Archives

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.

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH NUMBERS AT GEORGIA FEEDERS VARY FROM WINTER TO WINTER

       Anybody that sets out a smorgasbord of food for the birds wintering in their backyards can tell you that, for no apparent reason, the numbers of American goldfinches they feed from year to year can vary widely.  Let’s take a close look at this apparent dilemma and see if there is an explanation for this odd phenomenon.

       Studies have shown that nationwide, on an average, those of us that feed birds during the month of January will see an average of 10 American goldfinches at our feeders on a regular basis.  However, some years flocks of upward of 100 or more American goldfinches descend on our feeders.  Likewise, in other years, if you are like me, you do not come close to hosting even 10 birds.

       The answer to this mystery is linked to the goldfinch’s breeding and winter ranges and average January temperatures.

       The American goldfinch has a large breeding range that extends in a broad band that sweeps across southern Canada and the northern two-thirds of the contiguous United States. 

       In Georgia, American goldfinches breed throughout much of the state with the exception of the southeastern slice of the state.

       Meanwhile, the bird’s winter range encompasses its breeding range and the entire South.

       However, some years American goldfinches breeding in the northern portion of their breeding range might not migrate at all.  However, if food supplies are inadequate and/or winter temperatures average 0˚F or below, many will take wing and migrate upwards of 1,000 or more miles southward to escape the cold and locate food.

       In comparison, during a normal winter our homegrown American goldfinches stay pretty close to home each. When this occurs, we are likely to see few goldfinches feeding on nyger and sunflower seeds in our backyards.

       That being said, it is apparent the only way we can predict whether we are going to host a lot of American goldfinches at our feeders this winter is to watch the weather reports for those parts of the continent north of Georgia.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT SPECIES OF BIRDS DO YOU FEED IN YOUR YARD?

        According to data collected by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, some 350 species of birds feed at backyard bird feeders throughout the North American Continent.  Only 90 of these birds are considered regular visitors to our feeders.  The vast majority of the birds that eat at feeders are only casual visitors.  Do you have any idea how many different birds you have fed at your feeders over the years?

         Recently I tallied the number of species that have visited feeders at my Monroe County home during the past 40+ years.  My wife and I have tallied feeding 38 species of birds during this period.  Three birds strictly fed on suet.  One species ate suet and fruit.  An additional four species consumed only hummingbird nectar, or jelly.  The remaining 30 species either exclusively ate seeds or also supplemented their diet with other foods too. 

         In addition, five species were only seen using our birdbaths.

         The keys to attracting the greatest variety of birds to your feeder include offering birds a wide variety seeds (sunflower seeds, white millet, safflower seeds), suet, jelly, hummingbird nectar, cornbread, fruits, nuts, and the like.  Offer these foods in a variety of feeders and locations.  Some birds simply prefer to feed on the ground, other avian diners are more likely to visit feeders suspended from wires or sitting atop poles.  Also, it is a good idea to space feeders widely apart; this reduces competition between the various birds visiting your feeding area.

         Now that we are in the winter bird feeding season, how many different species of birds, do you anticipate seeing at your feeders during the next few months?  Depending on where you live in Georgia, I would say, you would be doing exceptionally well if you see as many as 25 species this winter.  As a rule, urban homeowners feed fewer birds than those folks living in suburban and rural settings do.  However even though I suspect most of us will feed fewer than 25 birds this winter.  Speaking for myself, I will be enjoying watching whatever birds show up.

DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ATTRACT WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS TO YOUR FEEDERS?

       If you have trouble attracting white-throated sparrows to your feeding area this winter, here are a couple of tips that might solve your problem.

       First, keep in mind white-throated sparrows spend much of their time on close to the ground deep within shrubby, overgrown areas.  If your yard does not possess such a spot, chances are slim white-throated sparrows will winter there.

       If you do have a shrubby spot or two, place food near these areas.  The reason for this is, as a rule white-throated sparrow are reluctant to venture far from these safe havens.

       It is also a good idea to scatter millet or other small seeds on the ground.  Although the birds will feed from elevated feeders, they seem to prefer to dining on or very close to the ground. 

WHAT AND HOW MUCH FOOD DO PEOPLE FEED BIRDS EACH WINTER?

       For decades, Project FeederWatch has been surveying bird feeding activities throughout the United States and Canada.  The data collected has provided biologists with valuable insights into the habits of people that feed birds as well as the possible impacts of bird feeding on bird populations.  Here are a few of the findings of this monumental study.

       On the average, participants in the FeederWatch Project feed in excess of 300 pounds of seeds and 20 pounds of suet and bird “pudding” each winter. 

       By far, the most common offering proved to be mixed seed.  In addition to mixed seed, the foods fed most often were suet, black-oil sunflower, and niger seed.

       The study also found the feeders most popular among FeederWatch participants were hanging feeders (98%), suet holders (83%), and raised platforms (68%). 

       How does your own bird feeding activities compare to the results of this survey?

ATTRACTING PILEATED WOODPECKERS TO A FEEDER IS A CHALLENGE

              It is truly a challenge to attract a pileated woodpecker to a feeder.  I have been feeding birds for more than a half a century and have never fed a morsel of food to a pileated woodpecker.   However, pileated woodpeckers do visit backyard bird feeders.  According to data collected in Project FeederWatch, less than a quarter of the people that feed birds in the Southeast host pileated woodpeckers.

            Personally, I can count on one hand the number of people that have told me they have been able to attract our largest woodpecker to their feeders.  However, several years ago Leon and Julie Neel told me that pileated woodpeckers visited a  homemade suet feeder outside their home near Thomasville.  This feeder was truly unique and beautiful.  The feeder was a large cypress knee.  Suet was packed into a number of large holes drilled around the knee.  This feeder was both functional and beautiful.

            If you want to meet the challenge of trying to attract a pileated woodpecker to your feeders, there are a few facts you need to know.  First,

The pileated woodpecker was not considered a feeder bird until the 1950s.  Since that time, pileated woodpeckers have visited feeders more frequently.

            If a pileated woodpecker begins visiting your feeder, it will typically be extremely cautious.  However, its trepidation will somewhat diminish with time.

            Initially, only one bird will visit a feeder.  However, don’t be surprised if the bird’s mate visits later.  The reason for this is the members of  a  pair of pileated woodpeckers maintain a bond with one another throughout the entire year.  In addition, they occupy  the same territory throughout all seasons.  However, they are more tolerant of other pileated woodpeckers that might enter their territory during the winter.

            The best food to use to attract pileated woodpeckers is suet.  You can use either plain or peanut butter suet. 

            Suet should be offered in a large feeder.  Large feeders attached to the trunk of a tree work well.  Suet can also be smeared into the bark of  a tree.  Some folks have been successful in attracting  the birds to large log suet feeders suspended on  poles.  Others smear a layer of suet between two slabs of wood, which are attached to a tree.

            If you are going to try to meet the pileated woodpecker challenge this winter, go into it with realistic expectations.  Chances are you will not be successful.  However, if are patient, you just may be rewarded with the rare opportunity of being able to see pileated woodpeckers on a regular basis.