Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

The days approach 90 degrees even here at 7000 feet; I’m harvesting tomatoes and peppers and wishing I started my raised beds earlier. Next year I will have a decent garden.
I mean it too.

All the fledglings are growing up, but still I see the occasional little beggar getting fed by what must be a nearly exhausted parent.

Here are Evening Grosbeaks…looks like the male helps raise the little ones. I wonder what happened to the little guy’s head. Could one of those dreaded Cowbirds, or some big icterid attacked the nest and nearly got the nestling? This little fluffy-head is still pretty young; perhaps he’ll turn-out okay. Obviously he’s being well-cared for.

There are many Black-headed Grosbeaks still here, too. I watch the little streak-headed youngsters beg for food right on the flat-feeder full of seeds. Parents patiently show them over and over how it is one opens a seed...insisting, for the most part, that they give it a try themselves. What good parents. One youngster I saw actually fluttered wings and gaped for a Hairy Woodpecker that came to the suet block. For a minute I thought the woodpecker was going to feed it; but I think that peck was a repremand...the youngster jumped back and quit begging. Too funny.

The Bullock’s Orioles are still here, though I mostly see the females these days. What I am seeing suddenly…are lots and lots of Common Grackles and what I imagine are blackbirds and starlings. I have to admit I begrudge them a single sunflower-seed and so have not really spent time watching the big bullies. The Grosbeaks, the Goldfinches and the Siskins all eat together peaceably…but when those blasted Grackles show up, the other birds bolt. I’ve watched them a bit and wonder too; just how many young birds these birds raise at once? Gads, there are bunches of scruffy juveniles which are still getting real feathers in the flock. They're big birds with yellow eyes, but they don't have their shine-on. Are these things like chickens; do they lay eight or ten eggs in a clutch? I’ll have to do some research…and report back. It seems the flocks are growing exponentially; and mixed with Red-winged Blackbirds and gawdknowswhatelse.

Okay, here is what I discovered: The BNS says:

“The Common Grackle is now among the most significant agricultural pest species in North America, causing millions of dollars in damage to sprouting corn. It has also earned a reputation for eating other birds’ eggs and nestlings, and it occasionally kills and consumes adult birds.”

“Once rare in West; now, along with Great-tailed Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), [the Common Grackle} has increased greatly within its original range and expanded its breeding range westward during twentieth century (Marzluff et al. 1994). …In Colorado it “seemed to have displaced Brewer’s Blackbird from most urban and agricultural areas on eastern plains” by 1970s and was expanding as breeder into western mountains and valleys (Andrews and Righter 1992). Breeding range “recently” expanded into ne. Utah, perhaps from Colorado (Behle et al. 1985). …Increased occurrence in these states suggests that breeding may occur in the near.” wonder we have a hard time finding Brewer's Blackbirds.

About Fall Migration, the BNS goes on to say: “Fall migration can begin in Aug–Sep, but typically peaks late Oct–early Nov and is mostly completed by early Dec. … Fall migratory pathways are oriented primarily toward Gulf of Mexico. Severe winter weather may force birds farther south.” So…they’re just starting and it's gonna get worse through late fall. [sigh] I'd best get more of that safflower seed; they don't like that stuff much.

The site goes on to say these thugs migrate diurnally, usually in mixed-species flocks with Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Brown-headed Cowbirds, and less frequently, Euphagus blackbirds and American Robins (Turdus migratorius). Reeaaally. My respect for our Robins has just fallen a bit. Whoda thought. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t live near corn, rice or sunflower seed farms, where the birds can congregate by the millions. It is especially adapted to opening acrons, however. Apparently they are pretty good at fishing, too. (ZOTTOLI)

And finally, clutch size: one to seven eggs and attempted twice a season. Well, we had an easy winter, seems to me; perhaps that’s why we gots so many of these big guys.

The word grackle is derived from the Latin word graculus, which means "to cough" …that would be their 'song'.


Bosque Bill said...

