The Birdzilla Blog
Information from the world of birding, including new content and products from Birdzilla.com.
One exciting way to enjoy the upcoming fall migration is by supercharging your yard and feeding station for hummingbirds. The hummingbird nesting season is pretty much complete, and you may already have noticed increased activity in your yard. As this pre-migration period kicks-in, hummer numbers at your feeders will increase as the birds prepare for their journey south. Migrating is an energy-intensive activity and hummingbirds must bolster fat reserves to fuel their migration flights. Adding an additional feeder or two and providing natural food sources will benefit the birds and provide some fun high-speed entertainment when hummingbirds flock to your yard.
There are several hummingbird festivals around the country, here are a couple of the more popular events.
Aug. 23 - Aug. 26
Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration
Fort Davis, Texas
Sept. 13 - Sept. 16
30th Rockport-Fulton HummerBird Celebration
Many garage doors have a cord with a red handle for lowering the door. When the door is up, the red handle will sometimes draw a hummingbird into the garage, where it can have a difficult time escaping. Paint the handle black or cover it in black tape to prevent this problem.
If a hummingbird does get trapped in your garage, try closing the door and turning off the light. Hummingbirds do not like to fly in the dark and can sometimes easily be picked up and taken outside. Hold the hummer gently, open your hand slowly and give the hummer a chance to orient itself before it again takes to the air.
A singing bird creates musical sounds using its syrinx. This organ is a kind of double voice box at the bottom of the bird’s windpipe. Where the windpipe branches into the bird’s lungs, two sets of membranes and muscles vibrate at high frequencies as air is exhaled. In fact, while singing, a bird can alternate exhaling between its two lungs and thereby sing in harmony with itself.
Usually a male that is defending a territory or attracting a mate will sing from one of the highest or most conspicuous perches available. This favorite spot may be used repeatedly. On the other hand, some birds such as larks, Bobolinks, and buntings – often sing while flying. And while birds do not usually sing around their nests, a few may sing a quiet “whisper song” that can be heard for only a few yards.
In the final analysis, different birds sing different songs, but they usually sing for the same reasons.
Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
And who knows, some of those reasons may be that they are well-fed, stress free, and what we would anthropomorphically describe as “”happy!”
Offering fruit and nuts is a good way to attract species that do not normally visit seed feeders.
Fruit eaters include :
and many more
Raisins and currents: Soak overnight and offer on a platform feeder or shallow dish.
Strawberries, cherries, blueberries and grapes: Cut in half and offer on a platform feeder or shallow dish.
Apples: Offer sliced or chopped apples on a platform feeder or shallow dish.
Orange and grapefruit: Slice in half and nail to the side of a tree or offer on a platform.
Watermelon: There is usually a little meat on a watermelon rind or un-eaten portion. Placed in a good location it attacks a few bugs, also butterflies, mockingbirds and cardinals. Last year a Red-bellied Woodpecker that seemed to have a taste for watermelon would visit fairly often.
Grape jelly: Popular with orioles.
Peanuts are popular with woodpeckers and nuthatches. Shelled raw peanuts can be offered in feeders designed for feeding peanuts. Offer peanuts in the shell on a platform feeder or on the ground.
Peanut butter also works for the above species plus native sparrows and Pine Siskins. Offer straight or mix the peanut butter with 3-4 parts corn mill. Spread the mixture on a tree trunk, place in spaces in a pine cone, or fill holes drilled in a board or dead limb.
One reason we feed wild birds around our homes is that we presume they appreciate a little help from their human friends. Another reason is that we simply enjoy having them around us. We like watching their antics, seeing their colors, and listening to them.
Each bird species is capable of making a variety of sounds that it uses to communicate with other birds. These sounds are songs, which usually are long and complex, and calls, which usually are short and simple. By encouraging birds to visit our yards, we are more likely to hear most of their vocalizations.
Songbirds account for nearly 60% of the world’s 9,500+ species and almost 40% of the more than 900 species found in North America. For the most part, only the males “sing” – a consistently repeated pattern of tones. The females of a few species, including Northern Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, also occasionally break into song.
Birds generally sing more in the early morning and late afternoon. While singing behavior varies among species, most vocalizations take place during the breeding season. Lags occur during the short mating season and when the young are being cared for. Singing usually pauses when the nesting season is
The songs of birds are learned, not inherited. If a White-crowned Sparrow grew up with only Song Sparrows around, it would learn Song Sparrow songs. Fledgling birds first develop a “sub-song” that matures into an adult primary song in about a year. Although Chipping Sparrows have only one basic song, Song Sparrows may have 10, some wrens may have more than 100, and – as many of you well know – Mockingbirds seem to have a repertoire of a couple hundred songs that are voiced endlessly!
