“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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“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

“Cardinal College”

Blog_10Mar2013_LT_0007E Songbirds don’t get much attention in my shelter write-ups, because people see them routinely and, quite frankly, most of us take them for granted. With the recent white-outs across the region, the songbird who simply pops against the backdrop of falling and resting snow is the Northern Cardinal. This bird can be seen year round because it does not migrate as most other songbirds do and is probably the most easily recognized bird in our area and yours. The Northern Cardinal is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. The cardinal is the only red bird in eastern North America with a crest on top of his or her head, which rises when the bird senses danger. They are gorgeous, be it an 8 to 9 inch long male cardinal who is brilliant red all over with a black mask or the stunning, pale brown female also with black face but who sports a bright orange bill that looks like recently applied coral lipstick.Blog_IMG_0185E Males with a brighter red color have more success finding a mate and enjoy greater reproductive rates than a duller color male. So, in this case, what you’re wearing counts! At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we get our share of infant cardinals to raise in the Spring and year around, the occasional window smacked or cat attacked adult who drops feathers everywhere in their attempt to survive an aggressive feline. Barring more serious injury than feather loss, the adults usually stay at the shelter for a long time, growing back their primary feathers, which is imperative to returning them to flight status. This year we’ve taken on a resident cardinal we named Duncan. As an infant he was admitted as an orphan with an eye problem and eventually lost sight in his right eye. He has, what we believe to be, a very comfortable and nicely decorated enclosure in the clinic hallway, where the action is, and he seems to enjoy all the attention he gets from the staff and the occasional tour. Routinely, we let him stretch his wings by flying around the building, and he accommodates all turns and straight aways very well despite his diminished sight. He loves to sing, and we love to hear his sweet whistling song. Both male and female cardinals sing, unlike many other songbirds in North America where only a male songbird is capable of singing. It’s interesting to note that biologists report some cardinal songs are sung with accents. Duncan also loves “shiny.” We make a point not to wear earrings around wildlife for some fairly obvious reasons, but one day one of our staffers forgot she was wearing her small diamond studs. Duncan spied one of the sparklies and zoomed in to remove the bauble to make it his own. He was relentless and clasped onto the stone fiercely with his vice-grip beak before the earring was removed from her ear and eventually pried from Duncan’s beak. Fortunately, the staffer was not injured. Duncan is such a little pistol! Blog_Duncan_Feb2014_IMG_0077EWe often see cardinals in our backyards, parks, wooded areas, brushy swamps and forest edges. You will also often see them in pairs because they are monogamous and mate for life. Their common name, as well as the scientific name, Cardinal, refers to the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, who wear distinctive red robes and caps. “Northern” refers to the region where they are found. Cardinals are also called Red Birds and Virginia Nightingales. A group of cardinals has a number of names to include a college, conclave, deck, radiance and Vatican. Northern Cardinals begin their breeding season in early Spring. The males and females sing to each other during courtship, and the male has been observed feeding seed to the female beak-to-beak. A male becomes very territorial, defending his territory and mate aggressively. They often attack their own reflections, mistaking them for other males. During breeding season, they nest generally less than eight feet off the ground in dense tangles of shrubs and vines. Northern Cardinals build a cup-shaped nest using twigs, leaves, grass, bark strips, roots, weed stems, paper and hair. They have also been known to use threads from Poison Ivy stems! A clutch of three to four eggs is laid and incubation, which the female takes sole responsibility for, lasts only 12-13 days. Fledglings and immature cardinals look more like females than males. CardinalFledgling1Cardinals keep a very neat house or nest I should say. When hatched youngsters defecate, one of the parents removes the fecal sacs and carries them away from the nest to ensure their location remains hidden from predators such as owls, hawks, foxes, cats, raccoons, skunks and opossums. After fledging, the juveniles continue to be cared for by the male for approximately 3 weeks. The young are taught to forage for insects, seeds and fruit. Northern Cardinals are known to include 51 kinds of beetles, four types of grasshoppers, termites, ants, flies, dragonflies, leaf hoppers, cicadas and aphids in their diet. Although they do good works to help keep pest insects at bay, cardinals usually have a fairly short life span. Most cardinals live only a few years or less, however rare 10-15 year banded birds have been discovered still living in the wild and of course, captivity increases their longevity. Many years ago, the cardinal was once prized as a pet, but although it is not a migratory bird, its sale as a cage bird is banned in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The Northern Cardinal is so beloved, it is the state bird of seven states; Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and the great state of North Carolina! With Duncan in the house, we know why this resplendent red bird is chosen as a favorite so often!

Happy Spring!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All