Squirrels & Critters  |  January 22, 2019

How to Deter Squirrels

Although Songbird Station is a birding store, one other critter often dominates a conversation – squirrels! They’re often a headache for backyard birders, but they’re just doing what they need to survive. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to keep them from swiping the food in your bird feeders.

Squirrel Defeater Seed Feeder

Some bird feeders are specifically designed to deter squirrels.

We feature them prominently inside our store, since they’re so popular. A customer favorite is the Squirrel Defeater Seed Feeder (SE980). It cleverly features 3 individually weight-controlled seed ports that will close if something heavy like a squirrel gets on them.

Baffles are another solution; they keep squirrels from climbing up (or down) to your feeders.

Pole-mounted baffles keep squirrels from climbing up poles and come in a variety of sizes. Our largest is the Predator Defeater (SESQR87), which also blocks raccoons. You can also view some hanging baffles in the store; we’ll help you choose the right one.

Another way to discourage squirrels is by choosing seeds that they don’t like to eat. Safflower seed tastes very bitter to most mammals, and will deter raccoons and deer as well as squirrels. However, cardinals, grosbeaks, titmice, nuthatches and other birds, love it!

Bird Food and Feeders  |  January 18, 2019

Preparing for Winter Bird Feeding

Wild Bird Winter Needs

Follow these tips from Songbird Station, then relax and enjoy a backyard filled with your feathered friends.

October is behind us and already we have seen the snows and cold weather creep steadily closer. The days seem even shorter now as we rolled back the clocks and the light is casting long dark shadows by the afternoon. The trees have become mostly barren with a few leafy blotches of gold, orange and red desperately clinging on as if to defy the northern winds. Sweet aromas of wood fires drift lazily from chimneys filling neighborhoods. One last glance out of the window at dusk provides silhouetted images of Northern Cardinals at the bird feeders grabbing a few last-minute morsels before heading to their nightly roost. The signs of winter are slowly settling in across Central Missouri.

The large flocks of blackbirds, except for a few stragglers, have been ushered south by the first cold fronts. Our winter birds, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows and others have arrived over the past few weeks having been driven south by the same cold northern winds. Soon Pine Siskins will appear, maybe even some Redpolls. The northern birds that will spend the winter across Central Missouri have replaced the birds of summer. The Baltimore Orioles, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, Tanagers and dozens of other birds who rely on insects for food are but a warm weather memory. The Warblers that nested to our north have been passing through since mid-October. They stop in backyards for a splash in the bird bath and to glean what insects remain before retreating further south ahead of the approaching winter. This annual fall migration of birds is a visual reminder that the seasons are about to drastically change.

It is these cold weather changes that encourage many folks who didn’t maintain a bird feeder during the summer to consider offering supplemental food sources for our backyard birds. After all, when the snow blows and the temperatures plummet, our resident winter birds are a short thirty-six hours away from starvation. These feathered creatures, most that weigh less than a few ounces, only survive the harsh frigid nights on what foods they can consume during the day.

Feeding birds in our backyards has become more than just a passing hobby. In fact, birding in the United States has become the fastest growing outdoor recreational activity for families and individuals with close ties to gardening. The birds entertain us, they educate us and they bring color and activity to a seemingly cold reality outside our windows. But what does it take to feed birds and attract them to our yards? It’s very simple. Birds find food by sight. You put the food out and they will come.

In the past many people would just scatter the bird seed on the ground, or possibly have a single bird feeder filled with a general wild bird mix and expect all birds to enjoy their fill. However backyard bird feeding has become more specialized, targeting the specific feeding habits of birds to meet their needs. Some birds will only feed at elevated feeders like the Chickadees, Nuthatches and Goldfinch. Others, such as Juncos, Doves and native Sparrows feed primarily on the ground. Still other birds like Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Brown Creepers prefer to feed around the tree trunk zone. Then there are the Cardinals and Blue Jays who are just plain opportunistic feeding wherever the seed is made accessible to them.

Two of the most common style of bird feeders for attracting a large variety of birds is a hopper feeder, which will attract large and small birds, and seed tube bird feeders designed primarily for smaller birds. Other bird feeders include ground and platform bird feeders which are undoubtedly the most versatile for attracting a large variety of bird species. Then there are bird feeders designed to attract specific birds such as Nyjer thistle feeders for Finches and suet feeders for Woodpeckers. These types of bird feeders are recommended for a successful backyard bird feeding program.

Just as the type of bird feeder you select determines which birds you will attract, the bird seed you fill them with is just as important. Birds that feed at elevated bird feeders prefer sunflower seed, safflower seed, peanuts and other nut mixes. If you put a general Proso millet wild bird mix in these feeders, the birds will sweep through it picking out the nut products, scattering everything else to the ground.

Thistle feeders are for Nyjer thistle seed and Finch mixes. Caution must be taken to assure the thistle seed is fresh or the Finch you are trying to attract may reject it. A good Finch mix contains only Nyjer thistle seed and finely ground sunflower chips, nothing else. Avoid those commercial Finch mixes that contain flax, canary grass seed and other filler seeds that birds do not eat.

