Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lonesome Dove

Well, well…speaking of doves; guess what I spied in the grass this morning?

Yup, another White-winged Dove…the bird in the back with the white edges along the curve of its folded wing. Okay, very fast shot and through the window and some 60' away, to boot; but you can see it's what it is. Sweet!

This dove, like the one before, seems to hang with the Eurasian Collared Doves...which is, of course, why I suppose it's lonesome!

Also saw another Indigo Bunting today…but the several dozen cow-birds which showed up scared it off. Lordy, I do NOT like those cow-birds. To tell the truth, I'm thinking the bird was a Indigo/Lazuli cross. The intense blue bird had white wing-bars but it lacked the rufus breast-band but it had a white belly. I understand these two inter-breed where they overlap territories. Still...a stunning bird.

Monthly list of birds seen in my yard the month of May, 2009:

White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Cooper's Hawk, Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Western Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch (black-backed), Bullock's Oriole, Hairy Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Turkey Vulture, Evening Grosbeak, American Robin, American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Blue Jay, Common Raven, European Starling, Northern Flicker - Red-shafted, Downy Woodpecker, Black-headed Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, House Finch - red, yellow and orange variants, Eurasian Collared-Dove

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bob-tailed Grackle

No, not the rare and difficult to find “Bob-tailed Grackle”…just a bird who probably thanks his lucky feathers all he lost was a tail!

How humiliating…at first I thought I saw a light-eyed starling when I walked by the window. He seems to fly okay, but I hope he doesn’t have any migrating to do soon. A missing tail can’t be a good thing during long trips. I wonder if it will grow back.

On a lighter note, while Black-headed Grosbeaks continue to visit, they're here in fewer numbers. The Evening Grosbeaks are still here in droves. Several many Bullock’s Orioles still visit regularly; I’m thinking drilling out half the ports in all the hummingbird feeders was a great idea! Well…and keeping the grape-jelly station well-stocked; those guys love their jelly! Who knew the Black-headed Grosbeaks occasionally indulge?

I still see lots of brilliant finches, including the occasional Lesser Goldfinch and Lazuli Bunting…but this time of year it seems most are not relying on feeding stations. Having said that, the Pine Siskins are bringing their newly fledged youngsters here...probably greatly relieved to get a break in 'on-demand feeding'. Ha...the babies still demand and resort to begging. They'll learn.

What I am happy about is that while they’re still around, the Eurasian Collared Doves are not here in the great numbers they were…and have allowed the much smaller Mourning Doves to visit more often. The last few mornings I’ve seen as many as four at a time picking through the chicken scratch I toss in my yard. They make me smile. Have you ever seen one up close?

And while dozens and dozens of Brown-headed cowbirds hang around, as well as two or three Red-winged blackbirds, I've not seen a Blue Jay in weeks. Even the woodpeckers, who do still show up, seem to be too busy to visit regularly. I rather like it that there are several Black-billed Magpies who drop in several times a day. They like the homemade suet I hang, even though feeding on those tiny little holders must feel a bit ungainly. Magpies and Grackles both seem to enjoy the kibble and peanuts-in-the-shell I put out for them, too. As I've said, I love the big guys...but they're the only ones my dog runs off. He does not like to share his marrow bones, even when he's already gotten all the marrow he can reach and chewed them down to nearly nothin. Funny dog...

Dove photo from Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Rainy Day in May

This morning I missed the peeping calls of Evening Grosbeaks. It’s raining here, perhaps they’ll come around later; they don’t seem to get along well with their cousins, the Black-headed Grosbeaks…who are here in droves right now. They’re even up on the feeders very close to the house, which are usually dominated by the Evening bunch. Apparently, when they’re around…they’re the bosses.

Yesterday, while watching the Evening Grosbeaks feed just a foot or two from my nose, I noticed some of the males, perhaps the most dominant ones, occasionally raise the feathers on the tops of their heads. They looked like spiky, brown-headed punkers with oddly penciled yellow eyebrows. The normally smooth, yellow brows, when ruffed-up in a macho display, show as a row of single, yellow slashes above their eyes; a fairly significant ‘scary-face’ on a normally sweetly-behaved and congenial bird. I just love the beautiful blue-green their bills become during breeding season.

