Bird Man Mel had a flurry of hummingbird activity in his backyard last week and captured some fantastic images. Check out his tips and tools that will bring Hummingbirds to your yard as they head south for the winter!
Tips for Attracting Orioles
Because of their strikingly beautiful black and orange
or yellow plumage, their distinctive whistle, spring
songs, and their amazing suspended nest, Orioles are
quickly becoming one of America’s favorite birds. While
over eight species of Orioles can regularly be seen in the
United States, we’ll deal mainly in this flyer with three
species: Baltimore, Bullocks, and Orchard (range maps
on back page). All United States Orioles show variation
on the theme of black and orange or yellow plumage.
Except for in the Southeast, all Orioles are tropical
migrants. While migrations vary from year-to-year,
Orioles generally arrive in the South in early spring,
Midwest in early May, and further North soon afterward.
It is very important that you have Oriole feeders up and
ready, or often they will pass you by for better feeding
grounds. It is equally important to have nesting
materials out and ready to help encourage Orioles to
nest in your yard. Although studies are still being done
on how much we can tempt Orioles to nest in backyards,
by summer’s end, migrating Orioles are headed back
south to their tropical winter homes in Central and South
America. It does appear that Baltimore Oriole’s ranges
are expanding, while Bullocks and Orchard Orioles are
declining. All Orioles need and benefit from your help.
In the United States, you can find over 16 kinds of Hummingbirds. For people east of the Rockies, the most prevalent by far is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. In fact, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the most widely distributed of the world’s 338 species of Hummingbirds, all of which occur ONLY in the Western Hemisphere.
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is often found between woodland and meadow; however, it has adapted well to human development, but only if there is shelter, space, and food. It is frequently seen in suburban backyards with mature trees and shrubs, in wooded parks, and around farmsteads.
The Keys to Attracting Hummingbirds are to provide Food, Help for Nesting, and Misters (Water) for them to fly through. Providing natural plants that bloom from Spring through Fall is one of the best ways to attract hummers to your yard! Read on and learn how to make your yard a “Hummingbird Haven©.”
© NestWatch / The Cornell Lab of Ornithology / https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/dealing-with-predators/
|Species||Nesting Habitat||Box Height||Hole Size||Minimum Spacing|
|American Kestrel||Pastures, fields, meadows, or orchards with mowed or grazed vegetation; place boxes on lone trees in fields, on trees along edges of woodlots, and on farm buildings. Facing south or east||10-30 feet||3″ diameter||1/2 mile|
|Ash-throated Flycatcher||Chaparral, mesquite thickets, oak scrub, dry plains spotted with trees or cacti, deserts, and open deciduous and riparian woodlands||3-20 feet||1 3/4″ round||200 feet|
|Barn Owl||Prefers open areas like fields, deserts and marshes which are in close proximity to hollow trees, cliffs, riverbanks, or man-made structures, including barns, bridges and other accessible sites, and which support healthy rodent populations||8-25 feet||3 3/4″ x 4 1/2″ elliptical||100 feet|
|Black-capped Chickadee||Forests, woodlots, and yards with mature hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight, hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1″ wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/8″ round||650 feet|
|Brown-headed Nuthatch||Open stands of pine-hardwood forests, clearings scattered with dead trees, forest edges, burned areas, cypress swamps||5-10 feet||1″ round||1 box per 6 acres|
|Carolina Chickadee||Forests, woodlots, and yards with mature hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight, hole should face away from prevailing wind. Unlike other chickadees, Carolina Chickadee does not do much excavating, so wood chips are not necessary.||4-15 feet||1 1/8″ round||30 feet|
|Carolina Wren||Forests with thick underbrush, forest edges, woodland clearings, open forests, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs||3-6 feet||1 1/2″ round, or 2 1/2″ x 5″ slot||330 feet|
|Chestnut-backed Chickadee||Coniferous forests, mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, forest edges, woodlands, thickets, burned areas, often near streams; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1″ wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/8″ round||160 feet|
|Common Goldeneye||Breeding habitat is limited to aquatic areas with dead trees, in boreal, deciduous, aspen and montane woods; favor calm, large, clear lakes without much vegetation or fish. Please several inches of wood shavings in the box in early spring.||6-30 feet||3 1/4″ high x 4 1/4″ wide||2/3 mile|
|Eastern Bluebird||Open field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions||3-6 feet||1 1/2″ diameter (round), or 2 1/4″ high x 1 3/8″ wide (oval)||300 feet|
