The “Regal” Purple Martin!

She was built like a race car; smooth, sleek and shiny black with an aerodynamic head. From the beginning, the adult Purple Martin did not enjoy her stay at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport and probably couldn’t figure out why she was there, but a day earlier she had a moment of stillness on the ground long enough for a human to pick her up, place her in a box and transport her to our shelter. For an individual to be able to do that with a wild bird is evidence that something isn’t right. A thorough examination revealed no injuries or illness, so theories were shared that she may have been knocked out or stunned by running into something or maybe because of the heat, dehydration occurred. We didn’t know how long she’d been on the ground without food or water, so keeping her with us for a couple days while providing hydration and a steady diet of mealworms and crickets would ensure she wasn’t malnourished when returned to the wild, but she wasn’t having any of it! She refused to eat, even though nestlings were chirping and gaping all around her in the nursery while being fed every 30 minutes. She watched them eat, but she was not a baby and would not be doing that. She hid behind a basket of youngsters when feeding time began and would not accept mealworms offered her by tweezers or allow a wildlife rehabilitator to open her mouth to drop a few worms in. That was not going to happen; how undignified!! With no food or water, she would only get weaker, so this could not continue. She was removed from the enclosure with the young birds, even though there were a few juvenile Purple Martins present we thought she could relate to and placed in a transport bin by herself. A pile of mealworms and crickets were dropped into the bin, and the bin was covered so she could not see us, and we could not see her. In a half hour, she was checked on, and although Purple Martins eat on the wing, most of the mealworms and all the crickets were gone. Good Girl! How about some more? She ate to her tummy’s content, and that evening she was assimilated with a well-known flock of Purple Martins living in a wetlands area that provides three, man-made Purple Martin condos. When the lid of her transport carrier lifted, she rapidly flew to join her kind, who were vacuuming the sky of insects for their evening meal, and we could tell she was one much relieved bird. The Queen was happy and where she needed to be. The Purple Martin is North America’s largest, broad-chested swallow. They have stout, slightly hooked bills, short-forked tails and long, streamlined and tapered wings. Their wingspan is between 15 – 16 inches, and they fly gracefully and swiftly with a mix of flapping and gliding. Adult males are black and lustrously shiny. When the light catches that shine, they look dark blue-purple. Females and immature Purple Martins are black on the top side but have splotches of gray around the throat and sport light gray feathering on their chest and belly. Purple Martins like to talk to each other in chortles, rattles, gurgling and croaks. Purple Martins are aerial insectivores which means they catch insects such as dragon flies, house flies, wasps, moths and butterflies in midair, as well as, drink and bathe during flight. The birds are alert and nimble hunters and do eat a variety of winged insects but not mosquitos. We must leave that task to the Chimney Swifts and Fly Catchers who hunt at a lower level. Rarely, will a Purple Martin come to the ground to eat insects because they usually fly higher than most insectivores when they hunt. However, recent research has found Purple Martins occasionally feeding on invasive fire ants. Purple Martins are colonial, therefore feed and roost in flocks, often with other species of swallows mixed in. They feed in open areas, especially near water and in our area of the east coast, nest exclusively in boxes and martin houses provided by humans who appreciate their value. That human initiative goes back to the Native Americans, who once hung empty gourds to attract Purple Martins. Martins do very well near caring humans, but it’s a look but don’t touch relationship. Purple Martin condos should be monitored because very aggressive and non-native species birds such as Starlings and House Sparrows are known to invade a Martin condo in a take-over and possibly kill their nestlings. Advocates for Purple Martins are extremely concerned that the Purple Martin will simply disappear from eastern North America if human condo security is not provided. In the west Purple Martins search out natural cavities for nesting. The nest inside the cavity, condo or gourd is made of twigs, mud and small stones, then lined with grasses and leaves. Three to six white eggs are laid, and the female is the main incubator for 15 – 18 days. A pair of martins will generally raise only one brood per year, with both male and female alternating the feedings of the nestlings. Fledging occurs in about a month after birth, but the parents continue to feed them while teaching them to hunt. Purple Martins are highly social birds and migrate in large, noisy flocks to winter in South America at the Amazon Basin or the Barba Azul Reserve. They show up in Eastern North Carolina to breed in the Spring during March and April, depending upon weather warm enough to produce insects. Males arrive at the nesting area, which is usually the same site year after year, before the females. They stay until breeding season is over, then head back during July through October, also, depending upon the weather, to South America. Purple Martins have shown a steep population decline over the past two decades and as a result have been placed on ‘The Watch List of Special Concern.’ Factors that contribute to the loss of PM’s include pesticide use, colliding with buildings and bridges, unseasonably cold or wet weather (wipes out insects which causes food source loss), aerial predators such as hawks and owls, ground predators such as raccoons and snakes and, those invaders mentioned earlier; Starlings and Sparrows. With every subsequent Purple Martin admitted to our shelter for care from here on out, we will think of our regal PM girl who knew herself all to well and wanted absolutely nothing to do with us! We hope our sassy girl is still flying high and appreciating the precious freedom she proved to hold dear.

