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.
“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.
Are you a “lister”? A ”journaler”? Perhaps as a way to of dealing with information overload, both practices are increasingly common among birders. Listing helps us track and organize; journaling helps us process and record.
Many birders keep life lists: of the birds they’ve seen. Some keep separate lists of birds seen around their homes (or from the lot line so a vulture counts!), or in a certain state or province, or on a certain trip. Most field guides come with a list of all species covered in the guide, so you can check them off as you see them. Someday, making a check mark may seem an insufficient way to record your thrilling encounter with a new species. Yu may then want to begin your birding journal!
Hairy and Downy (right) Woodpeckers
A journal can help you remember a significant birding event in context, with all its natural, emotional, even spiritual significance.
Journals can also serve as practical learning tools. You can use them to record the habitat, time, location, and weather of special sightings, and make specific comments about a bird’s behavior too.
Whether journaling to learn about birds – or about yourself – be sure to describe the elements that strike you as unusual. You may also want to include sketches of birds in your journal – the possibilities are many!
Birds often choose to live in the midst of spectacular scenery – the very thing you vacation for too. Take advantage of those places where your desire for natural beauty intersects with the birds’ concept of home.
Glacier National Park
Pineview Reservoir in Liberty, Utah
Osprey at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Even a casual walk around the gardens at a resort can offer a view into the life of local birds. No matter where you go, you’ll want your binoculars. There’s nothing more frustrating than not seeing an interesting new bird because you left the bins at home (even the scenery looks better when seen through quality glass!).
Author at Zion, Utah
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!?