“The Under-Appreciated Sparrow!”

Color catches our eyes as we avid bird watchers will probably agree; take for example the bright red Cardinal or the royal Bluebird and the brilliant, rusty breast of the American Robin. How about the rich black, white and orange-rust color blocking of the Towhee or the adorned Blue Jay, the vivid Purple Finch or the glamorous Painted Bunting? We can’t miss those birds because they announce their presence in living color! What we tend to miss are the little guys, who blend in and are only here in the coastal region of North Carolina during the grayness of winter such as fast, unobtrusive and flitting sparrows. There are 43 species of sparrows worldwide that make up an extended family of tiny passerine birds, and the ones we see most on the coast are the House, Chipping, Song Sparrow and the White-Throated Sparrow. Most sparrows breed as far north as Canada and only migrate to or through North Carolina during October before the harsh cold season hits up north. They will stay through late April, early May and then head back to their northern habitat for breeding. Recently, a White-Throated Sparrow smacked the patio glass door of this author’s home, and Frizbee, an “indoor only” feline alerted me to his still and lifeless presence on the deck. The limp sparrow was placed in a comfy, towel lined container and placed in the warm, wildlife triage to monitor just how serious his injuries were and if in fact, he could recover from only being stunned or knocked out. Happy to report that within a half hour, he was on his feet and making his desire to be released known. Thankfully, he pulled through, and there was no reason to transport him to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC. White-Throated Sparrows, from the family of New World Sparrows, are brown and gray, diminutive birds that weigh only one ounce on the average. They one thing that might stand out in their appearance is a striking head pattern that includes a yellow or tan stripe, as well as a patch of white on their throat. Sparrows are small but plump with short tails and stubby but powerful beaks similar to the beaks of other seed eating birds such as the House Finch. To help them hold and break seeds, the sparrow has an extra bone in their tongue called the preglossale, which stiffens the tongue while eating. White-throated Sparrows eat seeds of grasses and weeds, including ragweed and buckwheat, as well as fruits of sumac, grape, cranberry, mountain ash, rose, blueberry, blackberry, and dogwood. In summer they eat large numbers of insects caught on the forest floor or during quick flights out from low vegetation. Their insect diet includes dragonflies, wasps, stinkbugs, beetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, millipedes, centipedes and snails. Parents feed their nestlings almost exclusively insects. During winter, which is when they hang out with us on the coast, White-throated Sparrows readily visit our bird feeders for millet and black oil sunflower seeds. In spring they eat the tender buds, blossoms and young seeds of oak, apple, maple, beech and elm to ready themselves for their return migration north. Hierarchies, or pecking orders, exist in these winter flocks where males are typically dominant over females. Because of the sparrows abundance, accessibility on both breeding and wintering grounds and the relative ease it can be maintained in captivity, they have been used in many types of bird monitoring, in addition to studies related to breeding biology, physiology