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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“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

“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

 

“Not So Cuckoo!”

A_CSMag_Yellow-billedCuckooBBEYellow-billed Cuckoos aren’t really that cuckoo!! That statement is quite evident when we find that a Momma Cuckoo has chosen another bird species’ nest to lay an egg or two. In this bizarre way, Cuckoos are propagating, but another set of parents will do the hard work necessary to raise an “odd bird” that is sometimes, much larger than their own nestlings. Recently, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo fledgling was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport who appeared to be cat or hawk attacked. The more interesting than sad part of this story is the fact that when the Good Samaritan rescuer found the Cuckoo, it was still on its feet, on the ground and being fed by Mom and Dad Robins. The only explanation to that scene is the young Cuckoo hatched in a Robin’s nest. Upon admittance to the shelter, a large gaping hole was found in his neck area during examination. Other than that, he was alert, healthy, still eating well and after ensuring the injured area was cleaned and remained clean the wound managed to close and heal itself within a week. Of course, we, at the shelter focused on everything we could to make sure the YBC remained healthy, but we have to thank the Robin parents for what they did to get him to the hardy condition he was in before the attack, which helped him survive something so traumatic. Our YBC is doing very well, eating so many meal worms it’s difficult to keep count and his vocal chattering roll is quite a pleasant addition to the bird sounds in the nursery. A_CSMag_DSC_0153-267x400EYellow-billed Cuckoo infants will grow into fairly large, long and slim birds. Right now his slightly down-curved bill is all black, but it will turn mostly yellow as he matures and is almost as long as his head. When fully feathered, they will have a very long tail, dark in color on top, but black with white oval spots underneath. Their wings appear pointed and swept back in flight as they fly in a straight path using sharp wing beats with only a slight pause between them. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are warm brown above and whitish below. Their charcoal gray face sports yellow eye-rings as an adult. In flight, the outer part of their wings will flash brownish red. Their coloring allows them to sit well hidden in woodlands that offer gaps and clearings as they wait for prey such as caterpillars (their fave), cicadas, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and other flying insects to come into view. YBC’s will wreck havoc on webworm infestations. In one sitting, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo can put away 100 webworms or tent caterpillars. So in that way, they are environmental partners who keep insect numbers down and save trees! They may also feast on small lizards, frogs, eggs of other birds, and berries such as elderberries, black berries and small fruits. During winter, with the absence of insect prey, fruit and seeds become a larger part of their diet.CSMag -YBCuckoo9E They are slow, methodical hunters who hang out in treetops that line water sources. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are easy to hear, if you know their distinctive call, but very hard to spot. People have referred to the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as a “Rain Crow” because they are often heard on extremely hot days, and it’s imagined by humans that the Cuckoo is calling for rain. In courtship, the male feeds the female. Their chosen nest site is in a tree, shrub, or vines and usually 4-10′ above the ground, sometimes up to 20′ or higher. In the east, Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in oaks, beech, hawthorn and ash. The small, loosely-made platform of twigs and stems, with a thin lining of grass, pine needles, leaves and other materials constitutes the nest which is made by both male and female. Cuckoos lay 1-5 pale bluish green eggs and remember, not always in their own nest! When they do incubate their own, it will take 9-14 days and the infants will be fed by both parents. After hatching, they can fly in about 3 weeks. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos’ status is listed as “Threatened” due to a general decline in their numbers occurring in the last few decades. The cause of decline is attributed to vast habitat loss and the rise and fall of insect outbreaks, which is their food source. As long-distance, nocturnal migrants, Yellow-billed Cuckoos are also vulnerable to collisions with tall buildings, cell towers, radio antennas, wind turbines and other structures. Although approximately 84% of the world’s Yellow-billed Cuckoos breed in the United Sates, in the western states, sightings of YBC’s have become very rare. A_CSMag_yellowbilledcuckoo2EGenerally shy and elusive, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be easily overlooked, but its calls are usually loud and often provide the best evidence to their presence. The next time you are taking a walk or doing a little bird watching in Carteret County, listen for that nearly eight second chatter of “ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp” followed by a soft cooing, then a “kow, kow, kow.” It just might be “one in the same” released Yellow-billed Cuckoo who spent some rehabilitation time with us at the shelter. Don’t forget to throw him an appreciative wave, while thanking him for eating those pesky insects that are more than an annoyance and definitely unwanted in your neck of the woods.

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

“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

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