“Summer Bird Feeding”

There’s always the big debate whether bird enthusiasts should feed wild birds in the Summer, mainly because some folks believe the birds will become dependent on handouts, too lazy to look for natural food sources and supplemental feeding could alter their migration behaviors. Research has proven that three-fold theory to be untrue. Studies show that wild birds typically receive no more than 25 percent of their daily food from feeders, and for numerous backyard species the percent is even lower. We, at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, believe, as well as other professionals in wildlife fields, summertime is a perfect time to feed wild birds for a variety of reasons. Of course, at OWLS, we release many birds on our property that are raised and rehabilitated during baby season, therefore we keep the feeders plentiful for the young birds to take advantage of the food offered until they feel confident to wing away on their own or have met up with bird elders who show them the way. Feeding backyard birds is beneficial to the birds and rewarding for the home owners who enjoy seeing and listening to gorgeous birds and observing their interesting behaviors. Although, if we choose to feed, it is important to understand the needs birds have in the summer and how we can provide a suitable birdie buffet. In the summer the days are long, so there is ample time for bird watching where we can identify and appreciate different species in their more colorful breeding plumage. If convenient food is present, bird families may choose your yard for nesting and raising their young. Watching nestlings mature is extremely joyful for most birders. There is a bounty of natural foods, such as fruits, insects and seeds, in the summer, so birds may only visit a feeder briefly, especially if they have hatchlings in their nest. However, stocking your feeders with nutritional bird diet favorites will attract a variety of summer bird species. The best foods to have on hand are seeds, especially black oil sunflower seeds, mixed seed (millet, corn, thistle, safflower and sunflower) and Nyjer, which attracts Finches, Sparrows, Buntings and Mourning Doves. Cardinals, Catbirds and Tanagers will eat grains and seeds, but they also love fruit such as apple chunks, banana slices and orange halves that can be presented on a platform feeder or stuffed into a hanging suet feeder. Wrens, Grosbeaks, Warblers, Bluebirds, Mockingbirds, Robins and Brown Thrashers, who are all insect-eating birds, will appreciate a dish of mealworms and although fresh is best, they will not snub dried meal worms added to seed mixes. Raw peanuts, shelled or whole, gets Blue-Jays, Chickadees, Titmice and Nuthatches very excited, but don’t offer coated or seasoned nuts which are dangerous for wild birds. No-melt suet is appetizing for Woodpeckers, Jays, Chickadees, Starlings, Thrashers and Grackles, as well as, a great source of energy and convenience if they are caring for hungry nestlings. Some birders put jelly out as a treat, which Robins, Gray Catbirds and Orioles enjoy, but as with any “sweet” thing, jelly could put ants on the march and in the heat, jelly can go rancid. So, if you decide to provide this sweet treat, it should be offered early morning in a small amount and the dish removed before the day gets too hot or the ants arrive. We all love our little jets, the hummingbirds, who draw nectar from flowers. To supplement their feedings we can offer