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.
I can say it now: I've made it through nesting season and all of summer with no fatal bird window strikes (that I know of)!!
During spring migration, when birds unfamiliar with my yard come through during their journey north, I inevitably lose at least one to a fatal window strike. And during nesting season, with all the young, inexperienced flyers around, I can lose multiple birds. These young birds are only weeks old and are faced with a multi-tasking nightmare just to stay alive: learn how to find food while learning how to evade predators while learning to avoid 40 square feet of window glass in the front of the house.
The losses can be heart breaking. I typically lose more than one Hairy Woodpecker each year. Mourning Doves are accident prone, and they leave a big feather dust shadow of themselves to further deepen the guilt. Blue Jays, Purple Finches, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Ruffed Grouse, a Hermit Thrush and more have all fallen to my predator windows. And numerous other birds have hit them and made it through, at least I'd like to think they did.
Stunned Ruby-throated Hummingbird from Summer 2007
I did try to minimize the danger with FeatherGuards. The slight movement of the feathers is pretty effective in helping birds avoid the windows. But the feathers fade and degrade over the season, and replacing them on second story windows each season was often put off.
Just look at these windows! At certain times of day and in certain seasons, they are just perfect reflections of the blue sky. No wonder the birds flew into them!
Then I was inspired by a story by Julie Zickefoose in the March/April 2009 issue of BirdWatcher's Digest when she detailed their solution to bird strikes on her studio windows. I tossed her idea around in my mind and drew out rough plans that I thought would work on my log home. I didn't move forward though, and the fatalities continued to mount.
In the summer of 2010, I hired Kris, the paint guru at Allerdice, our local, family-owned hardware store, to reseal the house and paint the trim. I presented him with the challenge to make Julie's idea work on our house. He made some modifications and installed the first strike screen on the largest window (5' x 5') last fall. It was made of wood boards, top and bottom, painted to match the trimwork, between which was tightly stretched a fine netting, like that you'd use to protect fruit trees. There was about 6" clearance between the netting and the glass. Our plan was to see how it worked and then proceed (with adjustments, if needed) with the other two windows in the spring.
We did see evidence of birds hitting the window (feather dust), but none were fatal that we knew of. We lost a Ruffed Grouse however, but there was no way that netting was going to stop the flight of that large, 1.3 pound bird. There were no tears in the netting, and it seemed to hold up well through a northeast winter.
Based on the positive results though fall migration and winter, we decided to move the whole framework outward so the screening was about 8" away from the glass. And I wanted - no, I needed - to get this done in early spring, before the woodpeckers started fledging.
You can see the netting from the inside, but the windows aren't on the first floor so it isn't bothersome to us. From the outside, my guess is most people don't even notice it.
Either way, I don't care because NOT ONCE this summer have I had to bury one of my feathered friends due to our windows. I cannot tell you how much more piece of mind I've had this summer with no heartbreaking "thunks" against my windows or sad bird bodies on my deck when I got home from work.
Thanks - from me AND my birds - to Julie for the inspiration and to Kris for doing the work. This was the summer that my birdwatching became even MORE enjoyable because my yard is safer for the birds!
Sadly, we really are in just our final few days of seeing the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in our area in eastern upstate New York. I've seen a hummingbird today, September 12, but it's day-by-day at this point.
Since 2008, the adult males have departed within a 5-day window from August 24 to August 28. This year, the last adult male I saw was August 28.
Since 2007, females and immatures have departed within a 6-day window from September 13 to September 18.
I'm approaching that window right now, and with that knowledge, I recognize that each hummingbird I see should be relished and appreciated because it could very well be the last one I see this season. And it's a LONG eight months before I'll see them again.
* East-central New York state. Latitude 43.0943718
With hummingbird migration in full swing, what can you do to further enjoy the remaining days with our hummingbirds? We'd like to suggest you improve the view, offer multiple feeders, and take a closer look!
