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Friday, May 28, 2010

Stokes Feeder Friday: Bird Baths

American Goldfinch, drinking at Stokes Select clamp-on bird bath

Summer like weather is here, even though it is May. LIke us, birds get hot and thirsty and just want to dip in the pool. One of the best ways you can get more birds in your yard now is to get a good bird bath and keep it cleaned and filled. We have our bird bath on our deck, near the garden hose, so it's easy to do this. We just sit on the deck and watch the birds enjoy.

Here are some Bird Bath Tips

Water works wonders in making your backyard sanctuary an instant hit with your featherd friends. Birds need clean water for drinking and bathing and If they see it, and hear it, they will come flocking.

1. All birds need water, not just the birds that come to your feeders for seed. There are many more potential visitors to water, including vireos, warblers, thrushes, buntings, bluebirds, hummmingbirds, orioles and more.

2. Traditional bird baths usually are a basin on some kind of pedestal and come in a beautiful variety of colors, textures, materials, and finishes. Pick one that goes with the style and decor of your garden.

3. Choose one that is shallow and has gradually sloping sides. Birds will land on the rim of deeper water and tip their heads down to drink, but if you want them to bath, it must be the right depth.

4. Small birds, like chickadees, prefer water less than an inch deep. Larger birds, like robins, will bath in water that is up to 2 inches deep. That is why we like bird baths with sloped edges; they have both shallow and deep parts and accommodate everything from goldfinches to Mourning Doves. We also like bird baths with a good solid edge on which the birds can perch as they drink. Our Stokes Select clamp-on bird bath attaches to decks railings and has both shallow and deeper areas to accomodate birds of all sizes.

5. Surface texture is also important. Glazed baths can sometimes be too slippery on the bottom for birds to enter and bath, although they may stay on the edge to drink. Birds need to feel sure-footed as they ease themselves into the water to the right depth to bathe. So look for surface texture that has some grip, whether pottery, stone, or cement compositions.

6. Birds are very attracted to the sound and sight of dripping or splashing water; it seems like they cannot resist investigating. Drippers work by having a tube run from the faucet to the dripper and have an adjustable valve that enables you to get just the right flow. Make the drip very slow — it conserves water and still attracts the birds. Some bird baths have a solar fountain, that circulates the water with a pump that works from a solar panel. These are energy efficient, but only work in bright sunlight so do not expect them to run all the time.

7. Misters are similar, but create a fine spray that seems to be a particular favorite of hummingbirds who fly through to bathe. Misters, if near foliage, will make the leaves wet and some birds even bathe by rubbing against the leaves.

8. Recycling fountains are also great, but usually need a larger container to take the pump that is needed. This means deeper water. You can make a deeper fountain bird-friendly by adding a shallow shelf on one side, or a large rock the birds can land on.

9. No matter what type of bird bath you have, you must keep it clean. For bird baths, scrub them each day and refill with fresh water. A good brush is a big help. For really tough stains, use a little bleach and water, scrub, and rinse very thoroughly before adding fresh water. You want to keep your bird spa spotless. Some companies even sell natural enzymes, water plants, and other biological clarifiers to control algae, especially useful for larger pools and ponds.

10. Clean and refill your bird bath every day in warm weather. This will prevent algae. Place your bird baths within reach of your garden hose to make this task much easier.

11. Place bird baths in the open, so birds can watch for potential predators, but have some sort of cover or landing spots within about 10 feet.

Have a great holiday weekend and enjoy all your birds.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bluebirds mate-feeding & breeding

"Here's a tasty morsel for you, my dear"

Birds are in full time breeding mode right now. Many birds do mate-feeding as part of their courtship and nesting. Males will get food and feed it to the female. She may quiver her wings as she is getting fed. In bluebirds mate-feeding continues from the start of pairing on into the nestling phase. Cardinals and other birds also do this. Whether it's just part of the pair-bonding, extra nutrition for the female or other reasons, it's just adorable to watch.

People do not always understand a bird's breeding cycle. Someone just asked us
"I put my bluebird house up late. They did start making a nest about a week and half ago. I haven't seen them around for a whole day. I did check the nest I could not see any eggs. Could they have possible left the nest by now?"

To help you better understand bird behavior, here is some basic information on the breeding cycle of birds. This is generalized information for most songbirds, certain species may vary from this.

Breeding begins by a male singing, forming a territory and trying to attract a female. If he is lucky, a female bird will choose him and join him on the territory. He then usually diminishes or stops singing.

The female builds the nest and it may take a day or several days. There may be a pause before the eggs are laid. The pair will mate, then the female lays 1 egg per day until the clutch is complete. Most songbirds lay 3-6 eggs. She usually lays the egg in the morning and does not stay near the nest the rest of the time. So if you see 1 or 2 eggs in a nest it does not mean it is abandoned, chances are the female will come back the next day and lay another egg until she has a complete clutch.