General wild bird mixes have a base of white Proso millet with cracked corn, peanuts and sunflower seeds added. They are best used on platform and ground feeders where birds can select the seed they want without sweeping through it. However, when purchasing a general wild bird mix read the label. Many of these inexpensive mixes contain filler seeds such as Milo, wheat, red millet and other products that birds do not eat. As much as 40% of a bag of bird seed that contains these filler seeds can end up uneaten and wasted on the ground. There is a variety of no-waste and no-mess wild bird feeds on the market. Although they may cost a little more, it will save you money in the long run.

If squirrels are robbing the seed you intended for the birds to enjoy, you may want to consider adding a squirrel baffle or investing in a squirrel proof bird feeder. Safflower seed will attract most all your favorite backyard birds and can be used in any type of bird feeder. The advantage is that squirrels do not care for it and will leave your feeders alone.

Water for birds, especially during the winter months, is essential for their survival. Although they do not rely on any one food source, an open source of water in the winter can be difficult to locate. In fact, offering fresh water can attract more birds than bird seed alone. To keep the water from freezing there is an assortment of bird bath heaters and heated bird baths on the market that are thermostatically controlled and use less energy than a 60 watt light bulb. Fresh water does more for birds than just meet their hydration needs. Clean feathers provide insulation during cold nights.

Winter offers many relaxing moments watching the birds go about their daily feeding routines from the comfort of your home. Winter also provides time to consider installing bird houses for the nesting season come spring. It’s a good time to make some landscaping plans for the spring that will benefit the birds in your yard year round. Hedges and shrubs will not only offer shelter from bitter winter winds, but will become a place for birds to nest and provide a natural food source as well. Consult with a Master Gardener at your local garden center or the University of Missouri Extension Office about planting habitat for wildlife.

Bird Watching  |  

Great Backyard Bird Count

You wake up in the morning, make your coffee, look out of your back window – you see Blue Jays and Cardinals dancing around your feeders. You hear the whistle of a Black-Capped Chickadee and as winter progresses these songs of the black-capped chickadee are becoming more prominent. Join over 160,000 individuals this February as they count their backyard birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Each year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society team together for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was the first online citizen-science project used to collect data on wild birds and display the results in real-time.

Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018
Great Backyard Bird Count Statistical Map 2018

Counting wild birds provides critical data which can be used to analyze bird populations and create the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The data collected helps answer important questions such as “How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?” and “How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?” Bird populations are consistently changing. Data collected in the 2014 GBBC implied a significant irruption of Snow Owls across the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, Great Lake areas of the United States.

Dust off the binoculars and get your sketch books out, this year’s bird count will take place from Friday, February 16th through Monday, February 19th.  Anyone and everyone are invited to participate for as little at 15 minutes. You can count birds in your backyard or other locations such as parks, lakes – anywhere wild birds can be found! Go as a group or go alone, the GBBC is easy and convenient. Visit BirdCount.Org to register and track your results.

Helpful Sites:

Cornell Lab or Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478

Great Backyard Bird Count: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

National Audubon Society: https://www.audubon.org/

eBird: https://ebird.org/news/counting-102/

Bird Houses and Nesting  |  

Housing Birds During Winter

SE934 Mounted Grass Roosting Pocket with Roof

Providing roosting spots for birds is important because it allows birds to escape the snow and wind they would face during the cold winter nights.

Birds use these roosting boxes or nesting pockets to huddle together to share body heat and stay warm. This allows the birds to also save energy which is vital for them during these difficult months. Boxes and pockets also keep the birds safe from predators they may incur during the night hours.

Natural materials, such as the ones used in the Songbird Essentials Roosting Pockets help keep birds safe from predators as they blend in with surrounding areas and do not attract unwanted attention.

Bird Watching  |  

Bird Watching for Beginners

Picture this, you go on a nature walk with your close friends. In the distance, you hear the calls of a bird. Your group gets excited in anticipation of what singing songbird’s path you are about to cross. As you close in on the bird you recognize it’s distinct, nasally, fast-repeated clear whistle. Peter-Peter-Peter. Almost as if it was alarming the others that someone is entering their territory. You lift up your binoculars to see a small bird that has frequented your backyard feeder stealing sunflower from the Cardinals.  A small gray bird with prominent black eyes, a bushy crest, and small beak. It jumps down from its perch to pick up a seed and flies proudly back to its branch. You tell your friends it is a “Tufted Titmouse” and now you feel like a true birder. Success.

It takes practice to become an expert birder but is a lifelong skill to have that can be passed on to generations to come. Birding is essentially a year-round game that never ends and can be played outdoors or from the comfort of your home looking out of a window with a few supplies or none. It’s your call. Let your curiosity take flight with birding. If you really want to improve your birding skills, or just start somewhere, there are several supplies you will want to keep handy.

Getting Started with Birdwatching

A good Field Guide will be your best friend as it is essential to being able to identify birds. Field guides come in many different sizes making them easy to carry in your pocket, backpack or purse. There are guides available online but the last thing you want to do is drag out your dinging tablet or phone in the middle of the woods while trying to identify a quick moving bird.

