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BACKYARD SECRET: PINE SISKINS WILL EAT PEANUTS

   If you have been fortunate enough to host pine siskins at your feeders this past winter, the small, sparrow-like birds probably fed on thistle (Niger) or sunflower seeds.  Although I did not see a pine siskin at my feeders this year until today, it has been my experience when the birds do appear, they rarely feed on anything else.

        However, after feeding birds for decades I have also  learned that birds will surprise you.  For some unknown reason, they will suddenly eat something you never expected they would touch. 

        This lesson was reinforced today.  Throughout the winter, I have watched tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, and even American goldfinches regularly chisel out bits of peanuts from the feeder. 

        For some reason, today a pine siskin joined a female American goldfinch pecking away on peanuts.  What made the bird’s choice even more unusual was the fact the bird did not visit one of the two nearby feeders stocked with black oil sunflower seeds.

        Perhaps the bird tried the peanuts and did not like them and I will never see it again..  Who knows? One thing I do know is, if a siskin shows up at my peanut feeder again, I will be ready to photograph the event.

BACKYARD SECRET: MANY SPECIES DINE AT OUR FEEDERS

       More than 350 species of birds are known to visit backyard feeders in North America.  Some 170 species regularly dine at feeders.       

       These astounding numbers were derived from data collected by the thousands of citizen scientists that have participated in Project FeederWatch.

       This ongoing study is sponsored by The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, The National Audubon Society, and The Canadian Nature Federation.

       How many species of birds do you feed at your feeders?

EASTERN TOWHEES ARE PART OF THE CLEANUP CREW

    You have probably noticed some of the birds that feed in your backyard rarely dine above ground.  They seem perfectly content to feed on the seeds tossed or scratched out of elevated feeders.  These birds are part of the backyard cleanup crew.  One of my favorite members of this the crew is the eastern towhee.  The eastern towhee is a bird that spends much of its life close to terra firma. During the winter, the towhees that inhabit my yard can routinely be heard uttering their familiar “towhee” or “joree” call from the thick shrubs that border the north and south sides of my property.  Even then, the birds are calling within less than ten feet of the earth.

       While quietly walking about my yard in winter, I often hear them scratching through the leaf litter that accumulates beneath the shrubs. At times, I have been lucky enough to witness this fascinating behavior as they searched for seeds hidden beneath the leaves.  It is truly amazing how much energy the birds put into this activity.  If you see it, you will be surprised how high and far they can toss dead leaves. 

       During the winter seeds, berries and other plant material comprise 80 percent of their diet.  Most of these seeds are found away from our feeders.  These foods include loblolly pine and sweetgum seeds, acorns, yaupon, red cedar, honeysuckle,  waxmyrtle, and yaupon berries, as well as the meats of pecans and hickory nuts.

       Beneath my feeders, in addition to white millet and sunflower seeds, eastern towhees also dine on a variety of seeds including corn, canary and thistle seed.

       Since eastern towhees are ground feeders, it is important that we keep the hulls and seeds that accumulate beneath our feeders from becoming contaminated with fungi and bacteria.  Each year untold numbers of birds that frequent bird feeding areas die from eating contaminated seeds.  If you regularly remove large accumulations of seeds and hulls and toss them into the garbage, you will be helping keep your yard disease free and ensuring towhees and other members of the cleanup crew will be eating healthy foods.

WHITE BREAD ATTRACTS BIRDS WHEN NOTHING ELSE WILL

        For some reason, I have heard more folks complain they are having a tough time attracting birds to their feeders than I have in years.  If you are in this camp, here is a tip that sometimes solves the problem.  For reasons we do not understand, white bread has the ability to attract birds when nothing else will.  It is particularly effective in luring birds to brand new feeders.

       The birds don’t seem to care if the bread is fresh and stale, they will eat both.  If you try to feed them brown bread, though, you quickly learn feeder birds much prefer white bread.

       I can remember the time when feeding bread was frowned upon because it was considered a poor source of nutrition.  Nowadays since the grocery store shelves are stocked with enriched bread, I do not hear these warnings anymore.

