mixed seed.  Such mixes often include canary seed, white millet, and rape. I prefer to offer these petite winter residents white millet. 

       While I am certain that the chipping sparrows that visit my white millet feeders do not rely exclusively on food I offer them, I am glad my seed offerings are helping ensure I these birds will be visiting my yard for years to come.

CHIPPING SPARROW

CEDAR WAXWINGS HAVE ARRIVED IN OUR BACKYARD

       For the past few weeks, winter visitors have been arriving in our Middle Georgia backyard.  Yesterday cedar waxwings made their first appearance.

       While my wife and I were checking out the plants growing in containers on our deck, I activated my Merlin Bird Identification App.  In in matter of seconds, the app detected the call notes of a cedar waxwing.  Once the bird’s name appeared, I looked for the bird(s) in the trees and shrubs growing nearby.   When I did not see one, I decided that Merlin had made a mistake.

       Seconds later, I was proven wrong when a flock of a couple of dozen cedar waxwings swooshed in from the northwest and landed in the top of a tall red cedar tree.  As the birds flew from limb to limb searching for the tree’s small berries, a slightly smaller flock joined them.  We watched the birds disappearing in and out of the cedar’s thick canopy, for a few minutes, when without warning the cedar waxwings took to the air and flew over the house.

       Although cedar waxwings visit our yard each winter, we do not consider them a feeder bird simply because they have never visited our feeders.  Here they feed exclusively on red cedar and mistletoe berries. 

       However, data collected through Project FeederWatch indicate they will dine on dried fruits. One of their favorite dried fruits is raisins. There are reports that cedar waxwings can devour a half a pint of raisins in a matter of minutes.  The birds will also eat halved and chopped apples and other fruits.

 

       Although these gregarious birds do not feast at our feeders, they do visit our birdbaths to both drink and bathe.

       If cedar waxwings do not visit your backyard, it could be due to the fact you are not offering them anything to eat or a place to bathe.  With that in mind, consider planting a red cedar and/or other native trees and shrubs that retains their fruit throughout the winter in your area of the state.

       In addition, keep your birdbath full of clean water throughout the winter.  This will benefit cedar waxwings and your other backyard winter guests.

RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS HOARD INSECTS

       I find the behavior known as hoarding fascinating.  Hoarding simply refers to an animal storing food for future use.  Fall is a great time to watch hoarding.   Over the years, I have enjoyed seeing blue jays, chipmunks, gray squirrels and red-bellied woodpeckers store caches of food in my yard.  However, I have never been lucky enough to see a red-headed woodpecker hoard food.  One of the main reasons I would like observe this behavior is that it hoards insects.

       Like the other hoarders that hoard feed throughout my yard, red-headed woodpeckers store a wide variety of nuts and other seeds.  They are, however, especially fond of beechnuts and acorns.  The birds stash these bits of food away in traditional places such as under the bark of trees, cracks in railroad ties, wooden fence posts, and dead trees.  However, on occasion, they will even slip food beneath the shingles on barns and houses.  One of their favorite places to hide food in the cracks found on the flat surfaces of tree stumps.  Interestingly, it is our only woodpecker that covers stored seeds with bits of bark or wood.

      However, what I find most interesting is the fact that they will store both live and dead insects.  They are especially fond caching grasshoppers and crickets.  Often live insects are crammed into holes and cracks so tight that it is impossible for them to escape.  I find that truly remarkable.

       Perhaps this will be the year that I will witness the seemingly unbelievable hoarding habits of this intriguing bird.

       In the meantime, if you have been lucky to witness red-headed woodpeckers hoarding food in your backyard, I would like to hear about it.

BACKYARD SECRET—BIRDS CAN SLEEP WITH ONLY ONE EYE CLOSED

       Sleep is just as important to birds as it is to us. However, a bird’s sleep is far different from that we experience.  One way that it differs is birds can actually sleep with one of their eyes open. 

       A bird is capable of performing this unbelievable fete because half of its brain is fully asleep while the other half is only partially asleep.  In other words, the side of the brain with the open eye is only partially asleep.  This enables a sleeping bird to detect the approach of a potential predator.

       I find that truly amazing!

IS THIS FINCH SLEEPING?

BACKYARD SECRET—WHEN IS IT TIME TO REMOVE DEAD ZINNIA PLANTS?

        By this time of the year the zinnias in my gardens have, in large part ceased blooming.  While there are scattered colorful blossoms here and there, most of my once beautiful flowers and plants have been nipped by an early frost. All that remains of the zinnias are brown stalks and the withered remains of the flowers they once displayed to hungry pollinators.

       When each of us is faced with this situation, we must decide if we should go ahead and cut or otherwise remove the drab remains of these garden favorites.  Many gardeners immediately remove the dead plants in an attempt to beautify their garden.  However, I am one of those backyard gardeners that leave the plants standing.