Improve the View
• Get a closer view of hummingbirds with our Decorative Window Hummingbird Feeder, or bring your existing hummingbird feeders closer to your window with a window suction cup hanger or hummingbird pole. • Get clearer views of visiting hummingbirds with any WBU Hummingbird Feeder. Our clear bowl-style feeders don’t block the view (gravity-fed bottle feeders block views). • Our High Perch™ Hummingbird Feeder features a high perch that allows hummingbirds to comfortably rest. Longer perching times at the feeder provide better, longer views of the birds.
Offer Multiple Feeders to Ban the Bully
• Hummingbirds can be very feisty and aggressive. Multiple feeders, spread throughout your yard and/or around the house, will encourage more hummingbirds to visit and keep bullies at bay. • The more feeders you offer and the more spread out they are, the more difficult it is for a protective hummingbird to defend all the feeders. Others, like females or even juveniles, will be able to eat more often, perhaps staying longer to feed or rest at feeders.
Take a Closer Look
• Watch hummingbirds' tongues as they move in and out of the mouth (up to 12 times per second) to lap up nectar. Our clear bowl feeders allow you a great view! • Catch a glimpse of their tiny feet. Hummingbirds have very small feet that are primarily used for preening and perching. • Look for yellow pollen, from foraging at flowers, on hummingbirds' foreheads. • Watch how they fan their tail at one another, dart at one another or even fly in a pendulum-style arch at one another. All are forms of physical communication.
We only have 3-4 more weeks before the hummingbirds are gone. In the meantime, enjoy the show!
Q: Is it true that hummingbirds that visit my feeder will not migrate if I leave my feeder up in the fall?
A: No. This is another in a long line of bird myths. Birds are genetically programmed to migrate when their internal "clocks" tell them to do so. They will depart when the time is right whether your feeders are up or not. Leaving your feeders up in fall and getting them up early in spring may help early or late migrants that are passing through your area.
Reprinted from the Summer 2005 edition of WBU BIRDTracks®
While vacationing in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina this spring, I got to add a couple great birds to my unofficial life list. I've already shared a post about seeing the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The other very important species I saw there was the Red Knot. And one very important Red Knot individual.
Birding and conservation groups have been calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take immediate steps to list the Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act. The American Bird Conservancy estimates the total population of the Red Knot at a mere 25,000 birds, down from over 100,000 birds. At this rate of decline, the Rufa subspecies of the Red Knot could be extinct by 2020.
While reviewing the images I made of the knots, I noticed that one individual bird had a blue flag and multiple bands on its legs. What was exciting about that discovery is that these larger, color-coded flags carry letters that make them more visible, readable, and reportable than smaller bird bands. Now any birdwatcher who can read the flag can report their sighting of a Red Knot (or other shorebird). This will help provide more information about these imperiled birds than if the only bands being read were on mist-netted birds or those found around the leg of a deceased bird.
The Red Knot I saw had a Dark Blue flag with the letters CB. The dark blue flag means the bird was originally banded in Brazil. Jeannine P., database administrator at www.bandedbirds.org advised me that they don't have the original banding data for the blue flags (yet). She added, "there are not a lot of red knots banded in Brazil compared to North America, so all resightings are especially desired."
I reported my sighting on the Report Shorebirds with Color Bands and Lettered Flags page, then searched for other resightings of "my" bird. I found out that this individual Red Knot was resighted first in New Jersey in May 2008 and resighted a number of times in May 2009 in New Jersey and Delaware. There were no resightings in 2010. My resighting on May 16, 2011 was the first report on this bird in North Carolina. Here's my resighting image posted on the bandedbirds site.
Even though we don't know when this bird was originally banded in Brazil, I can deduce that when I saw it in May 2011, it was on (at least) its 8th trip between its breeding grounds in the Arctic and its winter home in southern South America. At roughly 9,000 miles each way, this bird had already flown at least 65,000 miles in its lifetime!
Red Knot populations have plummeted in recent years, in part due to the decline of the Horseshoe Crab. Horseshoe Crab eggs are a critical food source for the knot during spring migration. Red Knots use the Delaware Bay as a key refueling spot, where they fatten up on crab eggs so they can continue on to breed in the Arctic. But Horseshoe Crab populations in Delaware Bay are in significant decline, at least partially due to the harvesting of the crabs for use as bait. Without the crabs, you have no crab eggs. Without the crab eggs, you have no Red Knots. These two species are inextricably linked, and both are vanishing before our eyes. Unknown problems for the Red Knot may exist in their wintering sites as well.