in relation to the annual cycle, circadian rhythms, migration, dominance and territoriality, functions of song and the effects of pesticides and forestry practices. Although sparrows have these unique benefits and values; ecological importance, beautiful earth-toned color schemes and that they are quite often mentioned in song lyrics, as well as a frequent topic in folklore, they may very well be the least appreciated of all birds, even though the White-Throated Sparrow is one of the most abundant birds found in the forests of North America. Their winter range covers most of the eastern United States, including all of North Carolina, and it is one of the most numerous birds to winter in our state, along with the Dark-eyed Junco and the Song Sparrow. You’ll find White-throated sparrows on the ground, often in flocks, while they scratch through leaves with both feet in search of seeds, fruits and insects. White-throated Sparrows hop when they’re on the ground rather than walking or running, then pounce forward at anything they’ve uncovered. These winter visitors love leafy urban spaces with brushy edges or hedgerows and active bird feeders. To encourage them to visit your feeder, add a brush pile of plentiful groundcover. Use a ground feeder with millet and sunflower hearts, and scatter millet under the brush from now until April for cold weather energy and to ensure safe refuge. Also, keep your birdbaths thawed and full. White-throated sparrows are a joy to listen to and are adored for their clear whistle of “Sweet Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” which is the song of their homeland. In their breeding region, the female WT Sparrow will build an open cup nest on the ground, hidden by low shrubs or high grass, made of grasses, twigs, weeds, pine needles, fine roots and animal hair. While the female is building the nest, the male will sing to defend their territory and aggressively chase any intruders away. Momma will lay 4 to 5 pale blue or greenish blue eggs marked with reddish brown and lavender that she incubates for about two weeks. After hatching, both parents will feed the nestlings. In about 10 days, the young leave the nest but will still be cared for by their parents for another two weeks. The parents stay together for the summer, but they often choose new partners the next year. The White-throated Sparrow is still wide spread and tallies taken of them during the annual national bird count suggests only a slight decline in the last few decades. Although White-throated Sparrows are not an endangered bird species, we probably should keep our eye on this sparrow. Historically, the sparrow has legendary status and is mentioned in numerous formal literary works. Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, considered the Sparrow a sacred bird, a symbol of true love (although they do get a bad rap for not being monogamous!) and capable of a spiritual connection. In some European countries, the belief is if a sparrow flies into your home you will have good luck and even better luck if the sparrow builds a nest! Or it could mean that a wedding will happen soon. It is also said that Egyptians believe sparrows catch the souls of the recently deceased and carry them to heaven, and that’s why so many sailors get sparrow tattoos (just in case they die at sea). The call of the Sparrow will bring rain! Wow. All these beliefs seem like very heavy burdens to place on a tiny sparrow! Still, considering all that, it might be wise to keep our eyes on the sparrow.