Also here is the single remaining Red-winged Blackbird. While several weeks ago the blackbirds were here nearly by the hundreds, they have mostly left; only the single male seems to remain. In their place, sadly, are literally dozens of Brown-headed Cowbirds. It is eerie to watch them fill up tens of feet of phone-wire over my yard, not really reminiscent of Hitchcock as some other brand of horror movie. I’m sorry, for as pretty a bird as a Cowbird is (and they are), in my mind they are just evil incarnate. Ugh, it galls me no end I have so many (40-50) hanging around my feeders.

On to a sweeter note, I also observed a tiny finch, the Lazuli Bunting here…as well as a male Lesser Goldfinch. This black-backed variety looked even slicker, due to the gentle drizzle that’s been falling all morning.

Yeah, another wonderful day in the neighborhood!

Photos from Wikipedia

Friday, May 22, 2009

Learn What to Look For!

This morning, still wet from the heavy rains yesterday and last night, I saw what I believe to be a female Calliope Hummingbird. Of course, I really don’t know, but I’ve had them here earlier…or so some commotion a May 4th posting caused makes me think.

At any rate, when I came home last night, I was amazed to see so many birds at the feeders; it was after 5:30 and still raining. The birds were feeding hard…and were slick; dark with thoroughly wet feathers. I kept thinking I hope it doesn’t get too cold tonight! To help things along, I checked feeders it made sense to re-fill and made sure all the nectar feeders had enough to make it through to the early morning; and added a couple fresh suet cakes.

Back to the hummingbird; one of the things I thoroughly believe in is reading field guides and other books on local birds. One needs to know what one might see around here…and when, too. I do this, and while I suppose it might cause me to see things that are not there…like wanting a certain hawk to be a Ferruginous Hawk; I don’t like to say it’s so unless I’m certain. But, like seeing a smear of intense blue amongst the Lazuli Buntings, some ‘sightings’ prepare me for reality; a couple days later I got a long, clear look at an Indigo Bunting. Or like the other day when I noticed a ‘black-headed oriole’….I was prepared to consider either an Orchard or a Baltimore Oriole when I got a much better look later in the day.

So, this morning while I watched the birds and I noticed a single and very hungry female hummingbird at the feeder, sitting for quite a long time, I considered the fact that she practically had no tail. In fact, she had the ‘stubby cigar’ shape experts describe as a Calliope Hummingbird …with a sort of humped back I associate with the breed. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert birder and can’t tell female hummers one from another; but this one sure was stubby!

It could be she just arrived (though males usually arrive first) and was exhausted; it could be ‘she’ is a young male, and it could be she was just all puffed up because she was cold. I don’t know, but I got to watch here for quite awhile…even as others buzzed around her; back and forth from the feeders. I think I was watching the first of hummingbird variety number three: the Calliope Hummingbird…but I won’t know for sure till I see the males. They’re coming and I’ll be ready to identify them when they get here.

I lifted the second photo from to show the stubby, ‘cigar-shape’ look that make Calliope’s unique. Please visit his site for the full-size image. The other image is from Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 16, 2009 Three Firsts - All in One Day

Well, I continue to be lazy with my bird watching here; have not even looked for a warbler or another sparrow. [sigh]

I've been too busy and besides... I met a friend. For all his gruff nature and ol' rancher qualities...the man is a sweetheart. Hard to believe such a man who can talk so rough also teaches cake decorating at the local 4-H. Go figure. But then...I like odd ducks. He's smart as a whip but talks like a cowboy (oh, and he insists he is NOT a cowboy; while he has horses, he doesn't ride 'em anymore.) Okay, perhaps a sailor is more like how he talks. Lordy that man can cuss! Anyway, for an old man (he's 61; keep in mind I'm 60), he acts like he's 40...and I like that in a man. This could be fun! But as I said, bird watching has fallen to the back burner...