I will continue to check in periodically at the BandedBird site to see if there are additional resightings of "my" Red Knot. And if you see Red Knots, look for flags on their legs and report any that you're able to make out. All reports may help save the species!
“The Rufa Red Knot, which once darkened the skies during their migration, now stands on the very knife-edge of extinction...it is clear that if the federal government doesn’t act soon, the next generation of Americans will never see this amazing long-distance migrant. People who want to see this bird in the wild best make plans in the near future because the way things are going, it will be gone sooner rather than later.” ~ Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy
I'd like to acknowledge and thank John of the DC Birding Blog who has been relentless in his reporting of the plight of the Red Knot. His posts helped alert me to the decline of the Red Knot and keep me informed of important news about the species.
You can view the Nature program about the Red Knot and Horseshoe Crab entitled "Crash: A Tale of Two Species" in its entirety on the PBS website.
My final interview before this month's 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium is with Nicole Perretta, whose Symposium topic will be Bird Calling Workshop with the Bird Call Lady!
How do you decide what bird calls to learn? Do you hear the call and think it's cool, or do you see a bird name like the "bare-faced go-away bird" and decide to learn its call?
First, I learn calls from birds I am familiar with like backyard birds. Then I extend that to my local birds, or a species I've worked with in captivity. Also, when I travel, I will occasionally pick up a new bird call. I've even learned a few by watching nature shows on TV. Most importantly, I need to be able to hear the call frequently, and watch the birds when making the call, so I learn their meaning. Some are alarm calls, contact calls, feeding calls, and so on.
What is one of the hardest call to do and why?
The hardest are the ones that are painful to do. The domestic goose is a very abrasive call and it really hurts after I do it.
What special skills or attributes do you possess to help you imitate bird calls so well?
Well I have a good ear for music. I also retained the vocal abilities that most children have, which is the ability to bring my voice to a high pitched squeak
Tell us about your funniest experience using a bird call in the wild.
Wow, I have had so many fun times with calling wild birds. I'd say the funniest is when I was calling California Quail for a bird count and two male quail flew out of the brush right at my face. The funniest part was the look on the bird's faces when they almost ran into me.
I notice your segment is described as a "workshop". So, will there be lots of audience participation going on?
Yes, the audience will be learning how to do some bird calls. They will learn different sounds and incorporate them into some real birds calls. Audience participation is not required, but it makes it more fun.
Can you help us attract another rare bird close by the Symposium, like the Kirtland's Warbler we saw last time?
I don't know, I think warbler is beyond my vocal capabilities. Some sounds are better left to a syrinx or ipod. However, I am sure I can call something in!!
Thanks Nicole, sounds like fun. I'll be there with my voice ready!
BIOGRAPHY Nicole Perretta has been birding and bird calling for 30 years. She can imitate 158 bird calls and has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Nicole teaches bird calling workshops throughout the western United States, has worked professionally as an aviculturist, and is a bird illustrator. Her work has been published in a variety of books and ornithological journals.
Get ready to do bird calls with Nicole Perretta at the Midwest Birding Symposium, September 15-18, 2011 at Lakeside OH! Click here to register.
Here's links to my earlier interviews with wildlife photographer Marie Read and with Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics.
Our Irene-related rain started on Saturday evening around 9pm as I was bringing in all our plants and lawn furniture in advance of the coming storm. At that time, the forecast promised that this was just the start of perhaps 24 hours straight of rain.
I left the birdfeeders out since the stronger winds were not forecasted to arrive until Sunday. I wanted to leave them out as long as possible to make an easy food source available to the birds before (and as long into) the storm as possible. We were expecting sustained winds of 30-40mph and wind gusts to 50-60mph. We had advised our Wild Birds Unlimited customers to take down larger feeders and hanging feeders, using good judgment to reduce the risk of injury, damage, or loss.