Then incubation begins. It is done mostly by the female and usually lasts about 12 to 14 days (12-18 days for Eastern Bluebirds). During this time the female is quiet and the male stays somewhat near and does not sing.

When the eggs hatch both parents become very active bringing food to the nest. They carry away from the nest fecal sacs, little white packages that are the droppings of the young. This keeps the nest clean. The young, called nestlings, stay in the nest for about 12-14 days (longer for birds thart nest in birdhouses, for Eastern Bluebirds it's 16-21 days). The young at first have very few feathers. Then they have "pin feathers", feathers enclosed in sheathes. By the time they are ready to leave, the feathers have broken out of the sheathes, the young are fully feathered, and they call loudly.

When the young "fledge", or leave the nest they are called "fledglings". At first they may not be able to fly that well and for the first few days stay in the vicinicy of the nest. They are still fed by the parents for another several weeks. The fledglings often stay scattered in trees and call constantly. So if you hear constant chirping and see adult birds carrying food to different bushes or trees, chances are they are feeding fledglings. During the fledgling phase the adults may start a new brood. The male may sing again, mate with the female, and she will start a new clutch of eggs. even while he is still feeding fledglings from the first brood. The fledglings will eventually learn to feed themselves and the parents stop feeding them. and so the whole thing starts over.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet 'cha

Chestnut-sided Warbler was singing next to our driveway in a small birch tree next to a big swath of dense, low hemlocks and rhododendrons. Some people say the song sounds like he is saying, "pleased, pleased, pleased, to meet 'cha" with the accent on the 'cha. That is what he sounded like to us. Sometimes Chestnut-sided Warblers sing an unaccented song, however, and that is a more confusing one to recognize.

On the New Hampshire Audubon birdathon this weekend, a friend of ours walked a powerline and said she had never seen so many Chestnut-sideds. That second growth habitat is what they prefer. Habitat, habitat, habitat to birds, is what location, location, location is to realtors and home buyers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stokes Feeder Friday: Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female, at Stokes Select Royal hummingbird feeder.

The weather has been crazy here, ranging from a frost last week to, now, weather in the 70's and 80's. It is so important to keep your hummingbird feeders clean and filled with fresh fluid every 2-3 days, or every 2 days when it gets really hot. To make this easier, get feeders that come apart and you can easily clean! Clean with hot water and a little vinegar to get rid of any mold and rinse thoroughly.

Here's the recipe to make your own hummingbird nectar solution.

1 part white table sugar (not honey or artificial sweetener)
4 parts water

Boil for 1-2 minutes to dissolve the sugar, cool. Fill feeder. Store unused solution for up to
a week in the refrigerator. 

We now have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming regularly to our feeders here in NH. Females just recently showed up. We saw a male do a courtship display to a female where he flies in a big "U" shaped flight right over her, his red throat patch (called a gorget) flashing in the sunlight. After mating, the female lays 2 smaller-than-jelly-bean sized eggs and raises the young herself.

I'm going to go make some fresh hummingbird solution right now. Love those hummers!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tree Swallows

This elegant pair of Tree Swallows are breeding in one of our bird houses. This morning they were sitting together on a perch we attached to the top of their box. They are in egg-laying stage and after a 14-15 day incubation period, new Tree Swallows will hatch and there will be 5 or 6 more Tree Swallows in the world, depending on how many eggs they lay.

What is striking to me is the composition of this photo. They were posing that way, I just captured it. Digital photography captures and creates the art in the photographer's eye and mind. We often think that if John James Audubon (who painted in the 1800's) were alive today, he'd be using a high end digital camera, a long telephoto lens and Photoshop to create his bird images.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Veery peek-a-boo

Right next to our front door in a big viburnum shrub yesterday, was this Veery, peering out at me. I thought it was just about to ring the doorbell. What a beautiful thrush! You can see the cinnamon malar streaks (the two lines coming down at an angle off either side of the bill) nicely in this, facing you, photo. I love the intimate look and the lovely feather detail of the chest spots against the buffy upper breast. Veerys, Wood and Hermit Thrushes breed in the woods around us. Not many come to our front door.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chickadee Fur Fever

We put out fur from our Corgis in a suet basket for nesting birds. This chickadee just went wild over the fur. She couldn't get enough! Here's a video of her collecting the fur. In the top photo she just looks like a wooly chickadee. What do you think the caption should be?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oriole OJ

Baltimore Oriole, female.