There are many types of field guides available. If you are starting your birding trek at a state or national park you may find park guides in the visitor’s center before entering the park. These are typically a pamphlet of common birds located in that park.

Traditional guides come in different shapes and sizes ranging from a 2-sided laminated card to a full 200-page book and beyond. Beginner guides are typically arranged by color of the bird making it easier for the user to flip to the right starting point but as you use these guides you will learn that your version of color may vary from that of the authors. You will find that more advanced guides are arranged by shapes or taxonomically (by scientific classification).

Gear Yourself

So you have had practice getting out in the field, walking trails and taking advantage of the free guides provided at your local park. You’ve got a hang of flipping through a guide and understanding the author’s version of “red” and now it is time to purchase gear – but where to begin?

A sketchbook or journal will be your best friend. Keep a pad handy when you are going on a nature hike as there may be multiple birds you are trying to identify at once. Jot down a sketch of the bird, colors, unique calls the bird may have or any other identifying features. When you go home and prepare to finish your birding homework these clues can help you identify what you were not able to while out in the field.

Invest in a dependable binocular that suits your needs once you feel you are ready to improve your birding abilities. See this article on finding the right binocular for eyeglass wearers. Binoculars are convenient and easily portable, can be worn around your neck, and are available in waterproof options! Sighting birds through binoculars gives a more realistic view than using a telescope as human vision is stereoscopic (using two vision channels) just like a binocular.

Put Your Skills to Work

You’ve done your homework. You’ve flipped through your field guide. You’ve made your birding purchases now it is time to put your skills to work. Remember to have fun and relax. You will not be a professional on your first attempt. In fact, with birding, you will find that you learn something new each time you step outside. The knowledge you will obtain from bird watching will be abundant. So take that first step into nature and you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Pass these skills on to friends and family to create future generations of birding enthusiasts.

Bird Watching  |  January 16, 2019

Binoculars for Eyeglass Wearers

Picking the right pair of binoculars can be a hassle – especially if you already wear glasses. The most important feature to consider when purchasing a new pair of binoculars is the eye-relief or the distance between the exterior surface of your eye piece and your actual eye at which a full view can be wholly observed. When shopping for binoculars you want to find a binocular with an eye relief reaching or exceeding 15 mm which will accommodate your glasses without losing the field of view.

Pay attention to magnification, which is a key factor to consider when shopping for binoculars – eye glass wearer or not. You must understand the compromise associated with the magnification choices. Higher powered binoculars allow you to observe more details but also offer less-stable images and narrow fields of view as well as shorter eye reliefs. The best device would be one with 8x or 10x as they often contain eye reliefs over 15mm.

Other factors to consider when purchasing a good pair of binoculars includes the field of view, eyecups, and size of the objective. You’ll appreciate binoculars with a large field of view as it allows you to focus on moving objects easier and ensure your eyes feel more relaxed. Look for binoculars with adjustable or removable eye pieces to accommodate your eye glasses. The size of the objective lenses will determine the light gathering ability as well as weight and size. Binoculars with a bigger objective offer a better low light performance.

Bird Food and Feeders  |  

Supplying the Right Winter Foods

Food during colder weather can be scarce for most birds because the insects, berries and other plants they depend on as part of their regular diet are not as available to them during the colder months.

Because of this, people play a very important role for many wild birds. Since their food source can be limited, the food that people supply help many wild birds survive during the harsh months of Winter.

There are certain feeders and seed you may want to use to provide the best Winter diet for the birds. For primarily seed-eating birds like Cardinals and Jays, the best seed you can feed these birds would be black oil sunflower seed. These seeds have slightly thinner shells and a higher oil content than other types of sunflower seeds, making them a more efficient and nutritious food for birds in the winter. Sunflower kernels provide even more energy per bite.

Through the harsh seasons nyger seed and fine chopped sunflower seed would be the best choice to feed your Finches, as it is another seed that offers a lot of calories, which helps birds store the fat they need to keep warm through cold weather.

For Clingers, such as: Woodpeckers and Chickadees, the best two foods to provide, are suet and nut pieces. Suet is animal fat mixed with fruit, seed of nuts that offers a high calorie food source these birds need during the cold months. Nuts are another choice to feed the Clingers because nuts are a high calorie, fat-rich nut that doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Bird Baths  |  

Winter Spa for the Birds

A guaranteed way to increase your backyard activity!

What’s a sure way to attract birds to your feeders? Offer water… especially in winter! About 70% of a bird’s non-fat body tissue is water that needs to be maintained to avoid dehydration. Birds find some water in natural food sources: insects, berries, and even from snow, but when those supplies dwindle, the water YOU supply is even more vital!

Open water in freezing weather will attract as many or more birds, as a well-stocked feeder! Birds use it to help keep themselves warmer in the winter.

By cleaning their feathers and grooming them with natural oils, our feathered friends are able to help insulate their bodies from cold.

You can keep water thawed with a submersible heater placed directly in the water. It’s economical and safe, as long as you use a high-quality, outdoor extension cord to plug the heater into an electrical source.

In winter, use a rough-surfaced, plastic saucer for a birdbath. Ceramic and concrete ones, though fine for summer use, will crack easily in frigid weather.