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All


Bumblebees, “Ghosts in the Making”

It’s unusual for the staff and volunteers of the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC to be as highly concerned about a wild creature we don’t rehabilitate as we are, but this living being . . . this insect . . . rules the world! That is not an exaggeration. The Bumblebee, especially the Rusty Patched Bumblebee which was once a common sight throughout the entire continental United States, is in serious trouble. Now it can only be found in small, scattered groups in 13 states. The bee’s population has plummeted by 87 percent since the 1990’s, and as of 9 November 2018 and for the first time in history, the RP Bumble Bee is officially listed as an endangered species on the brink of extinction. It is a ghost in the making. Yes, it is only one listed bee species, but it is a significant start to stronger action that needs to be taken to recover our bees! We are finally acknowledging in a formal and proactive way that if we lose our bumble bees, there will be no plants or parks, no forests or shrublands, no meadows and no vibrant life the bees support such as wildlife, domestic animals and the human animal. All these life forms simply cannot survive without bees. Bees have now joined the Grizzly Bear and the Northern Spotted Owl as heading for extinction if we don’t do something quick! 347 species of bees have drastically diminished over decades due to habitat loss, use of pesticides, mechanization of agriculture, disease, parasites and climate change, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. This tiny creature, the bumblebee, known for growing our world is now protected, and we all need to do our part to help save them. Bees certainly don’t get the respect they deserve for all they do. Most people don’t like bugs of any kind and see the bee as a menace to their immediate environment, so they end up swatting it and possibly killing it, not realizing the devastating effects the loss of that bee will create. And how about the large number exterminated at one time when bees have taken up residence in an area or pocket deemed an inconvenience to a human, such as between the walls of a shed or under a porch, and they are all sprayed dead? Bumblebees do not damage wood or other structural components. If a bumblebee nest is discovered on your property, its best and safer to just leave it alone unless there is a good chance your activities will take place near the nest. If that’s the case, calling bee experts to orchestrate a safe conservational move might be the way to go. Foraging bumblebees will almost never divert from their tasks to intentionally sting someone or their pets. A few other reasons to accommodate a bumblebee nest is of course, their huge value as pollinators, the small size of their nest and their short life span when compared to other stinging insects such as yellow jackets and hornets. Although bumblebees are capable of stinging, they are quite gentle, docile and not as aggressive or likely to sting as wasps such as those hornets and yellowjackets. The male bumblebee cannot sting, and females only do so when they feel threatened. Also, in their defense, bumblebees make up for that unique and unappreciated behavior of stinging by being among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. They basically pollinate everything, which emphasizes what a food security issue the loss of bees presents! According to the U.S. FWS, “the economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.” Bees are tiny and usually go unnoticed unless they buzz by you or in your face, but keep in mind when you deem them an annoyance that these pollinators are a huge part of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, food will not grow. Bumblebees are large, fuzzy insects with short stubby wings that beat 130 times or more per second in a sweeping motion rather than up and down. They seem to defy aerodynamics when you consider their tiny wings versus their rotund body. How they manage to stay in the air is a mystery to many bumblebee fans. Their extremely fast metabolism requires them to eat nectar or pollen constantly when they are on the move. It is said that “a bumblebee with a full stomach is only 40 minutes away from starvation.” Bumblebees are some of the most social creatures in the animal kingdom. A group of bumblebees is called a colony, and colonies can contain between 50 and 500 individual bees. Bumblebees are larger than honeybees but don’t produce much honey, because their role and mission is that of a remarkable pollinator. Other animals are pollinators as well to include birds, bats and butterflies, but there’s no question that bees are the most important, significant and vital pollinators in our ecosystems around the world. Bees are dying, but there are ways for everyone to help stop the bees’ decline. Recommendations are to plant native and bee-friendly flowers, limit or avoid pesticides, foster natural landscapes, leave grass and garden plants uncut after summer to provide habitat for overwintering bees, strategically place old logs on not frequented areas of your property, plant new habitats for the bees to thrive in, provide supplemental nectar (30% sugar & 70% water in bottle caps in and around flower beds) and even build nesting boxes for bees. As we enjoy the aesthetic beauty all around us; the greenery, the flowers, the trees, wildlife, please give credit where credit is due, to the bumblebee, which is also beautiful in its fuzzy, buzzy way! Our community goal should be to bring the bumble bees’ numbers back to a healthy level. If you haven’t yet, let’s get ready and start this process now. There are things we can do to prevent the decline of our precious bees, and so we should. Please join us in the efforts to save these fat, fuzzy fliers. It just might be the best Christmas present we will ever give ourselves and those we love! Bee Merry!

best always & HAPPY 2019!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All”

“COLD TOES” for Pelicans!!