Yesterday I said we can't pay the orioles to come to oranges. Just minutes ago this female Baltimore Oriole showed up at the oranges at our Stokes Select Snacks'N'Treats feeder. So I'm wrong, how great! And what a treat for us to have this beautiful bird eating right outside our window.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Catbird OJ

Here's a photo of one of our Gray Catbirds enjoying the orange halves we put out on our platform feeder. We have a pair and they just love the oranges.
On the other hand, we can't pay the orioles to come to the oranges. The orioles stay down by our pond and nest in the trees there. They come to our apple tree blossoms to sip nectar, then that's it. Some orioles eat oranges, some don't. When breeding, orioles eat mostly insects.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Phoebe raced through agility tunnel,

then sailed over the jumps. She loves agility.

She is wise and calm,

and had a fling with Scooter, her true love.

We have two Pembroke Welsh Corgis. One of them is Phoebe, of blogger fame —she usually writes her own blog. Today I am writing about her. Phoebe, now 3 1/2, is a beautiful, complex, Corgi who is the Jedi master to our other Corgi, Abby. Phoebe is incredibly calm, steady, excellent with dogs and people, barks little, and appears low key. Dianne says she has been here before.

All that changes the minute she gets near an agility ring. She barks continuously and excitedly at every other dog she sees running through the ability course and cannot wait her turn. In the ring, she tears through the obstacles, races through the tunnel, up over the A-frame, etc. and sails over and clears the jumps. It's hard to keep up with her. She's a natural at agility and her herding dog, run, chase and work ethic comes out there.

At home, however, she conserves energy, according to her. (We think it's more that she's a couch potato). Beneath the laid back exterior however, is a laser focus on food. While dinner is being fixed, she will be right at your feet, hoping that a stray piece of broccoli or other morsel might accidentally-on-purpose be dropped on the floor. As a matter of fact, she will remind you, by staring, mildly whining, and sitting in front of you, at 5:30, that you really should be starting dinner. Always pushing, always focused on her agenda, again some herding dog traits.

Phoebe is a sweetheart and affectionately greets us in the morning with talking (sounds like Chewbacca), licking our hands and just loving getting her chest scratched. She is rather independent the rest of the day, and does not always seek to be right next to us. However, she is always watching us. She has this aura, a sense that she carries the collective Corgi wisdom of the ages with her. Perhaps she has been here before.

On the other hand, our other Corgi, Abby, 1 1/2 years old and a Corgi Jedi-in-training, well, that's another story.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, yes!

Ooh, what's not to love with this beautiful, male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at our feeder. It's gotta' be one of our top favorite feeder birds and a lot of other people's as well. Sunflower seed is their choice, which they can easily crack open with that massive bill.
They breed across much of the upper East, parts of the Midwest and across a lot of Canada. They can also be seen during migration through much of the rest of North America. We get them breeding here in NH, lucky us.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marbled Godwit

Here's some Marbled Godwit photos I took in winter in FL. Such a beautiful and unusual looking shorebird. Look at the bright rufous color of the underwings. This is a shorebird that you can see in winter on mudflats in southern coastal areas of the East, West, and also on the Gulf Coast.
In summer they breed in the northern Plains areas. We have seen them there, and wish we were there now, (or at Magee Marsh, OH) instead of still at our computers putting the very last touches on our major new field guide to birds, coming out in Oct. Sigh. It's taken us 6 years to do, and it will be work waiting for.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bluebird Perch

In our garden we have some antique statues of geese on the lawn. Today Mr. Bluebird decided to use them as a hunting perch and he looked comical sitting on the head of the goose. Made me think of the myth, "do hummingbirds ride on the backs of geese?" No hummingbirds do not, and neither do bluebirds, but bluebirds welcome anything that is a low perch from which to hunt insects on the ground, even a fake goose. Bluebirds get their prey by sitting and watching the ground then swooping down and grabbing the insect.
So If you want to attract bluebirds to your property, in addition to having the right kind of bluebird house, you also need habitat of open areas of short grass. By placing a perch in the grass, you enhance the ability of bluebirds to get their food. We place wooden stakes, or a tall (like 4-5 ft.) old branch in the ground near our bluebird houses as hunting perches. Other birds, such as Eastern Phoebes and Eastern Kingbirds, use the perches to hunt as well.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Baltimore Oriole, sweet.

We have this lovely Baltimore Oriole coming regularly to our crabapple trees to drink the nectar from the blossoms. Beautiful bird, beautiful blossoms with a heavenly scent. A nirvana moment.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

1, 2, 3, Eider Down!

On our trip to the coast I was watching Common Eiders dive. Eiders can dive down to 60 feet to pick up mollusks and crustaceans from the sea floor. The wings are held partly open during dives. Here's a sequence of a female Common Eider diving where you can see this. She plunges downward head first, her wings held open. I love the last photo showing the water pattern of a little V-ridge, where her head and wings have broken the water. It was tricky getting this photo because you cannot always predict the moment an eider will dive. I could have spent the whole day just watching their behavior.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Common Eider

Here's a Common Eider, male, photo from our recent trip to the NH coast. More coming soon.