Bird Feeding with George Petrides

Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.

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Plants which ripen late, such as winterberry, juniper, and wild roses, are eaten by short-distance migrants or resident species such as mockingbirds, flickers and Cedar Waxwings. Shrubs also serve as nurseries for many songbirds. Some, such as catbirds and goldfinches, are born in nests in shrubs. Others are taken to shrubs as fledglings to test their training wings. They’ll spend a day or more hidden in and under the low branches of our plantings, building up strength and flight skills while their parents watch over them and provide food.

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During the night and in severe weather, small songbirds often hide in our shrubbery for warmth and safety from predators.

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For many birds, shrubs even provide a place to preen and bathe – the birds may use the dew that collects on leaves to wet their feathers.

 

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So, consider putting a few additional shrubs or bushes in your yard. By doing so, you’ll improve the look of your home plus you’ll contribute to the health and well-being of many birds too.

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In this simple but important way, you can help ensure that there will always be at least “Two in the Bush” around your home!

Most people prefer a bird in the hand to two in a bush, but many birds would rather be in a bush than anywhere else – at any time of day or night. A bush can be their pantry, nursery, dinette, shower, bed, bath and general store!

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The shrubby plants in our yards are probably most important as a food source. Birds can glean food from most of the major feed groups just by browsing through these woody mini-markets.

Bugs provide protein, berries represent the fruit and vegetable group, and seeds offer both protein and a bit of carbohydrate.

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Shrubs such as elder-berries, gray and silky dogwoods and highbush cranberries can provide food for birds almost year round. But most shrubs bear fruit in fall, providing food for numerous migrating species on their way south for the winter. Like a chain of fast-food restaurants along the highway, these shrubs reliably serve up high-fat foods for weary travelers. Later, particularly in severe weather situations, berries hanging on shrubs in our yards can provide welcome meals for many birds.

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In Part 2: More critical roles played by shrubs in the lives of your backyard birds!

As we look forward to the bright colors and constant activity of hummingbirds and butterflies each spring, we often overlook the fact that they are useful as well as decorative. Butterflies and hummingbirds, along with wasps and bees, are pollinators. Their daily quest for nectar to sustain the energy levels we so admire, transfers pollen from one plant to another. In some cases, this role is critical to the survival of plants as varied as blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and cherries which are dependent on-cross pollination - they wouldn’t bear fruit (or vegetables, as the case may be) without the help of pollinators.

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If you want to help them help us, consider creating an insect “pollinator garden”. Such a place would be filled with fragrant, nectar-filled flowers plus herbs for variety. Any small space will benefit these delightful creatures, and benefit us in the bargain. Look for a sunny spot that is sheltered by large shrubs or, perhaps, a garden wall or fence. Ideally, it should be away from patios, decks and doors to minimize the potential for lifestyle conflict between people and the periodic stinging insect guest, but still visible from your house so you can enjoy the beauties of your special pollinator garden.

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Posted by on in Conservation

An old etiquette saying maintains that “horses sweat, men perspire and women glow.” There’s no mention of what Turkey Vultures do. Probably with good reason – they urinate and defecate on their feet to stay cool!

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American Robin enjoying a cooling bath.

When summer temperatures soar, and the air resembles warm, sticky molasses, be thankful for that rivulet of perspiration coursing down your back – as the water evaporates, it cools you. Besides sweating, we beat the heat of brutal summers by enjoying air conditioning or fans, swimming holes and tall, frosty beverages. We also slow down and show a lot more skins than we normally do. To stay cool, birds do variants of all of these things, too…. with one exception.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_chickadee-on-birdbath.jpgThis chickadee is all wet!

Birds can’t sweat – they don’t have any sweat glands. To avoid over-heating and sudden death, many birds pant to cool off. Heat wand water vapor are perspired into air sacs, carried to the lungs, and exhaled through the mouth. Some non-passerine birds expel excess heat with a “gular flutter” – a rapid vibration of the upper throat and floor of the month.

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Eastern Phoebe on a dripper.

Posted by on in Conservation

An old etiquette saying maintains that “horses sweat, men perspire and women glow.” There’s no mention of what Turkey Vultures do. Probably with good reason – they urinate and defecate on their feet to stay cool!

b2ap3_thumbnail_bathing-robin.jpg
American Robin enjoying a cooling bath.

When summer temperatures soar, and the air resembles warm, sticky molasses, be thankful for that rivulet of perspiration coursing down your back – as the water evaporates, it cools you. Besides sweating, we beat the heat of brutal summers by enjoying air conditioning or fans, swimming holes and tall, frosty beverages. We also slow down and show a lot more skins than we normally do. To stay cool, birds do variants of all of these things, too…. with one exception.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_chickadee-on-birdbath.jpgThis chickadee is all wet!

