Apr 09
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Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Mini High Perch Hummingbird feeder

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Mini High Perch Hummingbird feeder

Hummingbirds are making the journey north. You can track their progress at the Journey North web site. These miniature marvels have been migrating between North and Central America for thousands of years, a round trip in which millions of hummingbirds instinctively participate.

Are you ready for their return? Make sure to thoroughly clean and dry your nectar feeders. Do you need to replace an old feeder? Shop our online store – shop.wbu.com

You can make hummingbird nectar at home! For a home-made version, the ratio is four parts water to one part sugar (ex: one cup of water to ¼ cup sugar). Boil the water to rid it of chlorination and allow the sugar to dissolve easily. Pour it over the sugar and stir until dissolved. Once cooled off, fill your feeder and keep the rest in a nectar bottle in the refrigerator. Do not use dyes, brown sugar or honey. Commercial nectar that you purchase should be free of red dye. The sugar used in boxed nectar is superfine and can easily be made with boiled water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

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Apr 16
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Immature Female Rufous Hummingbird

Immature Female Rufous Hummingbird

WBU High Perch Hummingbird Feeder

WBU High Perch Hummingbird Feeder

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Did you ever wonder how a hummingbird will show up in your yard and check out the hummingbird feeder or hanging nectar plant that was there last year but hasn’t been put out yet this year? How do the birds know? It’s almost like they remember the nectar-rich food source. It is amazing that a bird would remember, especially one with the brain the size of a BB. Consider what a hummingbird does each year. They migrate great distances going south to winter in southern Mexico and northern Panama. They travel as far north as Alaska and Canada for breeding. Up to a 2,500 mile trip one way. An impressive feat performed by such a small-brained bird weighing about one penny. Bird banding records show many hummingbirds pass through the same yards, on the same day, year after year. Males return to stake claim on the same territory as the previous year. Females return to the same tree for nesting and sometimes re-use last year’s nest. One study found a female reused her nest for five years in a row. It is amazing how the smallest bird in the world can be so formidable with its memory and come back to feed from a nectar feeder it remembers from last year.

Hang your hummingbird feeders now and keep the nectar fresh. Those amazing jewels of nature are migrating back for the summer.

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?

Oct 12
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It’s always fun to see a new bird; even if it is an old “friend” that you are seeing for the first time this season. Birders call this a first-of-season bird.

Yesterday, I saw my first-of-season Dark-eyed Junco. It was alone looking for seeds under the hopper feeder. This solitary sighting, however, is not usually the case as we move closer to winter.

Junco’s are known for flocking together in winter. They will hang in groups averaging from six to thirty birds. Having lots of eyes in the flock affords the group better protection from predators than being a loner.

They typically return to the same location each winter staying within an area of about ten acres.

They, like other ground-feeding birds, are weed seed specialists in winter. They really like millet, sunflower seeds and weed seeds like chickweed, ragweed, knotweed, pigweed, lamb’s quarters and crabgrass.

Leave some ornamental grasses or other tall-stemmed seed plants in your yard so you can watch for an interesting foraging technique called “riding.” Juncos fly up to a seed cluster on the top of a plant stem and “ride” it to the ground where they pick off the seeds while standing on it.

Show juncos some love with a small brush pile. It’s like a magnet as a social gathering place. They might even use it as an overnight roost sharing it with other flock mates.

When did you see your first-of-season junco? If they aren’t back in your yard yet, be on the lookout for these friendly reminders that winter is on its way.

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Sep 26
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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Recently, I was birding in Sapsucker Woods at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Which, by the way, was totally cool! There was a nasally “yank” call from high in an oak tree that caught my attention. It was higher-pitched than the call of the White-breasted Nuthatch that I often hear.

It was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

It is a colorful bird that is best characterized by its posture; often seen upside down. Nuthatches are known for hanging upside down, sideways and right side up while looking into tree trunk crevices and under branches for small insects, insect eggs and other tasty morsels.

They can be enticed to visit feeders when they are in the area. They prefer blends with sunflower seeds, peanuts and tree nuts. They also really like suet products like Naturally Nuts and Bark Butter Bits.

The best part is; they may be in your area. Red-breasted Nuthatches are on the move. They are “irrupting” southward this winter in search of more abundant food sources. Check out an interactive map from eBird.org to see where they have been spotted recently.

Have you seen any Red-breasted Nuthatches?

Sep 14
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Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird on High Perch Hummingbird Feeder

Don’t pack up your nectar feeders just yet. Hummingbirds are still migrating.

More northerly areas in the US and Canada are at the tail-end of migration. More southerly areas of the US have a good month of movement yet to occur. Still other areas like the West Coast, Southwest and extreme Southeast will have wintering hummingbirds.

There is no need to take down nectar feeders to make sure hummingbirds migrate. They innately know when it is time to move and where to go.

In fact, nectar feeders can be a big help to supplement hummingbirds’ much-needed energy for migration or overwintering. Just keep the nectar fresh and offer a mix of four parts water with one part sugar.

