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.
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.
On New Year's Day 2009, the first-ever Red-bellied Woodpecker visited my yard in upstate New York. It was a female, who enjoyed a snack at my birdfeeders and was never seen again.
Fast forward eighteen months, June 24, 2010, another female checking out the feeders, then moving on. Then another nineteen months pass, one shows up on February 2, 2012, stays a few days, then gone!
The next red-bellied showed up September 30, 2013, seventeen months later. This individual didn't venture into the yard, and was seen only that day, high in a nearby tree.
Then, a breakthrough! The fifth appearance of a Red-bellied Woodpecker on January 31, 2014, just four months later! And here it is, the beginning of April, and he's still around!
The suet logs are his favorite feeders and his favorite tree is the silver maple over-looking the yard. He's been here just about every day, he has been counted in just about every Project FeederWatch count since he arrived, as well as showing up to be included in my counts for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Phonescoped image using iPhone & Vortex HD Razor Scope
But the big question is: will he stay?
Since the 1950s and 1960s, Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been steadily expanding their range northward. The New York Breeding Bird Atlas offers that, "before that, the species was not even common in northern Pennsylvania or northern New Jersey." It is also noted that the current distribution is in areas under 2,000 feet elevation and that it is possible that winter temperatures mark the limits of their expansion.
Recovery of forested areas and the abundance of bird feeding has probably helped fuel this exciting expansion of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We hear more and more of our customers telling us they have red-bellieds as daily visitors at their birdfeeders. Some have seen young in their yards as well. They're being seen in suburban yards as well as in rural yards that are closer to the river valleys and at lower elevations.
We have the right habitat of mixed deciduous-coniferous woods (maybe a bit heavier on the coniferous side) that (in my biased thinking) would make a fine home for a red-bellied family. And while my male's extended stay in the area is promising, I wonder if will he stay if he doesn't find a mate. Is he on the "leading edge" of the birds' expansion northward and westward? And are there other red-bellieds - a potential mate - not far behind? Will my male stay around waiting for a mate to move into the area, and if so, for how long? Or will he retreat to an area that has an established population?
I hear his churrrr call from the trees, announcing his presence to whatever might listen. It will be interesting to see what happens this summer. Of course I hope he stays, and that he lures a mate into the area. The species' adaptability has brought them this far, so it's not too much of a stretch to anticipate their movement into my habitat as well. I'll keep watching and listening and bribing him with suet in the log feeder, savoring every day this red-bellied pioneer visits my yard.
In an attempt to soften the look of parking lots, commercial developers often plant grass around the perimeter of the lot and drop skinny little grass islands along the traffic lanes. In these little slivers of grass, they will often plant small, low maintenance shrubs like junipers and yews. To provide height, ornamental crab apples are often planted in these little slivers of green.
Crabapple trees provide color and interest in all four seasons and they can have a nice compact growth. They are relatively undamaged by insects and require little pruning. For these reasons, ornamental crabapple trees have been found to be ideal for these commercial applications.
But while developers like the crabapples' compact growth and low maintenance, the birds like the fruits the trees bear. Crabapple fruit is always small, two inches in diameter or less. The fruits are borne in late summer and often remain on the trees well into winter. After the fruits have frozen and thawed, perhaps multiple times, they become especially attractive to fruit-loving birds like American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Mixed flocks of these birds can descend on crabapples in great numbers and strip the remaining fruit within hours. Freezing and thawing breaks down the sugars in the fruits, which seems to make them more attractive.
The robins and waxwings coexist nicely as they forage together on these compact trees. I thought I even saw a robin looking out for a waxwing - once, as I approached a waxwing, a robin flew up close to the waxwing as if to alert it to my approach!
If the birds get spooked from one tree, they just move on to the next. As the fruit on a tree gets cleared off, they move to the next tree. And when all the trees around one parking lot have been stripped, they'll move on to the fruit trees in the next lot, then the next, and so on.
This makes it so easy to see Cedar Waxwings tossing down fruits and berries. If you don't have fruit-bearing trees in your yard, a parking lot, surprisingly, may be your best chance to get a close view of these handsome birds.
