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.
Ever since I read Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast back in September, I've been looking forward to the arrival of Common Redpolls. In prior irruption years, they'd arrive in mid-December to early-January. But this year, only a single Pine Siskin was showing up, and somewhat irregularly at that.
But with the arrival of our last few snowfalls and single-digit temps, the redpolls have finally arrived!
Like in prior years, the size of the flocks have been increasing, from around 12-15 early on, to 30-ish a couple days ago, to a high count of 53 during today's daylong snowstorm. American Goldfinches are still abundant as well, flocking right in with their finch cousins.
I'm hoping they're around at least through March. I promise to keep the niger feeders filled for them!
As backyard bird enthusiasts, we are not often faced with the idea that one of our favorite birds is in trouble from a conservation standpoint. Chickadees and jays, goldfinches and cardinals...they all seem to be so plentiful. Nothing could take them away from us, right?
Experts are constantly studying bird populations and each year, they publish The State of the Birds report. Here is a page from the 2014 report identifying some of the most common birds - birds that are not on any watch list (yet?) - but that have been experiencing rapid population declines.
"These birds have lost more than half their global population, and the 33 species combined have lost hundreds of millions of breeding individuals in just the past 40 years."
(click on image to enlarge for easier reading)
Take a moment to look through this list of birds. Take them in, one by one, asking yourself these 3 questions. I'd love it if you shared your answers in the comments:
Which birds have I personally seen? Long-tailed Duck Northern Bobwhite Purple Gallinule Herring Gull Black Tern Yellow-billed Cuckoo Snowy Owl Short-eared Owl Common Nighthawk Chimney Swift Loggerhead Shrike Horned Lark Bank Swallow Blackpoll Warbler Field Sparrow Eastern Meadowlark Common Grackle Pine Siskin
Have any of them visited my yard? Blackpoll Warbler Field Sparrow Common Grackle Pine Siskin
Are there any that really surprise me because it seems like they're so abundant or seemingly common that they just CAN'T be in trouble? Herring Gull Chimney Swift Blackpoll Warbler Common Grackle Pine Siskin
We just spent a couple months at our Wild Birds Unlimited shopcommemorating the loss of a massively abundant bird, the Passenger Pigeon. The loss of that bird, which used to number in the billions, is a lesson that no population of birdlife is too big to lose.
This report clearly shows that bird declines are not only occuring in rare birds or birds whose habitat or food needs are very specific. Declines are occuring in our own backyard.
All of us can play the role of bird conservationist, whether it is making decisions about our own habitats or contacting officials that manage lands and development, or keeping cats indoors and our windows bird-safe, or contributing financially to support the work of conservation and bird research organizations like the American Bird Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to name a few.
Let's all do our part to keep these birds, and all birds, from disappearing. Every bird we lose makes our world a sadder, duller, and quieter place to live.
A: No, It is illegal to keep the feathers of most of our native birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was put in place to protect birds, and it "makes it illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs" of native birds unless you have a permit to do so. That includes feathers found on the ground, nests even after used, and eggs that never hatched. They are interesting and informative to look at, but all should be left as you found them.
Just a quick final report on my last Black-capped Chickadee nestbox. I watched the box on and off on the morning of their expected fledge date of June 24th, their 18th day in the nest. I didn't see any signs of nestlings thinking about leaving, like peeking out the nest hole, or parents coaxing them. I had to leave for work around 1:00pm, still hosting a box full of chickadees.
I didn't get home until after dark, so I had to wait until morning to check if they had fledged. When I peeked through the top, I saw the nest was still full of little chickadees. But within a few hours, it started to look like today was the day!
Mom and dad weren't entering the box as often, and then the first little chickadee stepped up to look out at the big world outside the box. He quickly turned and went back in to the safety of his nest.
I kept an eye and ear on the nest, listening and watching for the sound of adults beckoning the chickadees to fledge. When I heard the adult call, it was followed by a chorus of scratchy little calls emanating from inside the box. Within a couple hours, the fledging had begun.
