DISCOURAGING COWBIRDS FROM VISITING FEEDERS
If you are being plagued with small flocks of brown-headed cowbirds visiting your feeders lately, you are probably wondering if there is any way to discourage these voracious birds from eating the lion’s share of the food you have been putting out for cardinals, chickadees, purple finches, dark-eyed juncos and the like.
Georgians do not usually have a problem with feeding brown-headed cowbirds. Throughout the winter, if they show up at all, only one or two birds will make an occasional appearance. However, all of this changes from late winter into spring. At that time of year, it is not unusual to look out into your yard and see flocks ranging from five or six upwards of 20 or more. When they arrive, they can gobble of the majority of the seeds available in your feeding area in no time at all. When you consider the average a seed eating bird often consumes ¼-½ of its weight in food each day, a flock of hungry cowbirds can consume at lot of food at your feeders.
Although there is no foolproof way to solve this problem, here are some suggestions that might help.
Sometimes, if you simply cease offering seeds for a week or so, cowbird flocks will move on. Oftentimes folks don’t want to take such drastic action because they want to continue feeding their backyard favorites.
If such is the case with you, eliminate providing the seeds that cowbirds like. This means stop offering foods such as millet, mixed seed, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn for a week or so.
It also helps if the cease spreading seeds on the ground, and using platform feeders, and feeding tables. You might also try switching to tube feeders. Cowbirds are not particularly fond of dining at tube feeders, especially those equipped with short perches. Another alternative is to use feeders protected by a wire cage that allow only small birds to feed.
Another approach is to put out foods that cowbirds tend to avoid. For example, if you have never fed safflower seeds, this might be a good time to do so. Although cowbirds shy away from them Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and finches eat them. In addition, they are not a gray squirrel favorite either.
Let me know if any of these remedies work. In addition, if you have discovered another solution to the cowbird dilemma, let me know.
BACKYARD SECRET – HOW TO GET CLOSE TO A BROWN CREEPER
For most of us, seeing a brown creeper is big deal. In more cases than not, whenever one of these odd, curved-billed birds makes an appearance, we don’t have a camera or pair of binoculars handy and it is far enough away that we cannot tell much about it. Invariably, when this happens before you can get close enough to study it the bird flies away.
Here is strategy you might want to employ the next time see a brown creeper hunting for food on one of the trees growing in your backyard. I will not guarantee it will work every time. However, if it works even once, it will be worth it.
Once you have spotted the elusive bird, move slowly and position yourself directly behind it. Once you feel you are in the right position, slowly move toward the bird. As you make your approach, do not to make any sounds or rapid arm or let movements.is because the brown creeper’s eyes are located very close to one another. While this helps the bird locate food located in front of its head, it greatly reduces its peripheral vision. However, it reduces the bird’s ability to see anything approaching from behind.
Meanwhile, while you are waiting for the opportunity to try this technique, keep a feeder stocked with suet. Occasionally this insectivorous bird will dine on suet offered in feeders.
BACKYARD SECRET – THE BLACK WALNUT TREE IS VALUABLE TO WILDLIFE
I suspect that most of the folks that have a black walnut tree growing in their yards enjoy the tasty nuts the trees bears, its yellow fall foliage, and attractive shape. However, whenever I tell folks that their black walnut tree is also valuable to wildlife, they are pleasantly surprised.
The tree serves as a host the banded hairstreak butterfly and more than 100 moths including the luna, royal and imperial.
A number of small mammals eat the nuts including the eastern chipmunk and both gray and fox squirrels. In fact, black walnuts can comprise up to 10 percent of the fox squirrel’s diet.
Whenever black walnuts are cracked open by mammals, or crushed by vehicles in driveways or highways, many birds eat the highly nutritious meat. In fact, black walnut meat is ranked as a choice food for the eastern towhee, cardinal, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, blue jay, and woodpeckers (hairy, red-bellied and downy).
RESPONSES TO SAPSUCKERS EATING SEEDS BLOG
Bloggers have responded to the blog regarding a yellow-bellied sapsucker eating sunflower seeds. It seems some folks are enjoying success attracting yellow-bellied sapsuckers to their feeders. With that in mind, I thought that you would like to know what they have to say.
Nudicale says, “They regularly see yellow bellies feed on manufactured suet. We also have seen them feed on scrub oak logs in which they feed on a peanut butter and oatmeal mixture placed in holes drilled into the logs.”
Pat Kinser wrote to say that she and her husband watched a male yellow-bellied sapsucker dine on a Brome Nut Feeder eating Clinger’s Charms, a great no waste nut mixture.
Igrid Sanders responded to the blog by saying, “A yellow-bellied sapsucker has been visiting one of our feeders for the past few days. This is the first time I’ve seen a sapsucker visiting. It comes often, stays for several minutes at a time, and appears to be eating black sunflower seeds, though I have seen it well enough to be sure. It feeds on a woodpecker block of mixed seeds that are largely black sunflower seeds, but there are others and maybe fruits.”
An unnamed blogger added the only thing that he/she has seen eat around their home is grape jelly.
