Bird Feeding with George Petrides
Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.
When we look at the sky, it’s like a roof – flat, solid – just sort of there. Unless the light is exceptional, even clouds and constellations looked painted on it.
For the birds though, the sky isn’t flat, it’s multidimensional. Just as different bird species hunt at different levels within the same tree, different birds tend to fly at different levels in the sky. And for them, the clouds aren’t just pretty puffs in the sky. They are a dynamic part of their daily landscape.
Flying high exposes birds to dangers, such as higher winds or hungry hawks. So when not migrating, most birds follow the facetious advice often given to new pilots, they “fly low and slow”, usually under 500 feet. But during migration, birds often climb to remarkable heights, probably to conserve energy. They burn fewer calories in the cooler air and become dehydrated less quickly.
Also, winds that can hinder day-to-day activities become a welcome aid to quick travel. Like pilots, birds seem to know that their optimum cruise altitude increases as their “fuel” is consumed and their weight declines. Long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet then progressively climb to about 20,000 feet. In the Caribbean basin, where considerable radar work has been done, migrating birds are most often observed at about 10,000 feet.
Clouds and Birds:
Altocumulus clouds: Migrating swans and geese are known to sometimes fly more than 25,000 feet above sea level , over four miles high!
Stratocumulus clouds: Broad-winged Hawks routinely soar at around 3,200 feet, aided by thermals created by differing ground temperatures.
Cumulus clouds: Vultures sometime rise to over 10,000 feet, scanning wide areas for food and watching the behavior of distant birds for clues to the location of a feast.
Cirrostratus clouds: Jet planes typically cruise at about 35, 000 feet, in what are commonly known as “ice clouds”.
Nimbostratus clouds: In their daily activities in and around our backyards, many of our favorite songbirds stay in the 30-to 50-foot range above the ground. Robins, bluebirds, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches are all relatively low flyers.
While these daunting percentages vary by source, they all suggest that about 30% of North American birds are in significant decline, including:
70% of grassland bird species
25% of forest bird species
13% of wetland species
These declines are abnormal; they’re not part of the natural cyclical rise and fall of bird populations. Among the many threats to birds, the most serious is loss of habitat due to poor land-use planning and possibly, climate change. Many remaining habitats are degrading due to fragmentation by roads, over-browsing by deer (for example), drainage of wetlands, poor forest management and invasive species impacts.
Have you heard the term “Important Bird Area”? Although it may sound like a simple term, an Important Bird Area, or IBA, is a powerful conservation concept. In its simplest terms, an IBA is an area identified for its significance to bird conservation. IBAs may be huge and of global importance, like the Chesapeake Bay which is surrounded by the Mid-Atlantic States, or they may be locally important areas like Belt Woods in Prince George’s County in Maryland.
The IBA program identifies sites that provide essential habitat for birds so that conservation efforts can be focused on priority locations. A great strength of the IBA program is that it takes a proactive approach to conserving birds instead of just responding to specific threats - that’s why the IBA program deserves understanding support from us all.
Lively as windup toys, nuthatches pirouette on branches and descend headfirst down tree trunks, combing the bark for insects. Divided into four species, these short-tailed song birds are found almost anywhere in North America where there are trees. Easily drawn to see and suet at feeders, especially in colder weather, nuthatches’ nasal bleats are a familiar part of our backyard soundtrack. But common does not mean mundane! Nuthatches possess some fascinating eccentricities.
Readily identified by its white underside, gray back and shiny black cap, the White-breasted Nuthatch ranges across most of the United States and southern Canada. The largest of its tribe, the White-breasted Nuthatch can seem downright gluttonous, as it flies onto a feeder, grabs a seed, and then returns again and again for more. In fact, the White-breasted is a miser that stashes seeds in bark crevices. With a little patient observation, it is easy to locate the bird’s storehouses.
Sporting a distinct orange belly and white eye-stripe, the smaller Red-breasted Nuthatch replaces the white-breasted in northern forests and western mountains. The Red-breasted nests in tree cavities (as do all nuthatches) or man-made nest boxes. Like its White-breasted cousin, the Red-breasted improves its homestead by narrowing the entrance hole with mud and smearing the area with sticky stuff, such as sap, which probably serves as a predator guard. The bird itself avoids this mess by shooting straight as an arrow into the nest hole.
Native to the Far West, the plain-gray Pygmy Nuthatch is easy to overlook. But its peculiar domestic arrangements make it an unusual bird. When raising and feeding their young, Pygmy Nuthatch parents rely on “helpers”, who may be their own young from an earlier brood or even “surplus” males. This unusual avian behavior is comparable to human bachelors volunteering to change diapers.
The tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch of the southeastern United States also employs nesting “helpers”. But it one-ups the Pygmy Nuthatch in an astonishing way – the Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of the very few North American birds with a talent for tools. Gripping a chunk of bark in its bill, the bird pries up pine bark in pursuit of a meal.
The nuthatch is an intriguing neighbor with, perhaps, more to reveal so feel free to spy on the delightful birds – they won’t mind at all.
Wild Bird Feeding 201
If you are reading this, you probably already know how much fun it is to feed wild birds. But knowing what kind of food to use and where to place it will greatly enhance your bird-feeding experience. Not all birds have the same needs, so offering quality seed in several feeding styles will go a long way toward helping you increase the number and variety of birds visiting your yard and feeding station.
More than any single seed, black-oil sunflower seeds appeal to the widest variety of birds. White Proso millet is especially attractive to birds which like to feeder on the ground. Specialty seeds such as Nyjer (aka thistle) is highly-preferred by beautiful Goldfinches. Peanuts are especially attractive to woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches.
