Feb 08
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It has often been said that the first sign of an American Robin foraging on the lawn means spring is on the way. But is the robin still a harbinger of spring?

Robins typically gather in flocks in autumn to migrate south to escape harsh winter weather. However, times seem to be changing.

More and more robins seem to be overwintering in more northern states and southern Canada. Even range maps show them to winter in the States including coastal Alaska and coastal and southern Canada. Check out the robins’ range map by clicking here.

Robins are not a typical feeder bird; but, they are known to visit feeders in lean times such as periods of harsh weather. Open water is always very attractive to robins and they can be enticed to some foods. Some of my favorite robin foods include the following.

* Raisins or currants soaked for a few minutes in water
* Live mealworms are a great treat and those in more northern areas can offer them in a heated dish filled with sphagnum moss
* Bark Butter Bits
* Sunflower chips

Foods are best offered in tray feeders whether on the ground or hanging. A hopper feeder with a wide platform works well. My personal favorite is the Dinner Bell feeder for offering food to robins because it has an accessible tray and a protective dome.

Are robins still a harbinger of spring? For the most part, I think they are. However, don’t be surprised to see a few robins around your neighborhood before spring arrives.

Where are you seeing robins?

Mar 28
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This winter’s unusually warm weather is continuing to be a major factor across much of North America this spring and is resulting in an abnormally early migration for many birds. Different bird species are responding to the unusual conditions in diverse ways.

Short- and medium-distance migrants primarily winter in the southern U.S. or Mexico and travel north in short flights that are triggered by good weather and favorable wind directions. Both of these conditions have persisted for the past few weeks and have triggered many of these migrants to head north early.

Short distance migrants like Eastern and Say’s Phoebes, Pine Warblers and American Robins are arriving back on their nesting grounds weeks ahead of their normal schedules.

Mid-distance migrating birds, such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Louisiana Waterthrush are also showing strong signs of some early migration activity.

Long-distance migrants coming from Central America, South America or the Caribbean are not expected to show any early migration movements. These migrants fly in long nonstop flights, and their departure is primarily triggered by increasing periods of sunlight each day. Weather is not a factor and they will migrate on the same schedule as usual.

But, what does this mean for birds that visit our backyards?

Here are some potential impacts:
? Local, winter resident birds such as Slate-colored Juncos, White-crowned, White-throated & America Tree Sparrows are likely to leave for their northern breeding grounds weeks earlier than normal.
? Short- and medium-distant migrants may arrive back earlier than normal. They may include Chipping Sparrows, Hummingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cowbirds and Grackles.
? Long-distance migrants such as Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks & Indigo Buntings should be arriving within the normal range of migration return dates.

What birds are you seeing move earlier than usual?

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Feb 03
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OK…let’s be honest, things have been a little slow at my feeders this winter.

Apparently I am not alone! Anecdotal reports from much of North America seem to paint a similar picture of less than stellar activity.

Why?

At this point we can only speculate; but, there are a couple of prime suspects: an incredibly mild winter, a bumper crop of natural foods produced during last year’s growing season and the almost total lack of a southward movement by the “winter finches” out of northern Canada.

It is all speculation at this time, but this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) looks to be perfectly timed to help bring some factual answers to the question, “Where are all my birds?”

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages and skill levels in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.

The 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held February 17-20, 2012. Participation is free, and everything you need is available online.

Last year’s count, which includes Canada and the United States, identified 596 species and tallied over 11.4 million individual birds. Citizen scientists like you submitted over 92,000 checklists for the four day count period.

While the European Starling was the most abundant species reported by GBBC participants at almost 1.4 million, the American Robin was a strong second with 1.04 million birds reported.

The Northern Cardinal appeared on the largest number of checklists – 45,709, which is almost half of all the checklists submitted, the Mourning Dove took second place.

Information like this will help ornithologist determine how this year’s weather and other factors are influencing the activity, movements and populations of birds throughout North America.

And you can help!
Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org.
You can find all the details on how to participate at the GBBC web site.

This event is coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada and I am proud to say that Wild Birds Unlimited has been the major corporate sponsors for the GBBC since its beginning.

Dec 27
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Just like we change some of our habits for winter, birds can behave very differently in winter compared to summer.

Each morning I wait with my youngest daughter at the bus stop. As the sun is pulling into the sky, without fail, flocks and flocks of American Robins fly overhead. They are leaving their overnight, congregational roost and heading out to feed together. Normally found alone or in pairs in the summer, it is easier to survive the winter in a group than on their own.

Individual territories are no longer being held by Northern Cardinals; they are flocking together for night-time roosting and day-time feeding parties. When it comes to visiting busy backyard feeders, they prefer to be the so-called “early birds” beating the morning rush. They also like to wait till the evening rush is over and be the last to visit backyard feeders.

