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TOOLS TO EASE CLEANING UP FEEDING AREAS

      Although we know, it is imperative that we keep the ground below bird feeders free from seed hulls, droppings, and wet seeds; we don’t always do something about it.  One reason for this is it is not an easy task, especially when you have to dig out seeds and hulls imbedded in thick grass.  With that in mind, I want to tell you about two tools that I have found really help make completing this necessary task a whole lot easier.

       I use a small garden rake and an industrial long-handled dustpan.  Being only seven inches wide, the rake’s spring steel teeth make it easy for me to rake out the droppings, seeds, and hulls hidden beneath the grass growing beneath my feeders.  I then simply rake them into the long-handled, large capacity dustpan and pour them in a cardboard box of plastic trash bag.

       These two simple tools have eliminated my having to bend over.  In addition, I am able to clean my two bird feeding areas in a fraction of the time I once devoted to this task.

       If you have been putting off cleaning your feeding areas, now is the time to change your ways.  This need is been amplified by the fact regular rainfall and daytime temperatures that have been are soaring into the 70s and low 8os have created perfect conditions for the growth of the bacteria, fungi, and protozoan parasites that cause the majority of the disease outbreaks among our backyard birds.  

       As a result, reports of sick and dying birds at feeders are on the rise.  Using the two tools, I have just mentioned, spending a few minutes cleaning up the area beneath your feeders will help ensure that the birds feeding in your yard will not be the next site of an outbreak of salmonella, aspergillosis, avian pox, conjunctivitis (finch disease), or trichomoniasis.

TUFTED TITMICE NEED PLACES TO NEST TOO

       Like all cavity nesting birds, rarely are their enough places for tufted titmice to nest in most neighborhoods.  With that in mind, if your property is predominantly wooded, why not erect a nest box for one of our favorite backyard feeder birds?

       If you think you would like to take on this project, here are a few tips that will help enhances the chances your efforts will be successful.

       I would recommend that you start putting up a single box.  If a pair of titmice uses it, consider erecting another birdhouse.  However, since tufted titmice are territorial, it is best to space your boxes at least 580 feet apart.

       The diameter of the box’s entrance hole should be at least 1 3’8″.  As you might expect, the birds will nest in cavities with larger entrance holes such as the 1 1/2-inch hole recommended for bluebird boxes.  Whatever size you use, protect the entrance hole with a metal hole guard.  This simple device prevents other birds and mammals from increasing the size of the entrance hole.  If you don’t, more often than not, their handiwork will end up destroying the box.

       Titmice will nest in cavities as high as 87 feet above the ground.  However, I recommend that your box be placed about 5 feet high.  This allows you to safely check, clean, and maintain it.

       I hope you decide to erect a tufted titmouse nesting box this year, if you do, you will help alleviate a shortage in tufted titmice nesting sites.  In addition, you will benefit by being able see tufted titmice as well as hear their pleasant peter, peter, peter call more often from spring through winter.

BIRDS EAT GOLDENROD SEEDS?

     During the past few decades, goldenrod has become recognized as being much more than a weed.  Its ascendancy to the list of valuable wildlife plants is much deserved.  Gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts alike are becoming increasingly aware that the goldenrod is a source of nectar and/or pollen for a variety of native pollinators including native bees, moths, and butterflies.  In addition, the insects found on goldenrod are an important source of food for songbirds and others.  However, the ubiquitous plant’s value to wildlife well beyond its blooming season remains largely unappreciated. 

        In truth, if you allow goldenrod plants to remain standing throughout the winter, they will provide cover for songbirds, rabbits, and small mammals.  In addition, goldenrod seeds are eaten by a number of birds and small mammals.  The American goldfinch is particularly fond of goldenrod seeds.  Among the other birds that dine on the tiny seeds are swamp sparrows, eastern towhees, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos.  If you live in the mountains, don’t be surprised to see ruffed grouse eating goldenrod seeds on cold winter day.

BACKYARD SECRET–PINE WARBLERS ARE MOST OFTEN SEEN IN GEORGIA DURING THE WINTER

       We Georgians are fortunate that, since the pine warbler is a permanent resident throughout the state, we have the opportunity to see and hear it throughout the entire year.  However, it is not a coincidence that we see more pine warblers in the winter than at any other time of the year.

       One of the reasons for this is practically all of the pine warblers in the entire continent winter in the South.  Consequently, at this time of the year our resident birds are joined by untold numbers of pine warblers that nested outside the Peach State.  As such, the mere fact pine warbler populations are much higher the Peach State in the winter enhances the chances that we will see one.

       This warbler was named the pine warbler because of its long recognized affinity to pines.  This relationship was even known by John James Audubon.  Audubon dubbed the bird the pine creeping warbler. 

       During the breeding season pine warblers rarely venture far from pine trees.  In addition, they spend the vast majority of their time foraging for food in the canopy of pine trees.  Even when we hear a male loudly singing in the springtime, often we cannot see him since he is hidden in a dark green maze of pine needles.

       During the winter, things change dramatically.  During this harsh season, the invertebrates and their eggs that pine warblers relish are far more difficult to find than they are during the warmer months.  In addition, pine seeds are more difficult to locate.  This forces the birds to forage on or near the ground.  This makes them easier for us to spot them.

       Since the pine warbler is our only warbler that regularly eats seeds, during the winter it can also supplement its diet with grass, shrub, and forb seeds.  It is also true that when this warbler can find them, it will also eat berries.  In addition, during the winter insects and other invertebrates are often more abundant on or near the ground than atop pine trees.

       On a number of occasions, I have found pine warblers feeding in South Georgia far from pines in harvested crop fields.  Closer to home, it is not uncommon for me to find pine warblers looking for food in brushy field borders.

       Also, during this harsh season the pine warbler will abandon pinelands and venture into hardwoods and even cypress swamps.

       The bottom line is whereas those among us that have pines growing in our yards or nearby have a better chance of seeing a pine warbler throughout much of the year than those who live areas devoid of pine.  However, in the winter, when the bird is found in a wider range of habitats, and pine warbler populations are at a peak, almost everyone has a legitimate chance of seeing one of these birds.

       Of course, you will greatly enhance your chances of seeing this bird if your stock your feeders with foods that the birds prefer.  A list of these foods can be found in previous blog.  To access this post, simply go to the search feature on the right side of the blog and type in pine warbler.  When you press the return key, all of the previous columns dealing with pine warblers will appear.

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.

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.