So, a nasty bug of some sort, and not this "swine flu", floating around, has kept me at home for the whole week. I know I wrote yesterday and said I am going to lay off on blogging much the next few months. While that is true, my actual stories and information bits will slow down; but I do plan to keep up with photos and stories of the backyard and wherever else my journeys go.
It is a wonderful time to be outdoors right now. Here in Toronto we are having great days of warmth and lots of sun and our nasty smoggy humid days haven't kicked in yet.
I think I would just like to share somethings that I have learned about backyard birding over the last near 5 years now. From where it began to where it is now.
I remember back then, Angie made mention to me how she was surprised that I did not have a bird feeder in the backyard... what with being such an animal and nature lover. Why didn't I? Probably still living a bachelor lifestyle, although much more mature than previous years. I was away from home much of the time, out with friends or working. It was our first summer together for Angie and I. The following weekend I believe we went out and bought a small gazebo type feeder and some seed with a pole/hook and waited. About 2 weeks later I called Angie in an excited tizzy because the first two birds I saw at this little feeder was a pair of Northern Cardinals. My favorite songbirds! Over the next 4 years the backyard birding experience just exploded...
There is so much to share and I think I will start with feeding working into attracting and feeders. To walk into many places that offer bird seed, it can be overwhelming with the many different blends and varieties. Unfortunately a lot of the seed blends offer a lot of crap in the seed. It's not poisonous to the birds but many of them do not like the filler bits. I wish I could remember the names of this junky stuff but it has been so long since I have bought any "Wild Bird Seed Mix" that is sold around the Toronto area. Milo and oats come to mind but I may be incorrect about it. With such seed purchase you may be throwing your money away. That is unless you do not mind the ground feeders that eventually will show up to eat this seed that most songbirds are going to toss to the ground. Pigeons are my biggest pain. I've had some summers bring me 27 to my property. While I truly have no hatred for these larger birds they do make a habit of sitting up on roof tops, looking down to the yard and keeping an eye on the feeders, and me, when I go out to fill them. Pigeons make one hell of a mess up on those roofs and it's very destructive to the shingles over time. My neighbor complains because they like her roof and normally show up by 5am. They run back and forth across it and make their regular cooing noises. I guess this wake up call might be okay to someone who gets up by 5am? Never have to worry about sleeping in.
My other ground feeders who show up are Mourning Doves. A much nicer and more pleasant lot but fewer in numbers than Pigeons.
Then the mice come along too! Those cute fuzzy little critters, see how they run! See how they find their way into your home or shed when the cold weather comes. I have enough cats in the neighborhood to do some control over this but it's not uncommon for me to find little mouse corpses in the garden or grass. This may prove upsetting to some.
Other uneaten junky seed may turn into a funny looking plant the following year. I've had that!
I myself prefer to mainly use Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. Very little gets wasted, it's a popular seed with most of my visiting birds. The one problem with this seed is the shells. If you don't mind keeping the area clean with some raking and scooping occasionally, then it's a perfect seed to start with. The seed is quite inexpensive when bought in large quantities. There is a shelled blend called "Sunflower Hearts" but is double the price if not more. It all depends on what cost it is to you to clean up seed shells. I've even found that B.O.S.S. is different from one place to another. A specialty feed store has a cleaner blend compared to the bags purchased a big stores like Walmart or Home Depot. If you leave this seed sitting for extended lengths of time, do not be surprised to open it one day and fine moths flying out. The dirtier blends can have moth eggs within that will hatch eventually.
I also have one feeder that I fill strictly with Safflower. Almost all the birds will not eat this seed but the Northern Cardinals enjoy it (my faves) and so do the House Finches.
The Cardinals are pretty much the first birds to arrive at my feeder(s) in the morning and the last ones before the sun goes down as well. So I never have to worry about them not getting a bite in these off hours with a Safflower feeder.
I also have 3 seed sacks filled with Nyger seed to keep the small flock of American Gold Finches coming back to visit. It is a tiny seed and I thought that ONLY the Gold Finches enjoyed dining on this seed. This past winter I learned about some other birds who enjoyed it as an "Irruption" occurred and I ended up with 2 new species of birds to the yard... Pine Siskins and Common Red Polls. You may have read about them in a post or two of mine from a few months back. Occasionally the House Finches will dine on the Nyger as well. The Gold Finch pictured here showed me they enjoy Black Oil Sunflower Seed as a secondary food source. To attract them, Nyger is a must and some bright yellow ribbon or tape to the feeder speeds up bringing them in.
This seed sack has all 3 species I mentioned above enjoying the Nyger seed. Can you tell the difference between the Gold Finch, the Pine Siskin and the Common Redpoll? American Gold Finches turn more of a brownish yellow through the winter and the males brighten right up as summer approaches.
Next is the suet cakes (animal fat or vegetable based... depends on what you buy). I prefer a pure suet, which is strictly animal fat. I've found that it is a preferred diet for the Downy Woodpeckers and Hairys as well. When I tried other suet blends with seeds and nuts in them; those cakes would be devoured within hours by House Sparrows and European Starlings or one Squirrel. Pictured below is our pair of Downy Woodpeckers enjoying a suet cake together.
Here is a male Hairy Woodpecker enjoying suet from an upside down feeder. The makers boast this feeder caters to Woodpeckers and Nuthatches but deters other birds since it is upside down. Don't you believe it! A determined bird, regardless of the species will figure out how to get underneath; and I have seen it with Starlings and Sparrows often. It still is nice feeder, you get to watch the birds feed from a different angle. First glimpses of one trying to figure it out is also entertaining to watch.
