Our eyes and ears should be open and alert to the natural wonders that surround us every day. Take time to look out our windows to see the birds that visit us and open our windows to hear them. Walk around whatever space we have to enjoy the birds in nature. Every day, work on improving our powers of observation.
Nature happens. We cannot MAKE natural things happen (or NOT happen). We can create habitats to encourage natural things to happen around us, but there are no guarantees.
Birdfeeding comes with responsibilities to the birds and the environment we share with them. If you are unwilling to accept these responsibilities, you shouldn’t feed the birds. We also have a responsibility to share these natural wonders with the next generation.
A: I'd like to say to clean them every couple weeks, but I'll be realistic: try to clean and disinfect your feeders monthly.
Use hot water to make a weak bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). This proportion of bleach disinfects and helps loosen debris. A stronger bleach solution is not necessarily better and may damage the feeder.
Soak the feeder in the bleach solution, then use a rag or a medium-bristled brush to clean all feeder surfaces. Rinse very well with lots of water. Let the feeder air dry, in bright sunshine if possible. When fully dry, refill with fresh birdfood.
Molting is the process by which a bird replaces its feathers.
When a bird replaces all of the feathers on its body, it is described as a full molt. A partial molt may occur between full molts for some species of birds as they replace only a portion of their feathers. An example of a partial molt is when American Goldfinch obtain their bright breeding plumage by replacing only their body feathers each spring. Their body plumage, flight and tail feathers are all replaced during a full molt each fall.
Most backyard feeder birds molt from July-September. Some molt through October like Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves and Eastern Bluebirds. American and Lesser Goldfinches can molt through December.
Typically, birds molt feathers in regular patterns or on specific parts of their bodies, and it may take weeks or months for birds to complete the molting cycle.
American Goldfinches change all their feathers in the fall and just the body feathers in the spring where the male becomes a bright yellow – the better to attract mates.
Coastal Lesser Goldfinches perform a full molt in the fall and some perform a body molt in the spring. Interior Lesser Goldfinches perform a full molt twice a year: spring and fall.
Protein is essential for growing strong feathers. Fats are essential for feather coloration.
Every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation. They need extra fats for energy to grow feathers and provide proper coloration to best attract a mate.
Feathers are over 90% protein, primarily keratins. A bird’s feathers contain 25% of the total protein found within its entire body.
It takes extra energy to grow feathers and also the right building blocks to grow them. The main ingredients in growing feathers are amino acids (protein) and lipids (fats). Birds will eat more of their daily diet and/or seek out foods high in protein and fat to satisfy both the extra energy requirements and the needed building blocks.
Lipids are substances such as a fat, oil or wax (usually from tree fruits). Dietary lipids supply energy, essential fatty acids and pigments for birds.
Like pigment dyes are used to color our clothes, colors in feathers come from different pigments found in lipids.
Red, orange, and yellows to violet colors = Carotenoid pigments
Black, brown, gray and related tints = Melanin and porphyrin pigments
Blue and white colors = Not created by pigments but by reflections of light off the structural elements of a feather
Greens = Carotenoid and melanin pigments combined with structural feather elements
In many bird species, carotenoids are required for breeding success; poorly colored birds are less likely to breed. Carotenoids help communicate reproductive fitness to prospective mates by providing a vibrant and bright plumag, a sign of being successful at obtaining both a sufficient quality and quantity of food.
The more color and more brightly colored a male House Finch the greater the likelihood of attracting a mate.
A male Red-winged Blackbird’s dominance depends on his bright red shoulder epaulets being bigger than another male’s. The larger the red epaulet patch, the better he can defend a territory and attract multiple mates.
A diet low in proteins and fats may cause feathers to be improperly colored or form defectively such as being frayed or curved. If their colors are duller birds may have trouble attracting a mate. If the feathers are defective, it could seriously hinder their flying or insulation abilities.
The top recommended foods for birds to meet their protein and fat cravings are:
Yesterday was September 25th and we still had a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeders!
A couple weeks ago, I posted some Parting Shots in anticipation of their departure, and they seemed to be gone on September 13th. Then on September 22nd, we saw one again, and again on the 23rd, and still again on the 25th.