A cold snap is a comin’! Temperatures are scheduled to drop over the next few weeks, even to the teens, and bad things happen to wildlife when Eastern North Carolina gets that cold. Food will become scarce and frostbite can occur, mainly with our Brown Pelican population. We have seen pelican frostbite cases admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC over the years and sometimes in such great numbers that there’s hardly enough room to house them all! The Brown Pelican is a North American bird of the pelican family, Pelecanidae. It’s a very big seabird found on the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to the Amazon in South America. Most people who reside in North Carolina and tourists who visit are very familiar with pelicans. These large fisher-birds have habituated with humans, so we see them everywhere along our beach fronts, docks, fishing areas and find them ever present in our views at waterfront restaurants.The Brown Pelican is known for its oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Juvenile Brown Pelicans are in fact brown with a lighter beige underbelly, but a mature Brown Pelican’s coloring is vastly different. The adult will have a white neck and head with a yellow crest and its body is almost black with dark gray feathers. Flying units of pelicans, young and old, glide with seemingly little effort above the surf along coasts, rising and falling with the graceful movement of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up in their pouch. We bird watchers enjoy the purposeful antics of this comically elegant bird. With coldness looming, wildlife rehabilitators know that unfortunately, pelicans will do what they generally do in freezing temperatures and that is, nothing. They will stay out of the water and sit very still as they try to deal with the frigid and frosty weather nature has dealt them, which we know is not good to ward off the condition of frostbite. Frostbite is simply tissue damage caused by freezing, so keeping circulation going is one of the keys to prevention. The first body parts affected by decreased blood flow when exposed to extreme cold are those furthest away from your core, pelican or human. With pelicans, the cold will attack its toes and gular pouch first. Frostbite can happen very quickly in severely frigid weather; possibly within five minutes! Pelicans do not have the preventative luxury of layering its clothing or feathering for that matter, to protect the most vulnerable areas of their body from frostbite and no one is offering them a hot cup of tea or cocoa. Frostbite generally affects the top layers of the skin, but when it becomes more advanced, the damage will extend through the muscles and to the bones. When Pelicans are admitted to the shelter with frostbite, it’s because they are found disoriented, unable to walk due to pain in their feet, unable to fish and weak from starvation. Rehabilitating pelicans is a costly situation anytime but when frostbite is present they will require medications, surgical procedures to remove necrotic tissue or bone caused by frostbite and loads of fish for the starving and recovering birds whose rehabilitation stay at the shelter will correlate with the extensiveness of their frostbite. Pelicans can still be released and survive in the wild if their loss is only some webbing between toes or partial toe amputation, but loss of a foot, leg or pouch meets with a grim outcome. At the wildlife shelter we offer our frostbite patients treatment and care to include continuous, never ending clean up, plenty of food and medications they need and the necessary time to heal while we monitor their behaviors, returning skills and potential for a successful release. Most pelicans in our care are easy to get along with for they are friendly, social birds. They seem to be appreciative of the warm, safe haven we provide and the easy food. However, occasionally, we’ll get a pelican with a really bad attitude and a case of “snap-itis,” so we stay clear of that wild bill flailing in the air, because it can pinch pretty darn hard if it catches a human leg or arm, but those are few and far between. Pelicans aren’t the only wildlife who suffer from frostbite when a freeze hits our area. Virginia Opossums are also occasionally affected because they have bare feet and a bare tail. Frostbite is always bad no matter the victim, but most opossums seem to be resourceful enough to find a warmer place to hunker down and ride out the cold than our totally exposed Pelicans. Pelicans can live to be in their forties, which is quite the longevity for an animal in the wild, and we want to help those damaged by frostbite to recover and get back out there to live that potentially long life. So, if you see pelicans staying in one spot too long after an icy, cold snap, there could be some “Cold Toes” going on that require treatment. Our doors are wide open to receive them!!

Stay warm out there and best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

Celebrating the Icky Factor!

