Friday, August 29, 2008

Build Your Bird a Roost

—The best way for most people to start a study of birds is to establish a bird feeder, roosting box or nesting box. The best time to feed birds or offer a roosting box is in the winter, when there are fewer species present and when many birds can be attracted to the bird feeder for observation or the roosting box for shelter.

Watching the feeding birds can help people recognize the different species. During the winter months the lack of variety should help in figuring who's who. By spring you should have your winter birds figured out, so that you can concentrate on who the spring migrants are, using the process of elimination.

Several species have changed their winter range, thanks to bird feeding. Among these are Evening Grosbeaks, which come in flocks for sunflower seeds. Cardinals have started nesting far north of their historical range, probably because of the winter food provided at feeders. Some birds that usually eat dormant insects and their eggs in the winter can be attracted to feeders by fat-rich foods such as suet, and, for some species, sunflower seeds. Nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees are all fat-loving species.

Most people know that putting out a nest box will attract nesting birds in summer. But did you know that small birds often use these same boxes for shelter at night, particularly in winter? Sometimes more than a dozen birds will pile into a single box to conserve heat. But nest boxes are far from ideal for overnight roosting. They are usually too small for a group. Plus most birds need to perch or cling while roosting, but nest boxes have no perching surfaces inside.You can help your backyard birds keep warm overnight with a specially designed roost box.

Any backyard favorites that typically nest in boxes—bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and small woodpeckers—may seek refuge in it.Roosting boxes differ from nest boxes in several important ways. A good roost box is designed to prevent the birds' body heat from escaping, so, unlike a nest box, it lacks ventilation holes. Also, its entrance hole is near the bottom of the box so the rising warmth doesn't escape. Inside a roost box there are several perches made from small wooden dowels, staggered at different levels. In addition, the inside front and rear walls are roughened, scored, or covered with hardware cloth so that woodpeckers can cling to them. A hinged top allows easy access so you can clean the box.An entrance hole about 2 inches in diameter will admit most small birds.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Feeding Hummingbirds

Feeding hummingbirds is as easy as making orange juice in the morning. If you mix your own nectar, use four parts water to one part sugar—refrigerate what you don’t use. Do not substitute honey for sugar. Honey can cause a fungus that has been known to affect the tiny bird’s tongue. You do not want to kill your birds with kindness. Do not use additives with your homemade nectar. Adding color and sweeteners will not help attract more birds and, in some cases, can be harmful.
Do not put a lot of nectar out until you notice they’re using it all. Sugar solutions are very susceptible to mold, harmful bacteria, and fermentation. Like suet, be careful to put out small amounts in shaded areas during hot weather.
Clean your hummingbird feeders regularly before each refill, using hot soapy water and a household bleach solution (one capful per gallon) or white vinegar, but rinse extremely well. If your feeder has hard-to-reach, grime-gathering grungy spots, add to the solution a dozen BBs or a handful of sand and shake, rattle, and roll. Another method used to clean feeder parts is soaking them in warm water and tossing in some denture cleaner. I guarantee it will put a smile on your hummingbird’s face.
If you clean your feeder with vinegar, feel free to swig a swill yourself. It can help your arthritis, aid digestion, lower cholesterol, grow hair on your bald spots, and soothe sprained muscles from squirrel chasing.
If you are looking for a jump-start on feeding hummers, because they haven’t shown up at your nectar feeder yet, try placing a flower box nearby. You don’t have to go out and buy a miniature Busch Gardens; a simple flower box will get the job done. Annuals are a good choice. They are often prolific and bloom longer. You don’t have to buy all red flowers; hummers like variety. Try putting some perching areas on your flower boxes. Studies show that hummers perch 60 percent of the time; they are just not noticed often in that position.
Hummingbirds weigh so little you could actually mail ten of them using a regular postage stamp. You will be surprised at how much these little egg beaters can consume. It takes a lot of energy to beat those wings as fast as they do. Their wings will go up and down 78 to 200 times per second, depending on what gear they are in. When they are in love they are in high gear.
If you watch closely, you will notice hummers do not suck the nectar from your feeder; they actually lick it out. When a hummer is thirsty, he can often get in 12 licks per second.
Now think about this: Hummers can beat their wings an average of 140 times per second, lick 12 times per second, breathe 4 times per second, and never look at the flowers they are eating from. At the same time they watch the one they plan to visit next and make sure no one else tries to beat them to it. These have to be very coordinated birds. They can fly forward, backward, up side down, and sideways. They can hover while picking and choosing which no-see-um to eat next, and then do aerial maneuvers that make the Blue Angels look like bush pilots. If you’re not feeding hummers, you’re missing the greatest show on Earth!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodchucks and Woodpeckers

Your woodpeckers love a little suet, seed and siding to round out their day. Often when you offer them the suet and seed they end up irritating you by bill drilling the siding. There are reasons for this behavior and it has nothing to do with malice. Birds do not go out of their way to irritate homeowners.
There are several reasons woodpeckers peck on wood, the same goes for woodchucks I guess. With woodpeckers, it’s food, shelter and a need for a little lovin’—I mean more than they are getting from you already.
Spring "drumming" is a courtship ritual that most woodpeckers use to drum up business, it’s a territory claim and a way to impress females of their real estate holdings. Your house might just be a big part of a woodpeckers portfolio. If he really likes your house he might do more than drum, he might move in, which means excavation—large opening, throwing insulation out.
The most often asked woodpecker question I get when doing speaking engagements is, "why are woodpeckers making the siding of my house look like Bonnie and Clyde’s car after they were cornered by the cops?"
Actually, your woodpeckers are telling you something—your house is bugged. They are feeding on bugs that are living in your siding. To get to them, they pound, chisel and carve their way to their cravings.
First, do a little detective work. If you discover holes, were they created by woodpeckers? A carpenter bee makes a lot of big holes in siding that look like woodpecker holes. Either way, fill the holes with a little linseed oil and repair with wood putty. This will repair the siding and often destroy the insects, therefore making your siding unattractive to woodpeckers. Getting rid of the insects is key.
Scare tactics like mylar balloons and reflective tape might scare a few birds off, but the majority of woodpeckers like bugs more than they dislike mylar. I have targeted a directional water sprinkler at a woodpecker siding site and it harassed them enough that they stopped visiting that side of my house—Once again proving that non-violence can bring a peaceful ending to conflict in a conflicted world.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bird Sex ID

We have all struggled to ID the sex of various birds. Sometimes it is easy as either the male or female is brightly colored, smaller, or has some other very distinguishing characteristic. But when the phenotype of both male and female are identical, the process of determining sex gets much more difficult.
I have found that a bird’s sex can sometimes be distinguished by their behavior. With a little practice, almost any biologist can become proficient in this manner. Look at the picture below and see if you can identify the male and female bird in the picture.