Bird Feeding with George Petrides
Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.
Sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard.
Temperatures remain in the 90's in Texas but there winter storm warnings in parts of the country. So in Texas, we have not seen signs of fall but other parts of the country skipped fall and went straight to winter. Go figure.
With cold and snow becoming an issue, here are a couple of thoughts for providing winter protection for the birds.
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. It does 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.
Brush piles can be small or large, thin, or tall. Even a small brush pile offers cover.
Pick an acceptable spot in your yard, some place 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 hide.
It is a little early to start thinking about winter bird feeding and behavior, especially with the Texas heat, where I live, still in the 90's. But as a precursor here is one thing to look for. Over-wintering warblers and woodpeckers will also hang around the fringe of the chickadee/titmice flocks.
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.
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.
Keeping squirrels away from bird seed has always been a challenge. A popular choice these days is to select seeds blended with hot pepper or suet with hot pepper. The birds are not bothered by the hot pepper but it does effect the squirrels, keeping them for emptying your feeder in one visit. The hot pepper seeds and suet are more expensive but can be cheaper in the long run if squirrels are eating much of the seed you are putting out.
The more plants, shrubs, vines, trees, flowers you have the more birds you will have and the greater diversity you will have.
However, I am the world's laziest gardener. I just do not do like buying spring flowers and planting them. It is expensive and takes time away from doing something useful, like resting on the sofa.
Too ease this horrible burden, each spring I buy a few packets of native wildflower seeds. I sprinkle them on the ground and rake over them lightly. I do little or nothing to prepare the ground. They do not get any special treatment in the wild so why not make them feel right at home?
Guess what. I usually end up with a nice array of wild flowers. Some grow and flower early in the year and some later. The plant succession is interesting to watch.
Big bonus! The wildflowers produce their own seed. I have had pretty good luck with some flowers coming back year after year, on their own. The flowers are not all lined up in a pretty row but that is not something I really care about.
I leave the seed pods up until late in the year. Not as attractive as the flowers, but allows the plants to reseed and gives the birds something to snack on.
The flowers were past their peak and do not look as much of a mess as in this photo. All came back on their own, including the cone flowers in the upper right. Butterflies, including a beautiful Tiger Swallowtail, and hummingbirds have stopped by to feed.
Males are typically the most vocal. They sing to establish and defend their territory and to attract a mate.
Females of some species such as the Northern Cardinal will also sing.
Female cardinal. Photograph © Greg Lavaty
Northern Cardinal females will sing from the nest, despite the risk of giving away the nest location. One theory is the song may give the male information about when to bring food.
Mated cardinals share song phrases, but the female may actually outdo the male in some ways, singing a longer and more complex song than the male.