I hope you will benefit from these reports; I know that I have.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER EATS SUNFLOWER SEEDS
Those of us that regularly feed birds during the winter know that it is big news when a yellow-bellied sapsucker visits our feeders. When one does appear, it invariably dines on sugar water housed in a hummingbird feeder poised to entertain a rare wintering hummingbird, grape jelly, or a bird pudding. You can imagine how surprised retired wildlife biologist, John Jensen was when a male yellow-bellied sapsucker began dining every day on whole black oil sunflower seeds.
We know that, on rare occasions, yellow-bellied sapsuckers will eat small bits of sunflower seeds, but never whole sunflower seeds. It makes you stop and wonder why this particular bird has adopted this feeding behavior.
John told me that he feels that it is possible that the sapsucker chose this feeder because it is fashioned from a log. This indeed may be the case since yellow-bellied sapsuckers routinely feed while perched on the trunks and limbs of trees.
We really do not know much about the winter-feeding habits of this odd woodpecker. We know that they drill holes in trees and eat cambium (inner bark) and the sap that wells up in these tiny reservoirs. However, the birds are also known cache seeds and nuts during the winter. Why would they do this unless they eat them too?
If you have a theory as to why this woodpecker is feeding on sunflower seeds, drop me a line. In addition, I would like to know what yellow-bellied sapsuckers are dining on at your feeders this winter.
PROTECTING HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS FROM FREEZING
For days, the United States Weather Bureau has been warning us that severe cold weather in about to blanket Georgia. If these prognostications prove to be correct, this weekend temperatures will plummeted into the teens. For those Georgians that are currently hosting, or hope to host, a hummingbird in their backyard this winter, this is disturbing news. Obviously, hummingbirds cannot feed on frozen nectar. In addition, if the nectar in feeders freezes the feeders often break. A hummingbird feeding solution of four parts water to one part sugar typically does not freeze until the temperature dips below 25ºF. If the temperature drops lower, feeders can be taken in at night and replaced the next morning. Another option is to use a light to keep hummingbird food from freezing. Many folks use a 150-watt bulb mounted in a light fixture attached to an alligator clip placed near a feeder to provide the heat needed to keep nectar from freezing on a cold winter night.
If the temperature remains freezing for a few days, you might find that you have to change out feeders during the day. In this way, hummingbirds will have access to an uninterrupted supply of sugar water.
SUPPLEMENT YOUR FEEDER BIRDS’ DIET WITH EGGSHELLS
A surprising number of the folks that feed wild birds in their yards include eggshells in their offerings. As a matter of fact, Cornell University reported, in their publication entitled Birds At Your Feeder, six percent of the folks that participated in their annual Project FeederWatch fed birds this unusual offering. Why would folks feed wild birds eggshells?
The reason is quite simple—eggshells are a great source of calcium. All birds require calcium in their diets; however, the need for this mineral is greatest during the breeding season and migration.
There are a number of ways that you can feed eggshells to birds. They can be ground or broken up and incorporated in suet mixtures. You can add eggshell to mixed seed mixtures too. Some people even simply spread them across the ground near the area where they feed birds on the ground.
Whichever way you decide to use them, if you want to be sure they will not infect your bird clientele with a disease such as salmonella, bake them in an over for 10 minutes or so at a temperature of 480ºF.
It is well known that purple martins and blue jays dine on eggshells. If you have seen other species of birds eat them in your yard, please let me know.
GOOD NEWS FOR FOLKS THAT FEED BIRDS
It is always satisfying to know that our efforts to extend a helping hand to our wildlife neighbors are actually benefitting them. With that in mind, I thought you might like to hear what the prestigious British Trust for Ornithology has to say about the benefits of feeding birds.
Their studies indicate that feeding birds throughout the year, improves their survival. In addition, it also enhances their breeding success. The reason for this is when birds have food readily available during all seasons of the year, they are able to stay in top physical condition.
Now that is what I call good news!
WILL I SEE A GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET IN MY YARD THIS YEAR?
Although the golden-crowned kinglet winters in Georgia, I rarely see it in my backyard. In fact, in recent years, I have not even heard one there. This is despite the fact it is located each year on the local Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Bird Count. In spite of this, I have high expectations that my backyard golden-crowned kinglet drought will end this year.
I base my optimism on the fact that a couple of days ago I heard the golden-crowned kinglet’s high-pitched see-see-see call coming from the top of a tall loblolly pine growing in my backyard. Although, my efforts to catch a glimpse of the secretive songster failed, I have formulated a strategy to do so.
Whenever possible I will look for the bird in places where it is known to forage. Since I have most often seen the bird tirelessly moving about looking for insects and their eggs among pine needles high in the tops of pines, I will concentrate my search there. Knowing they sometimes hunt for food among hardwood branches and brush piles, I will scan them too. In addition, since during the winter they will occasionally feed on tiny seeds gleaned from plants growing in weedy patches I will also checkout the untamed, weedy areas along my property line.
Last, but not least, I will carefully study each tiny bird that visits my suet and peanut butter feeders. More than likely, any that I see will by rubycrowns, however, there is always the outside chance one will be the golden-crowned because they will, on rare occasions, dine on these foods.
Even if I am not successful in seeing one of these fascinating winter visitors, I am sure I will spot other birds that I would have otherwise missed if I was not spending so much time looking for this tiny olive-gray bird that dons a crown of gold.
If you have seen golden-crowned kinglets in your yard, I would enjoy hearing about your good fortune.