Archive for the ‘Bird Feed’ Category

Bird Irruptions

January 8, 2014

By The Fat Finch

When I first heard this term I had a vision of little birds spewing out of a volcano. But we’re not talking about that kind of eruption.

In the avian world, a bird irruption is a term scientists use to describe unusually large numbers of non-migratory northern birds that move out of their nesting range, typically in North America’s boreal forest. The birds leave the vast, wild expanse of forest, tundra and wetlands that span the width of Canada and Alaska to spend the winter farther south than normal. The irruption occurs because of changes in food supply.

The species that most commonly engage in irruption behavior are northern owls, such as the Great Gray Owl and Snowy Owl and certain grosbeaks including evening grosbeaks. In irruptive years, large numbers of these species may move down into the United States.

This  winter there is an irruption of snowy owls coming down into the United States as far down as Kansas and northern Colorado. And this event is causing another kind of eruption—photographers and birders are swarming into these areas to photograph and view these magnificent birds.

Several springs ago a very large number of western tanagers migrated through my area of the world (New Mexico) and stayed for approximately three weeks before heading to their normal summer homes. Was it an irruption? No, it was simply a normal migration of birds who occasionally stay in larger numbers for a longer period of time before moving on. It was a lucky and enjoyable event—I didn’t get much work done because I was staring out the window constantly looking at these gorgeous birds. They also ate 20 lbs of grape jelly off my oriole feeders during those three weeks.

Bird migration is a familiar and predictable seasonal movement of birds. Species that migrate do so every year at approximately the same time, traveling in a predetermined pattern, often to exactly the same destination time after time. Migrations are closely related to the breeding season and the arrival of spring in the breeding range. In contrast, irruptions are unpredictable. It’s all part of the wonderful and amazing world of birds.

Bird Poop Coffee

December 26, 2013

ImageThis bird may be to coffee what pigs are to truffles.  The “Jacu” bird  is the name given to a family of birds—the Guans. Found in the forests of Latin America, there are 15 species. It turns out that these birds have quite the “nose” for good coffee. They eat only the very best of coffee beans and because their diet is vegetarian, their poop is not contaminated by animal proteins. Organic coffee growers are paying workers extra to find and extract the beans from the Jacu’s poop. The beans are then cleaned and peeled by hand.

Time to run out and buy a pound?  Not so fast.  It costs about $24.00 a pound.  Maybe we’ll ask Santa for some next year and post our test results on flavor.

Brazilian Logger Turned Birder Aims to Turn His Community into Bird Sanctuary

December 2, 2013


sustainableTripIn the heart of the Brazilian Amazon is the Rio Negro Sustainable Development Reserve, an area that is rich in biodiversity and home to several small communities that depend on natural resources for a living. Pousada Garrido is the only hotel in the Tumbira region, and it is owned by a former logger and community leader named Roberto Mendonça.

Pousada Garrido has become a source of income for Mendonça as well as several other local families who offer tourism services to visitors. The inn also uses solar energy (as does the entire community), recycles, supports local artisans with reusable materials, and purchases foods from local producers. This year, Pousada Garrido earned Rainforest Alliance verification for sustainable tourism.
Tourists are drawn to Tumbira for the richness and exuberance of its forests, including the many bird species that abound there.

Mendonça partnered with a local tour guide named Cleudilon, whose nickname is Passarinho, or “little bird” in Portuguese, because he can perfectly imitate 32 types of birds! (Scroll down to see an awesome video of Cleudilon calling to birds in the forest.) The two recently undertook a project to make the inn into a perfect site for bird watching. And you can help make it happen! Visit the community’s crowdfunding page, to help them turn Tumbira into a community-based ecotourism center.

Paula Arantes of Garupa, the NGO helping Mendonça and Cleudilon raise money for the project, tells us more about the initiative.

Question: What is the plan for the money you hope to raise?
Paula Arantes: Roberto and Cleudilon want to turn their community into a birding and community tourism center. To get started, they intend to adapt the infrastructure of Pousada Garrido to sustainably accommodate more guests and provide what is needed for birding. They also want to publish a guide to the local birdlife as a reference for tourists and an educational resource for the children of the community.

Q: Why are Tumbira and Pousada Garrido such special places for bird watching?
Arantes: Though you can see birds everywhere in Amazon, Tumbira is special because its pathways make it easy to see many varieties of birds, and the area is easily accessible by land or by boat. Furthermore, Cleudilon’s incredible talent for imitating birds and really enhances the birding experience.

