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FEEDING DARK-EYED JUNCOS

        Dark-eyed juncos are always our favorite whenever they show up at our feeders. However, from the reports I have received over the past few years, they do not seem to be visiting Peach State feeders as often as was the case in the not too distant past. When they do make it this far south; instead of showing up in small flocks, folks that feed birds feel fortunate if one or two make an appearance.

       When they do appear, dark-eyed juncos will visit a variety of feeders and dine on a wide range of food. Although they will dine at elevated feeders, it has been my experience they prefer to feed on the ground. When they glean seeds from the ground, they seem to prefer feeding near shrubs.

       They eat a variety of foods including canary seeds, sunflower seeds, white millet, as well as both suet and suet mixtures offered in traditional wire suet feeders. However, some bird feeding enthusiasts have successfully attracted the birds to suet chopped up into small chunks served in a shallow pan placed on the ground.

       I have also seen them dine on bits and pieces of deer fat that had accumulated beside a deer weighing station located on a wildlife management area.

       Dark-eyed juncos will also avail themselves of baked goods such as white bread, cornbread, crackers, and doughnuts.

       If you have a small log covered bark with deep fissures, juncos will eat peanut butter smeared into the crevices.

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.

      

BACKYARD SECRET–AMERICAN ROBINS WERE ONCE SHOT FOR FOOD

       In this day and time, it does not seem possible that the American robin was once shot for food however, it is true. It seems that up until the adoption of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on March 4, 1913, each year thousands of robins were legally harvested for food.  

       This practice was more common in the South than anywhere else was in the country. The reason for this is large flocks of robins spend the winter throughout the Southeastern United States. Some of these flocks are tremendous in size. One year on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Christmas Bird Count, observers recorded an estimated 2 million birds flying southward along the Ocmulgee River.

       While I have never personally eaten one of these large songbirds, I once worked with a colleague that grew up in rural Arkansas. He said that each year his mother canned American robins shot by members of his family. According to him, the birds were quite tasty.

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.

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.

WHAT NATIVE PLANT SEEDS ARE IN THE TUFTED TITMOUSE’S WINTER DIET?

       Throughout the winter one of the most frequent visitors to our backyard feeders is the tufted titmouse.   Invariable these birds fly in snatch a single sunflower seed and then fly off to either cache it away for another day or chisel it open with their sharp black beak. As such, it is easy to believe sunflower seeds are the only seeds consumed by this feisty songbird. The truth of the matter is these permanent residents eat a surprising variety of wild seeds.

       Studies have shown that plant material (mainly seeds) comprise anywhere from 70 to 75 percent of the tufted titmouse’s winter diet. In addition to the sunflower seeds we enthusiatically provide them they also gobble up the seeds of American beech, locust, loblolly and longleaf pine, hickory and oak (such as water, live, post, turkey willow).

       It should be noted they also dine on the seeds of the pecan (not native to Georgia).

SCARLET SAGE IS PRETTY SPECIAL

        If you are a wildlife gardener, you realize there is no such thing as a perfect plant.  That being said, I have found plants that exceed my expectations.  One such plant is scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

       My wife and I have grown scarlet sage in our home gardens and containers sitting on our deck for a number of years.  As expected, it has done well in our gardens.  However, its performance in containers has been truly remarkable.

       During the spring of 2018, my wife scattered scarlet sage seeds in several large containers.  In some instances, she planted it alone; in others, she mixed the seeds with black-eyed-Susans and zinnias. 

       As hoped, the plants did well and soon the bright red color of the plants’ blossoms could be seen from afar.  In addition, we were pleased to find that with regular watering, the plants flourished throughout a dry, hot summer.  Eventually after they finished blooming, they produced an abundance of seedpods, which soon dropped countless seeds onto the deck and into the containers where they were raised as well in nearby pots.  Many of these seeds, in turn, sprouted and produced a crop of new plants that displayed blossoms from late summer into fall.  In fact, the second blooming did not end until frost claimed them.

       This spring as my wife was preparing to replant our container gardens she noticed that, in each pot that contained scarlet sage in 2018 sage plants were sprouting.  In addition, young sage plants were appearing in pots adjacent to those dedicated solely to scarlet sage.  It was obvious, that enough young seedlings were taking root to eliminate the need to replant them.

       These third generation plants eventually bloomed profusely throughout what turned out to be one of the hottest on record.  The plants’ blossoms were pleasing to the eye and were a source of nectar for wild pollinators such as butterflies (particularly cloudless sulphurs), bumblebees, and carpenter bees as well as a host of other wild pollinators.  As was the case in 2018, the seeds daily attracted hungry beautiful American goldfinches.

       As was the case last year, the majority of the seeds fell into the containers in which they were grown.  Some weeks ago, they sprouted and are now producing blossoms.  This bloom could not come at a better time as from now into fall nectar is more difficult for butterflies and others to find.  Both migratory cloudless sulphurs and ruby-throated hummingbirds heavily feed on scarlet sage nectar at this time of year.  In addition, I am sure that the monarchs that will be passing through my yard in a few weeks will seek out scarlet sage nectar as they did last year.

       Oh, I should also mention more scarlet sage seedlings have emerged in each of our containers–this plant does not stop giving.

       I will never know how many nectar feeders these plants have already fed this year, or the number of American goldfinches that dined on the scarlet sage’s tiny dark seeds.  However, I am certain wildlife watching in our backyard would have paled without their presence.

       Is the scarlet sage a perfect wildlife plant?  No, but this hardy native has become a valued member of our backyard wild community.

BACKYARD SECRET: HUMMINGBIRDS PREFER NECTAR WITH PLENTY OF SUGAR

   

    RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING

       Ruby-throated hummingbirds do not feed at flowers containing small amounts of nectar.  In fact, they refuse to feed at flowers harboring less than 12 percent sugar.

       Studies have found that they prefer to dine on nectar that contains anywhere from twenty to twenty-five percent sugar.

       With that in mind, is it any wonder the recommended ratio of sugar to water in the sugar water we most often feed hummingbirds dining at our backyard feeders is one part sugar to four parts water?