About bird watching, though...this morning I think I saw the first Western Tanager of the season...always a treat! I spent a good amount of time mowing this the birds are somewhat skittish. Saw no Rose-breasted beauties, but the Black-headed and Evening Grosbeaks abound.

This Tanager enjoys the oranges and grape jelly I put well as home-made suit. I've done a bit of research and have some of my own photos; read some facinating information about the red on this red-headed bird on a previous post here.

Hummers are here in increasing numbers; still have yet to see a Rufus or a Calliope, though. It is a bit early, me thinks.

[A few hours later...]

OMG, I just saw my first-ever Indigo Bunting! Sure, I thought I might have seen one several days ago...but I didn't get a good look; just an intense blue smear. Today, I watched the little, very blue, blue bird go from a feeder to the grass to a branch; offering me splendid looks at his beautiful self. WOW

It is no wonder they sometimes cross-breed with Lazuli Buntings; they are nearly the same size (Indigo is a tiny bit smaller) as their cousins and have the same, smudgy, dark-eyes. Clearly they have similar backgrounds. This one is all-over blue; darker than a new pair of good Levis...with a hint of black on the wingtips.

Indigo Buntings are actually black; the diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue. This explains why males can appear many shades from turquoise to black. Sometimes a very blue bird; stunning...


Before the day was done, I also found a black-headed Bullock’s Oriole; but, of course, there is no such bird. This pretty boy was drinking from the nectar feeders at my kitchen window. I watched the bird for quite some time…about 2’ from my nose. However, upon some research, I discovered what I saw was a Baltimore Oriole! Another first!

Doing the research, I tried to figure out how the heck to tell a Baltimore from an Orchard Oriole…assuming one is not familiar with “distinctive dark chestnut” color. Well, most of it is in the tail; the Orchard Oriole has a dark tail, while the bird I saw had an under tail the same brilliant yellow-orange as his belly; so it was surely a Baltimore Oriole! Sweet!!!

Photos from Wikipedia

Friday, May 8, 2009

On Feeding Hummingbirds & Orioles

Who doesn't like to feed hummingbirds? Have you ever found a big bird at your humming bird feeders? Orioles also enjoy nectar…though sometimes a less ‘rich’ blend like 5/1 or even 6/1. I drill out some of the holes on the plastic ‘pan’ feeders (which have perches these birds need to feed from the feeder; they don’t ‘hover’) I use for the hummers and let them feed on the same stuff the hummingbirds enjoy. They always do. Course, I also offer orange slices and halves, as well as grape jelly (which also bring in the Tanagers).
Both like meal worms, too; but back to the nectar… I mix a 4/1 concoction of water and plain ol’ granulated sugar to make the nectar I offer all season; the 'season' being 2-3 weeks before anticipated arrival to 2-3 weeks after I see the last bird

Granulated Sugar is made from either of two plants: sugar cane or sugar beets. There is no real difference in the sugar made from these plants; some manufactures don’t even mention which is used. The sucrose in each is the same, but trace elements are different; but have insignificant nutritional effects. Regular sugar = fine granulated sugar = table sugar = standard granulated sugar = extra-fine granulated sugar is the standard table sugar we're all familiar with.

"White" sugar is created in a couple of ways. Beet sugar is produced much the same way as cane sugar. The beets are sliced and soaked with chemicals to form a sugary syrup. Sugar cane is initially pressed and the juice is then mixed with lime to achieve the desired PH-balance and to help settle out impurities.

The liquid, now a dark grayish-green color, is heated to its boiling point, and chemicals are added to remove impurities. Sulphur dioxide is introduced to the cane juice before evaporation. It effectively bleaches the mixture. Next, the juice is placed in huge tanks to evaporate, leaving a thick syrup. This syrup is heated to remove more and more water until crystals form. These crystals must be separated from the syrup, so they are put into a centrifuge machine which spins it around rapidly.

The sugar which is left inside the machine's cylinders is called raw sugar. In this form, the sugar has uses to some manufacturers, but to make it suitable for food, it must go to a refinery. There, it is dissolved, treated with chemicals, filtered, crystallized once more, and allowed to solidify, this time into pure white sugar.