Q: What do you need to carry out the project?
Arantes: Investments need to be made to expand the inn without negatively impacting the environment. More equipment is also needed for bird watching, and Cleudilon needs resources to develop the bird guide. The goal is to raise around US$8,800 (20,000 Brazilian reales) to help cover building materials, labor, the development of the guide, and more.

Q: What progress has been made so far?
Arantes: Thanks to the Rainforest Alliance verification process, we’ve identified the appropriate areas for making investments and improvements in a sustainable way.

Q: How does this project benefit the community?
Arantes: More tourists means more sustainable income for the residents! Supporting community-based tourism is one of the best ways for travelers to ensure that their vacation is sustainable.

Q: How can people help?
Arantes: On the project page on the Garupa website, you can find more details about the initiative and make an online donation to co-finance this effort. Donors receive tokens of appreciation, such as photographs, the bird guide, and even stays at the inn, depending on the amount contributed. Donating any amount, no matter how small, and sharing our project with your friends and family is the best way to make Roberto’s dream a reality!


Bird Photo Booth: Take pics as birds feast on seeds

December 2, 2013



Homeowners love the sound of birds chirping during the day. Some of them attract these winged creatures onto their front yards by putting up bird feeders. As much as you want to observe these birds up close, you know they just fly away if you get too near.

Let Bird Photo Booth solve that problem and even save those moments forever. It is a bird feeder with a slot inside where you put your old iPhone or GoPro camera. The camera is connected to a device inside the house via Bluetooth or WiFi, enabling you to snap photos of feeding birds yourself without disturbing them.

This weather-resistant contraption is made of sustainably harvested white oak hardwood and comes with a macro lens and circular polarizing lens that zooms in the birds automatically while providing finer details. It also has a lens cap protector, stainless steel perch and bowl for the seeds, and foam inserts for both iPhone and GoPro.

The iPhone foam insert also works with 4th and 5th-gen iPod Touch, while the GoPro protective foam insert fits all models, including the new GoPro Hero 3 editions. Android device owners will have to wait a bit, as usual.

The company even suggests you could also communicate with the birds using FaceTime, but that might just scare the birds away. They also recommend to turn off the device’s auto-lock functionality so you won’t miss a moment.

The Bird Photo Booth is available online for $150, plus shipping.



January 7, 2011

African Yellow Daisies - photo by Mario Franco

The African yellow daisy produces a tiny black seed beloved by goldfinches, redpolls, and siskins. The daisy is grown commercially for its seeds in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. It is so important to the wild bird feeding industry, that the trade association registered the name “nyjer” as a trademark so we would all know how to pronounce it. (Long “i” sound) First it was known as “niger” but nobody in the United States, the largest market for wild bird seed, knew for sure how to pronounce that.

Nyjer seeds - USDA Photo

The African yellow daisy does not grow well in North America and that is just as well: It would be an exotic and invasive plant here and who knows what kind of ecological mischief it might do. Moreover, many people confuse it with domestic thistle which is an easily spread weed that, left untended, can easily conquer entire fields of beneficial crops. And while goldfinches will eat the seeds of thistle, they prefer the much richer nyjer seeds.

Because it would be an invasive crop in North America – although some is found here, especially in the Northeast – it cannot be imported into the United States until toasted to a temperature of 250 degrees F for at least fifteen minutes, ensuring that the seeds are sterile. That, plus the costs of ocean shipping and import duties, means that nyjer is expensive bird seed. But, even after all that toasting, it remains a high-oil content seed (about 35% fat and 18% protein)and an excellent wintertime bird food for the birds who eat it. Around our house both the House finches and the sparrows also eat it.

Goldfinches and Pine Siskins Eating Nyjer

Because the seeds are so tiny, special feeders with very small openings are necessary. We use wire mesh feeders which also enable the goldfinches to eat upside down, something they like to do. Quail and doves will happily clean up anything that falls to the ground. Best of all, squirrels don’t bother with it. (“Nyjer? We don’t need no stinkin’ nyjer!”)

Until you’ve tried some in a feeder and attracted some birds, it is probably a good idea to start with a five-pound sack, but you can save money by buying it in larger quantities. It’s a good way to increase the bird varieties in your yards and on your balconies.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers and we hope you share your holiday with wild birds.

By the way, the first Thanksgiving dinner may not have featured wild turkey. Eel was more likely. Any readers having eel for dinner today?

Leave Your Hummingbird Feeders Out

September 13, 2010

It’s that time of year again, when the hummingbirds are heading south and well-intentioned humans living in North America want to know whether to take down their feeders so the little birds will know it’s time to leave.

We won’t keep you in suspense: Leave your feeders out and full of fresh syrup until at least two weeks after you see the last hummingbird.

