If you are lucky, each spring a pair of great crested flycatchers will choose to nest in your backyard. During their brief time with you they will dine on a protein-rich diet of spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, butterflies, moths and other assorted invertebrates. These critters are so important to these large, loud flycatchers they comprise more than ninety-five percent of their diet. About the only other food they consume is a smattering of fruits and berries.
In spite of the fact these birds often live within sight of your feeders, they rarely drop in and sample the cuisine you offer at your backyard bird cafe. In fact, until recently I had personally never heard of a great crested flycatcher feeding at a feeder.
That changed recently when Ron Lee, a Henry County backyard wildlife enthusiast, reported he witnessed a great crested flycatcher feeding on suet. The bird did not dine on suet offered in a mesh suet feeder. Instead the hungry ate bits of suet littering the ground beneath the feeder.
Wow! I wish that I had witnessed this rare event.
It will be interesting to see if this proves to be a onetime event or the bird will continue to take advantage of this new food.
I think it would be great if this great crested flycatcher is a trend setter and other members of its feathered clan will follow its lead and begin feeding at our feeders too.
For the past several weeks, rose-breasted grosbeaks have been migrating back to their breeding grounds. Whenever some of these birds stop and refuel in our backyards it is a real treat.
The male rose-breasted grosbeak is particularly striking. Indeed, the black and white male, adorned with a bright red chevron on its breast, is among the most striking birds that visit our feeders.
If you have been fortunate enough to host rose-breasted grosbeaks, you know that its food of choice is sunflower seeds. In fact, more often than not it is the only offering it will eat.
However, when you take a look at the overall diet of the rose-breasted grosbeak you quickly realize this long distant migrant eats much more than sunflower seeds. In fact, the principal food on their menu is invertebrates; these animals comprise 52% of its diet. Rose-breasted grosbeaks favor beetles above all other invertebrate, however they also dine on everything from ants to butterflies and moths.
Other foods gobbled up by rose-breasted grosbeaks include; wild fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries; they make up 19.3% of the food they consume. Other food items important to the birds include wild seeds (15.7%), cultivated fruits and plants (6.5%) including corn and peas), as well as tree buds and flowers (6.5%).
These revelations once again prove that we only catch brief glimpses of the private lives of many of the wildlife that inhabit our backyards.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.