In Part 2: We learn more about how, where and why birds sing.
Feeding our friends on a deck, balcony or patio presents a few challenges, but the rewards are well worth the effort. In fact, there are many products to help you enjoy your birds in small spaces.
One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to get started is with a hummingbird feeder. A popular way to hang a hummingbird feeder is from a simple hook from the eave in front of a window.
Hummingbirds are bold and will readily come right up to your house to investigate a (red-colored) feeder.
Before we discuss seed feeders, let’s not forget about water which is crucial for birds, and an adequate supply will attract great variety of birds for your enjoyment. There are birdbaths available that easily attach to deck railings. An alternative is to put out hanging bath. Remember, a popular birdbath requires daily filling so be mindful of this requirement when choosing a spot for your birdbath. There are also baths available with plastic inserts that can be easily removed for cleaning and filling.
An important challenge of bird feeding on decks, balconies and other small areas is keeping the area clean. The easiest way is use “no-mess” seed blends which contain no hulls (what the birds leave behind). Another solution is to use a deck hanger to suspend your feeder over the side of the deck. Seed trays on tube feeders also help keep debris off a deck or balcony.
Peanut feeders can be a great addition to the enjoyment of your patio or balcony. Wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and a variety of woodpeckers love nuts! Another option is to use a mealworm feeder – virtually all birds love’em!
So check out your possibilities and select just the right products for all of your outdoor areas.
Birdbaths are great for attracting birds that do not visit bird feeders. To attract and enjoy birds all year long, consider buying a heated birdbath. A popular type has the heating element completely enclosed in the birdbath itself. There are also separate birdbath heaters to place in your existing birdbath. Birds want to bathe in the winter as much as in warmer months so your heated bath can be tremendously attractive to your birds. When cleaned, their feathers fluff more efficiently, creating important insulating layers of air between feathers and skin. Now’s the time to create a splash in your backyard!
When we look at the sky, it’s like a roof – flat, solid – just sort of there. Unless the light is exceptional, even clouds and constellations looked painted on it.
For the birds though, the sky isn’t flat, it’s multidimensional. Just as different bird species hunt at different levels within the same tree, different birds tend to fly at different levels in the sky. And for them, the clouds aren’t just pretty puffs in the sky. They are a dynamic part of their daily landscape.
Flying high exposes birds to dangers, such as higher winds or hungry hawks. So when not migrating, most birds follow the facetious advice often given to new pilots, they “fly low and slow”, usually under 500 feet. But during migration, birds often climb to remarkable heights, probably to conserve energy. They burn fewer calories in the cooler air and become dehydrated less quickly.
Also, winds that can hinder day-to-day activities become a welcome aid to quick travel. Like pilots, birds seem to know that their optimum cruise altitude increases as their “fuel” is consumed and their weight declines. Long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet then progressively climb to about 20,000 feet. In the Caribbean basin, where considerable radar work has been done, migrating birds are most often observed at about 10,000 feet.
Clouds and Birds:
Altocumulus clouds: Migrating swans and geese are known to sometimes fly more than 25,000 feet above sea level , over four miles high!
Stratocumulus clouds: Broad-winged Hawks routinely soar at around 3,200 feet, aided by thermals created by differing ground temperatures.
Cumulus clouds: Vultures sometime rise to over 10,000 feet, scanning wide areas for food and watching the behavior of distant birds for clues to the location of a feast.
Cirrostratus clouds: Jet planes typically cruise at about 35, 000 feet, in what are commonly known as “ice clouds”.
Nimbostratus clouds: In their daily activities in and around our backyards, many of our favorite songbirds stay in the 30-to 50-foot range above the ground. Robins, bluebirds, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches are all relatively low flyers.
Have you ever put up a wonderful new bird feeder, then wondered why your birds did not immediately flock to it? The answer may be simple – they didn’t know it was there!
Birds are visual and auditory creatures. Except for a few species, most find food by sight. If a feeder is the first one in your yard, it make take the birds weeks to discover and recognize it as a source of food. If you’ve added a new feeder where other feeders are already available, it generally won’t take long for your birds to discover this new opportunity, although there may still be a period of time when the birds hesitate to use the new feeder instead of the old.
How soon your feeder is used also depends on the availability of natural food sources, the type seed used in your new feeder, and the habitat close to your feeder. Black-oil sunflower seeds usually attract the widest variety of birds. The addition of nutmeats, such as peanut kernels, will make the feeder more attractive to birds such as titmice, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, even wrens. Make certain that the feeder is visible and not hidden by foliage or other obstructions. If you live in a newly developed neighborhood with few trees and shrubs, consider planting some plants near your feeder to provide natural cover. A bird bath or other water source will also make your feeding station more attractive to your birds.