       The ideal way to feed bread to your feathered guests is to break it up into small pieces.  These pieces can be placed on feeding tables and trays or simply scattered on the ground.

       One of the neat things about bread is most of the birds that visit our feeders will eat bread.  In addition, it is even consumed by birds we rarely see at our feeders such as hermit thrushes.

       As is usually the case, I cannot offer you a 100% guarantee this solution will work for you.  However, it has been my experience it works more often than not.  Give it a try, what have you have to lose?

 

 

SKIMPING ON PLASTIC FEEDERS IS FALSE ECONOMY

        There is no telling how many plastic feeders I have purchased over the years.  Although the birds used them all, many lasted only a season or two.  Since they were cheap, when they cracked or got cloudy, I simply bought another. 

       Eventually it dawned on me I could save a lot of money by spending a little money up front and buy a plastic feeder that would last for years.  The problem was how I could tell if I was actually buying a better feeder or simply spending more money for a feeder that would not last very long.

      PLASTIC FEEDER - 31 Jan 2018 When I told a friend about my dissatisfaction with plastic feeders, he recommended I purchase clear plastic feeders made of a polycarbonate named Lexan™.  He told me he has been using a feeder made of the material for a couple of decades.

       After hearing his praise, I did some research on Lexan™.  It seems since this manmade material is transparent, impact and crack resistant and resists ultraviolet rays and clouding, it is ideal for many types of feeders.

       With that in mind, if you are looking for a long-lasting feeder, before you purchase one, check the label and make sure it is constructed out of a polycarbonate such as Lexan™  Do not let its sticker price keep you for buying it.  Keep in mind; it should outlast a host of far more inexpensive models and save you money in the end.

ONE, TWO, OR NO MOCKINGBIRDS

How many northern mockingbirds are wintering in your backyard?  Believe it or not, whether you have none, one, two, or more is an indication of the quality of the winter bird habitat in your backyard.

Typically, a single mockingbird claims my backyard as its winter residence.  However, this year I was pleasantly surprised two mockingbirds have staked out my yard as their personal domain.

Anyone that has watched mockingbirds for any length of time knows mockingbirds are territorial.  They definitely do not like to share food with other birds, let alone another mockingbird.  As such, unless it is a mate, a mockingbird will quickly try to discourage other mockingbirds that happen to cross over the invisible border that delineates its turf.

Each year with the approach of winter, mockingbirds carefully select their winter homes.  Since sixty-five percent of the mockingbird’s winter diet is made up primarily of fruits and berries, the availability of these foods is a primary concern.  Consequently, even if mockingbirds nested in your yard the previous summer, if a yard is not blessed with an abundance of winter foods, there is a good chance they will winter elsewhere.

The size of a mockingbird’s winter territory is determined by food abundance.  When food is scarce, territories will be larger than in locales where food abounds.  

Banding studies have shown when two mockingbirds occupy the same winter territory; invariably they are a male and female.  In comparison, if one bird is present it is either a single male or a single female.

I find it satisfying to know that I am hosting a pair of mockingbirds this year.  It tells me that my efforts to enhance the wildlife habitat in my yard are paying dividends.

Like most folks when I first tried to attract mockingbirds and other birds to my yard, I tried to do so by putting up a bunch of bird feeders.  Nowadays feeders still play a key role in my efforts to attract backyard birds.  Currently I am offering mockingbirds such comfort foods as cornbread, suet, grape jelly.

However, over the years, in addition to installing a couple of birdbaths, I have tried to plant or encourage a number of plants that bear fruit and berries throughout the winter.  As a result, this winter hungry mockingbirds can also dine on the berries and of greenbrier, flowering dogwood, Callaway crabapple, American holly, persimmon, coral honeysuckle, and red cedar.  Before they were gobbled up, early in the winter, mockingbirds were also dining on the berries of American beautyberry, and pokeweed.

If you would like to be the winter host for more than one mockingbird, this winter, begin planting fruits and berries that persist well into winter.  Then when you somebody wants to know how many mockingbirds are wintering in your yard, you can proudly say, “TWO!”

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.