Posts Tagged ‘bird feeding’

Great Scientific Discovery!

May 9, 2010

Western Tanager Watching Female Bullock's Oriole

In our times, it is not often that a lay person gets to add to the total sum of scientific knowledge. Once a “Renaissance” man might hope to do so, but those days are gone; now science advances mainly through the hard, painstaking work of real scientists, published in peer-reviewed journals. This is as true of ornithology as of any other science, although lay people do still help out with Christmas bird counts, ecological vacations, and simple observations.

So it is an exciting day when we here at the Fat Finch make a scientific discovery.

Western Tanager at the Grape Jelly

Normally, of course, we would follow the scientific method and submit our discovery to a peer-reviewed journal.  But, we’d rather share it first with you, our faithful readers. And, because we have photographic evidence to prove our discovery, we see no reason to wait to announce our discovery to the world. Here is a photo of a Western Tanager eating grape jelly. Taken yesterday, it shows a Western Tanager dipping into some grape jelly. We’ve seen both the male and the female eating the grape jelly.  (That is a White-winged Dove observing. As we’ve noted before, White-winged Doves spend their days trying to evolve. I suppose that is another of our discoveries. I don’t recall ever reading anything in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating that some species actually attempt conscious evolution, but White-winged Doves do. This one is attempting to learn how to eat grape jelly.)

So here is our Scientific Discovery:

Orange birds love purple food.

We await the call from the Nobel Committee.

What Happens if You Forget to Feed the Birds

April 24, 2009

We are often asked if forgetting to fill your bird feeders matters to the birds who frequent the feeders at your residence.

This cannot happen at our house; the Border Collies won’t allow it. Feeding the birds at our house requires coordinated teamwork.  A minimum of one human and three Border Collies is necessary,

Border Collies Feeding the Birds

Border Collies Feeding the Birds

As far as we are able to tell, it is the job of the first Border Collie to see to it that the human who actually fills the feeders goes to the appropriate places in the correct order with the right seed for each feeder.  The second Border Collie herds the first to insure that he makes no mistakes herding the human.  The third is a general purpose back-up in case of mistake.  Mostly though, her job is to herd the second Border Collie; Border Collies seldom make mistakes.  All three remind us daily to feed the birds, so we never forget.

Apparently, the job of bird feeding is more complicated than letting the chickens out of their coop each morning.  Only one Border Collie is required to oversee that job.  And, at the same time, he checks the property to insure that no cats have snuck onto the property during the night.  In this way the dogs minimize the risk to the birds of domestic cat attacks, one of the leading causes of song-bird death.

The breeder who sends us our Border Collies is either a Border Collie in disguise or the world’s greatest expert about dogs. As she teaches, “Border Collies know 150 separate commands and they make you perform each perfectly.”  She also interprets their behavior and empathizes with them.  It must not be easy, she says, to have to live with such dimwitted beings as humans who have to think before they do anything.  Always thinking; seldom acting: That’s how dogs see us.

So, for us, it is a hypothetical question of what happens to the local birds if we fail to fill the feeders; as we said, the dogs won’t allow it. But not everyone has a team of dogs to remind them.  What happens if you forget?

No one knows for sure, but the answer is probably not much — at least during times of good weather.  The birds who frequent your feeders are opportunistic feeders and feed on a wide variety of plants, seeds, and bugs and will survive without your feeders, especially if there are other feeders in the neighborhood.  If you forget one day or are gone for awhile, they’ll be fine and will return to your feeders as soon as they notice they are filled again.

rubythroathummer65That is not always true during times of harsh weather.  Mounting evidence indicates that some bird species are not migrating because of the availability of human supplied food during winter and the shoulder seasons of early spring and late autumn.  Significant numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, for instance, no longer migrate to Central America, but remain in the Gulf Coast region of the United States during winter.  There is no doubt that supplemental food helps non-migratory birds survive winters.  And, as we always remind people, providing fresh water is at least as important as the food you put out.

But how you are going to feed your birds without a team of Border Collies is simply beyond our power to imagine.

Winter Bird-Feeding

December 9, 2008
House Sparrow

House Sparrow

The clouds are “low’r’d upon our house” today and not “In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” Low gray clouds sit over us and bring to mind Shakespeare’s opening lines of Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.”  Or, as we once saw in a humorous sale advertisement for a tent, “Now is the winter of our discount tent.”

But it is hard to be discontent on a cold, gray winter’s day if you have a flock of House Sparrows entertaining you at the feeders. A few House Finches are out there too but mainly we have sparrows today.  Often we get out the binoculars in the hope of spotting a native sparrow but House Sparrows are usually about all we see in our backyard.  House Sparrows are not native to North America but they compete for food and space quite well.  Too well in some instances. They are known, for example, to boot bluebirds out of their homes.  Many attempts have been and are being made to design a bluebird birdhouse that defeats the ubiquitous House Sparrow and some of those tries will be the subject of a later post.