|Eastern Screech-Owl||Forests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb. Add 2″-3″ of wood shavings||10-30 feet||3″ round||100 feet|
|European Starling||Habitat generalists, nesting in areas ranging from rural and agricultural to suburban and urban areas, but they avoid heavily wooded, mountainous, and arid regions||providing nest boxes is discouraged for this species in the U.S.||can squeeze through holes with 1 9/16″ diameter||5 feet|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||Deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, forest edges, woodlots, orchards, parks, on post or tree at forest edge||3-20 feet||1 3/4″ round||1 box per 6 acres|
|Hooded Merganser||Quiet, shallow, clear water pools surrounded by or near the edge of deciduous woods: small forest pools, ponds, swamps; add 3″ of wood shavings; add ladder under inside of entrance hole for young to climb out||6-25 feet||3″ high by 4″ wide horizontal oval||100 feet|
|House Sparrow||Agricultural, suburban, and urban areas; tend to avoid woodlands, forests, grasslands, and deserts||providing nest boxes is discouraged for this species in the U.S.||can fit through holes with 1 1/4″ diameter||variable|
|House Wren||Variety of habitats, farmland, openings, open forests, forest edges, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs||5-10 feet||1″ round||100 feet|
|Mountain Bluebird||Open field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; will also use deciduous and coniferous forest edges; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions||4-6 feet||1 9/16″ diameter||300 feet|
|Mountain Chickadee||Coniferous forests, forest edges, woodland clearings; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1″ wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/8″ round||1 box per 10 acres|
|Northern Flicker||Pastures, groves, woodlots, orchards, fields, meadows, woodland clearings, forest edges, urban parks, on pole or tree at forest edge or along fence rows bordering crop fields; south or east facing; box should be completely filled with wood chips or shavings||6-12 feet||2 1/2″ round||330 feet|
|Prothonotary Warbler||Lowland hardwood forests subject to flooding, stagnant water, swamps, ponds, marshes, streams, flooded river valleys, wet bottomlands; box should be over or near water||4-12 feet||1 1/4″ round||235 feet|
|Purple Martin||Broad open areas (meadows, fields, farmland, swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers) with unobstructed space for foraging on flying insects; there should be no trees or buildings within 40 feet of the martin pole in any direction; houses should be painted white||10-15 feet||2 1/8″ round or 3″ wide x 1 3/16″ high crescent||10 feet|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||Mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, shrub lands, swamps, farmlands, suburban parks; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1″ wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/4″ round||150 feet|
|Tree Swallow||Open fields near water, expansive open areas, marshes, meadows, wooded swamps; on a post in open areas near tree or fence, east facing||5-6 feet||1 3/8″ round||35 feet|
|Tufted Titmouse||Deciduous forest, thick timber stands, woodland clearings, forest edges, woodlots, riparian and mesquite habitats; hole should face away from prevailing wind||5-15 feet||1 1/4″ round||580 feet|
|Violet-green Swallow||Open or broken deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, wooded canyons, edges of dense forest||9-15 feet||1 3/8″ round||30 feet|
|Western Bluebird||open field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; will also use deciduous and coniferous forest edges; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions||4-6 feet||1 1/2″ diameter||215 feet|
|Western Screech-Owl||Lower elevations, forests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, deserts, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb, south or east facing. Add 2″-3″ of wood shavings||10-30 feet||3″ round||1,000 feet|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||Deciduous woodlands, mature forests, woodlots, near open areas, forest edges, orchards, often near water; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1″ wood shavings can be placed in box||5-20 feet||1 1/4″ round||1,040 feet|
|Wood Duck||Forested wetlands or near marshes, swamps, and beaver ponds; boxes can be installed on posts or poles in water, at least 3 feet above the high water mark, facing south or west. If installing on land, choose a site within 100 feet of water with no branches near the entrance hole and with a predator guard. Place 4 inches of wood shaving in box floor. Box should have fledgling ladder inside entrance hole to enable young to climb out.||6-30 feet||4″ wide, 3″ high||600 feet|
Purple Martins (Progne subis) are the largest of the swallow family who have been known to even be seen on radar as large groups take flight. Martins east of the Rocky Mountains solely dependent on human-provided housing. Martins started using gourds originally provided by Native Americans as housing dating back to the colonial times. They have shown an affinity to nesting in natural gourds, man-made gourds, and aluminum houses.