The first visitors to your new feeder are likely to be chickadees, since these little acrobats are among the most curious and adventuresome of all backyard birds. Once chickadees have found it, titmice and other birds are sure to be close behind.
February can be one of the toughest winter months for birds as remaining wild seed and other food supplies continue to diminish. If you have feeders up its a good time to make sure they stay filled. Here are a few comments from the National Bird-Feeding Society on perhaps why so many people enjoy feeding and watching birds.
Keep the peace - Avoid overcrowding by putting feeders at different heights to resemble birds' natural feeding environment. Serve sparrows, juncos and mourning doves from a tray elevated just above the ground. Woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, finches and redpolls, accustomed to eating among trees in the wild, prefer feeders four to six feet off the ground. Jays and cardinals like surfaces large enough to stand on while they eat.
Among most birds, the sense of smell is poorly developed, so they find their food by sight. No other living animals can match the visual acuity of birds.
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The eye of a bird is extremely large by mammalian standards. Though they look relatively small, hidden behind their lids and protective rings of overlapping bone, birds’ eyes are enormous. This is because the image must be big and have sharp details so that they can locate their food while flying. Imagine the extraordinary vision needed by a hawk cruising over a meadow in search of a mouse, a loon in pursuit of its underwater prey, a hummingbird gleaning a minuscule insect near a trumpet vine, and a titmouse searching for a source of black oil sunflower seeds – amazing!
Despite the cold weather in many parts of the country spring is not too far away. Purple Martin Scouts will start arriving in Florida and Texas sometime in January. The Purple Martin Conservation Association hosts a Scout Arrival map. Check it on a regular basis to determine when scouts start arriving in your area. Martin houses should be up a couple of weeks before the expected arrival of the martins in your area.
Winter can be a dangerous time in the backyard. Leaves are off the trees, making roosting spots much more visible to predators. Wind, heavy rain and snow take turns making the local environment inhospitable to birds and other small creatures. This is a time of testing for our wild friends.
A simple brush pile can help make our yards a little safer during this harsh time of year. It’s simple to create, doesn’t require a major investment of time or materials, and can provide safe haven for birds, bugs, and bunnies, among others. The birds can hide from cats and hawks, stay warmer and dryer in snowstorms, and even find a snack in the decaying wood.
Pick an acceptable spot in your yard, someplace that won’t be a visual or physical stumbling point for people. To be of best use to birds, you want to create a kind of thicket, with dense cover on the outside and more open spaces on the inside. You can start as you would to build a campfire, creating a teepee of dead wood. Then pile on branches pruned from shrubs and trees, twigs dropped by wind and storms, even leftover greenery from the holidays. Christmas trees can have a whole new life tucked in a corner of your yard where the birds can hind.
So start 2018 doing some creative brush pile building (a great outdoor activity for children, too) for your birds.
Wild bird specialty stores and other outlets carry many varieties of birdseed: black-oil sunflower, peanuts, Nyjer, millet and others. They also carry seed blends with varying characteristics which influence their entertainment value for you.
Male Northern Cardinal. Photograph © Nic Allen
We believe that the bird-feeding public mostly feeds birds because you enjoy seeing them, and that you prefer feeding small and colorful birds (e.g. chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, titmice and woodpeckers) over grackles and squirrels.
One seed type which gets lots of attention these days is safflower, a small, whitish, plump seed with very little shell. If you are frustrated with European Starlings, Common Grackles or squirrels at your feeders, safflower has the potential to make you happier. They don’t like safflower much and tend to stay away from it, while titmice, chickadees and cardinals usually learn to like it.
Note: Safflower doesn’t belong in most blends because the problem-solving properties of safflower are negated. When added to a seed blend, unwanted visitors will simply find other seeds or nuts to enjoy. Plus, there are less expensive seeds that are more desirable than safflower to the birds you prefer to see at your feeders. So as an ingredient in a seed blend, safflower neither increases visits from more desirable birds, nor decreases visits from “black birds” or squirrels. It may actually add cost, but not value.
Chickadee on hopper feeder with suet holders on the end.