sugar water (1 part sugar to 4 parts water, i.e. ¼ cup sugar and 1 cup water) in a special hummingbird feeder which will entice them to stop by. It’s important not to put too much sugar in the mixture to protect their liver and kidneys. Hummingbird feeders need to be changed out and cleaned every 4 – 5 days to prevent fungus which will cause infection, tongue swelling, starvation and death. You might also find orioles, woodpeckers and nuthatches taking sips from this feeder or resident bats who discover the feeder at night! Some foods that should not be offered would be in the category of kitchen scraps such as bread and rice (which is considered junk food because they provide no nutritional value and would be a death sentence for nestlings), peanut butter (which is ok in the winter but will melt in the summer becoming a hazard to a bird’s feathering) also spoils on hot days due to the high oil content). Soft suet blends will breakdown in the heat too and grow mold and bacteria that can be dangerous to birds. The down side to Summer Bird Feeding doesn’t involve the birds at all. It’s our responsibility to keep the feeders clean to ensure the food remains mold and bacteria free. Clean feeders will prevent diseases the birds could contract such as an eye condition called conjunctivitis, which is an affliction birds are admitted to our wildlife shelter with every summer. Their eyes are infected and crusted over which renders them blind until we can treat and clear that up. We know the bird has been eating at a dirty feeder. Also problematic are the other animals that could be attracted to your feeders, the largest being a bear! Bears in the backyard puts pets and property at risk, so to make your yard less appealing to bears, you could take your feeders down each evening, or as this author does, put out a rationed amount of seed mix and other food items in the morning and when it’s gone, it’s gone until tomorrow. That way, the night roaming critters will not be enticed to come into your yard and eat your backyard birds’ food. A few tips to also be mindful of if you choose to feed are: a) position your feeders away from windows or make your windows more visible by using anti-reflective techniques to prevent bird strikes, b) choose shaded areas for your feeders to minimize spoilage, c) use mesh or open feeders to allow seed to dry out if it gets wet, d) keep your cats indoors and discourage feral or free roaming cats from trekking through your yard, e) view feeders as only supplements to a bird’s natural foods and f) always CLEAN YOUR FEEDERS routinely to avoid mold, bacteria or fungal growth. NO FUNGUS AMONGUS! If you consider yourself to be an avid bird watcher and you are going to feed backyard birds, you might as well go all the way and provide a bird bath to keep them hydrated with fresh water, clean and full of summer fun (for you and them)! Overworked bird parents will enjoy a dip at their spa to cool off! Backyard birding is a pleasure and an honor. Those fragile little beings chose your yard to visit, eat, sing, play and raise their babies because you made healthy and compassionate choices for them. Many people agree, especially birders, that there is no better way to enjoy a Summer day than sitting on your deck or patio while watching a variety of adult and fledged birds at feeders and birdbaths! Spectacular!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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“Catchin’ Flies”

