Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Water Sources: Open Water & Snow

Well the snow finally arrived this January and the birds are very active at feeders and bird baths! Recently I've been asked a lot about how birds find water during the cold winter months. The answer is they get their water in one of two ways during the winter:
  1. They drink water from open sources
  2. They eat snow and drink water from icicles
Open Sources
Birds seek out open sources of water in the winter. As most lakes and large rivers freeze, open water is instead found at small brooks, streams and smaller rivers that move quickly or just enough so that part of it remains open. They will also use heated birdbaths (yes such things do exist!). Heated birdbaths keep water open in a bath when temperatures drop below 0°C. While they will bathe in temperatures below zero they will very rarely bathe when it is really cold. Mostly open water sources provide a place for birds to drink water. A few years ago I was doing the Christmas Bird Count in Toronto on a very cold day. We found a small patch of open water by a stream and lo and behold there were 5 Eastern Bluebirds hanging out right above the water in a shrub!

I am noticing lots of activity at my heated birdbath right now. The birds I see most often at the bath are American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Mourning Doves, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, House Finches and Downy Woodpeckers. My Eastern Gray Squirrels and Red Squirrels also enjoy a drink here and there. It helps that in the warmer months the same spot houses a regular birdbath as well, so the birds are accustomed to water there year round.

One of the big advantages to a heated birdbath in the winter is you see a greater variety of birds because all birds need water, so you have the opportunity to view birds that may not visit your feeders. For example American Robins, Northern Flickers and Northern Mockingbirds all enjoy birdbaths in the winter, but rarely visit feeders.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Goldfinches at a Heated Birdbath
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)
Pine Siskin drinking from a Heated Birdbath
IMG_1289_edited-2
American Robin drinking from a Heated Birdbath
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American Robin drinking from a Heated Birdbath
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Blue Jay drinking from a Heated Birdbath
 
Eating Snow
When open water is not available or in short supply in a habitat, birds will get their water by eating snow or drinking water from icicles. Some species have adapted to eating snow and will rarely seek out open sources of water. For example I have yet to observed Common Redpolls using my heated bird bath. I see them eating snow all the time, and as a northern species snow play a major role in their life history. They sleep in snow by making tunnels to roost in and they also rely on snow for their source of water. I have also noticed that American Tree Sparrows are reluctant to visit my heated bird bath, instead preferring to eat snow. Eating snow requires much more energy for birds than drinking water as the birds body has to melt the snow and replace the lost heat. I also recently heard that snow traps emissions from cars and other pollutants from the air and surrounding environment...yuck!

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)- Eating Snow
American Tree Sparrow eating snow
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow after eating snow (beak full of snow)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)- Eating Snow
American Tree Sparrow eating snow (beak full of snow)
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Northern Cardinal after eating a big clump of snow
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Northern Cardinal after eating a big clump of snow
Most birds prefer open water if they can find it during the winter and others are quite content to eat snow. Either way birds need a source of water in the winter and it's always neat to observe their behaviour at birdbaths and eating snow!

Happy birding!

~Kristen

Saturday, January 2, 2016

First Birds of 2016

What was your first bird of 2016? For the second year in a row the first bird of the year for me was a Downy Woodpecker...two in fact! Both on a suet feeder I have hanging off the deck. In addition to the Downy a drop in temperature and some snow has brought some other birds as well lots of American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos and finally some American Tree Sparrows- who have been absent from my yard this winter until a few days ago. Here are some photos of some 2016 backyard birds!

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
First bird of 2016 Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
 Male, White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) eating peanuts and live mealworms all day!
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
 Female, White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) eating peanuts and live mealworms all day! Notice she's much lighter in colour compared to the male above.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
 Male, Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) visits the safflower and sunflower feeders.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
This photo was taken just before the new year on December 30, 2015. Female, Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) eating sunflower chips.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
This photo was taken just before the new year on December 30, 2015. Female, Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) eating sunflower chips.
 