CSMag_Vulture_Black and Turkey_WPWhat better time than the month of Halloween to introduce you to the Vulture, commonly referred to as a buzzard. Some people consider vultures creepy, scary, ugly and even icky, but what they may lack in good looks they make up for in personality and a purposeful life. There are 23 species of vultures found worldwide (except Australia and Antarctica), but our resident girls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC (Xena & Zelda)  represent the only two vulture species found in North Carolina. Xena, the red faced, brown feathered bird with whitish flight feathers underneath is a Turkey Vulture, and Zelda, the Black Vulture, has black plumage with a gray neck and head. Some folks say the Black Vulture has the “prettier face,” but don’t tell Xena that! Both girls were admitted to the shelter years ago with car graze injuries that when healed, rendered them non-releasable. They have been part of our shelter’s education program, best friends and enclosure-mates ever since. Vultures are extremely gregarious, social and practice the concept of family. You will often see large community groups of vultures roosting together in trees and unfortunately, sometimes on rooftops. Groups of vultures are referred to as a committee, vortex, venue and even a wake. A circling of vultures in the air is called a kettle which relates to the appearance of something boiling in a cauldron. Vultures are considered raptors, but rather than taking down prey like an eagle or a hawk does, their prey is already down. Vultures in general feed on dead animals. buzzardsWPThey are scavengers of roadkill and animals who have expired by other means as well. If dead animals or carrion is scarce, they will eat eggs or kill newborn animals. In defense of the Turkey Vulture, it’s usually the more aggressive Black Vulture that may attack living prey. If protein sources are hard to find, they both will eat almost anything; pumpkins, grass and seeds. In areas populated by humans, garbage dumps become stomping grounds for vultures. In the wild, vultures find meals either by using their keen eyesight or by following other vultures. Most birds’ olfactory senses are minimal to none, but a vulture’s sense of smell is elevated which helps them locate their meals, even in the density of a forest. They are referred to as “tearers,” which is what the word vulture means in Latin. They use their hooked, long beak as a ripping tool when dining on dead carcasses. Both Turkey and Black Vultures have bald heads to prevent getting their feathers contaminated from carrion. Vultures occasionally consume too much of a good thing, ultimately gorging themselves. At that point, they can’t fly and will have to wait out digestion to get off the ground again. Although they are raptors, their feet are quite different than birds that rely on powerful talons to capture prey. A vulture’s feet are more adapted to walking, running and hopping and look more like chickens’ feet.  The vulture’s anatomy lacks a syrinx, which is the vocal organ in birds, so the only vocalizations they share and we can hear are grunts or hisses. Vultures must chuckle a bit when they are mistaken for the majestic eagle or the considered more beautiful osprey, as they soar high in the sky with their 6 foot wingspan. An avian sports contender, the vulture can glide for hours without flapping a wing, which attests to its remarkable endurance. VultureInFlightWPVultures enjoy sunny days over gray days because they need warmed air with sufficient thermals to support soaring. It’s actually easy to tell vultures from other birds in the sky if you know what to look for. A vulture’s wings form the shape of a “V” in flight, and they tilt from side to side as they soar, unlike eagles and hawks. In our coastal region, we see vultures year round. They are permanent residents, mostly non-migratory. Most vultures mate for life after winning their significant other with impressive courtship dance moves. During breeding season, trees are not their choice for nesting. Their eggs are laid on the ground and hidden under cover, in rock crevices, in hollow trees or logs, or sometimes in hillside depressions or caves. The eggs are whitish with lots of dark brown markings and both parents incubate the eggs from 38 to 41 days. Vultures generally raise two chicks each year and feed their young by regurgitation. Like most species, young birds look different than the adult birds, although baby vultures are unfortunately, still homely. CSMag_Vulture_Baby_WPYoung vultures have a gray head, bill and legs. They get their adult coloration and plumage when they are 1-2 years old. One might wonder how vultures don’t get sick feeding on dead and rotting food choices. The answer is; they have a digestive system that contains special acids that can dissolve some pretty bad stuff such as anthrax, botulism, salmonella and cholera bacteria. Medical researchers continue to look at the vulture’s innate protection system in attempts to find an effective treatment for humans suffering with serious and deadly afflictions. In the spirit of the “spooky” holiday this month, the vulture tops the “Icky-Factor” list. Yes, they eat dead and spoiled things, but they also use projectile vomiting as a defense mechanism. So be careful if you wonder into a vulture roosting area. You will be perceived as a disturbance and some of the icky stuff could be heading your way very quickly and accurately in attempts to scare you off! Another icky-factor includes the knowledge that they cool themselves by urinating or defecating on their own legs. Quite the air-conditioning system! Just a few more reasons why people don’t want them too close to their house, but in the United States, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal to take, kill, or possess vultures and violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and imprisonment of up to six months. So despite all the ickiness, how about a little respect for these dutiful birds who fulfill their inherent role in nature to cleanse disease from our environment, which helps other animals and people from getting sick. And who knows, these prehistoric creatures may just have the answer and cure for medical conditions the human race has been struggling with since the beginning of time.



