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.
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.
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.
Missouri is dead center in one of the largest migratory pathways on the North American continent. The Missouri and Mississippi rivers are highways for millions of birds moving south from Canada and the northern states. Bird populations shift with the seasons as they have for millennia. In winter Missouri birders miss our backyard friends the hummingbirds, orioles, wrens, swallows, and other insectivores. Their absence makes way for the incoming seed eating Juncos, Siskins, and Finches. The changes come and go every year giving birders something new to see every day.
The significance of migration is most pronounced at our Missouri State Wildlife areas. Places such as Squaw Creek and Swan Lake in NW Missouri attract millions of migrating and overwintering waterfowl and raptors. Canvasback, Mallard, and Merganser ducks move in with Canadian Geese and Snow Geese in large flocks. Seeing these birds en masse is truly breathtaking.
Raptors follow the migrating waterfowl and overwinter here as well. Missouri has the largest population of overwintering Bald Eagles in the country. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has Eagle Days when the public can go to specific watch sites to enjoy the show with up to 30 eagles roosting in a single tree. These opportunities are memorable opportunities for photography and hot chocolate. Wrap up if you go, it is always bitter cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills blow in over the wetlands. It is worth the effort! You can find details on dates and locations at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/eagle-days-5.
Local sighting trends follow the food availability. As the agricultural harvest season comes and goes, the birds move to other sources. Wild foods such as sunflowers, berries, thistle seed, and mast fall such as pecans, walnuts, hickory, and persimmons feed our forest friends through the dormant cold months. We are able to lure birds into our home environments with readily available seed, suet, and fresh water. Birds are particularly susceptible to dehydration in the dry cold winter months making a water source critical to survival. Combining food with water sources keeps our beauties in viewing proximity year round. A good regional bird identification book is handy for referencing birds you do not recognize. Sometimes we get birds far off their regular territory. Mother Nature never disappoints.
Journaling your bird-sightings is worthwhile in winter as well as summer since you can see many species out your own window. Learning the differences in plumage and species in summer and winter is always a pleasurable experience. I see something new every season. Our Missouri winter birds are magnificent. Look outside, look up for the big birds, and enjoy!
Attracting Birds, Bird Baths | November 27, 2019
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.
Migration, Bird Watching | November 19, 2019
Wintering Birds of Missouri
By: Kaylee Paffrath
We see the great migration of birds, insects, and other animals in and out of Missouri each year. What drives these animals to migrate? The natural need to feed and breed of course. Migration is nature’s way for a bird to take advantage of new dining or nesting opportunities. Birds are traveling from areas of low resources to areas of higher resources that better align with their needs at the time. In North America approximately 350 species make the great migration to nonbreeding grounds in winter and back to breeding grounds in the spring.
Missouri can often be a tricky place to see some common migrators due to the infrequent weather conditions. Early or late winters greatly affect the bird’s internal “trigger” to migrate. Some northern migrators such as grosbeaks, pine siskins, crossbills, redpolls, goshawks, prairie falcons, snowy owls, and northern shrikes don’t always make the migration south to Missouri.
Not all birds migrate of course, and you might see some frequent visitors at your feeder this winter with over 143 different species hanging around each year. Even a beginning birder can make some easy identifications in winter with the proper set up. Feeding Missouri’s birds in winter will provide opportunities to see rare birds as well as assist in providing the essential dietary elements these birds chose to hang around for. Consider keeping a field guide handy for quick identification – we’ve got plenty at Songbird Station.
What birds can you expect to see at your feeders this winter? You will almost always see common birds such as the American robin and mourning doves but you will also see woodpeckers of all sorts including red-headed, red bellied, downy, and pileated, belted king-fisher, yellowbellied sapsucker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, horned larks, mockingbirds, dark-eyed juncos, brown-headed cowbirds, house finches, American goldfinches, house sparrows, and more totaling over 48 species!
Attracting Missouri’s songbirds to your backyard can be easy. A clean, ice-free, water source makes a huge impact on what birds you will see at your doorstep. A de-icer or heated birdbath is a must have, especially in central Missouri plus a de-icer will help keep your ceramic or concrete birdbath from cracking. All birds require water for drinking and bathing. Consider purchasing a birdbath protector like the Songbird Essentials SE7030 Birdbath Protector which helps to naturally clean water without the use of toxic chemicals.
The second key element in seeing Missouri’s unique songbirds this winter is to provide the best possible nutrition. Quality foods high in fat like suet and nuts is essential. Food quality directly affects a wild bird’s ability to stay warm and survive. Check your feeder levels more frequently in winter. Using a feeder such as a Songbird Essentials Fly-Thru feeder allows you to easily see seed levels and refill. Never, ever give birds bread! Bread provides ZERO nutrition for birds as they are full of empty calories. Birds can freeze to death overnight on a “full belly” of breadcrumbs.
