Sep 06
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Molting White-breasted Nuthatch

Molting White-breasted Nuthatch

Have you seen any feathers on the ground lately?

Its molting season for many of the birds that visit our yards. Molting is the process of losing old feathers and growing fresh replacements.

It’s not unusual to find a feather or two this time of year. Wing and tail feathers are often the easiest to find due to their length. Can you see the newest, half-grown feathers on the wing of the White-breasted Nuthatch pictured above? Look closely.

Molting is easier to see in birds like vultures and hawks as they soar overhead. Look for short or missing feathers on each wing or tail.

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Oct 05
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Wild Birds Unlimited Cylinder Cafe Feeder

APS Cafe Feeder

Right now chickadees, nuthatches and titmice are hiding food to retrieve and eat at a later time. This behavior is called “caching.” Caching helps birds survive during bad weather and when food sources are low.

These birds store hundreds of seeds a day, and each seed is placed in a different location and they generally remember where each one is even a month later.

By providing an easily accessible food source, you can help your birds with their caching needs. Below is a little more detail on some of your favorite birds’ caching behaviors.

Chickadees

• Cache seeds (in the shell and out), nuts, insects and other invertebrate prey
• Food is typically cached about 100 feet from feeders
• Cache more during the middle of the day
• May carry off several seeds at a time, but each item is stored in a separate location
• Store food in knotholes, bark, under shingles, in the ground and on the underside of small branches

Nuthatches

• Prefer to cache hulled sunflower seeds, because they are easier and faster to cache; occasionally mealworms
• Choose heavier seeds (because they are larger or have a higher oil content)
• Food is typically cached about 45 feet from feeders
• Most active caching time is early in the day
• Store food in bark crevices on large tree trunks and on the underside of branches

Titmice

• Cache sunflower, peanuts and safflower
• Food is typically cached about 130 feet from feeders
• Cache one seed at a time and typically choose the largest seeds available
• Often remove seeds from their shell (80% of the time) before hiding them

What caching activity have you seen in your yard?

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Jun 14
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Downy Woodpeckers

Dads take on all sorts of roles in the bird world.

Proud Provider
Some birds grab “take out” meals. Chickadee and nuthatch dads feed Mom while she broods the eggs. Dad also helps feed the young once they have hatched.

On-the-Job Training
Pygmy and Brown-headed Nuthatch dads provide future-dads with on-the-job training. The young helpers assist Dad in raising the next brood by feeding Mom while she sits on eggs and feeding the nestlings as well as the new fledglings.

Dad’s Favorite Diner
American Goldfinch and Downy Woodpecker dads like to take the family out to eat. When the young fledge from the nest, dad leads them to great food sources as well as teaches them how to use his favorite backyard bird feeders. Check out the picture above of a Downy Woodpecker dad feeding his newly-fledged son.

What kind of “Bird Dad” activity is happening in your backyard?

Oct 27
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Ever wonder why, starting in the fall, it seems there is a group of different bird species that show up together at feeders and then leave together on a regular basis? Well, it’s that time of year again. Your local foraging guild is reconvening for maximum winter survivability.

The foraging guild is a group of different bird species that band together in winter for foraging and protection. Depending on the region and habitat, foraging guilds can include chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, creepers and kinglets.

The birds in the guild work cooperatively to maximize their food-finding efforts. In general, each of these birds forages for food in different ways. However, they all learn a bit about how the others feed and it helps with everyone’s survivability.

The chickadees look on the under-side of small and large branches, while the titmice look on the top-side of bigger branches and kinglets look on the top-side of smaller branches. Nuthatches walk down tree trunks looking into crevices while creepers walk up tree trunks. Woodpeckers, well, they usually drill down into the bark for their food; but, they will look on trunks as well as branches.

In the guild, birds are safer than on their own. With all those eyes watching for predators, they create a kind of “neighborhood watch.” They learn each other’s alarm calls so when danger is spotted, one just has to call out to warn the others.

So, it is not a random scenario when multiple species show up at your feeders this season. Like a wave, they move in together, eat a bit, and then move on.

The guild members using my feeders right now are Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches.

Do you have a guild of birds visiting your feeders?

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Oct 19
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If your feeders are anything like mine right now, there are extended quiet times. It’s like the birds are waiting for someone to turn on the neon “Open” sign so they can visit with a frenzied purpose and then be gone again.

No need to be concerned. It’s caching season and many birds are cashing in on the abundance of natural foods. There are loads of seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and insects to harvest and hide for a better chance at surviving the coming harsh weather. And they can remember, very accurately, where they stash each morsel.

The birds are also taking advantage of foods in backyard feeders for caching.

Chickadees prefer to cache black oil sunflower seeds; often eating a small portion before hiding it in and under bark, dead leaves, knotholes, clusters of pine needles, gutters, shingles and in the ground. Chickadees cache more in the middle of the day when visiting feeders.

Titmice are rather particular. They choose the largest sunflower seeds available to eat and cache. Titmice and chickadees like to cache seeds within 130 feet of bird feeders; your yard or a neighbor’s yard. I find seeds tucked into the bark and crevices of my wood pile. A coworker finds seeds cached under mulch in her garden.

Nuthatches prefer heavier sunflower seeds over the lighter ones. Be sure to have some sunflower chips in your blend as they like these 25% more than one in the shell. They cache more in the morning and prefer to hide foods on deeply furrowed tree trunks and the underside of branches. Nuthatches are also known to hide seeds under a shingle or behind wooden siding, like a friend of mine has been observing on their house this fall.