author of “Save Them All


Wild Babies Amongst Us

_LT_0664FB“ALL ABOARD for the Baby Train!” We have officially shifted into the busiest time of the year at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport. Wildlife babies of all shapes, sizes and species are making their way to the care of wildlife rehabilitators everywhere, and our shelter is no exception. It all started a month ago when a couple of baby squirrels were admitted after being found on the ground after a storm went through the area. Then, a litter of baby opossums, weighing only 20 something grams each was brought to us after their Mom was hit by a car. Once the baby train started chugging, it just gained speed and the number of admits grew large. An infant Barred Owl is on board after being found on the ground in the same place we have picked up baby Barred Owls for the past three years. We always see the Mother in a tree close by and although it’s sad to remove the little one, especially with her looking on, we know the ball of fluff will not make it if she remains on the ground. We find solace in thinking Mom may boot them out of the nest because she’s stressed or tired and knows someone will show up to take over with their care. I mean . . . three years in a row, really? By the way, the little girl is doing great and started eating on her own the first day. We’re having quite the influx of Eastern Cottontail admits for a variety of reasons such as a dog or cat discovering the nest site, but mainly as a result of those engaged in yard work. BlogIMG_0407May2013It is Spring, and that’s what humans do! If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and mother is nowhere to be seen, please DO NOT disturb them if they are not in eminent danger … this is normal. You will not see the mom as mom will only come back in the middle of the night to feed her babies. Mother rabbits only nurse their babies for approximately five minutes twice a day. By removing them from the nest you greatly reduce their chances of survival. So, if you do pick up a baby before thinking it through, please put it back. Infant cottontails are the most difficult of all furry wildlife orphans to rehab because they are ever alert to danger and subject to fatally overstressing. Holding baby bunnies can easily cause them to succumb to heart failure. Cottontails will still care for their babies even if they have been touched by human hands. We recommend putting a string around their nest area and checking back a few times to see if the string is mussed. If the babies still look plump and healthy, Mom is taking care of them, as it should be. In four weeks or less they’ll be out on their own. In rare situations where you know the bunnies are orphaned, such as evidence momma rabbit has been killed by another animal or found in the road, that is definitely the time to get the babies to a skilled wildlife rehabilitator, trained to provide appropriate care to ensure their best chance of survival. Speaking of more babies, our brooders are full of Mallard, Muscovy and Wood ducklings who found themselves alone, confused and separated from their Mother and siblings as a result of whatever the crisis was at the moment. FBBrooderDucklings_May2013We can only speculate. Baby birds are now heading into the shelter as well. First in was a House Finch, all by her lonesome and found on the ground. Breeding season for birds gets started a little later than mammals, but when it happens, it is full on! The environment can be very hard on baby birds just trying to make their way into the world. The reasons are many; from numerous wild or domestic predators wanting to dine on them or the ‘incredible edible egg’ to humans who find their presence annoying (that one is hard to figure out from a wildlife rehabilitator’s perspective). Baby birds are brought to the shelter daily throughout spring and summer and care for baby birds is quite time consuming. There is no down time between feedings because baby birds, especially songbirds, eat every thirty minutes or less, depending upon their size when admitted to the shelter. By the time a wildlife rehabilitator at OWLS has made the bird nursery feeding rounds, it’s time to start the process all over again. And because birds eat from sun up to sun down, the shelter adds a third shift of volunteer personnel to cover evening hours until the sun dips beneath the horizon. So the bottom line for OWLS this time of year . . . We are very, very busy, but as wildlife rehabilitators, we don’t mind working earnestly to ensure all baby critters in peril get their second chance! Please watch out for the Wild Babies Amongst Us.

