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.
During fall and 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.
Enormous hazards face birds even before they hatch. Although the odds against one individual bird appear staggering, avian species as a whole survive well, except where they are threatened by the man-made effects of environmental destruction or poisoning.
Canada Goose landing on ice.
The life span of most birds in the wild is probably no more than six months to a year or two at most. Generally, larger birds have longer life spans – wild Canada Geese have lived over 18 years and Golden Eagles for 30.
Among medium-sized birds, cardinals have lived for 10-12 years and robins for 17.
Chickadees and goldfinches are known to have survived for 8 or more years in the wild. But, keep in mind that these are not the norm, since the stresses of disease, injury, migration and winter starvation take enormous tolls, particularly on young birds during their first year of life.
1. Which seed attracts the most birds?
Plain and simple – black-oil sunflower seed is the most popular seed to offer in your feeder. We believe that if you have only one feeder, it should contain black-oil sunflower.
2. What about birdseed blends?
Blends can be great, but be careful. Stay away from most grocery store or big-box store, pre-packaged blends that may look like great deals – they’re very often not! They may be inexpensive because they contain fillers. A common filler is often milo, an inexpensive seed developed mostly as cattle feed. Milo is very unattractive to almost all feeder birds. These blends are usually a waste of money, not to mention a likely mess on your yard, deck or patio. As much as 80% of such blends wind up on the ground, uneaten and costly in the long run.
A good blend will contain a large amount of black-oil sunflower seed and sunflower chips (no shells). It will also contain some millet, which is favored by many ground-feeding birds and some perching birds too.
It’s a good idea to ask your local wild bird specialty store for recommendations.
“Thermals” are not just another name for long underwear. They’re also what make landing at airports such a bumpy affair. And whereas pilots have to compensate for thermals in their approach, birds often count on them for their migratory departures.
Even small differences in the landscape create various heating patterns in the air. A plowed field absorbs heat more quickly and releases it more slowly than a planted field or forest. Bodies of water, large and small, respond differently to the sun’s effects. Small towns and housing developments have a different heat index than large concrete jungles. And over some parts of the landscape, a kind of inverted funnel of fast-rising air bubbles up to elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 feet, creating a natural elevator to the skies above.
Many birds- especially large, soaring daylight migrants – take full advantage of these thermals. Through experience, instinct or luck, a bird will find one of these updrafts and take it upward to its peak. From there the bird soars, losing altitude slowly as gravity takes over, until it finds another thermal and again rises through the turbulent air. This very energy-efficient way to travel makes it possible for some birds to migrate long distances without a large fat reserve. At any time of year, you may see a single hawk, or even a pair, lazily floating on thermals as they travel about looking for food. But during migration, you can see dozens, sometimes even hundreds – of birds using the same thermals in their efforts to push ever southward. This can be particularly impressive when Broad-winged Hawks are migrating en masse. Groups of migrating birds climbing the same invisible ladder are called “kettles”, and kettles are one of the most visible signs of migration in process. Watch for them over the next weeks and months – hawks, vultures and falcons circling higher and higher in the sky, seemingly static, but actually headed south to Louisiana to Mexico, to Peru and Brazil and other wintering havens, using nature’s elevator to speed them on their way.
Christmas Bird Count
Several bird species – particularly waterfowl, such as geese, swans, ducks and pelicans – fly in a vee formation. In a vee formation, these birds fly either next to or slightly above the bird ahead of them. This technique allows them to take advantage of up-wellings of air created by the bird in front.
Research has shown that birds in a vee can travel more than 70% further than a solo bird on the same amount of energy.
Photo © Shanna-Dennis
By the way, vee-formation birds are equal-opportunity fliers: the point-bird position rotates among most birds without regard to sex.