Archive for the ‘backyard birds’ Category

How To ID Owls By Sound

Friday, November 17th, 2017
 
Colder weather means Owls!  But while they may be around, its more
barn_owl
Barn Owl
Photo credit:Stan Tekeila

likely you will hear rather than see them. So, get a jump on owling this year by learning the sounds of some of the more common species of owls which may be in your area.  The best part about owl sounds is that they are very distinctive. Your kids might love learning them as the sounds are also pretty easy to replicate. And who doesnt want to hoot “who cooks for you?” They will love learning that Screech Owls don’t really screech at all, which owl makes a blood-curdling scream and which one makes that classic deep owl hoot.  

 

Check out this Audubon Owl ID guide for sounds and be ready when you make that first owling trip this winter.

Join The Christmas Bird Count

Friday, November 17th, 2017
Join the Christmas Bird Count

 

 

Make your holiday season extra-special this year and do something important for bird conservation by participating in the birdwatching Christmas Bird Count. Every year from December 14 through January 5 people around the world get outside and count the birds in their area or even just their yard.  When you register and participate in the count, you are part of an organized counting of birds at a specific time each year and the information which you report is added to all the historical data from over 100 years of bird counts. The data supplies scientists with critical information on where birds are, the health of bird populations and helps direct conservation efforts. Plus, its lots of fun to do with friends and family!

 

The origins of the Christmas Bird Count are interesting. In the 19th Century, there was an organized hunt called the Christmas “Side Hunt” where hunters would shoot as many birds as they could — the winner was the one with the largest number of birds shot. As people were slowly becoming more aware of what wanton hunting for sport was doing to populations of birds and animals, on Christmas Day 1900, Frank Chapman, the head of the magazine Bird-Lore (which became Audubon Magazine), proposed an alternative to the Christmas hunt with a Christmas bird count. And that Christmas, 90 species were counted by 27 people. Now, there are nearly 70 million birds reported and 75,000 people worldwide who participate – you can be one of them!  It’s easy to do and a lot of fun! Won’t you join the longest-running bird citizen science project in the US this year?  Registration takes place in November – don’t miss out!

 

Fall For Your Own Native Plant Meadow

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

To ensure you attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife in
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Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
abundance to your yard, there is no better choice than planting a meadow with native plants. Not only is a mature meadow a stunningly beautiful sight of waving flowers with butterflies and birds darting in and out, but it’s virtually maintenance free, and provides the natural food and nourishment birds who are in and also migrating through the area need at the time.  And fall is the best time to get your meadow started as some of the seeds require cold or freezing temperatures before they will sprout.  Seeding before winter sets in will give you a head start on the growing season.

I have a native meadow which is nearing maturity and it is one of the best things I have ever done for wildlife and for myself — the increase in bird and butterfly activity once the plants started growing and flowering was immediate and far beyond what I had expected.  Full disclosure though, it’s not an overnight or completely simple thing to do. I hired The NJ Wildlife Gardener, Josh Nemeth, from the Cape May, NJ area to do mine as I have no competence whatsoever in landscaping or with plants in general. Josh selected a specific seed mix that was native to the area and which he knew would be irresistible to birds and butterflies. The area to be planted was covered in decades-old grass, so he covered the grass in plastic so it would die off and be easier to remove.  Then the area was seeded in the fall.   It needed some watering to get the seeds started, and then some during the late spring and dry summer months the following year.  But that was the end of the watering maintenance.  Josh also selected a number of shrubs and bushes to add both additional visual interest and variety, but also to ensure there would be food and shelter available year round for birds and wildlife.  

