Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

I’ve read that it is an urban myth (thanks again, Kevin) that running out of food at your feeders is going to cause wild birds undo stress. Apparently that is not the case, and actually feeders only provide about 25% of a bird’s daily intake; they forage for a reason. Anytime any particular food-source dries up, they have many, many other places to feed; your neighbor’s feeders not-withstanding. That I offer clean water daily and many types of food and in several different places, spread out well enough to keep most of them easy to feed from for most birds at any time…is why I think I have so many birds in my yard. Well, that and I am blessed to live by the river and am surrounded by many big trees.

Notes on feeding: Keep it fun, keep it simple...don't feel shackled by it. Do offer healthy food and not bread...which is about as harmful to the birds as it is to humans. Even wheat bread with some seeds doesn't offer much in the way of sustenance...and with regard to feeding bread to ducks; it goes right through them and just greens up the water (not to mention the walkways!) It is better to feed grated cheese, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, leftover potatoes (and skins), cooked rice, breakfast cereals and even bits of healthy pastry (bran muffins, corn-bread are examples) and cereal. Birds often love over-ripe food, including peeled bananas and chopped apples. A cheap, dry dog-food is infinitely better than cheap bread. Some receipies if you want to make food for birds are here. One wild-life program says this about feeding wild birds.

Notes on feeding nectar: in a few days sugar-water will grow fungus; fungus that is poisonous. It is a good idea to dump, wash and sterilize feeders (10% bleach solution or use a very strong vinegar undiluted) every 4-5 days. If the nectar is cloudy, that is your clue to toss it; but don’t let it go that far; change it at least once per week. Most feeders come apart, a good thing to do so that you can rinse out all the darn ants. NEVER use honey, even diluted or artificial sweetener; that’s death to birds. Red-food coloring isn’t any better for birds than for you…don’t use it, either. Use feeders with lots of red on them; that will attract the birds. Yellow bits will just bring hornets, by the way; stick with plain red. When I make up a batch of the nectar, I make enough to make the chore worthwhile, but only fill the feeders partway for the first few weeks. It takes awhile for birds to find feeders, or to get used to them…or just to get here from wherever they come! It galls me to toss food out, but I know better than to just leave it out; so I start off only partially filling the feeders. Please do realize the importance of boiling the water. Soon enough I’ll be going through sugar like no tomorrow!

I have several other kinds of feeders and clean them about once a month. I rotate the cleaning so that I don’t have half-a-day’s worth any time I’m scrubbing. I let the food run down in that rotation, too; so I’m not tossing feed but also keeping birds interested with at least half the feeders full. Never put ‘old’ feed into a clean feeder. I add uncooked rice in the bottom of seed-tubes; that brings up the seed to where the birds can get it…less waste that way and it keeps it dry.

I’ve decided winter and spring are the most important times to feed; it’s during that time that back-yard feeders can actually make a difference in the life of a bird. Flowers and seed are difficult to find when the ground is covered by snow or wind and rain has ripped seed-stock from autumn’s bounty and pounded it into mud…or it is so early things haven’t yet bloomed. The rest of the time, it’s just plain fun to watch the birds. While I love birding, I don’t need to have my life shackled by bird-feeding…so I may give it a break or slow down a bit at high-summer and fall, when the natural foods are most plentiful. Seems the birds themselves are slowing down, anyway. Or perhaps the next wave just hasn’t arrived yet!

The pictures here are of this month's 'new' bird (for me):
a Lesser Goldfinch. Who knew some came all dressed for a black-tie event? I enjoy Colorado Birder for many reasons, one is that I can post pictures and get answers as to what bird I have! Great people there...and because of them I discovered there is a 'black-backed' version of the species.

Here is my May list; all the birds I’ve seen in my yard this past month with the maximum number seen at a single time (N=new for month, F=flyover):

White-breasted Nuthatch, 2-3
Black-capped Chickadee, 2-3
Mountain Chickadee, 1-2
Pine Siskin, 12+
Cassin’s Finch, 2-3
House Finch, 3-4
House Sparrow, 1-2
White-crowned Sparrow, 1-2
Dark-eyed, Red-backed Junco, 1 (down from 25+)
American Redstart, 1-N
American Goldfinch, 5-6
Lesser Goldfinch, 1-2-N
Yellow Warbler, 3-4-N
Broad-tailed and/or Black-chinned Hummingbird 4-5-N
Calliope Hummingbird, 1 (possibly…awaiting judgment)-N
Evening Grosbeaks, 24+
Black-headed Grosbeaks, 12+
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, 2-3
American Robin, 3-4
Lazuli Bunting, 3-4-N
Western Tanager, 4-5-N
Bullock’s Oriole, 4-5-N
Mourning Doves, 2-3
Eurasian Collared Doves, 36+ (down from 50+)
Downy Woodpecker, 2-3
Hairy Woodpeckers, 2-3
Northern Flicker, 1-2
Red-winged Blackbird, 50 (down from 100+)
Yellow-headed Blackbird, 1-2 (down from 6-8)
Brown-headed Cowbird, 3-4 (down from 12+)
Common Grackle, 4-5
Great-tailed Grackle, 1-2
European Starling, 6-8-N
Black-billed Magpie, 1-2
American Crow, 6-8
Common Raven, 3-4
Turkey Vulture, 15-20
Canada Goose, 6-8-F
Great Blue Heron, 2-F
Black-crowned Night-heron, 1-F
one bedraggled raptor of some sort, so soggy in the rain it missed it’s strike. I’m sure it didn’t feel up to snuff and certainly didn’t want to pose for the camera!

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