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.
Most Georgia homeowners are not fans of greenbrier. Greenbrier vines constantly try to smother our shrubs, trees, and gardens. Whenever we get near them, their thorny vines seemly try to leap out and snag our clothing or prick our skin. However, would you belief this menacing native vine is a source of winter food for backyard birds? It is true.
Greenbrier’s shiny dark berries are gobbled up by more than 40 species of songbirds including backyard favorites such as the hermit thrush, American robin, northern flicker, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, northern cardinal, and sparrows.
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.
It has been estimated that Americans spend $3.5 billion annually to feed birds in their backyards. This means during each calendar year somewhere from 0.5 to 1.25 million tons of sunflower seeds, millet, milo, and other seeds are used solely to feed our feathered backyard neighbors.
To put this in perspective, this staggering amount of food closely matches what the United States government sends overseas each year to help alleviate hunger in Africa.
Source: Marzluff, John M. 2014. Welcome to Subirdia. Yale University Press
Now that temperatures are finally beginning to drop, activity around our bird feeders is on the rise. When this happens, we have the opportunity to witness the fascinating feeding behaviors of our feathered guests.
A behavior I particularly enjoy watching is caching. One bird that routinely stores seeds in my backyard is the Carolina chickadee.
If you feed birds, you are undoubtedly familiar with this feathered sprite. It is particularly fond of black oil sunflower seeds. Typically, a Carolina chickadee will fly in, pluck a single sunflower seed from a feeder, and fly off to a nearby branch. Once there it firmly holds the seed, between its feet and quickly chisels the seed’s hull open, and swallows the exposed fat-rich seed. The bird then returns to a feeder and repeats the process. This behavior is replayed countless times throughout the day.
However, if you are patient, and watch Carolina chickadees feeding in your backyard, you just might be lucky enough to see a chickadee store a seed.
As anyone that has followed this blog knows, this winter a number of Baltimore orioles were reported wintering in the Peach State. One of these birds wintered in my backyard.
Although the numbers of Baltimore orioles that winter in United States seems to be going up, there is scant information as to what foods wintering orioles are eating. Most of those that hosted orioles this past winter wrote that the birds ate grape jelly. The most unusual report I received was from a couple in Macon that said they watched an oriole eating the petals off sasanquas.
The bird that wintered in my backyard shunned grape jelly, preferring instead to dine on sugar water offered in a hummingbird feeder. Last week, the bird expanded his diet by dining on shelled peanuts extracted from a peanut feeder.
If you witnessed a Baltimore oriole eating anything else, please let me know. Your input will help us better understand the feeding habits of this unusual winter visitor.