Birds can’t sweat – they don’t have any sweat glands. To avoid over-heating and sudden death, many birds pant to cool off. Heat wand water vapor are perspired into air sacs, carried to the lungs, and exhaled through the mouth. Some non-passerine birds expel excess heat with a “gular flutter” – a rapid vibration of the upper throat and floor of the month.

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Eastern Phoebe on a dripper.

Mealworms are a tried-and-true addition to the list of goodies your backyard birds will enjoy. They are high in protein and fat, gobbled up with gusto by many bird species and almost always ignored by squirrels.

Have you ever entertained the idea of training a bird to eat from your hand? Because mealworms are such a tasty treat, birds can be trained to eat from a mealworm feeder or from your hand at the sound of a whistle or bell. Some species especially fond of mealworms include bluebirds, wrens, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and robins.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Carolina-Wren-snacking-Janet-Furlong-Culpeper-VA-122513.jpgCarolina Wren
Mealworms are the larvae of the Tenebrio molitor or flour beetle and an ideal food source for many birds. Mealworms are clean and dry and provide easy protein and fat for migrating and nesting birds. They are usually packaged in cups in a bran medium. If stored in a refrigerator, like fishing worms, they can keep for weeks.

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Mealworms may be presented in several styles of mealworm feeders. These feeders should have smooth surfaces to keep the mealworms from crawling out, and some are adjustable so you can control the size of the bird that comes to dine.

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Start with a few hundred mealworms (many folks use thousands a week!). It is very entertaining to watch “your backyard birds”, especially insect-eaters as they eat and interact with each other, and, perhaps, you!

Every spring, we hear from readers dealing with birds attacking windows, car mirrors and other reflective surfaces. To their credit, these folks seem more concerned for the birds than personally irritated. Birds that engage in this aggressive behavior (often robins and cardinals) can injure themselves so why do they ram their heads, beaks and bodies against these shiny surfaces?


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Simply put, these birds are responding to rising hormones. It is nesting season (or will soon be in your area) and birds are genetically wired to protect territories to assure that young produced are theirs to raise, Natural selection has always favored animals which are territorial and aggressive in defending food and other necessary resources.

 

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These birds see their own reflections and believe they are seeing potential invaders. So they begin to furiously attack “the enemy.” They usually do not quit until they think they have won or until their mates have laid all their eggs. This is thought to triggers a reduction in hormone levels. Unfortunately for us, this can seem to take forever!

To help your birds, try eliminating the reflection. Cover the shiny surface with a paper sheet, newspaper or brown paper. Some folks have luck soaping their windows (outside surfaces only!). If this is not feasible, then wait, enjoy the moment and hope your bird will win the “battle” before hurting himself seriously.

A baby bird on the ground always presents a dilemma. It’s not true that handling a bird will cause it to be rejected by its parents or other birds. On the other hand, sometimes the best course of action is to take no action at all.

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Young American Robin

Any bird that is feathered and mobile – even if it is flightless – is best left alone. Young birds that have left the nest on purpose or by accident are often moved to a safer place by their parents. By interfering, we may actually decrease the chance of a successful move. Yet we can reduce potential hazards (such as pets).

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Young Northern Cardinal

If you find a featherless bird that has obviously fallen out of the next, the best thing you can do is to simply put it back. Even whole nests that have fallen from a tree should be put back as closely as possible to its original location, and then left alone. The parents will usually return, and their care of the young is most often the young’s best chance for survival.
Care of young birds should be undertaken only by licensed wildlife rehabilitators. These wonderful volunteers can also help you decide what to do if you find an injured bird.

Are you a “lister”? A ”journaler”? Perhaps as a way to of dealing with information overload, both practices are increasingly common among birders. Listing helps us track and organize; journaling helps us process and record.

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Many birders keep life lists: of the birds they’ve seen. Some keep separate lists of birds seen around their homes (or from the lot line so a vulture counts!), or in a certain state or province, or on a certain trip. Most field guides come with a list of all species covered in the guide, so you can check them off as you see them. Someday, making a check mark may seem an insufficient way to record your thrilling encounter with a new species. Yu may then want to begin your birding journal!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Hairy-and-Downy-Woodpeckers.jpgHairy and Downy (right) Woodpeckers

A journal can help you remember a significant birding event in context, with all its natural, emotional, even spiritual significance.

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Eastern Towhee

Journals can also serve as practical learning tools. You can use them to record the habitat, time, location, and weather of special sightings, and make specific comments about a bird’s behavior too.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Scrub-Jay.jpgWhether journaling to learn about birds – or about yourself – be sure to describe the elements that strike you as unusual. You may also want to include sketches of birds in your journal – the possibilities are many!

