Archives

THE DROUGHT INCREASES THE NEED TO PROVIDE BACKYARD BIRDS WITH WATER

       With much of Georgia suffering from drought conditions, the need to provide our backyard bird neighbors with water grows each day.  Consequently, in many neighborhoods, nearby water is difficult or impossible for birds to find. Here are some of the reasons why a lack of water can have negative impacts on birds.

       This year drought conditions surfaced during the spring when young birds are venturing out into the world for the very first time.  As we all know, these inexperienced fledglings are vulnerable to a host of predators.  When hapless youngsters are forced to travel greater distances to reach water, their chances of becoming a meal for predators are greater than they would be if water was available in or near our yards.

       In the case of birds that are still nesting, when nesting birds are required to travel greater distances for water, they are forced to spend more time away from their young, increasing the odds their nests will be discovered by predators.

       On the average, wild birds lose an average of 15 to 25 percent of their body weight each day. Larger birds generally lose less weight, in relation to their body mass, than smaller birds.  Water plays a role a bird’s ability to maintain its physical health. The high temperatures that have recently plagued the state, has increased their need for water.

       Water also allows birds to maintain their plumage.  This allows cleaning their feathers as well as helping control parasites.

       With that in mind, one of the most important things we can do for birds in our backyards to provide them with a dependable, safe source of water. Anything from a shallow pan to a birdbath will suffice.  While you are at it, put at least one water source on the ground to benefit those animals that cannot reach a birdbath on a pedestal.

       Although bird enthusiasts make providing a clean, dependable source of food their top priority, maintaining a place for birds to feed and drink is important too.   This is especially true right now when many of the natural sources of water used by birds have dried up.

ATTRACTING MIGRANTS TO YOUR BACKYARD WITH MOVING WATER

  Currently, scores of species of songbirds are migrating northward.  Many of these birds will pass over and even stop in our backyards.  However, since many of these birds rarely visit feeders, they are often only seen by those among us that have time have learned their vocalizations and take the time to scan the bushes and treetops surrounding their homes looking for these magical birds.  There is, however, another way that you can catch a glimpse of these often rarely seen birds; they can be attracted with moving water.

       Although many of these birds will visit a birdbath, those birdbaths that are equipped with a mister or dripper are far more likely to attract these long-distance migrants.  The reason for this is the sight and sound of moving water act as a magnet to both resident and migrant birds alike.

       Some of the simplest ways to create moving water range from hanging a hose of a limb and allow the hose to slowly drip water into a birdbath or pan.  You can also punch a small hole in the bottom of a bucket or soft drink container full of water and hang it above a birdbath.

  

    I personally have had better success in attracting birds to my birdbath using misters and drippers.  The best misters and drippers are engineered specifically for birds use.  They vary widely in price and design.  While they all work, the ones that I prefer permit me to adjust the flow of the water passing through them.  I often use this feature to adjust the nozzles so that they emit both a mist and water droplets.  This creates ripples when the droplets fall onto the surface of the water below.  When it is windy the mist is often blown away from the birdbath.  When this occurs, I simply adjust my mister nozzle so that it emits only droplets.

       If you want to catch a glimpse at some of the warblers, tanagers, vireos and other songbirds that may be stopping in your yard, go ahead and install a mister.  Even after the migration has passed, a mister will help attract backyard residents throughout the entire year.

       These devices are readily available at stores that specialize in birding supplies.

SCRATCHES IN THE SNOW—WHERE IS THE WATER?

        Shortly after midnight on Friday (January 29), a light dusting of snow fell on my yard.  The brief snow shower occurred on a very cold, windy night.  The temperature dipped to 26⁰F and the wind chill hovered in the teens. When I walked down the path leading to my home office, I discovered that the water in the birdbath was frozen and covered with snow.  When I got closer to the birdbath, I noticed that birds had left scratches in the snow as they vainly tried to reach water.

       This was a stark reminder that wild birds need water during the winter just as much as they do during the spring, summer, and fall.  However, it seems that during the winter we sometimes focus on just providing the avian visitors to our feeders with a supply of fresh food.

       The truth of the matter is without a dependable source of water close by birds must travel some distance to find it.  This enhances their chances of being killed by predators.  In addition, it forces them to use energy that they need to avoid freezing to death on bone-chilling winter nights.

       Many birds drink water at least a couple of times day.  Other birds obtain water from the fruits, insects, and other invertebrates they eat.  However, during the winter months their primary source of food is not always readily available.  In spite of the fact their primary sources of water are often difficult to locate, they continually lose water through respiration and their droppings.

