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HAVE CEDAR WAXWINGS EVER FED AT YOUR FEEDERS?

       Like many of you, I try to attract as many different species of birds to my feeders as possible.  However, in spite of repeated efforts, I have yet to see a cedar waxwing dine at my feeders.

       It is often said that coming close only counts when you play horseshoes.  If that is the case, several years ago when a cedar waxing visited a birdbath located close by my feeders, I should be able to place it on my list of feeder birds.  Right?  Whom am I kidding? You know as well as I do, to add a cedar waxwing this prestigious list would totally delegitimize it.

       Other people report that they have coaxed cedar waxwings to their feeders by placing currents, raisins, and chopped apples in a platform feeder.  I have heard once they recognize your feeders as a place to dine, they will regularly appear and gorge themselves on your food offerings.

       With that in mind, I have decided to adopt a new strategy to attract these enigmatic birds to my feeders.  I am going to concentrate my feeding efforts during those times when flocks of cedar waxwings visit the large red cedar trees growing in our yard are loaded with berries.  When that occurs, it might be best if my wife hides the raisins and apples since they just might find their way to a platform feeder perched in front of my office. 

       I will let you know how things turn out.

       In the meantime, I would like know if you have ever been successful in attracting cedar waxwings to your feeders.

NOT ALL SPARROW-LIKE BIRDS ARE ACTUALLY SPARROWS

       Chipping sparrows far outnumber any other sparrow that I see on or beneath my feeders.  However, if I take the time to examine a flock of sparrows foraging for seeds in my bird feeding area, I sometimes discover a white-throated sparrow sparrow or two.  This week, when I perused what I thought was a small flock of sparrows, I was pleasantly surprised that I to learn I was actually looking at a flock of pine siskins.  For weeks, pine siskins have been seen across much of the northern portion of the state, but they had not reached my Middle Georgia yard until a few days ago.

       Pine siskins are often mistaken for sparrows.  It is small (4.3-5.5 inches long), brown and covered my streaks much like some of the sparrows.  However, the bill of the pine siskin is very sharp and pointed whereas the bills of sparrows are more conical and blunt.  Two white wing bars highlight bird’s wings.  Splashes of yellow can also been seen on their wings and forked tail.  Often these yellow feathers are most easily seen when the bird is fluttering its  pointed wings.

       Another thing that I have noticed is the pine siskins are full of energy and move about much more than sparrows. In addition, when they visit feeders they often fuss with one another as well as other birds.  If you are in a position to hear their harsh, soft calls, you will find that they are constantly communicating with each other as they dine.

       They are also extremely tame.  Often they allow me to walk within 10-15 of them while they are feeding. 

       More often than not, they travel about in flocks.  Currently I am feeding 10-15 birds each day.  However, flocks of 20+ are not uncommon.

     Unfortunately, I only see pine siskins every few years or so.  When flights of siskins are seen deep into the Southeast it is a sign that there is a shortage of seeds produced by a variety of conifer trees that provide their favorite food.

       If you want to attract pine siskins to your feeders, provide these migrants with plenty of nyger and sunflower seeds.

       One word of caution:  keep your bird feeding area clean.  Mounting evidence suggests they are highly vulnerable to salmonella.  This is one of the common diseases transmitted to birds feeding on the wet, deteriorating food that often collects beneath bird feeders.

       Sadly, it is becoming more difficult to enjoy the sight of a flock of pine siskins feeding in our backyards.  It seems that according to Partner’s In Flight pine siskins numbers have dropped 80% since 1970.  Let’s all hope this alarming trend will soon be reversed so that the sights and sounds pine siskins will never disappear.

AMERICAN CROWS ARE FASCINATING TO WATCH

       Recently my daughter and granddaughter made their first attempt to feed crows .  What they did not know as they scattered sugarcoated popcorn on their lawn, was that they would soon have front row seats watching a crow do something they never imagined they would ever see.   

       Remarkably, 15-30 minutes after they returned to the house after setting the table for the crow banquet, two American crows showed up and slowly walked up to the food offerings.  The birds fed for a short while and then departed leaving a small amount of  popcorn  here and there across the lawn.

       Later that same day three crows flew in to the feeding area.  While the birds were feeding on the remaining food, one of the crows picked up some popcorn, carried it to another part of the lawn, and pushed the food down into the dry two to three-inch tall grass.  It then placed grass clippings atop the stash of food.  This behavior was repeated a few more times before the birds left.  They thought it was odd that the bird tilted its head sideways each time it hide popcorn.

   

       The next morning two crows reappeared at the recently- opened crow diner.  During this visit, one of crows walked over to some of the spots where popcorn had been hidden the day before and retrieved the food hidden there.

       Clearly, what my daughter and granddaughter witnessed was a behavior often referred to as short-term hoarding.  The bits of grass arranged above each stash served as a marker.  In addition,  it is believed that when the crow tilted its head sideways at each location of a stash it was forming a mental image of the marker with one eye, as well as the general locale with the other.

       After the crows left, my daughter and granddaughter were left with the unforgettable memory of a remarkable example of  bird feeding behavior that far exceeded their expectations.

       The next time American crows fly into your feeding area, keep a close eye on them.  Who knows what you will see?

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.

             

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.

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.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT SPECIES OF BIRDS DO YOU FEED IN YOUR YARD?

        According to data collected by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, some 350 species of birds feed at backyard bird feeders throughout the North American Continent.  Only 90 of these birds are considered regular visitors to our feeders.  The vast majority of the birds that eat at feeders are only casual visitors.  Do you have any idea how many different birds you have fed at your feeders over the years?

         Recently I tallied the number of species that have visited feeders at my Monroe County home during the past 40+ years.  My wife and I have tallied feeding 38 species of birds during this period.  Three birds strictly fed on suet.  One species ate suet and fruit.  An additional four species consumed only hummingbird nectar, or jelly.  The remaining 30 species either exclusively ate seeds or also supplemented their diet with other foods too. 

         In addition, five species were only seen using our birdbaths.

         The keys to attracting the greatest variety of birds to your feeder include offering birds a wide variety seeds (sunflower seeds, white millet, safflower seeds), suet, jelly, hummingbird nectar, cornbread, fruits, nuts, and the like.  Offer these foods in a variety of feeders and locations.  Some birds simply prefer to feed on the ground, other avian diners are more likely to visit feeders suspended from wires or sitting atop poles.  Also, it is a good idea to space feeders widely apart; this reduces competition between the various birds visiting your feeding area.

         Now that we are in the winter bird feeding season, how many different species of birds, do you anticipate seeing at your feeders during the next few months?  Depending on where you live in Georgia, I would say, you would be doing exceptionally well if you see as many as 25 species this winter.  As a rule, urban homeowners feed fewer birds than those folks living in suburban and rural settings do.  However even though I suspect most of us will feed fewer than 25 birds this winter.  Speaking for myself, I will be enjoying watching whatever birds show up.