It seems like an eternity since I’ve had time to post anything to my blog- April and May have been extremely busy months for me. Between my full-time job, my son’s sporting events and his new job, planning and planting my gardens, taking computer and stained glass making classes, and squeezing in a quick trip to Florida, you can see how that would leave little time for blogging. I really miss the writing and sharing my backyard birding stories with you and hope to get back to it regularly. In the meantime, I have been busy taking lots of photos and videos of the bird activity in our yard and around the area to share with you.
If you’ve ever seen a Baltimore Oriole, you have witnessed some of natures most profound beauty. With their vibrant orange and black colors, and their distinctive sound, they are almost impossible to mistake. Once they begin showing up in your yard, they may very well become one of your favorite birds.
Baltimore Orioles are members of the Blackbird family, and a sub-species of the Northern Oriole. These beautiful birds are most commonly found in woodlands, parks, suburbs and in backyards. They are one of the last birds to arrive in the Spring here in the Northeast, typically arriving in May, and the first to leave in the Fall, heading to warmer climates as early as September. Orioles migrate to Mexico, Central America and South America.
While searching online recently for outdoor Bird Watching activities, I came across an exciting event I wanted to share with you. The Buffalo Audubon Society is hosting an upcoming hike through the North Tonawanda Nature Preserve in search of Eastern Screech Owls.
According to their website, http://buffaloaudubon.org, Naturalist Tom Kerr will be taking us on a guided hike through the North Tonawanda Audubon Preserve. We will be looking and listening for the Eastern Screech Owls that live in the wetland preserve.
Downy Woodpeckers are abundant in areas with lots of trees and are one of the most common Woodpeckers to visit backyard bird feeders. Downy’s are the smallest Woodpeckers in the US and Canada at just 5 3/4 inches (14.6 cm) and bare a very close resemblance to their cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. In comparison, the Hairy Woodpecker is slightly larger than the Downy, at 7 1/2 inches (19.05 cm) and can be difficult to distinguish apart from a distance.
Downy Woodpeckers are strikingly beautiful little birds with an all-white belly, black & white spotted wings and a white stripe running down their back. They have a black mask-like line running through their eyes, a short black bill and black spots along their white tail. Males have a red marking on the back of their head whereas females do not. The best way to differentiate between the two Woodpeckers is by the size of their bills. The Downy’s bill is actually shorter than the length of its head, whereas the Hairy’s bill is as long, or longer than its head. We’ve actually been lucky enough to see both of them together, side by side.
Downy Woodpeckers have 1 brood per year, laying 3-8 white eggs with no markings. Incubation is about 11-12 days, with both Mom and Dad taking turns keeping the eggs warm, Mom during the day and Dad at night. Both parents feed the young once hatched and the fledglings leave the nest after about 20-25 days.
A Downy Woodpecker’s diet consists mainly of insects found in rotten wood and trees. They eat large quantities of fruit and seeds during the winter and can often be found at backyard feeders eating suet and seeds. You might even spot them in late Winter and early Spring licking the sap from tree wounds.
These vocal little Woodpeckers make a few different sounds, with the most common one we’ve heard being a high-pitched squeak. Once you see and hear them, you’ll know they are nearby without even seeing them.
There apparently is an ongoing debate as to whether or not Downy Woodpeckers migrate, however, we see them year round where we live. While some populations have declined due to deforestation and urban sprawl, overall they are not said to be threatened.
This little bird is a welcomed addition to any backyard feeding station and super fun to watch. I hope you will begin to see them at your feeders and throughout your yard.
With so many different types and sizes of bird feeders available, which one should you buy? A lot depends on the birds you’d like to attract, as well as how much space you have.
Bird feeders come in a variety of styles and sizes depending on what you’re serving and who’s eating at your diner. Each feeder is designed to hold a specific food- from seeds & nuts to suet, fruits & nectar, even insects and baked goods. They are made from a variety of materials as well- plastic, glass, wood, metal and even recycled materials. If your budget allows, I would suggest avoiding the plastic ones, as I’ve had many a feeder damaged by over-zealous squirrels trying to get at the food inside.
What a bird eats often depends on the type of bill they have. As well, different birds tend to feed at different levels so you may want to put out more than one type of feeder if you have the room. Consider hanging multiple feeders from a single pole to maximize your space. This will not only attract a larger variety of birds but also help reduce conflicts at the dinner table.
If you are just starting out and only have room for one feeder, my tried-and-true favorite is the Hopper Feeder, also commonly referred to as the Gazebo Feeder. It is available in a variety of sizes, styles and colors, and is fairly inexpensive. It can be mounted on a pole or hung from any convenient location. If your budget allows, I would suggest purchasing one with a metal frame, as opposed to the more common plastic frames. The drawback to the plastic frame, although lightweight, is that I’ve had many of them destroyed by hungry squirrels. Hopper feeders can be filled with Wild Bird Seed or Black Oil Sunflower Seed, however, my backyard birds prefer the Black Oil Sunflower Seed. Wild Bird Seed, while generally cheaper, is made up of Sunflower seeds with lots of filler seeds that generally go to waste. We buy our Black Oil Sunflower seed in 50-pound bags for between $17.99 – $19.99 at Thiele’s Country Max in North Tonawanda, NY. Prices will vary depending on where you live but you can get similar prices at many of the feed stores and you’ll appreciate the savings once you get started with backyard bird feeding. We commonly see a large variety of birds at these feeders including Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouse, Chickadees, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Sparrows, Finches, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Red-Breasted Grosbeaks and many more.