Martins will return to the same breeding site year after year so if you have lost your Martins there is a good reason why. Make sure you control House Sparrows and European Starling populations in and around your colony. Like many birds, the Purple Martin does have a relatively short time you may enjoy their song each year so preparation is paramount in having a successful season.
THE BLUEBIRDER’S TEN COMMANDMENTS
I. Place houses at least 300 feet apart, because bluebirds are territorial.
II. Keep the bluebird houses in open habitat. It’s the environment they prefer.
III. Control the House Sparrow, or it will eliminate the bluebird and Tree Swallow.
IV. Add a second bluebird house 21 feet (7 paces) from the first house, at every 300-foot setting. This will allow the valuable Tree Swallow to also nest on your bluebird trail.
V. Control the most threatening parasite, the blowfly larva.
If you don’t, you may end up fledging very few, if any, baby birds. Change their nests when babies are from seven to 10-days old (only one change per brood needed.)
VI. Attach a predator guard to your bluebird houses. This will protect the bluebirds from predators and other enemies.
VII. Avoid handling the bluebird and/or Tree Swallow young after they are 14 days or older. They may fledge prematurely, which could cause their death.
VIII. Monitor your bluebird trail at least once every week.
IX. Remove the old bluebird and/or Tree Swallow nests on your first nest check after the young have fledged.
X. Keep accurate field records. This is the first step toward achieving greater success on your bluebird trail.
© 1995 Andrew M. Troyer – Bring Back the Bluebirds
By: Tristan Palmgren
Winter is a special season for birding everywhere. Birds are not only (usually – there are some exceptions, like male goldfinches, who lose their bright gold coloring) easier to spot against the snowy foliage, but their behavior changes in dramatic fashion. As naturally-appearing nuts and seeds dwindle, and the energy demands of survival increase, your birds will frequent your feeders and birdbaths more often. That means that winter is a great time to attract new birds to your backyard. They will be out and looking for new sources of food. As birds are creatures of habit, they will continue returning to your feeders even as the seasons change and other food becomes more plentiful.
Let’s consider some things you can do to make our part of the world more welcoming for birds. One of the biggest and best things you can do for your yard is provide fresh, liquid water – ideally with a De-Icer or in a heated bird bath. Maintaining a liquid-water bird bath is not as much of a challenge as you might think. This is a subject important enough to have its own segment in this newsletter. See the article “Winter Birdbaths” for more details.
Missouri’s winter and year-round birds will need many more calories to survive and thrive than they did over the summer. That means their preferred food sources will change. Energy is paramount. And the highest-energy, highest-calorie foods that we have are the suet cakes. Pine Tree Farms High Energy Suet is Songbird Station’s best-selling winter food. Suet appeals most to clinging birds like titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, and bluebirds will all delight in suet cakes, especially if they’re catered to. In addition to High-Energy Suet, Pine Tree Farms makes a variety of specialty suet cakes. Some are formulated to be more attractive to specific birds – insect suet, for example, will draw in more bluebirds. Other cakes are made for different purposes, such as hot pepper suet, which will keep pesky squirrels, raccoons, and deer away from your feeders.