But House Sparrows need to eat too and today they are hard at it, providing fine entertainment not only to the humans but also to the Border Collies who love to pick up after them, much to the distress of the Rock Pigeons who prefer to do the job.

House Sparrows are non-migrants around here which brings us to the subject of humans feeding wintertime non-migrants.

Non-migratory birds can use extra help during winter from non-migratory  humans.  Providing food and water contributes to birds’ health and survival during the cold time.  A  recent study in England of the English Blue Tit (no jokes please, this is British science we’re talking about) found that non-migratory birds for which humans supply seed during the cold of winter do better than those which lack supplemental food.  (Stay tuned for more about the long-term ec ological impace of humans feeding birds.)

During winter, the abundance of berries, fruits, and insects upon which birds rely dwindles to the point where their diets depend on seeds to survive.

Black oil sunflower seed or a premium seed blend containing primarily black oil sunflower seed are the best winter-time food to use in your feeders. High in protein and fat content, black oil sunflower has twice the calories per pound of striped sunflower seed.  Its thinner shells  make it easier for smaller birds to open.  A seed blend containing other smaller seeds also helps ground feeding birds which will clean up the seeds dropped from your feeders.

Another favorite wintertime food for birds is suet.  It too is packed with calories and can be bought in small blocks which contain seeds and fruits mixed into the suet.  Nuthatches and woodpeckers are attracted by suet.

Peanuts, shelled and unshelled, are useful, especially if you have jays visiting your yard. Be sure to purchase peanuts specifically processed for birds.  Don’t feed salty peanuts or those from the grocery store.

Finally and most importantly, put out water for your birds.  Birds’ summertime sources of water may be frozen or non-existent.  A daily supply of fresh, unfrozen water will bring birds to your yard faster than anything else you can do.

Which means that you’ll have sprightly House Sparrows for entertainment even if you don’t get more interesting birds to watch.

Winter Storm Coming

December 7, 2007

The weather bureau tells us that a winter storm is on the way.  But the birds in the backyard need no computer come to tell them the weather is changing.  They can see the heavy leaden skies, feel the moisture in the air and note, directly in their being, the falling air pressure as the storm approaches.  The House Finches, House Sparrows, Goldfinches are all busy this morning.  The backyard is a riot of bird calls, bird flight, and birds eating.  It is not as calm out there as it was yesterday morning. It is a little frantic.  Something is up; they know it, and they feed against the morrow.   winter-feeder-activity.jpg

We wonder if the non-migrant birds, like people, don’t get just a little crazy this time of year.  The clouds,  the cold weather, the long nights; all add up to “Winters of Discontent.”  It would, for instance, be interesting to go back through history, isolating when national leaders made decisions to start wars and see if the majority of such decisions were not made in the four months astride the Winter Solstice.  Science tells us — beyond doubt — that humans are more depressed and more susceptible to really serious depressions in winter.  In mythology those four months are always the time of waiting, of despair.

We should demand a moratorium on all important decisions of state during this time. Send our leaders south for the winter if they must be busy but, better yet, send them home and not allow them to make a single decision. The decline in sunlight contributes to a decline in sanity for most people.  Better to feed against the darkness and the cold and the snow and wait for better days and softer climes to make big decisions.  We could learn from our avian friends who mainly sleep and eat during winter.  Not for them, the life changing decisions; not for them the long trips through the night.  Their wisdom is to hunker down and wait for better days.

Which is our subtle way of reminding everyone in the Northern Hemisphere to be sure there is plenty of high quality seed on hand and in your feeders, that suet cakes are out and that your avian guests have plenty of water.  It’s cold out there.


October 1, 2007

Bird feeding can be as simple as scattering seed on the ground or as involved as providing an entire backyard of feeders or habitat. When setting out feeders, it’s all about location, location, location. Keep in mind that not only do you want to provide feeding stations for the birds, but you’ll also want to enjoy viewing birds as they feed. It’s also good to think about birds’ safety. Setting a feeder near a bush or tree where birds can go for protective cover is important. If cats are lurking about, it’s best to keep feeders out of their reach.

There are five basic types of birdfeeders—feeders for birdseed, nectar, peanuts, fruit and suet. You may want to find out what birds frequent your area, but a great place to start is by hanging out a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seed in it. Black oil sunflower seed is an excellent seed for birds and appeals to a wide variety. This type of feeder and seed can be used year-round.

Spring through Fall is the time to hang out a hummingbird or oriole feeder. These feeders are primarily for nectar, but orioles also love oranges and many oriole feeders include places to add an orange. In fact, our Orioles ignore any nectar and go straight to the grape jelly. See our post about Oriole feeding here. During the winter months many birds will come to suet feeders and there are specially made baskets that will hold blocks of suet.

Tray feeders are used for fruit, seed or peanuts.

Try any or all of the above and you are sure to be rewarded with the company of birds.

This post is the first in a series of “Tips” for which we have added a category on the right side of his page.  We’ll keep them all there as a reference.

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