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HUMMINGBIRD SEASON IS SET TO BEGIN

       On crisp March mornings, the leafless woodlands surrounding my Middle Georgia home reverberate with the gobbling of wild turkey gobblers. As the month moves forward and their loud pronouncements increase, the first hummingbirds of the season will appear in my backyard without any fanfare. If you are like me, the first hummingbird of the year seems to magically appear out of nowhere often when we least expect to see one.

       Thoughtful hummingbird hosts, we will have a feeder stocked with sugar water waiting for the hungry, long-distance travelers. Often though, this is not the case and the first hummer of the season is seen hovering at the vacant spot where a feeder was hung the previous year. If you don’t want to feel like a heel for letting the tiny bird that journeyed so far to reach your backyard down, I strongly urge you to put up at least one feeder as soon as possible.

The first hummingbirds to arrive in the spring in my neck of the woods arrive around March 18. Good friends that live close by in Lizella have seen hummingbirds are their feeders as early as March 15. As you might expect Georgians that live in South Georgia, see their first hummingbirds of the year much earlier in March and even in February. Friends living in North Georgia tell me they may not see their first rubythroat until April.

       If you share my passion for hummingbirds, I am sure you are keenly looking forward the spotting your first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year. Whenever it drops in for a long drink of sugar water, let me know. I would love to share the big event with fellow bloggers.

UNWANTED NIGHTTIME VISITORS TO BIRD FEEDERS

       My wife and I have noticed the last birds to our seed feeders are typically cardinals.  Long after the chipping sparrows, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and house finches have gone to roost male northern cardinals seem to glow in the fading light of the day.  Once the cardinals finally call it quits for the day, as much as we probably don’t like to think about it, a number of unwanted guests are apt to visit our feeders under the cloak of darkness.

       To some extent, which animals will visit our feeders depends on where you live in the Peach State.  For example, if you reside in North Georgia or a handful of other locations scattered around the rest of the state where black bears make their home, during the warmer months of the year you might have a visit from a black bear.

       For the rest of us, our feeders are more likely to be visited by rodents, raccoons, opossums, and white-tailed deer.  Believe it or not, coyotes and foxes are also known to frequent feeders at night.  In most cases, these animals are attracted to seeds that have been flipped out of feeders or scattered on the ground. That being the case, one of the best ways to discourage nocturnal visits by these furry critters is to clean up any seed left on the ground.  This task can be made less daunting by putting out only as much seed as your think the birds will eat during the day.

       Deer can often be thwarted by not feeding inexpensive seed mixtures that often contain corn.  Corn is a favorite deer food.

       If marauding bears are a problem, you will have to take your feeders down before sunset.  If you don’t, you stand the very real chance of having feeders destroyed our hauled off into the woods.

      Should you want to get some idea what is actually visiting your bird feeding area at night, install a motion-activated trail camera aimed at your feeders.  If you do, you may be amazed at what is going bump in the night just outside your backdoor.

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS USE MOST OF THEIR ENERGY JUST TO KEEP WARM

       You might find it surprising to learn birds use most of their energy just to keep warm. Studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of the energy birds derive from the foods they eat in the wild and at our feeders is used by their bodies to keep warm. This leaves them with precious little energy devoted to reproduction and growth. This is in stark contrast to the green anoles, toads and other reptiles and amphibians living in our backyards. It seems they are able to employ 90 percent of the energy obtained from their diets directly into growth and reproduction.

       For this reason, it is always a good idea to offer our bird diners foods containing oils, fruits, and fats. With this in mind, the menu we provide our feathered guests should include such foods as suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as dried and fresh fruit.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE SIGHTINGS

        Just when it appeared Baltimore orioles would not make an appearance at Georgia feeders this winter, within the past two weeks, two bird enthusiasts reported they are hosting orioles at their backyard feeders.  Up until then the only Baltimore oriole report I had received this winter came from a woman the feeds birds in her backyard in Tennessee.