So I still have a couple feeders out, keeping them clean and partially filled with fresh nectar. I'll keep it out for at least a couple more weeks. I don't have to worry that I'm causing birds to stay later than they should - that's an old wives' tale that just won't die.
In fact, I may even keep it up well into October just in case a wandering Rufous Hummingbird makes its way into the area. What a treat THAT would be!
801 attendees at the 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium gathered in the Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside Ohio last Saturday and, under the direction of the bird call lady Nicole Perretta, called out that familiar Barred Owl call, "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"
Three times these 801 voices called out in hopes of establishing a Guinness world record for the most people imitating a bird call in unison.
What fun being part of a possible Guinness World Record, even though in the process, we caused the local Barred Owls to seek out a new territory (only kidding!)
Be part of the fun. The Midwest Birding Symposium will return to Lakeside OH in September of 2013.
One of the unique activities provided by the Midwest Birding Symposium is the opportunity to see a bird banding demonstration at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. This station is one of the busiest and productive banding station on the continent, with over 1/2 million birds banded!
Ken Keffer, Mark Shieldcastle, and volunteer Dan had a bag of birds waiting for us as we arrived. First out of the bag was a Gray Catbird, which was caught in the mist net and soon donned the metal band numbered 189166278. We all had a look in the catbird's mouth, and the dark interior helped identify it as an adult (a young bird's mouth will be lighter in color.) Banders will blow on birds' belly feathers to tell a number of things. On this catbird, it revealed a number of pin feathers, meaning the bird was molting.
Ken holds a Gray Catbird
Bird number 2, 3, and 4 were Swainson's Thrushes and number 5 was another thrush, a Veery.
Veery (left) and Swainson's Thrush (right)
While the birds are being banded, they are also weighed and their wings are measured. The first Swainson's they measured was huge, with a 108mm wing measurement (elbow to wingtip). In comparison, the second Swainson's they measured was only 94mm!
Another thing banders can determine when they blow apart the feathers on the birds' belly is to assess body fat. They look at the fat on the belly as well as on the throat, and grade each bird on a scale from 0-6. Migrating birds need to pack on weight for each segment of their journey. A number of the birds banded today had fat levels 0-2, meaning they had probably just arrived, and would be relying on this key stopover to add crucial weight for the next leg of their trip.
The 3rd Swainson's that came in now wears a special band: one that I got to squeeze shut. While Ken held the bird and its leg, I held the plyers and on Ken's instruction, I closed the band around the leg. Pretty cool!
The next two birds were Magnolia Warblers, one of the most abundant warblers the BSBO bands during the spring. Fall migration, compared to spring migration, is a more drawn out affair, with many juvenile birds making the journey for the first time.
Magnolia Warbler and his new band
The next bird banded was a young male House Finch. As the group narrowed it down to house vs. Purple Finch, Mark put his finger near the beak of the bird. Why? If it had been a Purple Finch, the bird would've bitten him.
Young male House Finch
The 9th bird was a beautiful Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, which would've qualified as a life bird for me if it hadn't been mist netted and in the process of being banded! Mark commented that flycatchers are a tough tough identification, even in hand. I was amazed by just how small this bird was, as the yellow-bellied is one of the smaller flycatchers.
The demonstation ended with a familiar bird, a young female Northern Cardinal. She was a feisty little girl, nipping at Mark's finger (painfully) with the tip of her bill.
Another banding demonstration will take place Saturday morning starting at 8:00am at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. I love this stuff and just might go back for more!
In our backyards, we're starting to see the formation of "mixed winter flocks" of birds like chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinal, jays, and titmice. This flocking helps protect the birds of the mixed flock from predators. Blue Jays often voice the warning call when there is a predator in the area and birds either flee or freeze. When a large group of birds flee all at once in response to an alarm call, this flushing can also serve to confuse the predator.
Multiple birds together can make the search for food more efficient. They'll be able to locate new food sources, but face less competition for those resources because of the different food preferences and foraging techniques of each species.