How do you know when hummingbirds are gone? Leave your feeder up until you see no activity for at least two weeks and the nectar level is not dropping anymore.

So, don’t pack up your nectar feeders just yet. You may be surprised by a late mover or even a straggler that decided to try and tough out the autumn weather.

Have you seen hummingbirds in late-fall or even in winter?

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Aug 10
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Beginning in August, millions of hummingbirds will travel to Mexico and Central America as part of an instinctive migration pattern that they have followed for hundreds of years. At speeds up to 60 mph, many hummingbirds will travel a non-stop, trans-gulf flight that takes approximately 18 – 22 hours and covers 500 – 600 miles.

“Considering that hummingbirds eat about every 10 minutes and can drink up to twice their body weight in nectar per day, there will be constant fly-by pit-stops along their route,” said Jim Carpenter, CEO and founder of Wild Birds Unlimited. “That makes this the ideal time to draw a crowd of hummingbirds into your own backyard.”

Hummingbirds feed on flower nectar, insects and sugar-water solution placed in specially designed feeders. Weighing as little as a penny, hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of any warm-blooded animal, so it’s important that they have a high-calorie intake to sustain their migration. Carpenter offers the following feeding tips to make sure local residents don’t miss the migration:

• Plant the right flowers – hummingbirds are drawn to plants like Cardinal Flowers, Salvia, Columbines, and Bee Balm.
• Create your own nectar – it’s simply 4 parts water and 1 part sugar; visit here for instructions and tips.
• Have the right feeder – hummingbirds do not suck up nectar with their bills; they actually lap it up with their tongues, drawing nectar into their mouths almost 12 times a second. You can watch this remarkable tongue in action with a Wild Birds Unlimited Window Hummingbird Feeder, which features a transparent bowl that allows you to watch a hummingbird’s long tongue and rapid lapping action.
• Incorporate red into your garden – red is a visual cue that lets hummingbirds know food is available; they don’t have an innate preference for the color red, but learn to associate certain colors with food. Try planting red flowers, using a red feeder, or even creating fun garden art with red materials.

For more tips on how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard during their migration, visit your local Wild Birds Unlimited location.

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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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Nov 18
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It is hard to not be captivated by cranes.

The sights and sounds associated with them can be mesmerizing, especially when they gather together in large numbers during migration.

I was reminded of this just last week when I was fortunate enough to lead a group of my Wild Birds Unlimited colleagues to witness such a gathering.

Each fall, migrating Greater Sandhill Cranes assemble in Northwestern Indiana at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area. Their numbers can peak at over 20,000 individuals. Adding to the spectacle is their daily ritual of gathering in the same 300 acre field at both sunrise and sunset.

The scene of so many cranes in one place at one time is impressive. But as they retreat from the field to roost in a nearby wetland for the night, the cacophony of thousands of cranes calling simultaneously is truly unforgettable.

Sandhill Cranes are noted for their distinctive, penetrating bugling calls, often heard well before the birds are seen. Their calls are frequently described as trumpeting, bugling, or rattling sounds, but these adjectives do not fully convey the volume or quality of the sound produced by a mature Sandhill Crane.

The main reason for their unique sound and loud volume is that their trachea is almost twice as long as their neck. This allows the trachea to coil (like a French horn) right under the bird’s sternum, which amplifies and alters the pitch of their calls.

It is a lingering sound, one that is permanently etched into my memory as part of a truly spectacular experience into the world of the Greater Sandhill Crane.

The Sandhill Cranes are in full migration now, so please leave a comment to share your observations and experiences with all of us.

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Sep 23
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I recently attended my first Midwest Birding Symposium. What a tremendous experience to be with about 1000 people that all love watching and talking about birds. I highly recommend visiting a birding festival or symposium in your area. Here are some things I learned.

Know what kind of birder you are. It can be kicking back with a drink watching birds in your backyard or traveling 1000’s of miles to see one bird. Either way it is fun watching birds and sharing experiences with one another.

According to recent geotagging research in Pennsylvania, Purple Martin wintering grounds are a world away from their nesting grounds. Purple Martins winter on the Amazon River and in deep rain forest habitat. This is a far cry from their suburban and rural nesting grounds where they prefer wide open spaces.

Most birds migrate on consistent paths each spring and fall. Migration for the Wood Thrush is all about flexibility. One geotagged Wood Thrush has taken three different routes in three different years. Not only that, it has shown a wide variety of timing on the departure and return causing all sorts of questions; like, do we really know as much about migration as we thought?

Identifying night-time migrating birds by their flight calls seems to be gaining interest. Yes, this is in the dark when you can’t see them. So many of us were fascinated to learn about it but were so overwhelmed with the thought of not being able to do it. We went out one night and learned it is not as scary as it seems. Its just like learning bird songs; you learn them one at a time. Before you know it, you know quite a few. I bet you already know the Canada Goose flight call.

What bird presentations have you attended lately?

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