       The first report originating from the Peach State came from a woman that describes herself as an amateur birdwatcher living in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta.  She first saw a female Baltimore oriole January 21.  The bird was seen inspecting Hot Meats sunflower seeds at one of her seed feeders.

         As soon as the bird flew away, she immediately put out half of an orange.  Much to her delight a couple of hours later, the bird returned.  The oriole has revisited the orange several times a day since it first dined on the citrus.

       On January 27, she sent me an update on the status of the bird.  Accompanying the message was a fabulous picture of the oriole eating grape jelly.  She wrote that the bird had been coming to feed in her backyard frequently since her initial sighting on the 21st.  She went on to say the bird was eating grape jelly from an oriole feeder she bought a year ago.  Although neither a hummingbird nor oriole ever used the feeder before, her new winter guest visits it regularly.  She fills the feeder with grape jelly water instead of nectar.

       The second report that I received was sent January 26.  This message came from a wild bird enthusiast that resides in Warner Robins.  She reported spotting two Baltimore orioles.  The homeowner wrote, “Yesterday I saw a bright orange and black bird at my suet feeder.”  The next morning she observed what appeared to be the same bird dining on suet.  However, in the brief time it took her to grab her camera and return to the window, the bird disappeared.  Much to her delight, in a few minutes, a second Baltimore oriole appeared.  The plumage of this bird was much duller.

       Wow! I wish a Baltimore oriole would show up at my home this winter.  Although I have a small container of grape jelly waiting for them in the corner of one of my platform feeders, nothing resembling an oriole has visited it.  However, the fact three orioles have recently shown up at two locales this late in the winter, gives those of us that have not seen an oriole in our backyards hope one may still make an appearance before spring arrives.

      

FASCINATING BLUEBIRD ROOSTING BEHAVIOR

       It is well known that during the winter eastern bluebirds sometimes roost together in the same cavity or nesting box.  Although much is yet to be learned about this behavior, observations of bluebirds roosting in a nest box in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather provide us with insight into the fascinating roosting habits of this popular bird.  The event I am describing here took place in Indiana during a period of extremely cold weather.

       Throughout this spell of frigid weather, as many as 14 bluebirds used a single nesting box as their nighttime roost.  It is interesting to note that while a number of other apparently suitable boxes stood nearby, all of these birds used the same box night after night.

       The roosting birds did not simply pile atop one another after they entered the box.  To the contrary, they carefully arranged themselves in two to three layers.  The birds comprising each layer positioned themselves so they looked like spikes on a wagon wheel.  Once each bird settled in, it faced toward the outside of the box.

       Birds arranged in such a manner would have little chance of suffocating during the night.  By so doing, the warm air expelled by each bird would also help keep the interior of the nesting box warm.

ON RARE OCCASIONS BROWN CREEPERS WILL VISIT FEEDERS

       One of the birds rarely seen feeding at Georgia bird feeders is the brown creeper.  This odd 5.25-inch brown bird spends most of its time wintering in Georgia gleaning insects and their eggs from the bark of trees.  However, from time to time they are seen feeding elsewhere.

        When a creeper does seek food at a feeder, the brown creeper invariably feeds on the smallest tidbits of food.  In fact, these small morsels of food are best described as crumbs.

        Perhaps the most unusual food item the bird will sometimes dine on is boiled potatoes.  They will also eat pieces of baked goods, seeds (such as sunflower seeds), and suet.

        Some of the folks that have been lucky enough to attract brown creepers report they feel the key to their success has been smearing suet or peanut butter into crevices in the bark of a tree, or placing food in a suet feeder mounted directly on a tree trunk.

BACKYARD SECRET-FEEDERS DON’T EXPOSE BIRDS TO MORE DANGER THAN THEY FACE ELSEWHERE

      We often hear it said feeding birds in our yards exposes wild birds to more danger than they face elsewhere. Have you ever wondered if this is true? According to Project FeederWatch, data collected by thousands of volunteers, such is not the case.