Blog_GreatCrestedFCXESeldom seen but always appreciated are Great Crested Flycatchers who perch high and wait diligently while bobbing their heads in all directions in search of summer insects that vulnerably flit among foliage. Flycatchers may drop or crash into a bush to seize a bug but usually feed high by catching their prey on the wing. They are also capable of stopping abruptly in midflight to hover over an insect covered leaf or tree limb, picking them off like . . . . . well, you know. As their name suggests, Great Crested Flycatchers are primarily insectivores and one would think that flies are their staple food source, but flies make up only a small percentage of its diet. GCFs prefer butterflies, moths, spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, bees, wasps and sometimes small lizards. Blog_GreatCrestedFCXXEWhen admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, usually as nestlings who have been displaced by bad weather or predator nest attack, their diet will consist of meal worms mainly, which is a great protein substitute for what they might grab and go in the wild. They also enjoy small portions of fruits and berries which they consume whole, and the pits or seeds are regurgitated later, occasionally quite a few at one time. They are usually very cooperative birds in the nursery who eagerly snatch meal worms from tweezers when offered, and their vocalizations are quite soothing compared to the shrillness of baby Cardinals or Mockingbirds! Flycatchers sing a fairly low-pitched, three-part song of “wheerreep, whee” and end with a soft, low “churr.” They also have an alarm sound, like most birds do when stressed, that is a series of a fast and higher pitched “huit, huit, huit.” Great Crested Flycatchers are reddish-brown-gray above, with a brownish-gray head, gray throat and breast, and bright to subdued lemon-lime belly. The brown upperparts are highlighted by rufous-orange flashes in the primary and tail feathers. The black bill, which is fairly wide at the base and flanked by black whiskers, sports a bit of pale color as an adult. Blog_GreatCrestedFCPerchedEThey have a powerful build for a medium size song bird with broad shoulders and a large head with a crest that is not prominent and somewhat underwhelming compared to that of a Blue Jay. GCF’s do not display sexual dimorphism like Cardinals, Bluebirds and House Finches do. The male and female GCF look the same in color and size, so it’s easier to tell the girls from the boys by observing their behaviors rather than their physical appearance. Adult Great Crested Flycatchers are about the size of an American Robin and usually measure between 6.7 – 8.3 inches in length with a wingspan around 13 inches and weigh in between .95 – 1.41 ounces. Although slight in weight, the GCF is a mighty insect predator! Flycatchers don’t seem to be too romantic when it comes to finding a mate. Courtship and the mating ritual may only involve a tenacious male swooping after a female in and among the trees until she finally gives up the chase. So, they are not flashy and over the top with courtship displays but what they do counts because they are monogamous throughout breeding season and for years to come. Great Crested Flycatchers live in woodlots and open woodland, particularly among deciduous trees. Nesting occurs mid-April and the nest site is usually a hole in a tree, either a natural cavity or an old woodpecker hole found 20-50′ above the ground. Blog_GreatCrestedFC3EGreat Crested Flycatchers are the only Eastern flycatchers who nest in cavities, but they may also choose man-made sites such as birdhouses, nest boxes, drainpipes or hollow fence posts. Both sexes help build their nest, although it has been observed that the female constructs the majority of the nest while the male stands watch. They carry in large amounts of material to bring the nest level up close to the entrance of the cavity. The nest foundation is made of grass, weeds, strips of bark, animal fur, rootlets, moss, feathers or other debris and lined with finer materials. GCF’s have the odd habit of weaving in or lining their nest with pieces of shed snakeskin, and sometimes they add onion skins or pieces of litter such as clear plastic wrappers. The male defends the couple’s nesting territory with loud calls and if that doesn’t work, he may have to fight other males. Great Crested Flycatchers lay a single clutch of 4-6 creamy white to pale buff eggs, marked with splotches of brown, olive and lavender, per breeding season. The eggs are incubated for about two weeks by the female only. Both parents will bring food for the hatchlings for the next 12 – 18 days. Around 18-20 days after hatching is about the time the youngsters experience their first flight. Blog_GCF_4L5A0613E Nestlings rarely return to breed near where they were born, but once yearlings have chosen a breeding area, they often return to that same area year after year. The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird of the treetops. It spends very little time on the ground and does not hop or walk. It prefers to fly from place to place close to the ground rather than walk. So, if you are trying to locate one based upon their distinctive, rolling call, you should probably look up! Great Crested Flycatchers live along the edges between habitats, so they don’t need big stretches of unbroken forest canopy to thrive. This is a rare occasion when logging and development practices that increase forest fragmentation actually work to a bird’s advantage, rather than in sharp contrast to other birds that dwell deep within the forest. Although GCF’s breed in most regions of the United States, they are migratory birds who, when the temperatures drop in Autumn, head south to Florida and Cuba, as well as, Mexico and South America. The oldest recorded Great Crested Flycatcher was at least 14 years, 11 months old when it was found in Vermont way back in 1967. It had been banded in New Jersey in 1953. Blog_GreatCrestedFC2EThese little birds can be around for quite a long time barring troublesome hawks who give them the stink eye and loss of habitat or insect food sources. Insects procreate in crazy numbers, especially pesky flies!! It’s a good feeling to know that these ‘great’ little Flycatchers are out their making our world a better place!