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) a recent visitor who loves millet from the ground tray and sunflower chips left on the snow.

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) a recent visitor who loves millet from the ground tray and sunflower chips left on the snow.

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea).
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea).

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
  American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) eating sunflower chips off the snow.

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea).

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
 Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) loving the sunflower chips and live mealworms in particular.

Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) and Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Terrible photos, but a convenient comparison of a Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus)- left and Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)- right.

Good backyard birding everyone!

~Kristen

Sunday, December 13, 2015

DIY Pine Cone and Bagel Bird Feeders

Decorating a tree in your outdoor space with bird feeders can be festive and provide a healthy snack for your backyard birds. Pine cone and bagel bird feeders make beautiful decorations  on any outdoor tree and are easy to make. I've made many of these feeders over the years and they are always popular with the birds. Here are two easy feeders you can make at home. 

 

PINE CONE BIRD FEEDERS

YOU WILL NEED:
  • A pine cone
  • String
  • Chunky all natural peanut butter (or vegetable shortening if nut allergies are a concern- but peanut butter works the best!)
  • WBU Simply Suet (pure rendered suet)
  • Cornmeal
  • WBU Deluxe, Supreme or Choice Blend
  • Optional: Peanuts and/or raisins 

1. Make the Suet Stuffing for the pine cones

  • 1 Cup chunky all natural peanut butter
  • 1 Cup WBU Simply Suet® (pure rendered suet)
  • 2½ Cups coarse yellow cornmeal
  • WBU Deluxe, Supreme or Choice Blend
  • Optional: Peanuts and/or raisins
Directions: Mix peanut butter, suet and cornmeal together. Stir in bird seed, raisins or peanuts if desired.

2. Pack Suet Stuffing into pine cones

3. Roll pine cones in WBU Seed Blend

4. Hang with string from a tree

 

BAGEL BIRD FEEDERS

YOU WILL NEED:
  • Bagel
  • String 
  • Chunky all natural peanut butter (or vegetable shortening if nut allergies are a concern- but peanut butter works the best!)
  • WBU Deluxe, Supreme or Choice Blend
  • Optional: Peanuts and/or raisins

1. Split bagels in half and allow to harden overnight

2. Spread all natural peanut butter on each side and sprinkle with WBU Seed Blend

3. Tie a string through hole and hang 


Here's a cute video for some inspiration:


It's as easy at making a few simple bird feeders and hanging them in you tree!

~Kristen

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Identify a Baby Bird

I’ve been asked a few times recently, how to recognize what a baby bird looks like?  It’s not as easy as you may think, but there are some simple tricks. Keep in mind that when a young bird leaves the nest it is the same size as the parent, so size isn’t helpful.  The two best things too look for is the plumage and begging behaviours. 

Plummage: Sometimes baby birds have different plumage from their parents.  They may have inconsistent colouring (like young Rose-breasted Grosbeaks), strange feathers that poke out (like young House Finches), colouring in different places than adults (like young male Hairy Woodpeckers) or are different in colour (like young Baltimore Orioles). 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has inconsistent colouring from an adult male
© Leanne LeBlanc
A young House Finch, notice the two feathers sticking up, visible on most young House Finches
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
A young male Hairy Woodpecker has red on the front of his head instead of the back like adult males

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Young Baltimore Oriole lacks the colour of it's parent

Begging Behaviours: Rather than feeding themselves young birds rely on parents to feed them.  They will sit at feeders not eating and follow their parent around flapping their wings and opening their mouths begging for food. They may also sit in nearby trees or shrubs waiting for their parents to feed them. Young chickadees, cardinal and nuthatches have similar plumage to their parents; but follow their parents (usually their dad) around and beg for food.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
A young Northern Cardinal follows it's dad and begs for food until fed

So if you notice birds with strange plumage patterns or behaviours at this time of the year it very well may be a young bird. I hope this helps to identify young birds in your yard.  Keep your eyes peeled there are lots of young birds at this time of the year.