Even in my lifetime, which is less than a blink in ecological terms, I've seen the grackles spread from south Texas to west Texas to eastern NM to central NM.

If we can believe what some scientists are telling us about global warming (and I'm afraid the data looks pretty solid,) then the spread of birds like the grackle, and other noxious critters, will only increase. Sigh.

And what a nasty bird the grackle is, too. They roost en mass in a chosen tree raising Cain and depositing a stinking mess. So even in non-agricultural areas they are despised.

Beverly said...

Well, I've watched them arrive again just days ago...a dozen or so is all; and keep coming till I counted at least 100 birds this morning. Of course, this is a ‘mixed flock’…but they all seem to be thugs.

I wonder if this is just normal for this time of year…or a result of my (mistaken) putting out corn for the red and yellow blackbirds some months ago. I was tickled to see the Yellow-heads, but they arrive 25/1 with the others. No more feeding the hordes.

I can’t afford it anyway… and when SeEtta told me I was just encouraging the Eurasian Doves too, I quit.

Oh…and I saw the Leucistic dove again… Damn, are they ALL coming back?

I'm wondering if I shouldn't just quit feeding seed again for awhile. Some of us have noticed such an upsurge in birds, especially birds with fledglings, we picked it up again. There really ‘should’ be plenty of food around, huh? That the bears are here makes me wonder, though.

Nice to see you here again; thanks!

Bosque Bill said...

I guess we all have our "trash" bird species and even normally OK birds can become a nuisance when they arrive in hoards and consume vast quantities.

Instead of loose seed, I've switched over to woodpecker seed-bars at the advice of the nice lady at the WBU store. She said to choose the woodpecker block, rather than a regular seed block, as the binding agent is stronger and it discourages House Finches and Sparrows (doesn't stop them, just slows them way down.) That leaves a better opportunity for nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, and woodpeckers, of course.

I have discovered that if the block gets wet, even from a light rain, it looses cohesion and the House Finches and Sparrows can destroy it in short order. In winter I put a plastic lid over it to keep it dry, but don't use that in summer as the wonderful Black-headed Grosbeaks only feed if they can keep one foot on the string that holds the block - they can't perch on the seed like the clinging birds can.

Last winter the Stellar's Jays, (which I love, but can be bullies, too,) were destroying the seed blocks, so I wrapped hardware cloth around 'em. Stopped the Jays, but only slowed the others.

And naturally by hanging seed blocks, ground feeders such as the doves, and I suspect grackles, will not be interested. I do have one Spotted Towhee who can land on a fresh block (when it still has its flat top) and peck off a piece, but he then flies down to eat it off the ground.

Since I hang my feeders from limbs, I have to bring them in at night or Rocky (the raccoon) will climb out even the skinniest limb and run off with the feeder.

I have an "upside-down" thistle feeder all year for the various goldfinches and the raccoon doesn't seem to be interested in that.

[Whew, long post, must be good coffee this morning.]

Beverly said...

I love strong, really good coffee…so usually only drink one cup in the morning. Okay, I wuss-out and add a dollup of plain whipping cream…but no sugar. Once a day can’t be bad!

You’ve told me about those blocks…how on earth do you deal with the hardware cloth as the block diminishes in size? Or…are you using chicken-wire that the little birds can hop right through?

I dunno, Bill…my Grosbeaks and even the grackles, all hang on the different seed-feeders, and the suet cages as well. The blasted grackles make short work of the suet blocks…I wonder how an unprotected seed-block would do. What IS the size of the hardware cloth you use?

Oddly, I’ve only seen one or two Jays in my yard. Perhaps I should consider that a blessing. I’ve only seen a Towhee once…but never in my yard.

OH…and I meant to tell you; a neighbor (Polly…who blogs at Colorado Birder) has seen a Western Wood-pewee. She’s got tons more experience than I do…and lives less than a mile away. Yet another pointer to what IS that bird! LOL

Yesterday I walked into our little local grocery to the heady perfume of Rocky Ford cantaloupes. I just finished half of one for breakfast and am now out to play in the yard. Well…and act as living scare-crow for those thugs.

