As this issue of the Songbird Station Newsletter arrives in mailboxes, our thoughts will be turning to the upcoming holiday season. For many of us the days ahead will include snow. What a beautiful contrast the crimson red Northern Cardinal gives against pure white, fresh snow. Can you think of anything more enjoyable to put you in the holiday spirit? No wonder it is often referred to as the Winter Holiday Bird.
How many images of the Northern Cardinal do you use as holiday decorations? Is one of your favorite ornaments a Cardinal? What about the tablecloth, outside doormat, holiday wreath, gift wrapping paper? Notice in November and December every time you see the image of a Cardinal as you do your holiday shopping.
While the Cardinal may best be known for its flash of color in garden and woodland, have you ever found one of its feathers on the ground? Blue Jays and Robins shed their feathers like so much fall foliage, but Cardinals just might be the greatest protectors of the princely robes in the feathered kingdom.
As one of the most recognized songbirds in North America, Cardinals also could be known for their virtues; they are monogamous and remain together throughout the year. They aid in pest control, feeding on such insects as potato beetles, cotton boll weevils and the cucumber beetle. And they may be economically valuable because of their weed seed consumption, eating at least one hundred kinds in the wild.
At your feeder, Cardinals prefer black oil sunflower or safflower seeds. They roll the seed around with their tongue until it is sideways in their strong, cone-shaped bill. Then they crack it open and eject the hull before swallowing. Cardinals approach the feeder with an attitude, as if aware of their royal heritage. They do not suffer the chatter of neighboring Sparrows nor the infighting of house finches, but dine with their mate in majestic splendor.
During the winter, the male Cardinal tries to dominate at the feeder, but his mate usually ignores him and goes right on eating. In the spring, however, male Cardinals have the delightful habit of feeding hulled seeds to the female as part of their courtship. It often occurs at feeders and is endearing to watch. He hops over to her, tilts his head sideways and places the tidbit in her bill.
Year round you’ll have the most success attracting Cardinals by providing seed in a feeder with a larger flat perching area. A ground feeder or a hanging tray feeder filled with black oil sunflower and perhaps a little safflower and or peanuts is sure to be a Cardinal favorite. Keep your Cardinals healthy by using a feeder like the Songbird Essentials Small Ground Feeder that includes an easy to clean metal mesh bottom. If you own a tube feeder, you’ll want to attach a seed tray or a seed hoop to give Cardinals a flat spot to land and feed. Another sure way to attract Cardinals (and other desired songbirds) is to provide heated water in a birdbath or saucer. My new favorite is the SE995 Songbird Spa that can be mounted 3 ways. I use mine with the deck clamp in winter and ground legs in spring and summer.
Males are bright red crested and have a black throat and face. Females are a duller reddish brown. Adults of both sexes have a bright red bill, but the bills of juveniles are brown.
Want to add brilliant holiday color to your landscape? Follow our Cardinal tips and you’ll enjoy colorful Cardinal Holiday cheer out your windows! Enjoy! The below poem sums it up best.
The Cardinal in My Tree
By: Mrs. Dennis Getz (DeMotte, IN)
Pretty little red bird singing in my tree, I wish that I could tell you of the joy you bring to me. I know that God has sent you by my window to be near, to lift my broken spirits and to brighten them with cheer. Thank you, God, for red birds and all the gifts You give, to tell us of Your glory and remind us that You Live!
Attracting Birds, Informative | December 06, 2019
Winter Birding Essentials
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.
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.
Q & A | November 14, 2019
Winter Feeding-Q&A With Kevin
Q: How important is water for birds in the winter months?
A: Birds rely heavily on water for drinking and bathing and this is particularly important during winter when their natural sources are frozen. Since birds have no sweat glands, they do however lose water through respiration and in their droppings. Most birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace the lost water. It is also essential that birds bathe in winter to help keep their feathers in good condition. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. When preening, birds carefully rearrange the feathers and spread oil from the
preen gland, so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm. Give birds water this winter by providing them with the Songbird Spa (SE995) from Songbird Essentials. The Songbird Spa is a versatile and smart heated birdbath with 3 mounting options: deck mount, clamp mount and ground use. The Spa is thermostatically controlled and only cost pennies to operate. If you already have a winter approved birdbath you can also just add the Songbird Essentials Multi-Use De-Icer (SE994) which is also thermostatically controlled and comes with a 5.5’ power cord.
Q: What other important facts should I keep in mind when feeding birds in the winter?
A: One of the most important things to keep in mind is creating the right habitat to songbirds. As we’ve already stated, an unfrozen water source as well as shelter will likely have birds staying in your yard for a while. When we talk about shelter, it can be trees, shrubs, brush pile or even an old Christmas tree placed near a feeder. You can also provide winter shelter with Songbird Essentials Roosting Pockets (SE938) which is made of natural materials and especially beneficial to non-migrating songbirds during winter months and helps keep birds safe from predators. Also remember to place your feeders and Roosting Pockets so they are easy to see from windows and easy to access and refill.
