Friday, September 26, 2008

Why Feed Birds

I am often asked why so many people find it important to feed their wild birds. Is there not enough natural food to go around? The answer to the natural food question is usually yes. In most areas wild birds can eke out an existence on what Mother Nature provides. So could you for that matter, but I usually see most of you in the cookie aisle at the grocery store.

The food we provide for our backyard buddies is usually high quality, easily accessible, and a welcomed energy source for wildlife that is often already stressed in many ways by loss of habitat and continual change to their environment, which they have no control over.

The majority of us feed our wild birds because we want them close. They are a source of enjoyment that continually entertains and amazes us. Those who contend that birds can find all they need in the wild, fail to mention it might be a little hard to find the wild anymore. What happens if you’re a bird and your wild turns into a planned unit development? The first thing I’d do is head straight for a yard full of bird feeders and settle down.

Many of the birds you enjoy all summer spend the winter in the Amazon rain forests trying to survive in an ever-decreasing habitat in that part of the world. We feed birds for many reasons, but one has to be an inner need to come close to nature, to experience its complex simplicity, and to take an appreciation from it. What we put out for them not only fills out their diet but also feeds our soul with a much-needed reminder that we too are a part of this circle called life.

It is estimated that 80 to 100 million people are feeding wild birds in North America. It is the fastest growing pastime of the decade. It is almost un-American not to have a bird feeder in your backyard. If you do not want to feed your birds everyday, only feed on days the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west. You might also want to see a psychiatrist because you are surely not normal. If you are one of those hard-nosed holdouts who say they should only eat natural food, then get out there and plant them some!

• Since the forelimbs of birds are adapted for flying, it is necessary for them to have well developed bills and feet for grasping and holding food, and also as their chief weapon for defense.
• The drinking habits are similar in many birds. It is very interesting to see them fill their bills and raise their heads to let the water run down their throats.
--Dick E. Bird

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mistletoe has more to do with the birds and the bees than just kissing.

The Hunt&Peck Report--Scientists are discovering that mistletoe has more to do with the birds and the bees than just kissing.

New research indicates that the romantic Christmas plant, best known for hanging above the head of someone you want to kiss, is essential to several species of birds, bees and animals.
The plant is a parasite that attaches itself to trees. But when researchers recently looked at areas where mistletoe had run amok, they found increased populations of bees and birds that feed on the plant’s bright red berries.

Now the U.S. Geological Survey—which also does biological research—will go high-tech with satellite tracking to help explain why.

Mistletoe blooms in the Southwest in February, and for a time it’s the only food available for bees. Through the winter, its berries are also practically the only food for the silky flycatcher, a beautiful black bird common in the Southwest.

"Without the desert mistletoe, they would have to go elsewhere or the population would decrease,’ said researcher Diane Larson of the Geological Survey. "We saw more birds and more species in mistletoe-infested areas," said USGS research ecologist Rob Bennetts of Gainesville, Fla., describing mistletoe’s effect across the country. "It’s a food source for a lot of species," including small mammals such as squirrels.

For humans, the allure of mistletoe may have started in Norse mythology, which describes it as the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love.
I knew squirrels would be implicated somehow in this mistletoe thing. They will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first and they love to chase each other around with a chunk of mistletoe in tow.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hand Feeding Wild Birds

Hand feeding your birds is quick, fun, and not all that complicated. The more you do it, the more comfortable your birds are with the whole idea.

The real secret is to sit very still. At first you have to hold your hand out in front of you, so it is wise to prop your arm on something.

In the Marine Corps they used to make us hold our rifle out in front of us until our arms fatigued. When you would begin to drop your arms, a bull- dog-looking drill instructor in a Smokey Bear hat would scream at you and that would give your arms new strength. So if you can’t find something to rest your arm on, have someone scream at you every 10 minutes.

There are books out on hand feeding birds. There may be some better techniques but it really isn’t graduate material. It has much more to do with supply and demand.