As you observe your birds this winter, you may notice that they appear larger and fluffier than before. This is not necessarily because they’re bulking up or storing extra fat. Birds keep themselves insulated from the cold by fluffing their feathers to add more layers of air between them. The multiple layers of feathers and air keep their body heat efficiently trapped. Feathers and fluff alone won’t keep them through the coldest Missouri winters, though. At night and during snowstorms, they’ll be looking for shelter to roost.
You can help them out by providing roosting space. Nest boxes left over from last nesting season are not ideal roosting spaces because their entrance portals are at their tops. While this is a feature during summer, in winter this allows heat to escape into the world. Dedicated roosting boxes are similar to nest boxes, but have their entrance portals at the bottom of the box to allow heat to stay trapped atop, and generally have a built-in ladder or other platform to allow birds access to the warmer top of the box.
Not all nest boxes can be reasonably converted to roosting houses. One recent addition to the Songbird Station catalog is designed to do double-duty. The Songbird Essentials Convertible Roosting House has a detachable front cover that can be flipped depending on the season: entrance portal on top for summer, bottom for winter, and a removable internal ladder. Alternatively, Songbird Essentials’ dried grass roosting pockets not only provide birds with shelter and space, but look fantastic on trees.
By: Tristan Palmgren
As the weather gets colder and natural seeds and nuts become scarcer, more and more birds will be visiting your feeders – but food and calories aren’t the only things they’re going to be looking for. Liquid water becomes even scarcer in winter. Feeders are an essential component of your backyard birding habitat, but they’re not the biggest draw for birds. In winter, liquid water will draw many times more birds than even the most attractive feeders.
Keeping liquid water in your backyard is less of a challenge than it might seem. The Songbird Essentials Birdbath & Multiuse De-Icer will fit most birdbaths, and is completely safe for birds. The surface won’t get too hot for them to touch, nor take up too much electricity. The De-Icer is controlled by a built-in thermostat. The heating element will only switch on when the water is just above freezing and will maintain it at that temperature. It will turn on and shut off automatically. The projected power usage is pennies per month.
Most heated birdbaths – that is, full baths with their own heating elements built in – are also controlled by thermostat, are similarly cost-effective to operate, and can be used year-round. Our most versatile heated birdbath is the Songbird Spa, which can be mounted to a deck railing with a clamp or plate mount and comes with stakes for a ground mount option. The Songbird Spa is easy to clean. The bath lifts right out of its holder. Other heated birdbaths can also be mounted on decks or, like the Songbird Essentials Heated Cedar Birdbath, come with stands.
One of the best features of a well-maintained birdbath is that they will draw many more birds than might otherwise visit your feeders otherwise, including birds that aren’t primarily seed-eaters. Not only will liquid water attract a greater quantity of birds, but also a wider variety. Last winter, nine out of ten stories about bluebirds that we heard in the store started with birdbaths. Bluebirds visit seed feeders on occasion, but they’ll more readily make a habit of visiting fresh water. A heated birdbath is a great way to draw in as many bluebirds to your backyard as your area will support – and to see if it’s worth investing in a mealworm feeder or bluebird house, if you haven’t already.
By: Mary Douglas
Fall is upon us with winter close behind. A stroll through local parks amid our autumn colors is always a delight this time of year. Take note of the abundant natural foods available for wildlife as you go.
Seed heads heavy with seed will be bent over, acorns will be scattered about the undergrowth, and berries will be heavy on the stems. Native plants and trees you may find include Sunflowers, Serviceberry, Red Cedar, Wild Plum, Black Cherry, Oaks, Basswood, Beautyberry, Dogwood, Hawthorn, Sumac, Virginia Creeper, Coneflower, Liatris, Asters, Black-Eyed Susan, Native Grasses, Winterberry, and others. Many of our native plants look like a weed, yet they are nature’s grocery store for our wildlife. You will likely find some of these natural foods in your yard. Along with the wild food, fall provides leaf litter on the ground that is winter nesting material for birds, squirrels, and bugs.
