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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”