Winter offers many relaxing moments watching the birds go about their daily feeding routines from the comfort of your home. Winter is also a prime time to prepare your Spring housing. Yes, you can already start dreaming of Spring and what Missouri birds you may see in your backyard in April or May. Established houses not only improve your chances of attracting desired birds such as bluebirds, wrens, and chickadees in the Spring, but they also provide shelter for those Missouri birds that do stick around and survive the cold Missouri winters.
Watching backyard birds in Missouri is a fun winter pastime. Let our staff help you create a winter birding wonderland in your backyard to see some of Missouri’s feathered wonders this holiday season.
Informative | October 18, 2019
Wingman’s Fun Feather Facts
By: Grant Toellner
Sunflower seeds originated in South America and were used by Native Americans more than 5000 years ago. Today, the leading producers of this popular seed are Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, and China. Make sure you don’t miss out on the booking special currently going on at Songbird Station on the US produced black-oil sunflower seed.
When most people hear the word guano, they think of just bat poop, but in fact, the word “guano” has its roots in the Quechuan language and basically means “sea bird pooh”. For the Incans, it was so highly prized, that anyone that endangered the source of the stuff could be sentenced to death! Autumn is a great time to put up a bat house and Songbird Station has the best selection in town with most houses being made and produced right here in Central Missouri.
Bar-headed geese are the highest-flying migratory birds, regularly reaching altitudes of up to five and a half miles above sea level while flying over the Himalayas in India. The bird with the record for the highest altitude, however, is the Ruppel’s griffon vulture, which collided with a plane at 37,000 feet (seven miles) in 1975 and was unfortunately sucked into its jet engine. A new book from Adventure Publications called Bird Migration has some great facts on migration patterns of North American birds.
The Tufted Titmouse only live in areas where rainfall is greater than 24 inches per year and are more common where rainfall exceeds 32 inches per year. I have great luck attracted titmice to my yard by offering seed logs from Pine Tree Farms. They really seem to enjoy the Nutsie log the best, and there is a seed log variety of feeders available at Songbird Station.
Migration | October 11, 2019
Flight of the Hummingbirds
By: Tristan Palmgren
Though it seems to us like the weather has only gotten a little cooler, our hummingbirds sense a big change coming. They know that migration season is on us, and they’ve started to prepare. Some of them are already on the move. You may have already noticed changes in your yards as some of the hummers you’ve been feeding all summer have left, and that you have some new arrivals that have migrated from farther north.
Hummingbird migration is one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena. When hummingbirds realize they’ll need to migrate soon, they start bulking up for the trip. They know instinctively that they’ll be expending a large number of calories soon, and they increase their energy consumption to compensate. Hummingbird nectar is typically made at a concentration of four parts water to one part sugar (and this is as true for Songbird Essentials nectar mixes as homemade nectar). During the migration season, we recommend increasing that concentration to three parts water to one part sugar.
They need all that energy for a reason. Though some ruby-throated hummingbirds spend their winters in the very southern tip of Florida, the majority of those we see here in Missouri will cross the Gulf of Mexico to winter in Central and Southern America. Their journey will take them hundreds and hundreds of miles over the ocean in just twenty hours. And they’ll do it all in one trip, as there are few to no islands for them to stop on. They’ll traverse all this distance on wings that are just about an inch and half long, and that they need to beat forty to eighty times per second to stay aloft. It’s no wonder they eat more before they go.
Hummingbirds increase their body weight enormously before migrating, nearly doubling their pre-migration weight. They then expend nearly all of that crossing the ocean. It’s one of the most arduous journeys any migratory species undertakes, let alone a species as small and vulnerable as the hummingbird. Imagine the toll on your body if, every year, you were to drastically increase your body weight and then expended of it in one concentrated burst of exercise. Hummingbirds are more adapted to these sudden gains and losses than our bodies would be, but it is still quite taxing on them.
Hummingbirds have been migrating in this style for millions of years. Their lifestyle well predates human civilization. If only for our mental well-being, it’s important to remember that hummingbirds are not dependent on humans to survive. Our goal in feeding these birds is not to replace or micromanage an ecosystem, but to supplement it, and to encourage desirable and colorful visitors to come to our backyards. However, their migration does mean that the hummingbird’s dietary needs change, and those of us who provide food for them need to be aware of that fact. The same hummingbirds that frequented your feeders in spring will be looking for something different, and stronger, at the end of the season.
The fact that hummingbirds not only survive this trip but have thrived as a species is one of the many traits that make them wonders of nature. Another trait is their fantastic memory and sense of geolocation. Not only do they migrate incredible distances, they can pinpoint specific locations, and return to the same backyards that they left months and months—and thousands of miles—ago. If you’ve been feeding hummingbirds regularly throughout this season, you can place a good bet that you’ll see those same birds next spring.