 

Father to daughter. Neighbor to neighbor. Great uncle to grandniece. Teaching birding is best done casually. Classes can teach you some basics, but most bird-identification courses will focus on teaching you how to learn, not on giving you a large volume of data to learn. Many courses will teach you about the tools of the trade (binoculars, scopes and field guides) and how to use them. For anything else you want to know, you’ll have to depend on yourself, a birding buddy or two, and the birds themselves.

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For most people, the question that sparks their interest is “What is that bird?” Half an hour with a field guide can usually answer the question, but once the door of knowledge is open, more questions come flooding through. What was that yellow bird? (An American Goldfinch). Why doesn’t that Downy Woodpecker have any red on its head (It’s a female) What was that bird which looked just like a female cardinal with a black beak? (It was a young cardinal) These questions, and hundreds more like them, have traditionally been asked over the kitchen table or the backyard fence. Over the last decade though, there are more and more places to ask and answer questions about birds and more ways to teach (and to learn) birding.

 

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If you’re reading this, you might, for example, look though this www.birdzilla.com web site or the backyard field guides (eastern and western birds) at www.wildbird.com or the National Bird-Feeding Society at www.facebook.com/birdfeedingsociety.

From an article by renowned wild bird feeding scientist Dr. Aelred Geis (deceased) in the 1990s


“Banding sometimes helps us solve mysteries. For example, it was thought that fewer House Finches visited Washington, D.C. area feeders in winter because the birds migrated south. Through banding studies, we found that finches simply concentrate more heavily on feeders in summer than in winter. This was demonstrated in two ways. First, a large number of birds banded in summer were present at feeders in winter. In addition, we failed to receive any reports of distant recoveries.

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The proportion of bird populations that dies each year is indicated by the rate of decline in band recoveries each year after banding. Most of the species we see at our feeders, like other small birds, die young. After only three years there are few, if any, recoveries. In contrast, recoveries of larger birds such as eagles are distributed over many years.

Banding studies have also been used to monitor the impact of hunting on duck and goose populations. When hunting increases the mortality rates of a species beyond its ability to reproduce, populations decline. That was the situation recently for Canada Geese on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In areas where where hunting was less intense, populations increased. In this case, banding also indicated that the population had not simply moved. Banding plays a vital role in helping understand population changes.”

From an article by renowned wild bird feeding scientist Dr. Aelred Geis (deceased) in the 1990s.

“Banding sometimes helps us solve mysteries. For example, it was thought that fewer House Finches visited Washington, D.C. area feeders in winter because the birds migrated south. Through banding studies, we found that finches simply concentrate more heavily on feeders in summer than in winter. This was demonstrated in two ways. First, a large number of birds banded in summer were present at feeders in winter. In addition, we failed to receive any reports of distant recoveries.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Canada-Geese-migrating-Shanna-Dennis.jpg

The proportion of bird populations that dies each year is indicated by the rate of decline in band recoveries each year after banding. Most of the species we see at our feeders, like other small birds, die young. After only three years there are few, if any, recoveries. In contrast, recoveries of larger birds such as eagles are distributed over many years.

Banding studies have also been used to monitor the impact of hunting on duck and goose populations. When hunting increases the mortality rates of a species beyond its ability to reproduce, populations decline. That was the situation recently for Canada Geese on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In areas where where hunting was less intense, populations increased. In this case, banding also indicated that the population had not simply moved. Banding plays a vital role in helping understand population changes.”

The bird that carries the sky on its back…reminding us of a heaven which we had forgotten. –Henry Thoreau, 1852.

The Eastern Bluebird crisis led to a closer look at the well-being of its two western cousins. Secure in its high-altitude home, the turquoise Mountain Bluebird seems to be faring well. But the Western Bluebird, closer in habitats to the eastern, has similar woes and needs the same level of help.

The “foot soldiers” of this crusade are the “bluebirders”, who place nest boxes and monitor them for results. They are advocates who gladly take the bluebirds’ side against predators or competitors.

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A raccoon or rat snake climbing a pole to snatch eggs from a box must contend with guards and traps, perfected over years of experimentation. “Bluebirders” may remove House Sparrow nests and even trap the Sparrows – a practice some find discomforting.

To ensure the bluebird’s survival, its human allies unapologetically play favorites. Clearly, aesthetics is an important factor behind this passion to care for bluebirds. However, the aggressive human intervention that saved the Eastern Bluebird may prove the only hope for other species now slipping toward extinction.

The bird that carries the sky on its back…reminding us of a heaven which we had forgotten.

Luckily for them, the three North American bluebird species live up to Henry Thoreau’s tribute way back in 1852. Humans have been smitten by their beauty since colonial times. So, when one of them, the Eastern Bluebird, fell on hard times, people quickly noticed and tried to help.