I taught my dog to fall dead when I shoot her with my finger, get her dish, shake hands and catch a biscuit off the end of her nose. I am not so demanding with my birds but I am almost sure they are capable of it. My dog sounds smart but if you put her on a leash you have dope-on-a-rope. Anyone can hand feed birds—even you. Try it!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Nagging Questions About Birds and Squirrels

The "Look"
When it comes to competition for food at the feeder, the alpha squirrel is easy to spot by the "look." This furball never has to make a sound; all he has to do is supply the "look." The "look" can be felt. The dominant squirrel controls food flow. If another animal approaches the feeder, the dominant squirrel will shoot a "look" that would make a wood duck—duck. This will usually end the challenge. If not, a bluff charge is in order. If you study your squirrels, you will discover a whole arsenal of "looks."
There is the "straight-on look," the "side-shot look," the "short look," the "long look," the "glance dance," and the "glare stare."
Each "look" was developed for a particular situation, and some are used in combination with the "bluff charge." At the same time, optic nerves have to network with hearing capabilities. When a squirrel is concentrating on the "look," he still has to hear the side door of the house quietly open. He has to hear the bristles of the broom flutter in the still morning air. Some say a squirrel has the ability to hear the rapid heartbeat of a homeowner through double-pane glass. This is a myth. A squirrel has exceptional hearing, but it is not that good. What the squirrel detects through the window is—the "look."

Do Birds Belch?
How many times have you sat at the window, watching your birds at the feeder, and wondered about this? Have you ever heard a bird burp? You would think birds would burp by the way they gulp down food.
The definition of a bird belch is "to eject [gas] noisily from the stomach through the beak." In France, if a bird belches at the birdfeeder it means it truly enjoyed the meal.

Greased Lightning
A question many people have been asking themselves is: "Are my chances of being hit by lightning lesser or greater than being hit by bird droppings?"
There are many things to consider when trying to answer this question. First, there are many more birds than lightning bolts. When you hear thunder, you know you were not hit by lightning. If you hear a bird, however, it does not necessarily mean you weren’t hit by a dropping. Your chances of getting hit by lightning used to be one in a million. But since the world population has increased, lightning has more targets, which makes your chances of getting hit by a bolt one in five million.
The same thing is true with birds. More people, more targets, less chance of being dropped on. Also, the world’s bird populations are dropping dramatically, which makes getting hit with bird droppings even more rare.
But if you assume you will be hit by lightning, before you will be hit by a bird dropping, you are wrong. A weather system will only produce a small number of storms, and a storm will only produce a small number of lightning bolts, but birds will produce droppings continuously because birds have no bladders. Your actual chances of getting hit by a bird dropping is 150 percent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

During cold months, birds burn more than half of their daily calories trying to stay warm. To compensate for that loss, birds look for high-calorie food rich in oils, proteins and fats—and you can help them find it.
The easiest way to help them is to provide some form of suet, a hard beef or mutton fat that has been melted and solidified again. You'll find suet in ready-to-use cakes, often supplemented with corn, nuts, oaks, millet, fruit, mealworms and other healthy ingredients. These cakes, and the wire baskets for holding them, can be found at wildlife, hardware and garden stores.
To create your own suet, ask the meat cutter at your local grocery store for any leftover trimmings. A mesh onion bag makes a great homemade suet feeder. I'm just giving you a little false hope here. Your butcher is not going to give you anything. He found out that bird feeding has become a billion dollar business and what used to be free trimmings now costs as much as a good pot roast. But the birds still appreciate it just as much.
If you are crafty or enjoy smelling the kitchen up you can dip pieces of stale white bread in plain melted suet, then roll the pieces in birdseed. Attach twine to the bread and hang it from a tree.
Another option is to melt suet in your microwave and pour it into an ice-cube tray. Add bits of fruit or seeds, then place the tray in your freezer to harden. The hardened cubes can be scattered on the ground or placed in your platform feeder.

Here's a recipe for oat-ball bird feeders:

3½ cups oatmeal
1 pound melted suet
1 small jar peanut butter
3½ cups cornmeal
3½ cups cream of wheat

Directions: Cook the oatmeal and combine it with melted suet and peanut butter. Mix well. Stir in the cornmeal and cream of wheat. After the mixture cools, shape it into balls. Hang the balls in an onion bag for the birds to enjoy.