I got to see two leave the box. Others were easy to find in nearby trees, calling that scratchy, high-pitched little "che-bee" call. I also knew it was one of the six when I saw a chickadee taking short little flights ending with clumsy landings.
One flew across our small yard to the front of the greenhouse and held on for dear life to a rubber gasket. He eventually had the sense to take the short flight to the roof, but the slight pitch there made his initial landing tough. Everything has to be learned for these little guys!
The young ones are just too cute for words! The feathers on the top of their heads stand up on end. They have a stubby little tail. And in varying degrees, they all have clown lips, where the corners of their beaks are still yellow and soft.
But in no time, their fluffiness will be gone. They'll grow out their tail feathers and lose those clown lips too. In just a matter of weeks, they'll be unidentifiable amongst the flock of identical-looking chickadees raiding our birdfeeders.
Q. I'm not seeing many hummingbirds? Are there fewer hummingbirds around this year?
A. We will always see fluctuations in the number of hummingbirds coming to feeders in some portion of North America every year. But based on past experiences and the lack of any reports of "catastrophic" events that would have effected hummingbird populations, we believe the lack of activity you might be experiencing at your feeders is most often tied to weather and it's impact on the abundance and quality of the plants that provide natural nectar sources.
In areas experiencing prolonged, multiple year drought, we have seen much reduced activity at feeders as hummingbirds continue their migration to avoid areas that are almost completely devoid of nectar plants. They will not take a chance on nesting in areas with such extreme conditions. In contrast, once established on their breeding ground during a normal weather year, a short term summer drought seems to drive hummingbirds to feeders as their sources of plant nectar begin to dry up.
Due to favorable weather conditions this year, the Eastern portion of the US has been experiencing one of its best growing seasons in years. The widespread abundance of nectar plants is providing a tremendous natural food supply for hummingbirds which reduces their activity at our feeders. It also allows them the advantage of being able to spread out their breeding territories into areas that may not have been able to support them in less favorable years. So there may be fewer hummingbirds at any given location than in previous years, but the overall population is stable...just distributed over a wider area.
During the height of the nesting season, female hummingbirds are hard a work at the nest - incubating, brooding, feeding 1-2 nestlings. Throughout that process, we typically see a little less of the adult females. But that changes once the young fledge, when females and young make frequent visits to quality nectar sources. Make sure your feeders are clean and the nectar is fresh so that your feeders are amongst the nectar sources they choose to visit!
The majority of this material was provided by WBU Chief Naturalist, John Schaust.
Each day this week I'll be posting a picture of the birds that were born this year in or around my yard. I hope you enjoy!
Here's two Common Grackles with a youngster, the brownish one on the right. Grackles seem to be around in bigger numbers this year. They're voracious eaters and since they can travel in large groups, they will empty your feeders in no time!
In my third report I have good news and bad news. I'll get the bad news out of the way: I lost the brood of five chickadees nesting in my back box, presumably due to the loss of the female adult. I wrote about that loss in my post The Loss of a Brood.
Now on to the happy news! On June 14, the box that had six eggs that hatched on May 26 fledged all six chickadees! Here they are at age day nine.
And here they are just ten days later at 8:30am on the morning they left the nest. I knew they were close to fledging, so I slipped my phone into the box to take this precious picture without opening the box. They fledged 1-1/2 hour later and I was able to see 3 of them leave the nest. They were in the nest 19 days, a day longer than average, but the expected fledge day was the second of two miserably rainy days. It was good to see them wait until a beautiful sunny day to leave the nestbox.
My remaining box is moving along nicely with six more chickadees that hatched on June 6. Here they are on day 4.
And here they are just eight days later.
This was my last look through the top of the box when the nestlings were 16 days old. They're probably within 2 days of leaving the nest here!
Mom and dad chickadee have been feeding them a high protein diet of caterpillars from nature and live mealworms that we provide. When we put the mealworms out in the window feeders, we whistle a couple feebee calls and usually within minutes, the adults start taking advantage of our easy food source.