When I awoke Sunday at 7:30a, our power was already out. The rain was steady but not torrential, and the winds were steady with frequent strong bursts. A few birds were out and feeding; Black-capped Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were the first birds I saw. Here's a short video of one of my morning chickadees hanging on during the storm.
The winds weren't awful so instead of taking the feeders down, I filled several of them, especially those providing high energy sources like Bark Butter and lots of Choice Blend with peanuts and black oil in the hopper feeders. I also spread some seed underneath the dense shrubs and low-hanging conifer tree branches for birds that might be seeking shelter there. I even put out an extra feeder filled with a seed stackable and suet dough stackable right next to the shelter of a tree trunk.
Occasionally, a Blue Jay would come out to the feeders too. But in the rain and wind, they weren't feeding in typical jay fashion, i.e., sitting on a feeder and filling their crop with food. They were feeding more like chickadees - taking a peanut and quickly flying off for the shelter of a tree.
By 10:00am, the leaf debris on the deck attested to the fact that the winds were getting stronger. The gusts were too, especially gusts out of the northwest. The winds were shifting a lot though, and the steadiest winds were coming out of the east-northeast as predicted.
Without the benefit of electricity, TV, or Internet, I didn't know how the storm was progressing but it certainly seemed to be picking up in intensity. I kept a close eye on the feeders to make sure they were still doing fine in the wind.
Around 11:00am, a group of Hairy Woodpeckers started feeding more frequently. There were 4 of them visiting mostly the Bark Butter and the Nutty for Nuts cylinder, where the dome of the Dinner Bell feeder provided some protection while they fed.
Hummingbird activity would ebb and flow. I left four hummingbird feeders out - 2 hanging and 2 suction-cupped to windows. I saw 4 hummingbirds at any one time, which means there were many more around throughout the day.
We anticipated going in to Saratoga to open the store, and to have some electricity to work with, recharge my phone, check the weather forecast, and get some hot coffee and warm food. But within the first couple miles after leaving home, Lois went around 2 downed trees and numerous downed branches, drove under on wire with a tree on it, saw 2 cars off the road, and drove across one small stream flowing over the road. So much for getting into Saratoga!
American Goldfinches weathered the storm too, looking pretty soaked. Their little ones are no more than 2 weeks out of the nest here, so I hoped the young were doing okay. Maybe mom & dad, who only a day or two ago were refusing to feed them, would indulge them with a little regurgitated food.
As the day wore on, the winds did not seem to increase significantly, but the rain was steady. I spied a couple birds who had found their own favorite perch to try to stay dry. A female hairy found a spot under a branch on the side of a hemlock that was to her liking and spent a good deal of time there during the afternoon hours. And this chickadee tried to stay as dry as possible on a pole beneath a feeder.
By 3:00pm, the wind and rain were slowing down, though the tops of the pines were still in constant movement. This was just the break a few doves needed to venture out to the yard. The skies seemed to lighten around 4:00pm, and I hoped the slight calming would give the birds at least a couple hours to get out and eat up before settling in for the night.
They'd need the extra energy; I was sure their energy intake was less than on a normal day. Every bird out there was wet and it was still raining, albeit more lightly. It was only 63 degrees out, and I was sure temperatures would dip into the 50s overnight. I was glad to provide an easy-to-find source of food in the waning daylight hours of this wild day.
The birds did seem to get a little more active at the feeders, even though the winds picked up again around 5:00pm. The gusts looked to be as strong as they had been in the early afternoon. I thought this thing was winding down! Although a light rain persisted, some of the birds looked they were getting the opportunity to dry off.
It was an interesting day to say the least. Birds remained active throughout the worst of the wind and the rain, and I was amazed at how these creatures, many weighing less than 1 ounce, took on a hurricane named Irene.
STORM BIRDS Black-capped Chickadee Hairy Woodpecker Ruby-throated Hummingbird Blue Jay Purple Finch Dark-eyed Junco Mourning Dove Downy Woodpecker Ovenbird Eastern Pewee