~Kristen

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 Snowy Owls

Finally it's spring!  Or it's beginning to feel that way.  I meant to post some Snowy Owl photos earlier but time got away from me.  Better late than never!  Here are some Snowy Owl photos from the winter of 2015.  Quite a year for them!
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Female, Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Female, Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Female, Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Adult male Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Male Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Immature female Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Female Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Immature male Snowy Owl
I won't miss the winter but I will miss the owls! Until next year snowies...
~ Kristen Martyn

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Safflower: My Favourite Summer Seed

Safflower is an all white seed that is farmed in around the world (including North America) and used to make vegetable or safflower oil for cooking.  The seed comes from the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius) which occurs naturally in the Mediterranean region, northeastern Africa, and southwestern Asia to India.  Safflower is very appealing seed to many of our backyard birds.  Safflower is available as a loose seed- sold on it's own, in a seed blend or in cylinder form.

Cool safflower fact...according to Wikipedia, Safflower is one of humanity's oldest crops. Chemical analysis of ancient Egyptian textiles dated to the Twelfth dynasty identified dyes made from safflower, and garlands made from safflowers were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Safflower Plant (Carthamus tinctorius)
Loose Safflower Seeds (left) and a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder (right)
This WBU Supreme Blend of seeds is contains a bit of safflower to attract the birds that enjoy it
Safflower is a very bitter seed, which is both a good and a bad thing.  The bitterness of the seed is disliked by many squirrels (approximately 80% of squirrel dislike safflower), House Sparrows, European Starlings and blackbirds (I have seen Common Grackles, European Starlings and House Sparrows all sample safflower- usually in desperation because of cold weather and lack of food). Safflower's bitter taste also means that not all of our backyard birds enjoy eating it, for example American Goldfinches are not a fan of this seed.

As a side note sometimes you will hear about "squirrel free" bird food, in other words seeds that the squirrels aren't too keen on.  Typically this mix is made up of safflower and millet.  I've seen squirrels eat and enjoy both of these seeds, especially in cold harsh weather when there is a lack of food. Needless to say "squirrel free" bird food does not exist.

There are some tricks to feeding safflower. Here are some things I have learned while feeding this seed:
  1. It can take a long time for the birds to adjust to this seed. If you think about it this makes sense.  Since safflower is not native to North America the birds here don't know right away what it is or that they can eat it. I can still remember the way my chickadees starred at for several minutes it the first time I put it out. Our backyard birds aren't used to an all white seed and can take up to six weeks to fully adjust to this seed; but once they adjust they will be back for more!  So please be patient.
  2. To keep squirrels and blackbirds away from feeders offer straight safflower; don't mix safflower with any other seeds.  Otherwise you are just giving the critters the option to avoid the safflower and eat the seeds they like.  It's quite funny to watch grackles the first time they encounter safflower.  They pick out one seed at a time and throw them on the ground in hopes of finding something better inside the feeder.
  3. Feeding safflower in the cylinder form is great since the birds can't steal the seed and fly away. They have to peck it out of the cylinder, giving you longer views. 
  4. Keep safflower out year round.  There are some many birds that enjoy safflower.  Keeping it out year round avoids any adjustment periods and keeps the birds coming back.
Ontario Birds that Love Safflower:
  • Northern Cardinal*
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak*
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Mourning Dove*
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • House Finch*
  • Purple Finch
  • Blue Jay

*- Favourite Seed Choice

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinal and House Finches all snacking on a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Young male, Rose-breasted Grosbeak enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Young male, Rose-breasted Grosbeak enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Young male, Northern Cardinal enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Young Northern Cardinal enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Male Northern Cardinal feeding his young some safflower
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
Female House Finch enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Black-capped Chickadee enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Black-capped Chickadee enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Mourning Dove enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Mourning Dove enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Young male Hairy Woodpecker enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Young male Hairy Woodpecker enjoying a WBU Safflower Sensation Cylinder
Happy feeding and birding everyone!

~Kristen