This mixture is then run through a centrifuge again to take away the outer coating of the raw sugar crystals. Phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide are then added to the juice which then combine and absorb or trap impurities. The resulting syrup is then filtered through a bed of activated carbon to remove molasses and then crystallized a number of times under vacuum. It is then further dried to produce white refined sugar like we buy in the store. (Ugg, who knew? How can they call white, granulated sugar ‘pure’? Sheessh! …there are benefits to the research I do)

Turbinado sugar, also known as ‘turbinated sugar’, is made from sugar cane extract. It is produced by crushing freshly cut sugar cane; the juice obtained is evaporated by heat, then crystallized. The crystals are spun in a centrifuge, or turbine (thus the name), to remove excess moisture, resulting in the characteristic large, light brown crystals. Turbinado sugar differs from refined white sugar in that it is obtained or crystallized from the initial pressing of sugar cane. Because the turbinado sugar is less refined than white sugar, it is often called ‘Raw Sugar’. Turbinado and demerara sugars are the same and often sold as organic products. . It also is considered by some to be “healthier” since it receives less processing than does white sugar. Unlike granulated sugar, turbinado sugar tends to hold more moisture, and is lower in calories...and should NOT be used for hummingbird nectar (see below.)

Brown sugar is refined white sugar with a molasses-syrup mixed in and then dried again.

About making nectar to feed birds; do not use commercially prepared liquids or mixes. They contain preservatives that are even more harmful to birds than to humans (it’s a size thing), as well as various dyes which have also been proven harmful as well. Let the feeder itself provide the color (red attracts hummingbirds (and orioles, to), but yellow is favored by bees and wasps. I always remove the yellow ‘flowers’ when I find ‘em on feeders.

Do not use brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, raw sugar, or turbinado sugar to make your nectar. Confectioner’s sugar contains corn starch that can cause the syrup to ferment quickly. Brown sugar and raw sugars contain iron and can prove deadly to hummingbirds over a period of time.

Do not use artificial sugar if only because it contains absolutely no nutritional value (not to mention what it does contain).

Do not use honey to prepare your mixture. Honey will ferment more quickly and also promotes the growth of fungus and other organisms that attack the digestive system of the small birds.

Regardless of what you read, boil a mixture of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water (1 cup sugar + 4 cups water (thanks Anon for correcting my typo)) for two minutes to retard fermentation. Keep the lid on the pot to reduce evaporation. Do not microwave the mixture as this heating method is hotter than water’s boiling point and causes a breakdown in the sugar molecule. Cool and refrigerate what is not immediately used. Warm temperatures and direct sunlight cause fermentation and bacterial growth within the sugar-water; therefore it is critical that feeders be emptied and cleaned every two to four days. (Yet another reason to begin the season only filling feeders partially full; you’ll waste less.)

Oh, another goodie I learned from the hummingbird book Bosque Bill suggested (by Dan True; see Bill’s Place): Place pieces of fruit that attract fruit flies and gnats near a feeder (bananas, peaches, apricots, etc). I’ve watched hummers hawking gnats swarming over grass and understand they eat tiny spiders and other bugs deep within evergreens; but the fruit attracts the tiny bugs to eye-level, where you can watch …and the hummers will thank you for the extra protein!

One last consideration: the 4/1 ratio is sort of a generalization. Plants naturally contain higher and lower ratios of sugar to water; depending on weather, water, etc. When birds first arrive during migration, they might enjoy a higher level of sugar to water; it will certainly keep the birds coming back when they’re nearly starving. However, keep in mind that nectar is where the birds get water, so too rich a mixture will do more harm than good as the weather gets warmer and everything needs to drink more water. There have been some studies regarding whether or not too rich a blend damages birds’ livers, too. Perhaps a slightly richer ratio very early in the season would be beneficial, but certainly not for the long run; cut back to 4-to-1 before summer gets rolling. That said, by and large a bird knows what it needs. Rich food makes for fewer visits to feeders; a more natural concoction will allow them the time to rest and/or feed on other foods.

Other Sources:

Hummingbird photos from Wikipedia; Orioles are mine