Happy Sunny Days Everyone!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save them All

Winter Bird Feeding

FebCS_Cardinal648EAlthough Eastern North Carolina historically does not experience much snow, if at all, during winter, the colder temperatures still cause outdoor food sources to become scarce, especially for some of our favorite back or front yard bird visitors. Lately, calls have piggy-backed at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport inquiring about the absence of birds. “I don’t understand why I have no birds in my backyard” or “in the winter at least the little gray birds with the white tummies show up, but they aren’t here either.” The sparrow size gray bird with the white tummy the caller was describing is a Junco, and they do winter in Eastern North Carolina. Winter can be a difficult time for birds, whether they experience freezing temperatures or snow cover along the coast or not. Birds are warm blooded and have to maintain their body temperature by eating rich energy foods such as seeds, nuts, insects and suet. Most insects are dead or dormant by the time we humans need to don jackets and scarves, so birds will start eating food sources they don’t generally choose during warmer weather. Winter is the best time to set up bird feeders because birds are trying to fatten up during this harsh season. You will also see them puffing up their feathers, creating air pockets, to keep warm. The more air pockets, the better the insulation. You might also see them alternating an exposed leg, keeping one held up in their breast feathers for warmth. The days are short and the nights are often cold and long. To survive the cold, birds will visit whatever food sources are available. Some birds you will likely see at your feeder are Black-capped Chickadees, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, and the Dark-eyed Juncos.  The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide more than enough energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include: Black oil sunflower seed, Hulled peanuts, Niger or thistle seed, Safflower, suet mixes with seeds or fruit, Peanut butter, cracked corn and White millet seed. FebCS_MG_8565CEWhen choosing birdseed and other foods for winter feeding, take into consideration which bird species are present in the winter and what foods they prefer to avoid wasted seed. Fruits, such as raisins soaked in warm water to soften are also well received. Something a little more expensive and definitely a luxury for your birds would be mealworms that can be purchased from most pet or bait stores. I don’t know too many birds that wouldn’t love a fat, juicy meal worm!  Feeders should be located out of the wind. The east or southeast side of a house or near a row of trees is ideal. It is best to have a perching spot such as a bush or tree for the birds to use to survey the feeding area and provide sufficient cover for safety from predators, as well as, shelter from the wind and weather. The feeders should be positioned near cover but in the open to allow birds to continually watch for danger. To minimize window collisions, place feeders more than five feet away from a wall or window and use window clings or other techniques to prevent collisions. For ground feeding, an area near cover with a clear view of the surroundings is best.  Placing seed in a ground feeder entices birds such as sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Quail, Pheasants, Towhees and Brown Thrashers. Even the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is thought of as a tree dweller, does some foraging on the ground. Ground feeders are also seen eating the seeds that fall from hanging bird feeders. Platform and hopper feeders are especially good for attracting Cardinals, Wrens, Chickadees, Titmice, Jays, and Grosbeaks. Hanging feeders, because they blow in the wind, are generally used by those species able to hang on while feeding such as Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Finches.  Birdfeeders are most attractive to birds in winter, when natural food supplies are least available. Seed eaters such as finches, sparrows, titmice and chickadees may flock to feeders in higher numbers than natural food sources alone in the immediate area could support. Seeds that are merely a welcome supplement under normal winter conditions may suddenly become vital during a fierce ice or snow storm. Wild birds are resourceful, gleaning most of their food from the natural habitat; except in extreme or unusual circumstances, they manage to find enough to eat to survive. But birds that have become used to supplemental feeding may suffer when that food supply is suddenly missing, especially in winter. So, keep your feeders full when winter is toughest.  It’s also important to properly clean and sterilize your feeders routinely in efforts to minimize mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could foster disease among backyard bird populations. When cleaning, discard soggy seed or seed encased in ice, and let the feeder dry before refilling.  FebCS_CardinalENesting boxes and year round bird houses help shield birds from inclement and freezing temperatures. And for the very serious birder, a heated bird bath or adding a heating element to your current bird bath would be quite ducky!   Keep your feathery little visitors healthy, comfy and safe during the harshness of winter!!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of

“Save Them All”

New Chimney Swift Towers – Flyin’ High in 2009!