If I find a WBU store up in Pueblo (when next I can afford to go), I'll pick up a block of that seed. Sounds like a good idea...


Bosque Bill said...

The hardware cloth is the 1/4" variety, if I remember right. I form it to the shape of the block so when fresh there is no space anywhere between the wires and seed. I cut and bent it, then fastened it together by twisting little pieces of wire. If you try it, wear leather gloves.

As they eat the seed, I squeeze the wire grid together to keep it fairly close to the seed. When that no longer works the enclosure is about ready to fall off, so just take it off. The woodpeckers and nuthatches can reach pretty far in side the wire.

The WBU store near me closed (boo,hoo.) Business was ok; the owner's husband got transferred.

I know some folks won't shop at Wal-mart (though they have cleaned up their act some what in recent years thanks to public pressure,) but it is the only place around here that carries the woodpecker blocks. There is an expensive bird store not too far away, but they don't carry them either.

Guess you just have to experiment to see what will work for you to feed the "good" birds and not the "bad." My goal is to invent a dispenser of sunflower seeds that the chickadees and nuthatches can use, but not the House Finches. I have some ideas, but haven't tried to fabricate anything yet... hmm, maybe that should be my next project.

Glad to hear you have an experienced birder/neighbor. She should be a great resource for you.

Beverly said...

Ah, well then…I happen to have some of that hardware cloth. Once, when one morning I discovered a suet feeder totally mauled (raccoons or skunks; I have both here), I got some in an attempt to make my own. It turned out though, that the feeder to which I planned to attach it broke right afterwards…so that little project never came to fruition. Perhaps I can still make use of the wire cloth, though. Thanks!

You may have spotted the black, cylindrical feeder I use. Here’s one just like it:

LOL It’s made by your buddies at Perky-Pet, who knew! Anyway, I’ve seen Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees and Goldfinches feeding on it…and occasionally Grosbeaks; but never (or seldom) have I seen House Finches or House Sparrows on it…the Icterids seem to ignore it, as well.

I hardly ever see House Finches or House Sparrows on the suet feeders, either (which those Icterids destroy in short order); but they seem to really love this feeder I found at TruValue:

(OMG…it’s by Perky-Pet! Too Funny!) Anyway, the damn Grackles seem to have figured out how to eat from the thing…flapping wings, etc.

Anyway, for the most part it is the #$%&! squirrels that would wreak havoc on a seed-block, me thinks. (assuming I keep the Grackles et al off it) I have yet to find one that works very well…except the last one I mentioned; and then only if I hang it from one of the shepherd’s hook thingies. When I hung it on a branch of a tree, it figured out how to keep its weight off the thing…and regularly feasted from it. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr Tell me, why is it those ‘baffle’ things cost so much money? I’m going to look into using a few feet of stove-pipe; I heard it works, too. If it is cheaper…I’ll give it a try.

I prefer not to shop at Wal-mart…but when I was on a mission to find extra hummingbird feeders; that was the only place that carried ‘em at the time. There are no bird stores around here, either; but between Target & King Soopers I usually find what I need.

Oh…I should tell you about those hummingbird feeders I showed you that I bought. Last night I was sitting out watching the last hummers as the bats came out and heard the most peculiar noise. I looked around and finally figured the ‘buzzing’ was coming from a feeder! I walked toward it to see a hummer caught between where the ‘jar’ attaches and the outer rung hooks onto the feeder. Perhaps it came up under it too fast? Anyway, before I could see much more than that its body was stuck…it escaped! I have half a notion to write the makers and warn ‘em. But…can we prevent every freak accident?