 

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

 

“The Tiniest Need Our Help!!”

Blog_CSMag_BabyBirds_The incubators are filling up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC because the tiniest need our help! Baby birds aren’t the cutest little critters to come through the doors of the shelter, but they are the most fragile and definitely will not make it on their own if abandoned or displaced. If they are newborns, we might not be able to make the call on what they are until they develop a little more because many baby birds start life looking quite similar and the smaller the bird species the more similar they look at birth; a skin blob of a body with no feathers, a limp neck trying to hold up a tiny head with a beak that shoots straight up to let Mom or Dad know when it’s hungry. When we admit newborn birds, we might even refer to them as UBBs (unidentified baby birds) until we hear a sound we recognize, the shape and coloring of their beak becomes more pronounced or they start to feather. Then we will know for sure!Blog_CSMag_BabyBird_
Larger song bird babies are easier to identify. When the nursery is full of baby birds, it becomes a full time job for baby bird feeders because these little creatures eat every 30 minutes because their metabolism is so fast and they develop much more quickly than mammals do. Also keep in mind, their meals don’t stop, this is seven days a week! Most people outside the shelter probably do not have the time to devote to this strict feeding schedule. If you add “day olds” or newborns to the mix, the feeding schedule for them is adjusted to every 15 minutes! We also need three shifts (morning, afternoon and evening until the sun goes down) to get the job done because that’s the way their parents would do it! There is no down time for the nursery workers. By the time you finish one round of feeding, it’s time to start all over again. Along with feeding, of course, is cleaning, because just like human babies, baby birds spend all their time eating, sleeping and pooping. Mom and Dad would be cleaning their nest area continually, so wildlife rehabilitators will do that as well. Recently, a nest of five House Finches were displaced when their nest gourd fell apart and the babies found themselves on the ground, four infant Carolina Wrens were discovered in a propane tank, a featherless baby Grackle was found sitting in the road (how that happened is anybody’s guess) and two Nuthatch babies were sighted inside a screen door with no Mom around. When you don’t see how it happened, it’s all speculation and pure wonderment on our part. There will be more baby bird calls and more to join the nursery this summer. Blog_CSMag_I7Z1049__Of course, when someone calls the shelter to tell us they have found baby birds on the ground or their nest is in a dangerous or precarious location, we initially give instructions on how to re-nest the little ones because that would be best for the whole bird family, but when that is impossible, we ask them to bring the youngins in for the care and safety they will need to survive. Wildlife rehabilitators are so important in the equation of raising and giving songbirds the second chance that they definitely deserve because, quite frankly, it’s usually human interference that displaces the little ones and causes a perilous situation for birds that are so important to our ecosystem, and as we are all aware, songbird numbers are on the decline. Blog_BabyBirds In NestWildlife rehabilitators are well trained and licensed, so they possess the “know-how” to provide appropriate species specific diets and habitat, as well as, anticipate and monitor species unique behaviors that when evaluated will let us know when bird youngsters are ready to spend the time needed in an outside enclosure to perfect perching, flight and eating on their own, which is one step away from a wild release. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter raises them all! We are not bias on which species to accept. Need is the key word!!! So, in our nursery in any given Spring, we house the tiniest of our feathered friends from Hummingbirds (although rare) to Finches, Wrens, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Warblers and Sparrows and the larger songbirds (who are usually the easier babies to raise because one: they are bigger and two: aren’t as ‘flitty.’) Larger nursery birds would include Eastern Blue Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Robins, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Gray Cat Birds, Starlings, Grackles, Boat Tailed Grackles, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Fly Catchers, Barn Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and the biggest nursery babies; a variety of Wood Peckers or Flickers, Mourning Doves and Pigeons. They are all so different, and they all have special needs!Blog_CSMag_I7Z1054__ Some are bugs and worm eaters (and we go through thousands of meal worms per week!), while others prefer seeds and berries, then again, some are omnivores and will include all the choices in their diet, but yes, we proudly raise them all!