KristaHansenConstruction-FinishXXThree WRNC Chimney Swift tower grant awardees completed their towers in early spring and quickly put up vacancy signs for all Chimney Swifts in their immediate area and “Houston, We Have Residents!” Avid bird lover, Krista Hansen from Oak Path Farm in Council, NC, who has enjoyed Chimney Swifts on and near her land for many years, immediately saw the value in applying for a Wildlife Rehabilitators of North Carolina (WRNC) Chimney Swift Tower Grant. Her home heating system was updated years ago, which unfortunately, required the sealing of chimneys where Swifts had previously nested. She and her husband, Craig Magill, vowed at that time to find ways to keep Chimney Swifts in their lives. Krista’s determination and passion to provide alternative habitat for the Chimney Swifts in her area were recognized by the WRNC board and her application was selected to receive a grant during the Symposium Board Meeting in Raleigh on February 1, 2009. As soon as Krista received the word, her husband and his father, Charles began constructing the tower and a decision was made to abut the tower to an existing horse barn to ensure an abundance of delectable insects and tower stability. After the finishing touches on the tower, the waiting game began. Although told it would be unusual for a first year tower to house swifts, Krista and Craig stood fast in their monitoring of the tower, and it finally happened. By May, Chimney Swifts were moving into the tower and by July, five babies, were onboard.

09AprFischesserTower1High atop the Bell Tower at Lee’s McRae College, Banner Elk, North Carolina, Chimney Swifts, acrobatic birds that live on the wing, will soon be doing what they are meant to do; raise their young before they return to Peru in late summer and vacuum the sky at dawn and dusk, ridding the campus of dangerous and pesky insects. Chimney Swift parents and their offspring can consume over 12,000 flying insect pests every day. Nina Fischesser, Instructor of Earth Stewardship and Wildlife Rehabilitation at Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute aboard Lee’s McRae campus, also saw the value in applying for a WRNC Chimney Swift Tower Grant, especially since the college’s heating system was being updated, which unfortunately, required the closing of chimneys where Swifts have nested for many years. Lee’s McRae College in Banner Elk is one of the largest roosting sites for Chimney Swifts in western North Carolina. Nina’s selfless determination and the Chimney Swift’s need for a tower were recognized by the WRNC board and her application was also selected to receive a WRNC grant. As soon as Nina received the word and the weather broke, she put her construction team to work. By early April the tower was up and ready to receive resident Chimney Swifts. Nina has noticed a number of Chimney Swifts checking out the new tower, but it is not known at this time whether a family took up residence this year.

On twenty-five acres of undeveloped land in Wayne County, Ed Erkes, naturalist, bird lover and 09MayEdErkesFinish2Xnature photographer from Goldsboro continues his efforts to groom a valuable wildlife sanctuary and refuge. His desire and efforts to build a Chimney Swift Tower were assisted by WRNC when his tower application was approved to receive a monetary grant. Ed’s white, majestic Chimney Swift tower was completed in late April and stands tall, awaiting its first family of swifts. While he patiently waits and monitors swift interest, he’s stocked the pond with fish. His plantings of eastern red cedar, red maple, river birch, flowering dogwood, black cherry, black gum, wax myrtle and inkberry shrubs are growing. Wood duck and bluebird boxes, as well as purple martin condos are in place and structures to attract more warblers and barn swallows are in the planning stages. Ed has sighted Chimney Swifts in the area this summer feeding over the pond and swooping the tower, but there are no indications of activity inside the tower yet. Maybe next year!

If anyone is interested in constructing and maintaining a Chimney Swift tower to benefit the Swifts as well as your community, check out http://www.chimneyswifts.org for tower constructin details. If you are from North Carolina, WRNC is in a position to help you conserve this natural resource and encourage Swifts to return to North Carolina by offering a Chimney Swift Tower Grant to any environmentally active group or individual who will seek appropriate site approval, properly construct and regularly maintain a Chimney Swift Tower in their area. Find the requirements and WRNC Chimney Swift Tower Grant application online at http://www.ncwildliferehab.org. New applications must be submitted prior to January 5, 2010.

May the Swifts be with you!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All”