Archive for the ‘Helping wildlife’ Category

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
monarch_butterfly+native_plants
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!

What Do Birds Do In a Hurricane?

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The iconic image and story of Harvey, the terrified juvenile Coopers Hawk who desperately fled the onslaught
Harvey_coopers_hawk_hurrican
Harvey, the Coopers Hawk
Photo Credit: William Bruso

of hurricane Harvey by landing on the passenger seat of a Houston taxi cab was a welcome story of hope. Harvey was rescued by the driver, taken to Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and was later released.  His story had a happy ending, but most birds caught in a hurricane are not so fortunate.

 

Fall migration and hurricane season are two extreme events which occur simultaneously.  And when hurricanes happen, they have the potential for catastrophic effects on birds. When hurricanes are imminent, some birds and wildlife can sense the impending event through changes in barometric pressure or other cues they can read. Sometimes they have time and opportunity to flee. But their options to remain safe from a rapidly moving overwhelming weather event are often desperate, fairly limited and not always successful.

 

Add to this millions of birds on migration during this time – birds who are already pushing themselves to the limit of endurance during this annual trek to their overwintering grounds.   Having to deal with battering hurricane force winds, no food or water for long periods of time, finding shelter or possibly being swept up and relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles from where you were, can be devastating. For an endangered species living where the hurricane makes landfall or which relies on a specific habitat which is destroyed in the hurricane, these storms can be an extinction event.

 

There are amazing stories about some birds like Whimbrels, which have flown directly into and through the eye of a hurricane on more than one occasion and survived.  Migrating birds can also maneuver themselves to use the winds on the edge of the hurricane as a tail wind to speed their transit, but this is a dangerous and risky business. There are also many sad accounts, like an entire flock of migrating Chimney Swifts caught in the eye of the hurricane, the survivors relocated to another continent.

 

To find out more about hurricanes and birds, check out this article from Forbes science blogger GrrlScientist which gives as excellent description of what birds face when confronted with a hurricane, what they do and what can happen.

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!

 

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.

Nestcams!

Monday, February 20th, 2017
NESTCAMS!

explore_hummingbird_nestcam
explore.org hummingbird nestcam
New nests to watch!

See updates on nests you saw last month and see some new nests we are watching now.  Have a favorite nest cam?  Let us know about it!

Laysan Albatross, Hawaii – who can resist these beautiful birds and their chicks?

Red-tailed Hawks, New York – watch them building the nest

Bermuda CahowBermuda – watch a rarely seen petrel nesting

Bald Eagle, Florida

Allens/Rufous hybird HummingbirdCalifornia



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!

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.
     

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