So next time you go to the mall, or the grocery store, the doctor's office or even that fast food restaurant, check out the trees around the lot and you just might get the best deal in town there - a tree full of foraging waxwings and robins!
Q. Is it true that Cedar Waxwings can actually get drunk eating fermented berries?
A. Yes they can! Cedar Waxwings can survive almost entirely eating fruit and berries. But if they eat berries that have overripened they can indeed become drunk, or even die. Overripe berries can ferment and produce alcohol, which brings on this result.
Greetings from nature! We know we haven't stopped by your birdfeeders much lately, but we wanted to let you know we're still out there, doing just fine, and thinking of you! The weather has been gorgeous and we're enjoying it as much as you are.
The summer has given us a bounty of natural foods for the taking. There are tons of insects like caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers, ants, and beetles out there, and we hate to pass them up while they're available to us. We're also finding lots of tree seeds and nuts, as well as fruits and berries.
So we haven't been in your yard much because we're filling up on the goodies in the wild. We did stop at your birdfeeding station last night at dusk, but we didn't see you around. Sorry we missed you.
While we're not around as much, it's okay with us if you just fill your feeders halfway. We'll use them for one last nibble before we settle down for the night or when we pass through the neighborhood. Oh, and thanks for keeping the birdbath clean and filled. Will you have that open all winter?
We know that all these natural food sources will eventually deplete. ☹ We continue to check in on your yard so that when that time comes, we know where to find a reliable quality food source and some decent habitat to shelter us when the weather turns nasty.
Thanks again for all you do for us, even when we're not around that much. We'll remember that, and will be back in your yard before you know it! You're the best!
Love, Your Favorite Birds
ps: Thanks for keeping those kitties indoors too. They're cute, but they don't seem to like us to much.
Hummingbirds aren't born knowing to seek out red flowers. Each hummingbird must learn the association between each flower and quality food.
Hummingbirds also have excellent memories, remembering the location of those great nectar sources, and they'll return to those flowers throughout the entire day as the nectar replenishes.
I think we can learn something from this!
Hummingbirds learn by trial-and-error which flowers are the source of the best quality food. They discover that plants like Bee Balm (Monarda), Coralbells (Heuchera hybrids), Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea) and Cardinal Flower (Lobeia carinalis) and other nectar-bearing plants are excellent sources of quality food.
Likewise, if hummingbirds find that your birdfeeders are a reliable source of high quality food, they will visit your feeders more often. It's as easy as that!
By high quality food in your hummingbird feeders, I mean
- FRESH - the newer the nectar, the better. Never cloudy, never containing mold. Even in my northern clime, I've been trying to change my nectar every 2-3 days. - CLEAR - with no artificial dyes. Just a plain sugar and water mix that most closely mimics flower nectar. Read 5 good reasons to NOT use red nectar. - CLEAN FEEDERS - no mold inside or in the hard-to-reach ports. If your hummingbird feeder is hard to clean, get one that is easier to clean and guess what? You'll clean it more! Good for the birds, and good for you when you get to see MORE birds!
This spring, our friend and WBU customer Carol C. gave us a gift from her heart: she dug up and shared some Cardinal flower from her garden.
Cardinal flower, or Lobelia cardinalis is a perennial with beautiful red flowers. Their tubular shape makes them attractive to hummingbirds and as hummingbirds partake of the nectar, they serve as a pollinator for the plant.
Cardinal flower can tolerate sun as well as part- to full shade, but with our sandy soil, I thought it was best to plant it in mostly shade. It prefers moist soil (I have none!), so I added a good deal of organic material to the hole I dug, and I am watching it closely to make sure the plant doesn't dry out. It looks beautiful underneath the plum tree just off the corner of my front deck.
It did bloom this year, but between the shock of transplanting and the relatively dry summer, I'm assuming nectar production was minimal. I did see hummingbirds visit it occasionally, giving me an opportunity to share a picture or two with you.
Thank you so much to Carol for sharing this gorgeous plant with us. We will always think of her when hummingbirds visit it!
And if you are lucky enough to have Cardinal flower in your yard, why don't you think about sharing some with a friend? That's the fun thing about perennials: you can share them and still never seem to run out!