Another of my must-haves is the Suet Feeder. This is a small metal cage in which you insert a suet cake and hang from a tree branch, shepherd’s hook or even a hopper feeder. Suet cakes come in a variety of flavors and are made up of suet (a by-product of meat fat) mixed with seeds, nuts and/or fruits and berries. We use the basic cakes which contain seeds and purchase them in bulk, either at our local feed store or home improvement center. By the dozen, they are only 79 cents each, a very inexpensive way to treat the birds, however, the cakes that contain nuts and berries are slightly more expensive (again, prices may vary depending on where you live). I’ve found that storing them in the refrigerator not only keeps them fresher, and from melting in the hot summer months, but makes them easier to remove from their plastic trays. You can also make your own suet mixtures with low-cost suet purchased from your local butcher and add your own nuts and berries. We attract a variety of Woodpeckers, including Downy, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Northern Flickers as well as Nuthatches (both White & Red-Breasted), Tufted Titmouse, Sparrows and more. Unfortunately, European Starlings and Squirrels are a big fan of suet. We are eagerly trying to entice the Piliated Woodpecker living in our woods to come closer with suet but have not had any luck as of yet.
Tray Feedersare available in 2 styles- covered and open. These types of feeders allow you to serve a wide variety of foods, including seeds, along with items that don’t fit into standard bird feeders, such as nuts, baked goods, meal worms and fruit to name a few. We made our own open tray feeder with some wood scraps and window screen, filled it with cherries and red grapes and the Catbirds and Robins just love it. The only drawback is that the raccoons enjoy the berries too.
If you’re looking to attract Hummingbirds to your yard, in addition to planting nectar-producing flowers, try placing a Hummingbird Feederin your garden. Attach it to a low hanging tree branch or hang it from a small shepherds hook, preferably in a somewhat shady area near flowers and a tree for perching. You can purchase pre-made nectar, but we’ve found that our Hummingbirds actually prefer the home-made kind and it’s not only cheaper but really easy to make. Just mix 1-part white sugar to 4-parts room temperature water. Mix it well until the sugar is completely dissolved. Use real sugar- no artificial sweeteners. There is no need to add red dye, as this can actually harm the birds. Instead, place your feeder in a garden of red flowers, tie a red ribbon on it or just let the red color of the feeder guide these little beauties to your yard. Be sure to change the nectar frequently, as it can begin to ferment if left out for more than a few days, making these little birds sick. Once your new feeders become established, you may find that they attract pests, but once you see these little beauties, you won’t let that stop you. One issue is ants… Ants love sugar water and will climb up any pole or branch to get to it. They aren’t very smart though because they will climb inside the feeder and drown. Many stores sell moats that you can attach above the feeder, but keeping it filled with water on hot summer days can be futile due to the water evaporating so quickly. You can also apply a layer of petroleum jelly to the pole or branch and the ants will not cross this line. The second issue is bees… To reduce the attraction to bees and wasps, purchase a feeder that doesn’t have yellow feeding ports. Bees like yellow and Hummingbirds like red. If you have one with yellow ports, try painting them red with a non-toxic paint. Once your Hummingbirds are established, you’ll be glad you took the time to make your yard Hummer-friendly.
Tube feederscome in a variety of styles and sizes like most other feeders. A solid glass or plastic tube feeder usually has 4-6 adjustable-sized ports and can be filled with an assortment of seeds including Sunflower, Niger (also called Thistle) and Wild Bird Seed. The port size depends on the seed being served (large seed-large port; small seed-small port). Tube feeders made of a mesh-like screen come in two screen types as well. A screen with small holes is good for Thistle seed (also called Niger) and can attract Finches, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and more. Feeders with larger holes are great for nut-eating birds like Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, Woodpeckers and more.
While there are a wide variety of bird feeders available, I hope this has encouraged you to go out and pick one out and begin your backyard birding journey. I plan to revamp some of my feeders once the weather breaks by mounting a 4-inch by 4-inch wooden post into the ground and attaching a variety of feeders to it. We already see about 32 different bird species in our yard and this year I’d like to see that increase. My ultimate goal is to attract Blue Birds and Owls- surprisingly which elude my yard.
I am so excited to unveil my new logo today! While searching the internet for images of birds, I came across “Alpha Birds” and totally fell in love with the Blue Jay “B”. Alpha Birds were designed by JK Wimberly who paired individual birds with each letter of the alphabet, from Albatross to Zebra Dove. Ms. Wimberly was gracious enough to allow me to use this beautifully designed image as my new logo for this blog as well as my YouTube channel. These stunning works of art are available on her website along with many other designs. Visit her at http://www.jkwimberlydesign.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell her the Backyard Birdlady sent you.
We had a lot of activity at our bird feeders today. While watching the Goldfinches, we got a little surprise when a squirrel so calmly snuck up, grabbed a little snack and disappeared as quickly as he came. Check out my other bird videos on YouTube at Backyard Birdlady. Please subscribe and share. Thanks for stopping by!