Please enjoy your Memorial Day and always remember the reason this day has been set aside to be honored by those of us who owe so much to sacrifices made by others.

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“For The Love of Birds!”

A_CSMag_SparrowAtWindow_BlogMany of us enjoy watching wildlife in our yards, especially gorgeous songbirds that frequent our feeders and birdbaths. Some we might even feel like we know, we see them so often! Our hearts go out to these tiny and fragile creatures who seem so capable in their efforts to thrive and outwit danger. Unfortunately, because wild birds are maneuvering around our homes or businesses while flitting from trees to feeders they occasionally fly smack dab into a window and are knocked unconscious, possibly injured or tragically die. That ‘glass smack’ is always a horrible sound for those of us who have come to recognize it. For birds, glass windows are worse than invisible because they reflect foliage or the sky, making them inviting places to fly into. Glass does not discriminate. It will take the fit as well as the unfit of a species. Most birds will crash into windows during the day when they mistake the reflection for landscape. At night, bird collisions also happen when nocturnal migrants hit lighted windows that appear in their airspace. Sometimes, although not as serious and far less likely to cause injury, birds, such as American Robins, Northern Cardinals and Towhees, will attack its reflection while defending its breeding territory. A_CSMag_CardinalatWindow_BlogAt the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we receive calls from people throughout the year who’ve experienced a ‘bird smack’ and aren’t sure what to do because “the bird is just lying there.” Fortunately, there are some procedures to follow that just might save a life. It’s very hard to tell whether a bird has been knocked out or has died on impact, but it’s best to proceed as though you are the emergency medical technician willing to give that little bird his second chance and a shot at recovery. It’s true, no matter what you do, you might lose a few, but to the one you save, it will mean everything! The first thing you must do is gently place the bird in a box that blocks all incoming light (a shoe box is a good size) lined with a washcloth or dish towel to ensure the bird is removed from external stimuli and predator danger. If the bird is only stunned and continues to lie there, cats or wildlife could very well take advantage of its immobility. The cloths will be used for traction rather than allowing the bird to nervously sliding around in the box when it comes to. The box should have a lid with breathing holes in it. Take the box inside and place it somewhere dark, quiet and warm such as a closet or bathroom. Darkness helps calm the bird, lower its heart rate and lead to a faster recovery. When a bird is unconscious and has not passed, it still has sustained head trauma and will need that safe and tranquil place to relax. About every 20 minutes check the box by listening for movement from within the box. Please refrain from interacting with the bird, which is very stressful for the injured bird and can compromise any chance of recovery. It’s also not a good idea to open the box inside. If the bird has recovered, it will zoom out of the box and be inside your home, which is another problem entirely. Once you hear movement, take the box outside to remove the lid. A_CSMag_IMG_0185_Blog If the birdie flies away immediately, you should pat yourself on the back for giving that little life the valuable time needed to recover from a traumatic incident and return to the wild and his family. If the bird appears unable to fly due to injury, please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center for transport instructions. Keep in mind, it is illegal to keep a wild bird in your possession indefinitely, however, you may keep it for a couple of hours to allow it to recover from a potentially fatal concussion. None of us want these glass strikes to happen, but when humans coexist with wildlife the stage is set for these unpleasant and sometimes, tragic incidents. You may be thinking, what can we do to decrease or prevent these extremely dreadful occurrences? Awareness of what could happen is powerful, because that propels us toward making changes in our environment that can make a big difference in how often these “glass smacks” occur. Moving a feeder is a consideration. If your feeder is moved closer to the window, birds won’t be able to pick up enough velocity to hurt themselves if they fly into it. If the feeder is quite far away, the bird will be more likely to recognize that the window is not part of their natural environment. Ideally you should place your feeder either less than 3 feet from the window or more than 30 feet from it. A_CSMag_LT_0152_BlogInstalling curtains or blinds (white is best) will obstruct a reflection that, otherwise, could draw them in. Another idea is to place decals on your window no more than 2 inches apart horizontally and 4 inches apart vertically or vertical tape strips no more than 4 inches apart, but that means you won’t be seeing much out that window! Bug screens have been touted as very effective in reducing the reflectivity of glass and if a bird does ignore the screen, it will serve as a cushion if hit and reduce the chance of injury. Wind chimes or wind socks near the glass can also deter birds from coming near the window. Some folks have even smeared soap on their window to fog any reflection which is a little messy, but if it works, why not? There are other products such as one-way transparent film that appears opaque and ultraviolet technology that only birds can see when applied to glass and are said, although pricey, to be quite effective. If you have suffered through the sadness of a songbird losing its life after hitting your window, try any of these methods. It can only help!
A_CSMag_LT_2887_Blog_edited-1According to the Bird Conservation Network more than 100 million North American birds die every year from window collisions, but “For the Love of Birds,” we can all do our part in reducing that huge number just by caring and making a few changes. Our wild birds entertain us year round for a mere handful of millet and sunflower seeds. To nurture our appreciation and love for our feathered little friends, let’s coexist in a responsible way by helping to keep their airspace safe and ‘glass smack’ free. Only after ensuring we’ve checked the box on some of these preventative methods, can we puff our chest and say “Not gonna happen, Not on my watch!”