The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends leaving the native foods and litter where they are for the birds and critters. We can help our local wildlife by leaving and encouraging such native resources in our yards. Fall is the prime time to expand your native perennial plants either by division and replanting or by purchasing starts from local growers. Adding a reliable source of fresh water, such as a heated birdbath, and seed and suet feeders to supplement the wild harvest will attract and help support your local wild residents through fall and winter. Future benefits will show themselves in years to come.
Fall also brings the shortened daylight hours that triggers the migration of birds. September is often the month we see the most activity at feeders from migratory birds. Birders have a great opportunity to take pictures in the fall as the birds offer unusual opportunities to see them as they move through on their way south. Cameras and binoculars are often in our pockets as we stroll about our parks. Songbird Station offers a wide variety of feeders, baths, and optics to meet your needs and budget. Utilitarian or decorative there is something for every bird lover and a variety of seeds and seed blends for every bird species. Take advantage of Nature’s bounty in the native plants, add a few strategically placed feeders, and use your binoculars to watch the show!
By: Kevin Alferman
Welcome to the wonderful world of Warblers. Did you know that 37 species of warblers migrate through Missouri in the Spring and Fall? Fall viewing can produce some rewarding looks at the colorful and artistic patterns of warblers, however, they don’t come easy. Most warblers are secretive, hiding among the foliage. They feed actively, primarily on insects, so it seems like right when you’re ready to get a good look, it moves. But keep trying, because when you do get a good look it’s really worth it. In general, warblers are tiny (smaller than sparrows, slightly larger than a goldfinch) and their beaks are short and pointed. Common species that breed in Missouri include Northern Parula, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellow Throat, and Yellow-Breasted Chat. Uncommon breeding warblers include Blue-Winged, Yellow-Throated, Yellow, Pine, Black and White, Prairie, Cerulean and Worm-eating. Common migrating warblers include Tennessee, Yellow-Rumped, Black-Throated Green, Blackpoll, Palm and Wilson’s. Uncommon migrating warblers include Orange-Crowned, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Bay-Breasted, Mourning, and Canada. WHEW! As if that’s not enough, an additional 6 species wing through as rarities. Want to learn more – Check out “The Warbler Guide”.
Species Spotlight – Yellow-Rumped Warbler
The Yellow-Rumped Warbler is one of the most abundant warbler species throughout the country. In Missouri, they are abundant migrants from Early October through November, with their numbers reducing through December. A few even stick around through the winter! They spend the summer breeding in Canada and high mountains. Look for them in the higher portions of trees in your yard. Locate them by listening for their often repeated short call (sounds like “check”). It is a well-named species because the yellow rump is a good field mark. It looks like a pat of butter was placed above the base of the tail, giving them the illustrious nickname “butterbutts”. Also, look for the white spots on the black tail (especially visible in flight) and the yellow patches on the flanks. Color patterns and markings are bolder on the male. The male’s body has an overall bluish-gray look, while the female appears more brownish. This species is separated into two subspecies and both migrate through Missouri. The Audubon race is the western variety and has a yellow throat. The white-throated Myrtle race breeds mostly in the eastern U.S. and Canada.
Attracting and Viewing Warblers
Warbler migration peaks in mid-September so now is the time to get ready for them. Birdbaths, especially with moving and noisy water, are a great way to get warblers in the open for a nice look. Ground and elevated birdbaths also work well. The simplest way to things moving is the Solar Powered Birdbath Bubbler (pictured) that can be easily inserted in any type of birdbath. Despite being insect eaters, there are some good food options for attracting Warblers. Many species make occasional visits to suet for the high energy beef fat, especially varieties that include insects, and fruit. HAPPY HUNTING!