I estimate the nestlings will leave the nest on Tuesday June 24. Here's hoping I get to witness at least part of their entry into this world!!
During a NestWatch check last week, I sadly discovered that I had lost a brood of Black-capped Chickadees. The nest was intact and undisturbed, and it contained one unhatched egg and four dead naked and blind hatchlings. I'm assuming it was due to the loss of the mother bird.
The last I definitely saw the female bird was June 4 when she was incubating the eggs and departed during a nest check. She stayed in the area, letting me know her displeasure. The five eggs most likely started hatching around June 6th.
As I think back, I did see some unusual behavior at the nest about 3-4 days before I found the failed nest. A chickadee, which could have been the male, came to the window feeder to gather some mealworms. He brought them to the opening of the nestbox, looked in, then flew to a nearby perch. He returned to the nest hole with the mealworm, looked in, and again flew off to a perch. He did this five times (I thought the behavior was odd and actually counted it out loud every time he visited but did not enter).
I wonder if the female had already perished at that point and the male continued to gather food and look for her in the nest. At that time the four hatchlings could still have been alive, but needed their mother to brood their naked little bodies. They probably died of exposure since they had no way to maintain their body heat without a mother to provide warmth.
The six naked and blind chickadees in another nestbox and six feathered and nearly ready to go chickadees in a third box couldn't lift my spirits after finding the dead nestlings. I couldn't stop thinking about the mama either, and her surviving mate. Any number of things could've happened to the female. But it proves how hard it is out there for a chickadee, especially one putting her all into raising a brood of tiny helpless babies.
I'm stuck. Stuck at 94 yard birds. Since I moved into my house in 1991, I've had at least one new yard bird just about every year, but I got shut out in 2013. So I'm on the lookout for my newest yard bird. And the century mark is within reach!
I've spent some time thinking, and maybe hoping, what that new yard bird might be. Near the end of last year with fall migration wrapping up, I thought my best bet might be an overhead hawk or waterfowl. That didn't happen, and as I headed into winter, the chances for a new species for 2013 looked slim.
All the most common winter finches are already on my list: Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks. I can't say that I've definitely had a Hoary Redpoll in my yard, but there have been suspects that I just couldn't definitively label as such. And while I considered other cone seed loving birds like the crossbills as potential visitors, I thought it unlikely that they'd make their first appearance this past winter. Abundant food supplies across the boreal would keep most winter finches away all winter.
So as spring migration revs up, so do my hopes for a new yard bird. The possibility of a new migrant passing through open up significantly. In my yard, spring migration doesn't bring as many warblers as fall migration does, but I know that this is where the greatest potential for a new yard bird exists.
I've had some great warblers pass through my yard, 17 species in all.
Black & White Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Parula Warbler
Most of these warblers made their first appearance in my yard in late summer/early fall. Fall warblers are a real challenge to identify, but in spring, any migrants that were to visit my yard would be in their easier-to-identify breeding plumage. And they might just be singing as well, so the conditions would as ideal as ever. The sight of a beautiful, singing male Black-throated Green Warbler on May 6th fuels my hopes for a new spring warbler. Now I just need to bone up on my warbler ID - and get out in the woods more - to be prepared when the warblers pass through our area. I hope my new Warbler Guide comes in handy.
Female Black-throated Blue Warbler at suet log feeder
Other possibilities include overhead birds, which I include in my Yard List because, well, because it's my list and I make the rules! I do get some overhead hawks and have had Broad-winged Hawks pass through at lower altitude.
So I'll keep my eyes in the trees and overhead. I'll check every foraging sparrow, just to make sure it isn't new to my yard. I'll listen closely for that song that sounds different from all the regulars, and for those hours I'm inside working, I'll keep my outdoor speaker turned on.
Hopefully my diligence and attention will bring #95 to my yard this spring as I make my way to the century mark of birds that have graced my land or the skies above it, and have let me call them "mine".