A platform feeder, whether placed on the ground or elevated on a pole, offers a large landing area to accommodate birds of all shapes and sizes. These feeders are great places to serve millet and whole peanuts for Blue Jays and even pieces of fruit for Mockingbirds. Ground-feeding birds such as juncos, native sparrows and Mourning Doves love this feeder type.
Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee? Difficult to tell from the photo. Black-capped has more white on the wings than Carolina.
A hopper feeder features a seed container or “hopper”, typically constructed with two clear sides so that you can monitor seed consumption. Seed flows from the bottom of the hopper onto a tray where it is eaten. Many people like this feeder type because it stores several pounds of seed and visiting birds are easy to watch.
Tube-style feeders especially when filled with black-oil sunflower seed, are ideally suited for attracting smaller birds, these perches are harder for large birds to use while smaller species such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and finches feel right at home.
A suet feeder is usually a square basket made of wire. It is designed to hold a suet cake (rendered fat) which contains protein and fats to supply birds with quick energy. A suet feeder will attract not only chickadees and nuthatches but insect-eating birds such as flickers, Downy, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers. Peanut feeders (similar in construction) will appeal to many of the same birds which like suet.
Bird Watching Suggestions
Once your feeders are placed in your yard, you are likely to attract 15 to 20 seed and suet-eating species plus you can observe other bird behaviors such as bathing and drinking from a bird bath or nesting in bird houses you can place on trees and fence posts.
Local wild bird specialty retail stores are a good source for more information, including opportunities to join a bird walk to see many other birds such as hawks, ducks and geese.
You’ll need a source of outdoor electricity to run your birdbath heater or heated bath. If your home does not have an outdoor outlet, you can run an extension cord outside (get one rated for your heater), perhaps from your garage or basement. Alternatively, you may be able to replace an outdoor light bulb outlet with one that has a plug outlet in the base. Extension cords come in lengths from 10 feet to 50 feet, usually in nice bright colors to keep you from tripping over them. Remember that for outdoor electricity, you must use a ground-fault circuit interrupter. This device prevents shorting out or similar problems which may be associated with outdoor electricity. Outdoor outlets are likely already be grounded and protected by circuit breakers in your home
Food Fact from the Dirt Doctor - Avocados
Howard Garrett, AKA the Dirt Doctor, provides bird-friendly gardening information for Birdzilla. He recently shared these comments on the Avocado, a natural source for many vitamins and minerals, and healthy organic living.
"One of my favorite foods is the avocado. Taste is one thing, but there is a lot more to know.
Avocados have significant health benefits but still get a bad rap for their fat content. While avocados do contain fat, almost all of it is the kind that is good for you and even helps you lose weight! Avocados are full of monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, the healthy fats that are also found in nut butters and olives. A study from the American Diabetic Association found that MUFAs actually decrease belly fat. The MUFAs in avocados may also help improve insulin sensitivity, which is important for good blood sugar control and diabetes control. Avocados are also high in fiber, have more potassium than bananas and are loaded with folates and vitamin E. Of all fruits, the avocado is the highest in protein. The natural oils are also good for your skin.
Avocados contain an array of phytonutrients and are a source of pantothenic acid, dietary fiber, vitamin K, copper, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamin C.
How to Select and Store
A ripe, ready-to-eat avocado is slightly soft but should have no dark sunken spots or cracks. If the avocado has a slight neck, rather than being rounded on top, it was probably tree ripened and might have better flavor. A firmer, less mature fruit can be ripened at home and will be less likely to have bruises. A firm avocado will ripen in a paper bag or in a fruit basket at room temperature within a few days. As the fruit ripens, the skin will turn darker. Avocados should not be refrigerated until they are ripe. Once ripe, they can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. If you are refrigerating a whole avocado, it is best to keep it whole and not slice it in order to avoid browning that occurs when the flesh is exposed to air.
If you have used a portion of a ripe avocado, it is best to store the remainder in the refrigerator. I wrap the pieces first in parchment paper and then put in a plastic bag. Sprinkling the exposed surface(s) with lemon juice will help to prevent the browning that can occur when the flesh comes in contact with oxygen in the air.
I eat avocados for breakfast, lunch and dinner – not every meal, but often. I recommend you do too. One of my favorite dishes is guacamole made from a 50/50 mix of avocado and fermented salsa. Any salsa works pretty well.
If you have any questions tune in Sunday 8am -11am central time to the Dirt Doctor Radio Show. Listen on the internet or find a station in your area. The phone number for the show is 1-866-444-3478. "
Hello! My name is George Petrides, Sr. and I am delighted to join the Birdzilla team through this blog, sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard. Bird feeding is my life-long passion, instilled by bird-feeding parents who raised me on an 80-acre farm in central Michigan. After college, my wife and I served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer high-school teachers in Africa and then as staff members over an eight-year period.
Those wonderful times led to 30-years of bird-feeding leadership as founder of the Wild Bird Centers, franchising and supporting wild bird specialty stores across the country. I helped found the Bird Education Network and was a key financial supporter of PROJECT WILDBIRD, I currently serve as Executive Director of the National Bird-Feeding Society. Several years ago, I was asked to join “The Birder’s Team”, a working group of birding leaders selected by the National Wildlife Refuge System to recommend ways to better serve birders. millions of whom visit our extraordinary network of more than 500 Refuges. These “conservation jewels” actively protect critical habitat and conserve bird populations of all kinds. Most recently, I served as a judge to select the winning artist for the NWRS’ 2015 Duck Stamp Contest.
I now look forward to helping our readers experience the best our wonderful hobby offers. As I often say “The closer we live to each other, the closer we want to be to Nature.”