Happy Bird Watching and Best Always!!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of

Save Them All

“Son of the Sun!”

Blog_2015Jun_EasternBluebird-27527-2EEastern Bluebirds have been enjoyed and respected throughout history as legends within many cultures. Native Americans believe Bluebirds are the symbol of Spring. The Cherokee believed they predicted or even controlled the weather. Navajo and Pueblo tribes associated bluebirds with the sun and refer to them as “Son of the Sun,” but no matter what anyone calls them, bird enthusiasts enjoy watching these brilliant, royal blue song birds flit through the sky up to 17 miles per hour doing their Spring things. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, we recently admitted a nest of Eastern Bluebirds after a home owner found the nest on the ground with four newborns in it. No one knows the back story, but that happens quite often when rescued Spring babies are brought through our door at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport. The very clean, tiny bluebirds were immediately examined and found injury free. They were immediately placed in a nursery incubator, hydrated and fed a diet of mealworms. Two thirds of a bluebird’s diet consists of caterpillars, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and spiders in the wild, so mealworms substitute nicely in place of what Mom or Dad would have brought home for them. On rare occasions Eastern Bluebirds have been recorded eating salamanders, shrews, snakes, lizards and tree frogs. In fall and winter, bluebirds eat large amounts of fruit including mistletoe, sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, honeysuckle, bay, pokeweed and juniper berries. Male Eastern Bluebirds are vivid, deep blue above and rusty or brick-red on their throat and breast. Blog_2015Jun_bluebird_LT_2733EThe blue in birds always depends on light sources, and males often look plain gray-brown from a distance. Duller but elegant in color females are bluish-gray above and tail with a subdued orange-brown breast. The Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush with a big, rounded head, large eyes, plump body and very alert posture. The flight wings are long, but their tail feathers and legs are fairly short. The black bill is short and straight. You will see Eastern Bluebirds perched very erect on telephone wires, posts and low branches in open country where they scan the ground for prey. They feed by swooping down to the ground onto insects which they can spy from 60 feet or more away. Blog_2015Jun_A_LT_2775_EThey can also snatch an insect in mid air. Bluebirds commonly use nest boxes humans provide (4 to 6 inches square with a 1.75 inch entrance hole) as well as old woodpecker holes that are several feet above the ground. Eastern Bluebirds live in meadows and openings surrounded by trees that offer suitable nest cavities. With the proliferation of nest boxes and bluebird trails, bluebirds are now a common sight along roads, field edges, golf courses and other open areas. If bluebirds remain in a region for the winter, they usually group and seek cover in heavy thickets, orchards or other areas in which adequate food, water and cover resources are available. Mating occurs in the spring and summer. As a courtship display, the male may sing and flutter his wings in front of the female with tail partly spread, and while perched close together, pairs may preen each other’s feathers. The male may even feed his chosen female and bring her nesting materials. Eastern Bluebirds are usually monogamous and the pair will return to the same nesting area each year. A mature female typically raises two broods each season with the first brood staying close by to continue learning bluebird ways, help raise the new youngsters and to occasionally beg for supplemental feedings. Blog_ 2015Jun_Bluebird eatingEEastern bluebirds are very social birds, and at times they gather in flocks of a hundred or more, but they are territorial during breeding season and will defend their feeding and nesting area by attacking (grabbing at the other bird’s feet, pulling at feathers with their beak and hitting them with their wings) to drive them away. Construction of a nest is done primarily by the female and takes around 10 days to complete. The nests are small, cup-like structures lined with grass, feathers, pine needles, stems and hair. The female incubates the 3 to 7 light blue or, rarely, white eggs, which hatch after 13 to 16 days. Although the male is quite the vocalist, he will refrain from singing during incubation to prevent predators from finding the nest location. Bluebirds are born naked except for sparse tufts of dingy gray down, their eyes are closed and they are a bobbing mess of clumsy, so the young cannot care for themselves after hatching. The female broods the chicks for up to seven days. Both parents are very neat housekeepers who remove the infants’ fecal sacs and continually refresh the nest with new nesting materials. Fledglings are grayish in color, with speckled breasts. The blue color becomes more prominent and the speckles on their breasts disappear as they mature. Fledglings then leave the nest 15 to 20 days after hatching. Both parents cooperate in raising the young, which they feed a diet consisting almost entirely of insects. Bluebirds may begin breeding the summer after they are hatched. Bluebird numbers declined significantly during the 60’s due to loss of habitat and predation but have bounced back due the initiatives of human intervention to include the mounting of Bluebird boxes and the creation of birding trails. The global breeding population number has now been placed at 22 million, with 86 percent of bluebirds spending part of the year in the United States. Eastern Bluebirds don’t visit feeders often, if at all, but they are a great prospect for nest boxes if you have the space to put one up in your yard, and if your yard isn’t too hemmed in by trees or houses. And remember, they do eat insects, so a few bluebirds in your area will help keep those pesky critters at bay. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Bluebirds are also a symbol of happiness! Blog_2015Jun_bluebirdEConsider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure it’s up well before breeding season and attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Natural predators of eggs and nestlings include flying squirrels, black bears, fire ants, raccoons, snakes and chipmunks. Adult bluebirds have to be on the lookout for owls, falcons, domestic cats and most varieties of hawk. An Eastern Bluebird’s longevity is 6 to 10 years if they beat the odds of predation, extremely cold weather or starvation. The oldest recorded Eastern Bluebird was 10 years and 5 months. So, binoculars up, everyone! We don’t want to miss that streak of vibrant blue happiness jetting through the sky and across the sun!

Happy Summer, Everyone!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse, author of  “Save Them All

“Snowbirds”

