Birds Go Buggy!

WE are in the middle of Summer on the coast which means it’s time to go to the beach, have cookouts in the backyard, enjoy outdoor festivals, dabble in gardening and make all kinds of outside fun we’ve been chomping at the bit to do, but it also means dealing with lots of pesky bugs! Summer becomes very buggy for most of us, so we need all the help we can get to stave off menacing insects that annoy, frustrate or bite us! The nursery volunteers at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport are currently helping raise and staff the Army of birds we call insectivores who will eagerly and proactively keep those nasty bugs away from us! A great many birds eat a great many bugs; bugs that do harm to our plant life, as well as, annoy the crap out of us, but we should consider ourselves lucky that numerous birds come to our rescue as they feast on the great flood of insects and other cold-blooded vertebrates that become active during the summer months. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Warblers, and other “canopy” birds feed on caterpillars that eat the leaves of trees. As soon as tiny insects hatch, the bugs begin feeding on the tiny soft leaves as they begin opening, and migrating birds and eventually, our annual hatchlings that fledge or songbird “raise & releases” from the shelter, will arrive just in time to recognize those bugs as dinner! Birds feed on big caterpillars, beetles, grubs, and other medium and large insects and spiders they find near the ground. Blackbirds, bluebirds, sparrows, crows, wrens, and other birds get a lot of protein by hunting and catching these same bugs. Red-winged Blackbirds eat both seeds and insects. Some birds, such as swallows, swifts, nighthawks, flycatchers, some warblers, and Cedar Waxwings scoop up insects flying in the air. Swallows, swifts and nighthawks will fly for hours at a time to catch insects on the wing. Flycatchers, warblers, and waxwings flutter out from branches when they spot a succulent insect and gobble it up! (There, that’s a few mosquitoes or flies that will not be landing on you!) Chickadees, nuthatches, creepers, woodpeckers and the Black-and-white Warbler find insect eggs, larvae or pupae in the crevices of tree bark. Woodpeckers can hear bugs chewing within the wood and dig them out! Those insects can do major damage to our trees. We usually think of hummingbirds as miniature, buzzing birds we provide sugar water or nectar for in our window feeder, but the truth is Hummingbirds get most of their nutrition and proteins by picking tiny aphids and other chewing insects from the surfaces of flowers and leaves and by snatching very tiny flying insects such as gnats in midair. Some people feed hummingbirds and small fly-catching birds by setting out chunks of banana and melon in a small mesh bag because they notice the immediate interest hummingbirds show, but it’s really the tiny fruit flies that swarm the fruit that they really want. Some birds, called generalists, eat a wider variety of insects than others. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler is an example of a generalist. Watch out bug, whatever you are, YRWs will not discriminate, and they will eat you! The top songbird insectivores in our coastal North Carolina airspace who help humans de-bug immensely are the petite Chickadees and Carolina Wrens and medium-size birds; American Robins, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Martins, Chimney Swifts and Flycatchers. The Chickadee’s favorite snacks are beetles and caterpillars, flies and wasps. Wrens prey on ants, millipedes, beetles and grasshoppers. Our American Robins eat a wide variety of insects but are usually noticed most when tugging earthworms out of the ground. Mockingbirds are quite territorial and aggressive when it comes to hunting and prey mostly on grasshoppers, beetles and tree ants. You may see Purple Martins zooming through the sky during early morning or at dusk. They feed mainly on flying insects and occasionally, fire ants. Also, high in the sky, you may hear the chattering of Chimney Swifts who are putting a huge dent in your mosquito population. A group of Swifts in your area will eat up to 12,000 mosquitoes, termites, flies and other insects every day. Although omnivores, Flycatchers and Brown Thrashers add a huge portion of flies, spiders, moths, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, sow bugs, bees and wasps to their diet that includes fruits, nuts and berries. If you have any of these birds nearby, you can be sure they are helping lessen the pest populations near you and your home. If you are a gardener, maintaining your garden won’t be as great a chore due to the natural and most perfect pest control you can ever have, insect-eating birds. These birds are of vital importance to our ecosystem and must be protected. Scientific research and resulting data show that the total biomass of wild bird-consumed insects amounts to between 400 and 500 million tons. Wow! On the average, individual birds consume more than 100 times their own body weight in bugs. That figure is amazing because it’s roughly equivalent to the weight of meat and fish consumed each year by humans. Many of our insect-eating bird species are declining or endangered due to habitat loss, widespread pesticide use, hunting, infrastructure mortality and predation by free-roaming cats. If we can not arrest the threats to these birds, the invaluable ecosystem services they provide will be lost forever. We need more near-natural forested areas for many songbird species, rather than tree plantations that only support a few species. It can be overwhelming to look at the global picture of this dilemma, but we each can do something where we are with what we have. Protect and value your backyard birds. The young songbird insectivores being raised at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter now, will be coming to help you soon and rid your yard of damaging and pesky bugs. Please, welcome and cheer on these little bug zappers!

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