Jays love to cache peanuts and acorns. They are especially fond of peanuts in the shell. They bury them in the ground and are known to cache about 100 in a day; emptying my feeder in no time. Watch for them make repeated trips to your feeders (or an oak tree) and fly off. They can travel up to six miles to bury their nutritious treasure.

What birds are cashing in on caching foods from your feeders?

Jun 17
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Dads provide for us, care for us, teach us and guide us. In honor of Father’s Day and dads everywhere, including the bird world, I thought I would present some fun bird-dad information.

Dad’s Favorite Diner
Downy Woodpecker and American Goldfinch dads like to take the family out to eat. When the young brood fledges from the nest, dads lead them to great food sources as well as teach them how to use his favorite backyard bird feeders. Check out the picture above of a dad Downy Woodpecker feeding his newly-fledged son.

Tool Time
Dads dig tools! Nuthatches are one of the few species of birds known to use “tools.” The White-breasted Nuthatch has been known to use certain beetles as a tool by crushing ones that are stinky and sweeping them in and around their nest site to deter squirrels from their eggs and young. The Brown-headed Nuthatch will take a loose flake of pine bark in its bill and use it to pry up other scales of bark in search of prey.

Sharp-Dressed Man
Ladies love a sharp-dressed man, even in the bird world. Only the most colorful, sharp-dressed House Finch and goldfinch males are preferred by their female counterparts. Carotenoids, a pigment found in foods that create red, orange and yellow to violet colors in feathers, help a potential dad communicate his reproductive fitness via vibrant and bright plumage. It also shows females that he can be a good family provider knowing where to find quality food and lots of it.

Father-of-the-Year Award
The Father-of-the-Year Award goes to the Downy Woodpecker. Besides sharing daytime nest duties with their mates, only the fathers incubate and brood at night. They also roost in the nest with the nestlings until they fledge.

Mar 25
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Spring-time calls to me like a siren’s song. Enticing all my senses, it compels me to stop and experience what is going on around me.

Each morning I arrive at work, get out of my truck and take 30 seconds to quietly listen. I want to experience who is singing over their territory. It is a great way to begin each day.

I recently attended a professional conference where we were tasked to find a solitary spot in the courtyard garden and write for 10 minutes. My spot was on a marble pergola by a flowing mineral spring. Here is a snippet of what I experienced.

I hear White-breasted Nuthatches, American Crows, Northern Cardinals and a Carolina Chickadee. Song Sparrows battle back and forth in song.

Smell of sulfur from the spring.

Cold from the marble pillar seeps into my back.

An American Robin buzzes the ground, sounding off wing-beat-squeaks as it passes.

The smack of a nut dropped by a squirrel. It chatters and runs through tree branches.

The entrance of a male Cooper’s Hawk. He perches, surveys, and takes flight, catches a small thermal and circles away.

Heed the siren’s song of Spring. Take a nature break and you’ll be amazed at what you experience.

Nov 11
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The days are getting shorter. With just over 10 hours of sunlight, and being at the office for most of it, I don’t get to watch a lot of bird feeding activity at home. So, I set up a Wingscapes motion activated camera to virtually enjoy my birds. Then I take advantage of the weekend to see them in-person.

Each night after dinner I pull the camera’s SD card and flip through the pics to see who visited for a bite to eat. Its fun to see who’s eating what, as half the time you can see it in their beaks.

Recently, I have been using a new Treat Tray feeder with an assortment of foods. The bird activity has been fun to watch. Goldfinches are coming into sunflower chips, White-breasted Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees are digging the Bug Berry Nuggets and crumbled Bark Butter. Carolina Wrens and House Finches are picking through the Bug Berry Blend.

This week I was flipping through the pics and stopped, shocked at first and then started whooping and hollering. My wife asked what was up and I told her, “I’ve got a bluebird! I’ve got a bluebird!” The kids ran over to see the pictures and ohh and ahh at the pretty sky-blue color shining back at us.

Many people might say, “Ok, so it’s a bluebird.” Well, we rarely see bluebirds in our neighborhood. We’ve only seen them three times around us and that is only in the fall. You can see why I am so excited about them coming to the dried insects and fruits of the Bug Berry Blend.

Try some new bird foods and keep watching your feeders. You never know who is going to stop by for dinner.

Nov 08
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Fall is one of my favorite times of year to head into the wilderness. The earthy smells, the crisp air, the crunch of leaves, squirrels squeakily chewing on tree nuts and cones, birds flitting around foraging for insects and seeds quietly talking to each other with single-note calls.

Now, we do our fair share of camping. But, we haven’t done much wilderness camping. So, I figured it was time to introduce my kids to this favorite pastime through backpacking. But first, they needed to be introduced to the mountains and what to expect.

What better way and time to do it then in the Great Smoky Mountains with the autumn leaf show. So, we packed up the van and headed out to day-hike part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.

The whole scene was gorgeous with mountain streams and waterfalls, bears preparing for winter, listening to and watching Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Creepers, Pileated Woodpeckers and more.

We visited an AT shelter. This was one of the nicest shelters I have ever seen. It even had a privy; what luxury for a backpacker! There was a watering hole just down the trail and they didn’t balk at it.

Some very memorable highlights included flushing a Roughed Grouse, my son hearing a Barred Owl so far away, even I missed it at first, and a Northern Waterthrush serenading us as we departed the mountains following a stream on the last day.

I think they are ready for our big mountain wilderness backpacking trip for next Spring. Time to start planning.

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