Watching a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos at feeders is a fascinating business. Almost like a concentric ring of circles, each winter-flock of juncos has a dominance hierarchy. The adult males are often in the prime, center spot of a food source followed by juvenile males, then adult females and finally young females. This is why many female juncos travel farther south than most of the males; less competition for food.

American Goldfinches also have a dominance hierarchy; however, it changes between summer and winter. Female American Goldfinches are dominant over males in the summer (presumably because they do the nest building, egg laying and brooding) and appear to be subservient to males in the winter.

Take a closer look at bird behavior at your feeders this winter. What changes do you see?

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Oct 12
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You may have heard me talk how Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter ™ attracts more birds than any other single bird food product. One blog post included some information on a winter finch irruption. Of course, I absolutely love the variety of birds and the kinds of feeding activity it has created in my yard. Well, now there is an even cooler product. And it’s not just my humble opinion.

Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter Bits® are totally awesome! “This is my new favorite food. If I was going to feed only one food in my yard, it would be Bark Butter Bits”, says my colleague Andrea, who is the New Product Development Manager.

We have had so much fun developing and testing this new bird food. We used the original Bark Butter recipe and created small nuggets. They are bite-sized morsels with a moist texture and consistency that the birds just can’t resist.

You can offer them alone in a feeder or mix them with other foods. I have offered Bark Butter Bits in my TreatTray® and Dinner Bell™ where the birds have loved them. I have had the regular suspects like Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Tufted Titmice. However, the really cool birds that are eating them are the American Goldfinches and Carolina Wrens.

Andrea has had Robins coming to eat the Bark Butter Bits. She said, “To me, that was pretty exciting! Not only did they come, they kept coming.” Beyond that, “All sorts of birds are lining up to eat it. Literally taking turns. I’d go broke if that’s all I’d feed.”

What bird food creates a little bit of heaven in your yard?

May 17
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Thanks to all those who followed our “Wild Birds Unlimited Team” on Facebook during our Big Day as we competed in our local Audubon chapter’s Birdathon (Competitive Birding is for the Birds). The purpose of the Birdathon was to raise money for bird education and conservation (and have a great time birding in the field). Here are a few highlights.

Our day started off in the dark at 5 a.m. We met in a parking lot to carpool, and we were surrounded by our first bird species; the American Robin. They were singing up a storm.

We headed out of the city and began in earnest in a state forest. The birds were waking up and the dawn chorus (The Dawn of Spring) was in full swing. We had 63 species by 8 a.m. Highlights included Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Worm-eating Warblers and 15 other warblers.

We were doing really well finding so many birds and then we hit a major road block – literally. There was a lot of flooding and many of our desired locations were inaccessible. The picture I snapped with my iPhone kind of says it all.

By 2:30 p.m. we were only at 91 species which included 23 warblers. We had hoped for 100 species by noon.

By 4 p.m. we had our 100th bird; a Northern Bobwhite! 101 was a Purple Martin.

The rest of the evening was slow, but we still saw some very interesting birds. We found Bobolinks, various sparrows and three rails.
As our Big Day came to a close, we reflected on all that had happened. We were detoured but not deterred by flooding. We avoided a severe storm that produced a beautiful rainbow and a gorgeous sunset. We ended the day with our last bird, a Common Nighthawk. It was species number 119.

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Apr 07
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There is something so uplifting about the American Robin’s springtime serenade. Maybe it’s in what he says, ‘cheerily, cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.’

Listening to the song each morning conjures up visions of earthworm-pulling hunts and yellow-billed mouths gapping from a nest begging for food.

There is a male robin that has claimed my backyard the last few years. He loves to perch on the fence and belt out his ‘this is my beautiful spot’ song trying to entice a mate while warning other males to stay away.

You can always tell when someone is walking the sidewalk. He changes his tune. It becomes a staccato ‘Peek! Tut, tut, tut’ announcing possible danger in the area. Don’t slow too much or linger too long near him or he’ll fly to another perch.

He seems to have already attracted a mate for the season. There is a female that has been foraging with him. You can tell because females are paler versions of the males. They walk the yard stopping every few steps to tilt their heads. It’s almost as if they are listening for earthworms burrowing in the turf. Actually, they are looking for food with monocular vision; using one eye at a time.

Robins are known for eating earthworms. In fact, they can eat up to 14 feet of them each day. However, that is only 15-20% of their summer diet. The rest of their meals are from other ground-dwelling insects with some fruit to round things out.

A few year’s ago the robins nested in my backyard about 10 feet high in a tree. It didn’t go so well. Not surprising as only about 40% of robin nesting attempts produce any young. They immediately moved under the eaves on a bend in the downspout. This has proven to be a great spot. Perhaps they’ll nest there again this year.

Maybe the male robin in my yard sings so ‘cheerily’ because he’s already found a mate to share his ‘beautiful spot.’ I look forward to watching them raise a family again this year.

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