       Since 1987, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society, and the Canadian Nature Federation have joined hands to conduct a continent-wide survey to bird feeding. Each year more than 10,000 volunteers collect and submit data on the bird feeding activities in their yards.

       One of the many things the study has revealed is the birds that feed in our backyards are not facing any greater risks than they are exposed to at other locations. Project FeederWatch data have revealed that throughout the course of a winter, on the average, only one bird death per every two feeders takes place, for any reason (predation, disease, and accidents). This is considerably lower than the researchers’ prediction that at least four or five birds would die per feeder over the course of a winter. Actually, the mortality rate turned out to be a tenth of what was predicted.

       It is interesting to note, roughly 35-40% of all songbirds die annually.

       I sure you agree it is good to know our backyard feeders are far from death traps for the valued backyard neighbors.

BACKYARD SECRET: BROWN THRASHERS CAN BE ATTRACTED TO FEEDING SITES

       The brown thrasher is a bird that rarely visits feeders. When it does appear in a feeding area, it prefers to feed on the ground.

       If a brown thrasher takes up residence in your backyard this winter, here is a tip that just might allow you to see the bird more often. Although, this technique does not always work, it has proven successful for others.

       Scatter a small amount of scratch feed on the ground close the shrubby cover near your wild bird feeding area. Although thrashers will sometimes venture away from such cover to feed, they definitely do most of their feeding in or nearby shrubby spots.

ATTRACTING FLICKERS TO FEEDERS IS A CHALLENGE

       Attracting the northern flicker to a backyard feeder is a challenge.  However, you have the best chance of doing so during the winter months.

       Roughly, 75% of the northern flicker’s diet is composed of a variety of insects.  As anybody that has watched a northern flicker forage for food on their lawn realizes, the bird is particularly fond of ants.

       The remainder of the bird’s diet consists of a number of native fruits, berries and seeds produced by plants such as the sumac, dogwood, hackberry, pine, oak, black gum, and Virginia creeper (the bird is particularly fond of the berries produced by this vine).

       It has been reported northern flickers can sometimes be attracted to feeders stocked with shelled peanuts and hulled sunflower seeds.  Since animal matter makes up the majority of this large woodpecker’s diet, it should come as no surprise to learn flickers will often also dine on suet.  Some folks feel hungry flickers prefer suet laced with insects, however, the truth of the matter is the birds also eat regular suet cakes.

       I must confess I have never been able to attract a northern flicker to my backyard feeding area.  However, from time to time, one will drink from a birdbath.

       If you are looking for a challenge this winter, consider trying to attract a northern flicker to your feeders.  By winter’s end, if you are successful, I suspect you will be one of an elite group of homeowners that successfully met this daunting challenge.

BLOGGERS SHARE EXPERIENCES WITH BIRDS EATING DOG AND CAT FOOD

       Some months ago, I posted a blog regarding backyard birds eating dry dog food (the blog can be found by using the blog’s Search feature).  Since that time four backyard wildlife enthusiasts have shared their experiences concerning birds eating both dog and cat food. 

       One woman reported that, on a couple of occasions, she has seen sparrows venturing into her carport to dine on cat food.

       Another blogger said he successfully raised a young crow feeding the bird a mash consisting of water and Purina Puppy Chow.  The bird eventually fledged and remained flying about his neighborhood where it was remained throughout the summer before finally disappearing.

       Another backyard birder wrote that she pours regular dog kibble into a sunflower feeder.  This unusual offering has attracted dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice.

      Yet another fan of backyard wildlife shared his experience with an American robin.  It seems several years ago he was surprised to see an American robin feeding on dry dog food served in a shallow pan sitting on his deck.  For three consecutive days, the robin flew in, nestled in the dog food, and leisurely feed on the chunks of food while his Eskimo Spitz calmly watched nearby.

       If you would like to share your experiences regarding birds eating pet food, please send them to me.  I am sure other folks would like to read about them.