A high-quality birdseed blend should contain black-oil sunflower or hulled sunflower (as the first ingredient listed). Other quality ingredients are black-stripe sunflower, white proso millet and some forms of nutmeat, such as peanut (pieces). Always read the ingredient s list before buying a seed blend and avoid those that don’t list some form of oil sunflower as the primary ingredient. You should also avoid blends that contain filler products such as milo, wheat, oats, rice, flax, canary seed or “mixed grain products.” These seeds only add weight and actually diminish the blend’s attractiveness. They may decrease the cost per pound of seed, but they will increase your cost per bird visit!
Research indicates that a woodpecker can hammer 25-strokes-per-second with its head moving at a speed of 20-feet-per-second. Sounds like a lot of wood to me. (From the National Bird-Feeding Society)
Here are recommended ways for cleaning several feeder types.
Clean feeders keep your birds visiting regularly and healthier too!
Plastic tube feeders – Clear ports of seed feeders regularly and shake to settle debris. For thorough cleaning, soak the cylinder and removable parts in a solution of one-part white vinegar to one-part hot water and scrub clean. Use a bottle or bird-feeder brush to clean the cylinder or force a rag inside. Rinse and dry thoroughly – moisture left inside the tube may cause your seed to spoil or clump.
Wood feeders – Scrub periodically with hot soapy water and a stiff brush; rinse and air dry thoroughly.
Hummingbird feeders – Clean with very hot water every three to four days; more often in hot weather. The same 1:1 white vinegar and water solution can be used on your hummingbird bird feeders, as long as you rinse them very thoroughly. Clean areas around the feeding ports with a Q-tip swab or small hummer feeder brush.
Then sit back and enjoy your birds.
Written years ago by Birding Master Scott Edwards – but perfectly relevant today!
1) In bird feeding, as in many things, there are three keys to reaching higher planes of satisfaction: location, location and location.
2) After location, the next step to bird-feeding nirvana is to feed the birds not only what they wish to eat, but also where they wish to eat it.
3) Once location and food have been thoughtfully chosen, one adds what may be the most difficult ingredient of all…patience!
4) Thou shall only put preferred seeds in your bird feeders.
5) Thou shalt not fight with the squirrels. If you feed the birds, you feed the squirrels...just do so on your terms, not theirs!
6) If you want to make your new feeder even more attractive to our feathered friends, fill it with bird ambrosia…..sunflower chips!
7) Never fail to provide the elixir of life…..water!
8) The true path to bird-feeding bliss is paved with simplicity. When in doubt, trust black-oil sunflower seed.
9) Thou shalt offer suet to our woodpecker friends, all year long to ensure that their children, too, shall come to know your yard as a place of peace and food!
10) Last but not least, and above all, remember: “When the birds disagree with the books, believe the birds!”
Thank you, Zen Master Edwards!
Both Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are found throughout most of North America and often visit our yards in search of a warm meal.
Both species are frustratingly similar in appearance. Both birds have slate-grey backs and barred rust-colored chests with long banded tails and relatively short rounded wings. The major discernible difference between them is size. A “Sharpie” is a little larger than a robin; a “Coop” is about the size of a crow. To further complicate matters, in each species the female is notably larger than the male. Thus, a female Sharp-shinned Hawk can be as nearly as large as a small male Cooper’s Hawk.
The most reliable field mark may be the tail, which is rounder in the Cooper’s (think “oo” as in Cooper) and squared off (think “s” for Sharp-shinned and squared). Eye placement may also help – eyes appear more forward in the “Coop” than in the “Sharpie”.
Clogged seed ports are the number one reason birds will stop using a well-stocked feeder. Unless you always use a shell-free seed or blend, you should shake or clean out your feeder ports regularly as stems and other debris may accumulate over time. Seeds may also “clump” at ports if exposed to rain or snow or even high humidity for long periods, especially hulled sunflower chips and Nyjer seeds.
To thoroughly clean plastic tube feeders, soak the cylinder and removable parts in a combination hot water and white vinegar (10% or so) and scrub clean. Cleaning brushes may also be available at a local wild bird specialty store and are ideal for this purpose. Rinse your feeder and allow it to dry thoroughly before refilling.
Northern Cardinal, male
Wooden feeders such as hopper or platform feeders can be scrubbed periodically with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush.
Then sit back and enjoy your birds!
If there are squirrels in your neighborhood and you don’t want to feed them, try finding a spot you can squirrel-proof with baffles. Baffles are metal or plastic devices placed above hanging feeders and below pole-mounted feeders. They are shaped so that squirrels cannot climb around them.
Feeder placement is critical to the success of any baffling system. Squirrels can jump six to eight feet sideways and four to five feet high, so consult this handy diagram if you want to baffle them. If squirrels can reach the feeder by jumping around the baffles, the baffles become ineffective and you may need a feeder to be squirrel-resistant.