Archive for the ‘backyard birds’ Category

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!

Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
Fall Backyard: Start Your Native Plant Meadow

If you have even a little bit of a yard, don’t wait goldfinch_thistle_native_plant

to plant a native plant meadow.
I planted a small meadow in the fall as an experiment a few years ago, and if I hadn’t seen for myself the magnetic attraction it has for birds and butterflies, I would not have believed it. Planting even a small meadow could quite possibly be the most beneficial thing you can do in your yard for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. And, it will reap great rewards for you too, as native wildflowers turn into an ocean of blooms, waving texture and color which you can enjoy while watching birds – residents and migrants – diving into the meadow, eating seeds, insects and finding a safe haven.

Planting the meadow takes some work, but patience is often the biggest challenge.  If you plant plugs or plants, the birds and butterflies may be on the plants as you put them in the ground!  But meadows rely on seed too, and this takes a few years to mature.  But once it is mature, it is low maintenance and pretty amazing.

While many people plant only in spring, fall is a terrific time to plant your meadow.  Planting before winter helps some of the seeds when they freeze, and you can take advantage of early germination.  This is, after all going to be a multi-year project, and any jump on the season you can get is going to help you!
The tiny meadow I planted a couple of years ago is still maturing, but in a random 30 minute period in October, I counted over 20 species of migratory birds diving in and out of the plantings. They included some really interesting warblers I hadn’t seen before here, and lots of sparrows and kinglets, flycatchers and yes, a hawk. Plus there are so many butterflies —  many which my more butterfly-savvy neighbors tell me they have never seen in the area before.
To get the low-down on how to start your own meadow, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Center. You can also find a list of plants designed just for the birds in your area at the Audubon Native Plant Database. What could be easier?

Your Fall Backyard Tuneup

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Your Fall Backyard Tuneup
In fall, birds’ needs start changing. The bird houses you setjuvenile_cardinal up in spring and which saw a lot of activity are now vacant. Pressure to secure food for hungry mouths in the nest has subsided, and now many birds are bulking up for migration. To create a friendly backyard for migrators and help your year-round residents, here are a few things you can do now.

  • Once all your nestboxes are vacant, clean them out. Remove the nests, and clean the houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water — making sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards, and let them dry completely open in the sun. For more info on cleaning out houses, click here.  You can store them once they are dry, but if you live in a place which gets cold in winter, unless you are putting up roost boxes later, some birds may find the nest boxes to be a needed refuge during the coldest times.
    • Clean your birdfeeders! These need to be cleaned often to keep bacteria from spreading to the birds. You can use the same 1:9 /bleach:water solution as for the houses, then rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry outside. Do not put seed in them until they are totally dry and have had time for the bleach to evaporate.
    • Now fill those feeders! Migrating birds need the energy from fresh seeds.  So, keep your feeders filled and leave them in the same spot for the winter for local residents to easily find food when they need it.
    • If you have native wildflowers, you can collect the seeds now and store them in a cool place in a paper bag over the winter to be planted in the spring. If you prefer, many of them can be scattered in your native plant meadow in late fall to take advantage of  freezing in winter and the opportunity for an early sprouting.
    • Now is a great time to get native trees and some shrubs in place so they can establish before winter. Native trees, plants and shrubs are essential to making your backyard a haven for birds and other wildlife as they attract the right insects and provide the right natural food for wild birds and butterflies in the area. Don’t miss the opportunity to add a few more fruiting shrubs the birds can enjoy all winter.