       They also require water to bathe.  Birds need to keep their feathers clean.  It is much easier for a bird to preen feathers into place when they are clean instead of dirty.  Consequently, clean feathers arranged in just the right positions can help a bird from losing too much body heat.  This can make the difference as to whether or not it can survive a cold night.

       With that in mind, it is essential that all of us make water available to our bird neighbors throughout the winter.  In my case, it almost seemed some birds had left me with a cryptic message in the snow that I interpreted as meaning, “Where is the water?”  I got their message loud, clear, and immediately poured fresh water in the birdbath.

       I hope my experience will prompt you to keep a fresh, clean supply of water in your backyard.  If you do, I know the birds will definitely benefit from your actions.

HOW MUCH WATER DOES A GRAY SQUIRRELS DRINK PER DAY?

       The majority of the birdbaths placed in Georgia backyards are intended to be used by birds. However, the truth of the matter is many other animals visit them. I think it would be safe to say the “other” animal most often seen at our feeders is the gray squirrel. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how much water a gray squirrel consumes in a day?

       It seems that, a gray squirrel needs two to three tablespoons of water per day, however, a number of factors affect the amount of water a squirrel drinks. For example, female gray squirrels nursing young require more water than squirrels not producing milk for their young.

       It is interesting to note that, on the average, a gray squirrel drinks twice per day.

WHEN DO BACKYARD BIRDS BATHE?

       My wife and I maintain three birdbaths for the benefit our backyard bird neighbors. As you might expect, many factors such as season and weather influence when and how often birds use these manmade structures.

       Although birds bathe in the winter, they often limit their bathing during frigid weather. On the other side of the coin, many species seem to increase their visits to birdbaths during hot weather.

       A number of years ago, I happened across several wood thrushes bathing in a puddle that had formed in a country road during a sudden summer thunderstorm. To this day, I still wonder why these beautiful songsters chose to bathe immediately after the passing of the storm.

              In addition, birds also seem to be influenced by the presence or absence of other birds. My personal observations suggest that some species seem to prefer to bathe alone, while others do not mind sharing a bath with other species. For example, when a mockingbird or blue jay flies in to take a bath, other species that are already bathing immediately scatter. It is obvious that they do not wish to bathe at the same as these larger, more intimidating birds. More often than not bathing chipping sparrows will leave when eastern bluebirds arrive. However, I have seen chipping sparrows bathe alongside house finches.

       By the same token, birds of the same species often have no problem bathing with others. Northern cardinals often bathe together as do eastern bluebirds.

       Birds can be seen bathing throughout the entire day. Some birds seemingly bathe immediately after leaving their nighttime roosts. By the same token, others appear to bathe just before flying up to roost for the night. In between, most birds are not hesitant to take a bath any time during day.

       For some reason, I long harbored the notion birds bathed but once a day. I have no idea why I felt that way. However, studies involving color-marked birds have revealed that some species such as the tufted titmouse sometimes bathes as many as five times a day.

       As you can see, we have much to learn about bird bathing. In an effort to quench my personal interest in this behavior, I have begun recording information regarding incidences of birds bathing in my yard. I guess that is the biologist coming out in me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROGS AND FISH DON’T MIX IN SMALL BACKYARD PONDS

       If you are trying to encourage frogs to breed in your small backyard pond, it is best not to stock your pond with fish, with the exception of the perhaps a small number of mosquito fish.

       It seems many species of fish will eat tadpoles. In addition, young fish will often compete with tadpoles for food.

 

BATHING IN WINTER HELPS BIRDS KEEP WARM

       Remarkable as it may sound birds bathe in the winter to keep warm. In fact, bathing during this our coldest season of the year is actually more important to birds than it is in summer. This may seem hard to fathom at first. However, when you stop and think about it, bathing at this time of the year makes a lot of sense.

       A bird’s feathers help insulate it from the cold. These feathers provide the most insulation when they are clean and properly groomed. If you were to look at the feather of a bird through a microscope, you would find that each feather is equipped with a myriad of tiny barbs or hooks. The barbs on adjacent feathers interlock with one another forming barrier that helps to hold body heat in and cold air out.

       As a bird goes about feeding and flying, these barbs become “unzipped.” When this occurs, the feathers’ ability to insulate a bird from frigid weather diminishes.

       After a bird takes a bird in your birdbath, it will spend considerable time preening its feathers. During this process, the bird uses its bill interlock the feathers once more. Once this task is accomplished, the bird is better able to deal with winter’s blustery weather.