I was told it takes about 3 years for the meadow to take hold, and indeed that has been the case.  Honestly, it was a little depressing in year 2 as I was getting impatient and the plants really seemed to not be progressing as I thought they should! But this is the third year and the results have been stellar and well worth the wait. My meadow has everything from grasses, goldenrod, roses, iris, milkweed to cattails and chokeberry. As a result, I had all sorts of birds diving into my meadow for a respite during spring migration, new species of birds who took advantage of the extra food and safe haven to nest in my yard during the summer and now in fall, there are large flocks of birds and untold numbers of butterflies using my meadow for food and shelter as they pass through to parts farther south. The shrubs are ripe with berries, flowers are bursting out everywhere and the variety of butterflies flitting around is stunning!  Plus,  it looks so beautiful and my neighbors love watching what’s going on in my yard! 

flowers_in_native_plant_meadow
Native Plant Meadow
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

You don’t need much room to have your own native meadow. And whatever time it takes pays off big time once the meadow is up and running!  So, now’s the time to get started!  For most of us, It makes sense to have a professional native landscape designer and gardener help you get the design and the right seed mix, and get it all started. You may want to add a water feature or different sections or habitats if you have the space.  Someone who does native plant landscaping and gardening will know what to do and have the resources to get native seeds and plants for you.  If you are a do-it-youselfer, check out the how-to pages from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, get out your shovel and order those seeds!

Keeping Hummingbirds Safe

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
Keeping Hummingbirds Safe

 

 

hummingbird_feeder
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Everyone loves feeding hummingbirds!  It’s easy to do and they return the favor by returning repeatedly to your backyard.  There are some specific safety issues you should keep in mind when feeding hummingbirds. Our readers have asked us about two specifically which are common potentially fatal mistakes many people make. And, if you aren’t already making your own hummingbird food, we make it really easy with a simple recipe.

 

1 – Keep the food solution clean to avoid bacteria which may sicken or kill the hummingbirds.  Bacteria spreads more quickly in hot weather so its important to keep all your feeders, but especially those for hummingbirds, really clean.  Here is an article from The Spruce with detailed info on how to clean a hummingbird feeder perfectly.

 

2 – Never buy hummingbird food which is dyed red as it may fatally harm your birds.  Most red-dyed pre-made hummingbird food is sugar water with red dye #40 which is made from coal and petro- chemicals.  It is a known carcinogen and causes a variety of other really horrible side effects.  If you want more information on these pre-made hummingbird foods, please read this article by Julie Zickefoose who is a well-known wildlife and bird rehabilitator, author and natural history artist. She has seen first hand in her patients the effects these products have on hummingbirds.

 

When feeding your family, pets and backyard birds you sure want to make sure you know what’s in the food!  Hummingbird solution is so simple to make and keep fresh that there is absolutely no reason to purchase pre-made food – and possibly endanger the birds you are feeding.

 

Try this really simple recipe for making hummingbird food, which your kids will love making – with your supervision, of course! It takes less than 10 minutes to make and is exactly what hummingbirds need.  Plus,

if you make it yourself, you know the exact ingredients.  And isn’t that the safest way to provide food for your backyard birds?

1 cup of sugar
4 cups of water
Bring to a boil so the sugar is completely dissolved
Let cool to room temperature
Pour into a clean hummingbird feeder
Any leftover should be stored in the refrigerator and make sure its room temperature again before feeding your hummingbirds!

 

Pesky Critters in Your Backyard?

Monday, July 17th, 2017
 

 

Squirrels got your goat?  Hawks or the neighbors cats using your feeder as a buffet table? Maybe that resident woodpecker is using your house for hammering practice? Whatever the issue is there are often simple and humane solutions! For example, getting the right feeder can help control unwanted birds, or eliminate bees and wasps. This thorough article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology outlines the most common challenges to backyard birding and ideas to effectively deal with them. Here’s to a safe and cleverly designed backyard!  And one more thing …don’t forget to keep pesticides and other toxic substances out of your yard to keep you and your birds safe.

 

Backyard Bird Reading

Monday, July 3rd, 2017
CSM_john_kehe

Nesting birds on the ground in your yard?  What kind of bird does that? We love this humorous essay many of us can relate to.  When it comes to finding out where the birds are nesting in your yard, sometimes info is gotten the hard way. Then It Struck Me and Not Very Gently,  by Murr Brewster for The Christian Science Monitor.