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The 18th Century was a good time for the Eastern Bluebird which flourished well south of the St. Lawrence to the Gulf, and west to the Rockies. But with the introduction of that pugnacious Old World duo, the Starling and House Sparrow, the more timid bluebird was out-competed for natural nesting cavities by these aggressive intruders. The Eastern Bluebird’s decline was in motion.

The bluebird nesting box (which mimics a tree cavity) has been long recognized as a remedy. In 1934, it is said that Thomas E. Musselman made ornithological history by establishing the first bluebird trail of 1,000 man-made nesting boxes in Adams County, Illinois.

Nonetheless, the bluebird’s plight grew worse as rural habitat was lost and orchards were sprayed. By the 1970s, the Eastern Bluebird population had fallen by an estimated 90%.

Now the good news! Since the founding of the North American Bluebird Society in 1978, this downward trend has been reversed by the systematic placement of tens of thousands of nest boxes by sympathetic and concerned human “landlords”. Today, Eastern Bluebirds nest where they have been absent for decades.

Watch this space for Part II of this amazing story of Eastern Bluebird survival through human intervention!

 

During winter, chickadees and titmice may flock together and are often seen flitting back and forth from cover to your feeders at the same time. Titmice, which are larger than chickadees, dominate certain feeding niches chickadees might otherwise occupy. But the advantages of being part of a flock may compensate the chickadees for loss of feeding area.

Its fun to observe the different feeding behavior of the two species. While both species will often take a seed and retire to a more secluded area to feed, chickadees seem more comfortable cracking open the seed at the feeder, while titmice almost always grab a seed and quickly leave. Do your chickadees and titmice feed the same way?

black-capped chickadee

 

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Flocking advantages include having more than one pair of eyes to locate dwindling winter food supplies. The death rate due to predation may also decline when birds flock together. Because most trees have lost their leaves, the woods are more open in winter, making these birds more vulnerable to predation. Flocking birds also share responsibility for predator alerts. Once an alarm call is given, the flock will often engage in a behavior known as “mobbing”. Instead of fleeing, the birds will gather together and harass the predator. Titmice seem to be particularly bold in their attacks and will dive at the predator or pull at its feathers or fur.

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Many birds, such as chickadees, molt at the end of summer. They may enter the winter with as much as 50% more plumage than at any other time of the year. They also have the ability to fluff their feathers up to increase the thickness of their insulation. However, long winter nights pose an additional problem for chickadees: fewer hours of daylight mean less time for foraging. To compensate, chickadees begin and end their foraging times at lower-light levels and intensify their use of reliably stocked feeders, so that their reduced foraging time is well spent.

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In fact, various studies have found that many chickadees that had access to feeders survived the winter. The difference in survival rates was most dramatic during months when temperatures dipped below zero.

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This is a common concern, often based on stories that have circulated for so long, they are accepted as fact. The idea that birds’ feet could freeze to metal perches is probably based on the fact that human skin or eyeballs (ouch!) will stick to sub-freezing metal.

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However, birds’ feet – unlike human skin – do not contain seat glands.   Their feet have no outside moisture and are perfectly dry. Take a look around this winter – you’ll notice birds safely perching on wire fences, etc. even during the coldest temperatures. So don’t worry about your metal feeder perches.

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Your birds need water as much in winter as any other time of year, and their need is greatest when natural sources of water are frozen. By keeping your birdbath filled with clean, fresh water in the winter, you provide a means for your birds to keep their feathers clean. Bathing in winter is necessary for them to maintain the insulation value their feathers.

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Do you place your birdbath dish upside down each fall to avoid freeze damage to the bowl? You might consider investing in a thermostat-controlled deicer or a heated birdbath or insert. These nifty accessories make terrific gifts for the birder you think has everything.

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...the term “bird-watching” was coined in its modern use by environmentalist and bird-watcher, Edmund Selous, in 1902. He (1957 - 1934) was a British ornithologist and writer (see this cover of one of his books). He used this new term to distinguish the new type of observational bird-watchers he supported from the old shoot-and-draw type, represented by his brother, the then-famous big-game hunter Frederick Selous.

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Selous started as a conventional naturalist, but developed a hatred of the killing of animals for scientific study and was a pioneer of bird-watching as a method of scientific study. He was a strong proponent of non-destructive bird-study as opposed to the collection of skins and eggs.

Our beautiful planet is home to billions of birds so their global mass/weight cannot be ignored – right?

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Locally, many of these birds take off at sunrise, lightening the weight of our planet by billions of pounds as they go airborne.
At the same time, birds across the world are landing at local sunset.

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These continuously opposing forces are thought by some to keep the Earth spinning on its axis – right?
 
OK, I admit that there could be a flaw in the science here but the landing/take off image is still a powerful one.
 
Amazing (almost)!

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