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.
From late summer through fall, bird species in our yards and woodlands begin to disappear. Bright colors are replaced by subdued elegance, and as our summer birds begin to head south, the year-round residents begin to establish winter-feeding territories, showing up in our yards in growing flocks of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches , many woodpeckers and finches.
So who heads south? Largely it is the birds that depend primarily on insects and flowers for food. Hummingbirds begin to head out in August and September, well before the last flowers disappear from our gardens. In a few parts of the extreme southern and western United States they will stay the winter (or in the case of Rufous Hummingbirds, more in for the winter), but most of the country is too cold to support these little bundles of energy. Orioles also go south before the coming winter months. Although these larger birds could probably adapt to winter in some parts of the country, there simply is not enough food (fruit, nectar and insects) for them to survive.
Most warblers, of course, leave North America as their supply of creeping and crawling things declines for the year. A few will stay in the southern parts of the country, and one, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, has adapted so it can feed on the waxy berries of the wax myrtle, bayberry and juniper in the winter., allowing it to stay at lower elevations of the country (excluding parts of the Northwest and much of the Great Plains). Flycatchers and swallows are out of here for obvious reasons – flying insects are at a premium in the colder, wetter weather of winter.
For a whole bunch of other birds, fall migration is variable. Some, like Blue Jays, head south in larger or smaller numbers, staying pretty much within their range, but shifting around and spreading out to make better use of reduced food supplies. Banding research seems to indicate that others, like the Robins, may withdraw completely from the northernmost parts of their range, hopscotching over some of their more sedentary kin to winter in the southern states.
And some, like goldfinches, are simply wanderers, moving around within their range in response to food availability, weather conditions and, perhaps, pure whim - which reason do you prefer!?
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.
During the night and in severe weather, small songbirds often hide in our shrubbery for warmth and safety from predators.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
This 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.
Eastern Phoebe on a dripper.