Blog_Junco_Jan2015XAlthough we don’t get much snow in eastern North Carolina, it doesn’t stop diminutive Dark-eyed Juncos, commonly referred to as “Snowbirds,” from wintering with us. One might say, their presence is the first sign that winter has arrived in the south. They are the sparrow size birds, dark gray with white bellies and white outer tail feathers that flash in flight and who have stout, pale pinkish bills that suddenly appear at our feeding stations at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC and in our back yards at home. Another theory for their “Snowbird” nickname is their coloring, which has been described as “leaden skies above and snow below.” They have also been observed burrowing through snow in search of covered over seeds. So the name “Snowbirds” is understandable, but why they are called Juncos, no one can figure out! The word Junco is derived from juncus, which is Latin for the “rush” plant, an emergent reed found in wetlands, but Juncos are not found in that habitat. The coloration of the Junco does vary throughout the country, but no matter the brown in California or black, two-tones in Alaska, they all fashion a white belly, and females tend to be lighter shades of whatever color, gray or slate in our case, than the males. Except for a few groups of permanents in our Appalachian Mountains during the warmer months, Juncos are found in the forests and mountains of Canada, but before the uber cold hits, they flood the lower continent of North America to wait out the harsh weather and frigid temperatures. Blog_Junco_Jan2015XX_edited-2Even though they head south to avoid the cold, they still bulk up for winter by growing 30% more feathering by weight in the winter than in the summer. Females migrate south before the males do and fly at very low altitudes at night making them susceptible to a number of obstacles, such as towers, along the way. Although official bird counters record the Junco population as multi-millions (3 to 4) in North America (second only to the American Robin), they come in numbers of 10 to 30 to each feeding territory and a dominance hierarchy or strict pecking order is immediately set up. Each little Junco knows its place in the power structure of the flock, however, some bold youngster males may challenge the status of adult males with aggressive displays of lunges and tail flicking. Some males choose to stay farther north during the winter to avoid competition and gain that advantage of arriving first for breeding season after return migration. One study showed that in Michigan only 20% of the Juncos observed were female, but in Alabama, 80% were female. They are the most common bird found near feeders in all of North America every winter and tend to return to the same area each year. Chances are we have many of the same birds at our feeder this winter that we had in previous years. Feeding stations do attract them, but you won’t see Juncos perched at a feeder for they are birds of the ground, spending over 65% of their time foraging the spillage. Backyard WIldlifeSo, with Juncos present, nothing goes to waste. They dine on a variety of seeds to include sunflower, niger thistle, cracked corn, millet, suet (peanut butter seems to be their favorite!), weed greens such as chickweed, ragweed, crab grass, timothy hay and occasionally fruit. One quarter of their diet is made up of insects, which offer the protein they need. Juncos, as well as other sparrows, engage in a foraging method called “riding.” That’s when they land on a weed’s or grass stem’s seed cluster and bear their weight to “ride” it to the ground where they pick off the seeds while standing on it. They may have learned that behavior by watching the surfers in our area! Visiting Juncos will usually stay within a 10 acre area as they winter. At night they will roost in evergreens, tall grasses or brush piles and frequent that location repeatedly, sharing their space with others from their flock, but it has been observed that no matter the chill, they don’t huddle together as other birds do. Their song is a trill similar to the chipping sparrow, but the Junco throws in some tick sounds and high pitched, bell-like tinkling chirps, making their voice more musical some say. For those who study bird language, Juncos are purported to be excellent subjects. When our little winter guests return to their breeding areas up north, they will nest in hidden bowls or depressions in the ground or in low hanging branches or shrubs. The small nests are cup-shaped and made of grass, twigs, bark, other plant materials and hair. The female Junco lays 3 to 5 blotchy eggs in a variety of ground color shades such as brown, gray or muted purple. Mom, solely, will incubate the eggs and that period usually lasts a day or two less than two weeks. Dad is delivering food to Mom and eventually the little ones. Strongly territorial, the male Junco also helps his mate defend against nest predators such as chipmunks and deer mice. Both parents feed the young and attend to nest-keeping which includes removing the nestlings’ fecal sacs. Usually the Juncos diet is three parts seed to one part insects, but during the nesting period, the parents increase their intake of insects 50-60% to maintain the stamina it takes to raise and protect their youngins. The fledglings will leave the nest in 9-12 days. The highest longevities recorded for Juncos range between 7 and 11 years, which is impressive for any bird, but to get there they must remain alert, fast, injury free and nutritionally sound! John James Audubon wrote in 1831 that “there is not an individual in the union who does not know the little Snowbird.” Blog_LT_0562X_edited-1We are enjoying our wee Snowbirds! Are you enjoying yours?

