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!
Attracting Birds, Bird Baths, Bird Watching | October 22, 2019
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!
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.
Attracting Birds, Bird Baths, Bird Food and Feeders, Informative | October 15, 2019
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!