      

ALERT: FALL MIGRANTS ARE STILL PASSING THROUGH OUR BACKYARDS

        When October arrives, many of the songbirds such as the orchard orioles that entertained us with their beauty and songs during much of the spring and summer have long since passed on south.  Fortunately, permanent residents such as mockingbirds, cardinals, towhees, Carolina wrens and others still offer us great backyard wildlife viewing opportunities.  However, over the past week or so a couple of our fellow bloggers have taken the time to report their sightings of migrating songbirds that at still passing through the Peach State.

       Ron Lee has been hosting rose-breasted grosbeaks at his feeder during the past several days.  

       At the same time, Walter Brown was lucky enough to see a female American redstart and several yellow-throated vireos.

       If you would like to increase your chances of spotting a southbound migrant or two just outside your backdoor, there are a couple of things you can do.  For example, keep your feeders stocked with seed (rose-breasted grosbeaks are particularly fond on sunflower seeds). 

       However, more different species of birds can be drawn to your backyard with water than seeds.  With that in mind, keep birdbaths full of clean water.  Better yet, install a mister or dripper over your birdbath.  Moving water acts like a bird magnet.

       If you are successful in attracting migrants to your personal wildlife haven during the next few weeks, please let me know.  I am sure many other bloggers will also love to hear of your success.

A GREAT WAY TO ATTRACT MIGRATING SONGBIRDS TO YOUR YARD

       The spring bird migration is in full swing.  During the past few days, I have heard orchard orioles singing from the trees surrounding my house, watched a male indigo bunting at a feeder stocked with white millet, and even spotted rose-breasted grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seeds.  These are but a few of the birds winging their way back home from their exotic winter residences.  Although some of these birds will visit your seed feeders, others such as warblers and vireos will remain hidden in the treetops foraging for insects.  If you want to catch a glimpse of them, you will need a powerful incentive to entice them away from their leafy feeding areas.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to install a dripper in your birdbath.

        For reasons we do not fully understand, birds are almost magically drawn to the sight and sound of moving water.  When you equip a birdbath with a mister or dripper you greatly enhance the chance it will attract the attention of birds that otherwise be difficult to see.  I know folks that have spotted six or more species of warblers sharing a birdbath equipped with mister.

        I have personally witnessed the drawing power of moving water in my yard.  Late one summer I installed a dripper on one of my birdbaths.  Up until that time, I had seen birds such as northern cardinals, tufted titmice, eastern bluebirds, northern mockingbird, eastern towhees, and others make forays to the birdbath to bathe and drink.  However, I was amazed how much the frequency of their visits increased when I began using the dripper.  In addition, later in the year I spotted birds that I not seen previously at the birdbath became regular visitors.

        There are several ways you can create the sight and sound of dripping water.  I use a device made just for the purpose.  It hangs on the edge of the birdbath.  A small hose runs from the device to an outside spigot.  Water is regulated with a tiny valve located near the birdbath.  This allows you to adjust the water flow ranging from a fine mist to a steady drip.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER VISTING A BIRDBATH EQUIPPED WITH A MISTER

        A dripper can also be made by simply hanging a hose over a branch above the birdbath.  Adjust the water flow so that a very slow steady drip falls into the water below. 

        A dripper can also be fashioned from a plastic milk or soft drink bottle.  Simply hang the bottle over the water.  Poke a small hole in the bottom of the container.  The size of the hole and the tightness of the bottle cap determine the rate of flow.  The device works best if the bottle cap is loosened or removed. 

WHY DO CROWS DIP THEIR FOOD IN WATER?

         If American crows frequent your backyard, chances are you have witnessed them dipping food into a birdbath.  Whenever we witness such behavior, we cannot help but wonder why a bird would go to the trouble of soaking a piece of food in water before gulping it down.

        The truth of the matter is we are not absolutely sure fully understand the reason behind this behavior or why they do not do it all of the time.  The most widely held theory is it is done to soften their food.  This theory explains why they might dunk a hard, dry chunk of dog food or stale bread in water.  However, for the life of me, I cannot see how this explanation explains why American crows also place dead animals such as birds and mice, animal bones, snails and even bits and pieces of roadkill in birdbaths. 

        Others suggest nesting crows dip bakery products and pet food in water prior to subsequently feeding them to their nestlings for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it makes the food more palatable for their young.  It is also is an easy way for adult birds to provide their youngsters with water.

        Regardless, it is always a good idea to clean a birdbath that has been used as a “dipping” station by crows.  Invariably, whenever crows are dipping their food in our birdbaths, it is very likely they are leaving behind bacteria and fungi that were clinging to the food.  These microorganisms could be harmful to the birds that will later use the water to bathe and drink.