Q: I seem to have trouble keeping my seed dry during the winter months! The rain, sleet and snow seem to have me wasting more seed. Any suggestions on a feeder to alleviate this issue?
A: The Songbird Essentials All Weather 4 Quart Clear Feeder (SEAWFFF734) is the first weatherproof wild bird feeder. Through rain, snow, sleet and ice, the All-Weather Feeder delivers the seed dry and doesn’t clog up with snow and ice. The circular perch lets you see all the birds that are feeding, even those on the far side. It also catches spilled seed for less waste and comes completely apart so each piece can be individually cleaned, as a clean feeder helps keep the bird population healthy. This feeder will be more popular amongst the birds if it is not hung near a cluster of other feeders because unlike other feeders which let the elements in, it is also not as easy for the birds to eat from. The benefit being that it is worth it because when the birds can’t eat from feeders unprotected from the weather, they WILL be able to eat from the All-Weather Feeder. To draw a crowd of birds, try feeding Sunflower Hearts versus Black Oil Sunflower so they don’t have to mess with the hull, or you can try putting some seed in the tray or peanut butter on the holes to further entice the birds to work for their dinner. This feeder is also available in 6 Quart (SEAWFFF736) and you also have an option to add a Squirrel Cage (SEAWFFF740) if they become an issue.
Q: Any “NEW” Feeders out recently that I may want to consider adding to my collection?
A: Yes indeed!! I am excited about the “NEW: Squirrel Buster Suet Feeder (BD1106) by Brome Bird Care. A truly innovative squirrel proof suet bird feeder. This feeder holds 2 standard suet cakes allowing several Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Titmice and Chickadees to feed at the same time. With the 2 built in crumb ports, no suet goes wasted. This feeder is weight adjustable so that you can control which size birds you want to feed. And remember that all Squirrel Buster Feeders come with “Lifetime Care” – if you need advice or help just give them a call and if you ever need a replacement part covered under the warranty, they will happily provide it for FREE and the shipping is on them. Give this feeder a try today!
Squirrels & Critters, Informative | November 11, 2019
Squirrel Solutions-Distraction Feeding
By: Kaylee Paffrath
They scurry about your yard chasing each other up and down your trees. You laugh as they make laps around your freshly filled feeder and then it happens… you watch the squirrels as they stuff their mouths full, as if they really needed half of the fresh seed in the first place! Squirrels are notorious pests when it comes to stealing bird seed, but many of us find them cute and fun to watch. So, how can you have the best of both worlds – a feeder bustling with songbirds and a backyard of playful squirrels? Easy! Squirrel proof you bird feeders and offer goodies specific to your squirrels’ interests.
Remember the 5-7-9 rule when picking the location of your bird feeders. Squirrels don’t typically jump more than 5 feet off the ground, 7 feet across, or drop more than 9 feet down. If your bird feeders sit on a pole, consider a Songbird Essentials Squirrel Defeater SnapOn Pole Baffle that snaps right on to the pole without having to remove the feeder or make adjustments.
Are raccoons a problem as well? No problem! Try a heavy-duty Predator Defeater Pole Baffle from Songbird Essentials. Hanging baffles aid in more ways than just keeping squirrels away from seed, they also help protect seed and feeders from rain. Hanging baffles like the Songbird Essentials Hanging Baffle are great for feeders hung from hooks or in heavily wooded areas. Squirrel-proof feeders and cage feeders are designed specifically for keeping squirrels out and songbirds happy. Our most popular squirrel-proof feeders in-store are the Squirrel Buster Classic from Brome Bird Care and the Songbird Essentials Squirrel Defeater. The Squirrel Defeater features weight-controlled seed ports that close when a squirrel jumps on as well as a baffle top to keep squirrels off.
Are you still feeling defeated in the battleground that was once your backyard? Consider a HOT product like Cole’s Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce™ that you mix in your birdseed. Birds love it, squirrels don’t. Cole’s Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce™ is made with two ingredients; liquid habanero chili pepper and soybean oil. Birds like bluebirds, cardinals, wrens, buntings, and finches enjoy the taste while squirrels will feel like their mouth is on fire and have no desire to try the seed again making it a win-win. Squirrels are easy to please, offer them some peanuts, special blend seed, or ear corn and they will take claim to your backyard.
Squirrel’s Referral seed mix from Songbird Essentials’ name says it all – squirrels will refer it to all their furry friends like rabbits, chipmunks, even wild turkeys! You can get even more entertainment from squirrels with a Songbird Essentials Squngee Deluxe Squirrel Feeder or Squirrel Spinner, just mount and watch squirrels spin and bounce while going after ear corn. As always, we also offer a variety of classic squirrel feeders such as the new Songbird Essentials Squirrel Café Feeder or Squirrel Jar Feeder.