Picture Credit: John Kehe

Join Nestwatch and Help Nesting Birds

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
Join Nestwatch and Help Nesting Birds

Nobody knows better than you what goes on in the nests in your backyard. If you are curious about the birds nesting in your yard and pay particular attention to

Kestrel_nestbox
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

them, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great project called Nestwatch that can use your help. They have a list of birds which include Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee, Mourning Dove and many others. Chances are at least one of these birds is nesting in your yard! If you are someone who regularly checks nestboxes, this might be the perfect project for you to take the info you discover about how many eggs, when they are laid, nest success, etc., and send it to Cornell. They use this information to get a better picture of the success and failure rates of nests and nesting habits of different species.

Information like this is particularly important as birds are a barometer for what’s going on in our environment. So, check it out and see if you might become someone who helps backyard birds even more than you do by just sending in the information you already have. It’s a great project to do with kids as well, as they will have the chance to watch and record nesting from start to fledging. And who wouldn’t want to do that?

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Family Fun: 3 Easy DIY Bird Feeders

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
Winter is a time when birds need a lot of help finding food – especially later in the season when the available
bird_cookies_birdsleuth_heather_katsoulis
Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis

native berries and seeds are long gone.  Keep your feeders up, but why not try some seriously simple new ways to feed birds in your yard? Take a look at these ideas from making your own treats to making your own feeders out of recycled plastic.  They are fun to do, have a low environmental impact, and so simple anyone can do them. So get the kids involved, and do your own thing for birds!

PINE CONE FEEDERS – The absolute easiest DIY feeder project is also one of the most rewarding. All you need are:

  • Pinecones
  • String
  • Peanut butter
  • Bird seed
  • Tray

Look under pine trees in your yard for pine cones. If you don’t have them there, you can get them at a local garden center. Then do this:

  1. Dust the dirt off each pine cone
  2. Tie a string around each cone near the top, but held in place by some of the pinecone petals, and make a loop so you can hang them.
  3. Give them to the kids to decorate. They will love painting their pine cones with peanut butter (smooth is easiest to work with). Let them go for it and apply it thickly if they want.
  4. Provide a pan of mixed seeds and let them roll their pine cones in it so that the seeds are sticking to the peanut butter.

Now they are ready to hang up and you can wait for the birds to find these very appealing treats!

RECYCLED SODA BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER
– What better way to start off the year than by taking something you are about to throw out and make it useful again! Plastic soda bottles and food containers are perfect candidates for recycling into a bird feeder.

This one is also pretty simple. You will need:

  • 1 or 2 litre clean and dry plastic soda bottle
  • String
  • 2 wooden cooking spoons
  • Utility knife
  • Drill (optional)

Take a look at this video to see how easy this is to do!

BIRD SEED COOKIES – Really? Bake cookies for birds? It seems birds love a good cookie just as much as the rest of us, as long as seeds are the major ingredient. This project is going to require a little more supervision if you are working with kids, but you can make these cookies to be used as ornaments on your outside trees….taking the holidays even later into the season. What you wind up with is really just limited by the shapes of the molds you choose, so get creative!

To do this, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
  • 4 cups birdseed

For the full recipe and step by step instructions with pictures, check out this link.

Backyard Suet Feeders to Make or Buy

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
BACKYARD: Suet Feeders
It’s time to break out the suet feeders! Suet provides lots of calories to keep some of your favorite birds like chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers warm.  There are lots of different suet feeders you can buy or make, but the best ones are those which are ergonomically correct for
suet_feeder_wbu
Tail-prop suet feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited

woodpeckers. Woodpeckers feed with their tails propped on the tree which gives them better balance and stability. Feeders which allow woodpeckers to easily balance, like this paddle-shaped model are a good choice. You can make or purchase blocks of suet designed to fit into these feeders and they are easy to use.

Another great suet feeder is a natural piece of branch with holes drilled in it for the suet. You can refill the holes with either pre-made plugs you purchase or with suet you make yourself. Whether you purchase one or
log_suet_feeder_thegardenroofcoop make it yourself, keeping a suet feeder available all winter will keep your backyard busy during the coldest days.
Want to make the log feeder yourself?  With 5 minutes and a few basic tools, anyone can make this attractive feeder and kids will love helping.  Try these easy plans, fill the log holes with suet (recipe and image from thegardenroofcoop.com)and start watching birds at your new feeder!
 

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