House Sparrows used to be a bit of an issue here. I like the little buggers but when there's 20 or 30 of them around, even in their physical size but due to their massive numbers, they were a deterrent for other birds to visit. When I cut out the mixed wild bird seed blends their numbers reduced. A number of them still buzz around and they are always adding a soundtrack to the backyard.
European Starlings are a much larger pain. While a beautiful song they carry (when they want to) but often just go with these odd squawks. They are like a bunch of unruly teenagers or a motorcycle gang. They come in large numbers and dominate the area. They will even chase other birds away from feeders that the Starlings actually have no interest in feeding from. They see all others as a threat to their food source and try to rid them with their aggressive attitude, large numbers and just have an over-all terrible etiquette to backyard feeding.
With the wild bird seed mix that I initially started with, I have to say I am thankful for it as 2 years ago it brought one lost little Budgie to the yard who has become a member of the household. She's a funny little thing, singing, chirping and squawking away right now as I type with the kitchen window open for her to chat with the others outside. You may have read about Misfit in one of my earlier blogs.
A lot will depend on your area and what food to offer.
We learned Baltimore Orioles are in the Toronto area so we put out orange halves along with grape jelly and sure enough they came. We have a pair who are visiting as of now for the third year in a row.
There is a couple Hummingbird feeders out but I realize they enjoy the flowers in August here much more than those nectar feeders.
So, with that discovery the other year, I have been in the process of planting a sort of bird garden to attract birds and butterflies. Honeysuckle, Red Hot Pokers, Dogwood and a couple Viburnams (Blue Muffin and Cardinal Candy) to start with. I also don't mind sharing my strawberry patch, raspberry and blueberry bushes as well... as long as they save me some. My biggest surprise was how much the Hummingbirds enjoyed this monstrosity of a tobacco plant last year with small pink flowers. The plant rose to at least 13 ft high, with a lot of support around it and through late August it wasn't uncommon to find a Hummingbird visiting the flowers high in the air. Dogwood is pictured below, newly purchased two weeks ago.
As for feeders, what to use, what is best. That is as tough as it is easy. I mean, just put food out and they will come. Some feeders work great. Some not so great. Some foods they love, others not so much. What works for me, may not work for you. What works for friends of mine, doesn't always work for me.
Squirrels are an issue. always have been, always will be. We solve that with roasted peanuts in abundance. If you can't beat 'em, feed them! At the request of more than a few neighbors, we are shelling most of them first. "Peanut shells everywhere!" is what I have heard many times this spring after the snow melted. I disagree with those who purchase a Squirrel proof blend which contains a hot pepper powder over the seeds. Birds lack the senses to feel the heat of the seed unlike how a Squirrel would and I think that is just cruel. You would think that hot pepper powder might burn the insides of a bird anyways even if they don't first sense it while ingesting the hot seed.
I have yet to give a recommendation to a "Squirrel Proof Feeder". Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is hunger in a Squirrel's belly and bird seed around (except Safflower... they won't eat it)... they will get to it or try and try and try some more. My Squirrel Proof Feeder had it's roof torn off and the lock mechanism broken by two Squirrels. It's been repaired and modified where the Squirrels cannot rip the top off anymore but they still get at the food despite the other mechanism on the actual feeding part which is like a scale, too much weight such as a Squirrel and it closes. Nah, they just pop that piece out and it's a free for all once again. This is my $60 Squirrel Proof Feeder... or as I put it, "my $60 metal bird feeder". It used to be a bright cherry red but is very sun bleached now.
One of the "Dirty Dozen" as I fondly refer to them. There's usually 12 running around.
My only true Squirrel proof success is over 15 ft of pole up in the air, with a metal umbrella about 3/4's of the way up (Squirrel Baffler) and numerous feeder bars and hooks that branch out from the top. I've watched them climb the trees, clothes lines and other wires nearby to get at this apparatus. I finally have it at a spot where they cannot get to it anymore. Some of the feeders I can reach, others I need one of my garden rakes to bring them down from so high up. It's a pain but if it keeps food in the feeders longer, so be it. I love the Squirrels but they too have a lack of etiquette, they don't like to share and will eat and bury every last bit until it's all gone or the sun sets.
I can thank the Squirrels for one thing with their feeder rampages over the years... they have planted many sunflower seeds about the gardens so we are lucky enough to have more than a few Sunflowers pop up every year. Unfortunately though, just as they are full and lush, another Squirrel comes along and tears it apart for the new seeds. At least it didn't cost me anything.
I know this got a little long winded but hopefully someone may have learned something about backyard birding, especially if they are new to the hobby. I am only sharing what has worked for me... for you, it may not work, depending on your area, what birds are around, what your property is like. Where you place your feeders can be an important factor as well. There are many threats to the birds which include cats and birds of prey. I've lost many Sparrows to cats. I've lost many Pigeons and Starlings to a few species of Hawks. I have to admit I am not overly saddened by this... I get to see Hawks so up close! Angie had a Northern Goshawk fly right at her head last August. He wasn't impressed with her trying to get a closer look. The neighbors occasionally aren't impressed either when left with a sight such as below after a Hawk attack.
Last bits... add a bird bath! Birds love water and we love to watch them bathe. Please change it frequently as they tend to poop in it as well. Many birds drink from the bath so having water mixed with feces can make them sick.
Just because you want to feed the birds (and Squirrels... give them a chance, they are funny creatures), your neighbors may not be thrilled about it. Be ready for complaints, try to work something out or be a little courteous to them providing they are to you.
If you do not want Pigeons to your property with backyard bird feeding, the first sight of one, remove your feeder temporarily. Consider another spot. Be certain food is not being tossed to the ground as waste. One Pigeon will definitely bring a lot more. Can you spot the 8 in this shot?
Any questions, feel free to ask. Any suggestions, please add them in the comments section.