       This is done because I realize that a number of birds dine on zinnia seeds.  Here is a list of some of the birds that eat the seeds of dead zinnias:  American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, house finch, purple finch, cardinals and pine siskins.

       I keep an eye on this unorthodox food source and remove the dead plants only after the birds have extracted all of the seeds they harbor.  When this occurs varies from year to year.

DEAD ZINNIA SEED HEADS

   With that in mind, I hope you will refrain from rushing out and removing your zinnia plants as soon as they are killed by cold weather.  If you leave them, you just may catch a glimpse of a bird feeding on the seeds located in the withered remains of the past summer’s zinnia blossoms.  If you do, you might find the dead zinnias not as unattractive after all.

THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD POPULATION IS DECLINING

        According to a recently published report entitled 2022 State of the Birds, the rufous hummingbird population is in decline. The rufous hummingbird has lost half its total population during the past 50 years. In addition, there is a very real chance that it will plummet another 50 percent during the next half century.

       The rufous hummingbird nests primarily in Washington and Oregon, north through Canada’s western provinces all the way to southeastern Alaska.

       The vast majority of rufous hummingbirds’ winter in Mexico, however, for decades many have annually wintered in the Southeast.  In fact, it is the most commonly seen hummingbird during the winter in Georgia.

BACKYARD SECRET – DIET AFFECTS COLOR OF MALE HOUSE FINCHES

  I am sure you have noticed that the amount of red on adult male house finches is highly variable. Throughout most of the year, what a bird eats affects amount of red it displays.  Specifically, the birds that consume foods containing large amounts of carotenoid pigments (e.g. fruits and berries) have plumages that are redder than those birds that eat foods containing little, if any, carotenoid.

     In addition, when a male house finch is developing new feathers, the fresh feathers are brighter tha those they replace.

 

BACKYARD SECRET— AMERICAN CROWS RARELY LIVE ALONE

        It is no coincidence that we rarely find an American crow living alone.  This reason for this is American crows are social animals. 

       American crows live typically live together in small groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. 

       My wife and I feed crows.  This enables us to watch their behavior.  One thing we have learned that the family of crows that visits our home consists of a male and female and their three young.   As such, when the crows arrive, we always see five birds.

       My daughter also feeds crows.  Until recently, like clockwork four crows show up every day to dine on her food offerings.  One of the birds has a damaged wing.  Apparently, something happened to that bird, as it has not appeared to dine with its family during the past few weeks.

BEST TIME TO CLEAN BARN OWL BOXES

         If you erect and maintain nesting boxes for birds in your yard, you realize the need to annually repair and clean them during a time when birds are not nesting.  This is easy to do because the nesting dates of most birds that nest in our backyards are well known.  However, if you have a barn owl nest box on your property, you have a problem.  It seems that biologists know surprisingly little about when barn owls nest in Georgia.  

       Such is not the case in California.  Researchers at the University of California, Davis combed through almost 100 years of banding and other records to determine when barn owls nest in California.

       The biologists found that the median egg laying date in California is February 20.  Consequently, the lead author of the study Ryan Bourbour says, “We want to reduce disturbances to breeding pairs prior to egg laying.”  Based on the findings the researchers recommend boxes need to be erected, repaired, and cleaned in the fall.

       Unfortunately, the only nesting records for Peach State barn owls are largely anecdotal.  Only a dozen barn owl breeding records surfaced during The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia Project.  Although most records came from central Georgia, breeding was corroborated from the mountains to the coast. Undoubtedly, barn owl nesting is more common and widespread in all parts of the state.

       In Thomas Burleigh’s book Georgia Birds, the author noted that nests have been located from March to December.  However, biologists do not have enough data to develop a median egg laying date for Georgia.

      Since we know there is a need to provide more nesting sites for barn owls in Georgia, we all need to check our barn owl boxes during each season of the year.  When we conduct a check, if no nesting is currently going on, we need to repair and clean it.  If nesting has or is taking place since the last check, record it too.  Over time, we should be able to determine when nesting takes occurs in our part of the state.

       If you don’t have any barn owl nesting boxes on your property, consider erecting one.  Once you have one in place, follow the procedure outlined above.

       It would be great if landowners knew when it is the best time to conduct an annual barn owl nest box check.

       Let me know what you find.  I will forward your information on to the Wildlife Conservation Section biologists trying to restore nongame wildlife throughout Georgia.  Hopefully, your information will enable them to establish a median egg laying date for Georgia and recommend the best time to check barn owl nesting boxes.

BACKYARD SECRET – AN ASTOUNDING NUMBER OF BIRDS DIE FROM STRIKING WINDOWS EACH YEAR

     Researchers have found that up to 74 percent of the birds that fly into windows die.  In the United States, this translates into as many as a billion birds.

     Although this type of mortality takes place throughout the year, many of these mortalities occur during the birds’ spring and migrations.

     The list of birds killed includes thrushes, warblers, juncos, raptors, sparrows, tanagers, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and scores of others.