Stay Warm Everybody! (And please bring your pets inside.) We’re experiencing some really frigid temps all across the country!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

The Good Mothers (revisit)

ACSMag-BarnSwallowsX_Nursery attendants have shifted into high gear to accommodate the every thirty minutes feeding schedule for the bird newborns and fledglings who now and will claim the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter at 100 Wildlife Way in Newport as their foster home this summer. The incubators are full and the table and counters are covered with crab boxes, waterless fish tanks and netted doll playpens, all housing a variety of infant and juvenile bird species. Same size and compatible youngins like robins, blue jays and mockingbirds can room together, while some loners, who don’t get along with anybody, get their own space. We learned this the hard way when we tried to buddy a Titmouse with a House Finch years ago. We never knew a cute, tiny Titmouse could be so vicious. It was a frenzied evacuation, and we apologized to the terrorized Finch for the rest of the day. Wildlife rehabilitators squeeze in between and around canopied, human baby playpens on the floor used to restrict fully feathered adolescents who are still learning to eat on their own before the big move to an outside enclosure for flight school. Well-meaning people, who do not understand the natural behaviors of wildlife, deliver birdnapped, bobble-headed babies to the shelter every day. Unfeathered infant birds are the most fragile of all babies we receive during spring breeding season. The list of admit reasons is quite extensive; “I think they’ve been abandoned” (probably not) or “the big birds keep flying at me when I go near the nest” (but that’s understandable – protecting their children), or “they leave droppings on my car” (so . . maybe. . . move your car?), or “they nested in my mailbox” (how about . . . using a temporary mail container on top or to the side of the box for a few weeks, just until the little birds wave thank you, adios, hasta luego!). It’s a very slim chance they’ve been abandoned in most cases. Even if something happens to one bird parent the other will continue to bring food to the nest until the newborns are ready to take flight. ACSMag_2starlingsBlogEThe only excuses that really carry weight at the shelter are ” The cat was about to get them” or “I pulled the snake out of the nesting box, but he’d already eaten two.” (Yes, the snake must eat, but two is more than enough.) Living in the wild is harsh, even the semi-wild such as your backyard or workplace. Unfortunately, bird parents do not have the defenses needed to save their young from domestic or feral cats and dogs that injure, kill or orphan millions of birds each year, and they don’t pack the punch to whip up on an aggressive snake, either. Those little hollow legs just don’t have the Disney Ninja kick they need to do business. So, there are some good reasons to disrupt the family unit but not many. Although natural mothers provide better care, nutrition and survival training than any wildlife rehabilitator, we do our best as foster moms for the orphans in our care. We can feed the babies comparable diets, be it syringe fed formula, fruits, crickets, a variety of seed, meal worms and for the robins, juicy earthworms we dig out of the compost pile, but we don’t look like their parents (although some might want to debate that) and try as we might, we can’t teach them to be wild.ACSMag_feedingbirds_0202XBlog They just don’t take us seriously enough. They will have to depend on each other for that. Our golden advice is and has always been; if they are not in danger and there is a possibility the mother is around, wait. There are plenty of good mothers out there, even if you don’t see them. Wildlife mothers (and fathers) are devoted to the survival of their offspring, but Mom must leave the nest from time to time to feed herself and find food for the babies. After fledging, young birds will still hang with their parents and beg for food, much like human babies old enough to leave the nest but smart enough to know a good thing when they’ve got it. Have faith in the good wildlife mothers. They possess instinctive loyalty and tenacity far beyond our awareness. One of the Good Mothers we came in contact with a while back was a Mourning Dove who nested in a hanging plant every year at a hardware store. ACSMag_Good Mothers-1After situating herself, the clerks would pull other plants around her for safety, place a “Do Not Disturb” sign and pile straw beneath her chosen nesting spot to cushion a fall if a baby dove took a dive. One year, during a tropical storm, the torrential rains didn’t let up for hours, and we couldn’t help thinking about her; wondering if the hanging plant could possibly drain fast enough to prevent drowning the babies. A wildlife rehabilitator threw on her rain poncho and headed to the store, which was closed due to the hurricane threat, only to find the Good Mother hunkered down on her nest and although soaked herself, keeping her dependent brood dry. If you come across an active bird nest you feel is in a danger zone or has become a nuisance to you, please call us (OWLS) at (252)-240-1200 or a wildlife shelter close to you before displacing it. The bird world will thank you!
The first wild babies displaced this spring who reached our rehab door were mammals; squirrels, opossums and cottontails. They arrived in all stages of development, and our staff morphed into the Good Mothers needed for each species. We have already released the strong, feisty and ready to go their wild way early borns, and we are prepared to steadfastly stay the course throughout the summer, ensuring all wildlife orphans are properly raised and become strong and cleverly keen enough to live their second chance!

Best Always, (and have a safe and sensational summer!)

Linda Berman-Althouse

Author of  “Save Them All