On a lighter note, while weeding and spreading some moldy straw around some new roses (own-root roses, doncha know) and three New Mexican Private and a couple Low-grow Sumac (for the birds, ya see…I had to get ‘em! (…besides, maybe they’ll eventually hide the propane tank.)) Anyway, I was outside and heard what sounded like a squeaky puppy-toy; you know the kind; turned out to be a young Hairy Woodpecker begging suet from a parent feeding on it. He was making quite a racket; poor baby still hasn’t figured out how to get down from the cloths-line post to those hanging cages. Awwwwwwwwwwww…

Since both chickadees and nuthatches seem to gab one and run…too bad we can’t figure out a dispenser that only gives one per visit. Would the others have the patience to come and go for just one seed? I’m not an inventor…what on earth have you come up with?

Okay, I’m off to the showers… ripe isn’t a word that should be associated with a lady. ROFLMAO


Bosque Bill said...

That cylindrical feeder is very much like what I use to feed peanuts in winter... and yes, my House Finches raid it, but it is awkward for them and that leaves opportunity for the more desirable birds to get to it.

You might try the hardware cloth on the suet feeders to see if that will thwart the squirrels. Luckily, I don't have tree squirrels here, only ground squirrels.

My House Finches will consume the suet in short order. I've found a hard, peanut dough "suet" that they have more trouble with and the Downey's and nuthatches love, but again, only during winter.

Yes, my dream sunflower seed feeder would dispense only one seed at a time and the bird would have to cling upside-down to get it. The chickadees and nuthatches would have no problem with either of those conditions. I have some House Finches that would hover to grab a seed, as they do at the upside-down thistle feeder, but it would slow them down enough to make it worthwhile. All this is still just in the conceptual phase, not plans or prototype, yet.

Beverly said...

Good idea regarding the suet feeders; perhaps I can rig something against a small board...and force the 'shy' little buggers to feed on the side I can see from my window! LOL

lkw said...

Yikes, your grackles sound like quite the weedy, opportunistic birds. We have grackles here, too, but they're not pesky at feeders. But I've not put corn out either (I would've been tempted by blackbirds, too).

I used mixed seed once, and got starlings, yuck, and went back to black sunflower seed.

As far as squirrels go, the only way I've kept them out was to hang the feeders on shepherd's hooks AT LEAST 8 ft. from the nearest tree branches (their jumping abilities are remarkable...), and then use baffles (I've got one metal and one plastic one - both effective at ~ $20/apiece) to prevent them from climbing the poles.

I'll have to look into the woodpecker seed bars that bosque bill mentioned -- I love watching our downy woodpeckers visiting the suet block.

Thanks for letting me know about the missing link on my blog, and more importantly, reminding me to visit yours again.

Enjoy your peppers and tomatoes,

Beverly said...

Hey Lisa, nice to see you here again! I enjoy your blog and regularly read…course I’m jealous as the dickens of your garden. I’ll get there…I’m only just starting on the yard here.

Yes, I rather like the Corvidae and the bigger Icterids kind of remind me of them; but NOT when they show up by the dozens…or hundreds! Ugg Destructive thugs, they are!

Like you, I quit using mixed seed when Kevin Cook suggested I’d have fewer problems if I separated seed types. Of course, that led me to mostly use Sunflower Seeds…until I discovered the big black birds don’t like Safflower Seed. It’s about the same price as Black Oil Seeds…so no money saved; just that even the squirrels don’t seem to like it much. That in itself is worth the white seed shells all over! LOL (Okay, again per Mr. Cook…I actually got a Wet-Vac and vacuum under my feeders. I admit it) Bottom line is, I don’t have the starlings back…but the Grackles, Doves and squirrels have returned for the Sunflower Seeds. I’ll have more Safflower Seed on Tuesday!

I sure wish I knew where you found squirrel baffles; the darn things climb right up every pole I have! Every one I’ve seen is at least $40 for a simple circle of thin metal bent into a cone; I refuse to pay it…but have recently heard a length of stove-pipe may do the trick. I’ll be hitting the hardware store soon!

BosqueBill is great! I just ordered some books he mentions on his site …wonderful recommendations, I might add.