    Your Summer Backyard

    Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
    Your Summer Backyard
    Your backyard in summer is different from the rest of the year. In each rose-breasted_grosbeak season,
    birds have different needs, and summer can be extreme – both because of the heat and the additional pressure of feeding baby and juvenile birds. You may be providing a lot of food for birds – in feeders as well as from the native plants and flowers you planted earlier this year. You should also be providing regular access to clean fresh water to keep birds cool, maintain their feathers for flight and keep them hydrated.  But some of the birds you want to attract to your yard may be different during summer, as migratory birds like grosbeaks and hummingbirds may take up summer residence in your area. Here are some ideas to keep your summer backyard a busy and popular spot for birds.
    During summer, fruit-eaters like orioles migrate in. You can put out orange halves, dark colored fruits like red grapes and cherries, and grape jelly for these birds who may then make your backyard a prime feeding spot and possible nesting area. Nothing beats a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole feeding on oranges for some great summer viewing!oriole_feeder
    Hummingbirds also make an appearance. Check out our story in our last newsletter on making your yard attractive to hummingbirds.
    Water is essential for any bird during the summer, so don’t skimp on clean water. You can buy attachments for your bird bath like a mister which will provide a fine spray that birds love in summer. There are many economical kinds, but if you want to make it a backyard feature, here’s a suggestion.
    If goldfinches frequent your area, niger or thistle seed is essential for them to raise their families in July and August. Many other birds will find these small nutritious seeds attractive as well, so keeping niger seeds available will help attract and feed a variety of species.
    Keep in mind that during summer you need to make sure the seed is kept dry so there is no chance of mould. So unless the birds empty your feeders every day, you may want to only fill them half way. And suet is difficult to keep fresh during summer, so you may want to hold off until cooler weather before putting it out.

    There are lots of things you can do in summer to attract birds, and we always recommend to make sure you landscape with native plants to ensure your birds have food choices year round.  Couple native plantings with fresh water, and you have the basis for an ideal haven for wildlife.

    Eating Like a Bird

    Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
    Eating Like a Bird

    Birds have much different eating habits than humans – especially during migration when they really need to add calories to deal with the stress and energy requirements of long hours of flying. You may have been chided by your hummingbird_feeding mother at one point that you ate like a bird, but if you really did, you would probably weigh a lot more than you do now! In fact, birds are infamous for eating the equivalent of what is measured in percentages of their body weight each day. Some birds, like active Chickadees might eat up to 35% of their weight daily.  An extreme example is Hummingbirds,who can eat 100% of their body weight every day in sugar-water nectar plus a couple of thousand insects. When they are migrating they can double their weight.  They need to do this as under normal circumstances hummingbirds live very much on the edge and some species feed every 15 minutes – something not terribly practical during migration or flying over open water.

    Migration adds stress and uncertainly to the equation, and you will notice a difference in their feeding habits when songbirds are migrating. Since they fly at night, both in late afternoon before they take off, and early morning as they land, you can find them frantically feeding. Sometimes they are so involved in getting food that they barely will notice your presence, so there can be great viewing and photographic opportunities. These little songbirds have to do their night marathon flight and they need to be prepared to fly nonstop until dawn — so at these times, insects in flight and under leaves, beware!

    Birds like endangered Red Knots, also beef up before taking off – especially the Red Knots who fly non-stop for over 8 days between Canada and South America on their route south. They are so fat they can barely take off. But when they finally land over a week later they are, not surprisingly, exhausted and starving.
    Even when they are not migrating, birds really do eat a lot when compared with humans.  So when you are told you eat like a bird, you can quietly know to yourself, that probably isn’t really the case at all.

    NESTCAMS!

    Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
    NESTCAMS!
    It’s that time of year again!allens_hummingbird_nestcam_explore
    Get a front row seat and the best view of these early nesters from across the US and  Hawaii  — hummingbirds, albatross and some very cool raptors:

    Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
    Birds Need Your Help to Get Through the Winter
    And, February is National Bird Feeding monthblack_capped_chickadee — a time when winter food sources have been  seriously picked over and cold weather persists. Many birds like robins and mockingbirds are surviving off remaining berries.  And when its been a tough winter, those berries are now in short supply. There are a couple of things you can do to help birds through the rest of the winter:

    1 – Make sure you have a clean, heated water source in your yard. Birds need a consistent source of water in the coldest days, as this is when birds are often subject to dehydration. Providing open water for birds in winter can make your backyard a very popular and important spot!

    2 – Food is also in short supply and the birds visiting your backyard will benefit greatly if you keep your feeders stocked. If you want a little weekend fun with the kids, or want to do something creative that looks nice and helps birds, create your own seed treats for birds. Here’s a recipe from Audubon for an attractive and easy-to-make seed wreath which will keep birds visiting regularly.

     

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