Hummingbirds have been at the business of migrating far longer than we humans have been at the business of feeding them. We don’t know how long hummingbirds have migrated but fossil evidence establishes a rough time frame: Between 12 and 25 million years.(The oldest known fossil is about 30 millions years old and they began dispersing from South America sometime after that.

On the other hand, modern humans are only a quarter of a million years along and we only been feeding hummingbirds for 100 years or so. (We appear to have affected some migration: A small number of Ruby-throats seem to have adapted to the warmth of the Gulf Coast states in the U.S. and people there who leave feeders out all year. Those birds are skipping the arduous trip across or around the Gulf of Mexico each year. All the rest still make the trip and are not fooled for a moment by warm autumn weather.) When the hours of sunlight and the angle of the sun inform them that winter is on the way, they know to leave and will leave. No self-respecting hummingbird is going to get caught in Minnesota for Thanksgiving. She’ll be basking in Costa Rican sun by then.

The hummingbirds you see at your feeder today may not be the same birds you saw yesterday. If the conditions were right last night, one batch left and another arrived at your feeders. Heading south, they need all the energy they can store and your feeder will help them along the way. The last migrants will welcome your aid.

So, keep your syrup fresh and your eyes peeled and enjoy the last of this year’s hummingbirds. You’re doing no harm by leaving your feeders out. In fact, you’re helping.

Jays, Peanuts, and Independence

September 6, 2010

I’m on a porch in the mountains. As I write this, a White-breasted Nuthatch pecks at the small bird feeder directly in front of me.  At my feet an Oregon Junco hops around, impertinently ignoring the dogs who likewise ignore her. Soon, she’s replaced with a Pine Siskin who also ignores the dogs. Dwindling numbers of hummingbirds who haven’t departed for the south are contesting for primary rights to each of three feeders and some Steller’s Jays are perched in the evergreen in the yard, yelling at me.

They’re yelling because I just put some nice, fresh peanuts on top of my car which is parked right in front of the porch on which I sit and the Jays apparently think the peanuts should be somewhere else.

Too bad. I want some close-up photos of the jays and those peanuts are their modeling fee. But they have to come get them. I can be as stubborn and cantankerous as any jay. That may be the reason I love them so much, I recognize kindred spirits. Probably has something to do with my authority issues. I don’t like being told what to do anymore than those jays like being told they have to come to my car to get the peanuts.

The chipmunks have so such scruples; they come to other end of the porch and hop up in the bucket that holds the peanuts.

Yesterday, I cut down some bushes that were growing next to the porch and the Juncos are prowling around in the resulting brush pile. They were perfectly good bushes; inoffensive, pretty, and innocent, but they had become “ladder fuel,” ground-dwelling plants high enough to reach low tree branches in a wildfire. The resulting pile will have to be moved, which won’t please the juncos, but they’ll be more polite about it than the jays are about their peanuts.

Farewell Tanagers

May 24, 2010

The Western Tanagers are departing – we think. Thirty pounds of grape jelly served, countless photos made, and hours of joyous observing are benind us. Now we can get back to work and to blogging about other bird-related matters. We leave you with two great photos made by our friend Page Morgan-Draper and used with her permission.

Do Quail Eat Grape Jelly Too?

Transfixed by Tanagers

May 18, 2010

Transfixed by the Western Tanagers and heading into serious sleep deprivation, we’ve been unable to accomplish anything for the last several days because we’re so busy feeding them. We’re up to twenty pounds of grape jelly served and still they come.

But we’re not so tired that science takes a backseat to our pure joy of having all these guests. No sir. We continue in the service of science, remembering Richard Feynman’s injunction, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Science can only advance if scientists maintain a healthy skepticism and always are open to new data. Sometimes, especially in the case of lesser scientists, the data disprove a treasured hypothesis.

But for great scientists, awaiting their Nobel Prize, data often confirm their hypotheses.

You’ll remember our scientific announcement from last week, made after discovering both Bullocks Orioles and Western Tanagers love grape jelly. We announced:

Orange birds love purple food.

Now, we have new data accompanied by more photographic evidence

That is a Black-headed Grosbeak – with its orange breast – eating grape jelly! Further proof of our discovery that orange birds love purple food.

Please don’t call. We don’t want the Nobel people to get a busy signal. If the tanagers don’t leave soon, we’ll need the prize money to buy grape jelly.


For more Western Tanager photos go to Photofeathers, a friend’s new and good photo blog about her birding adventures. We’ve added the blog to our link list on the right. When you visit scroll down to see many more photos and don’t miss Love Among the Quarai Ruins. (Adults Only.)

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