“Heat Waves Affect Wildlife”

  With the onset of scorching heat waves, summertime can become a deadly season for all living things. We are very aware of the negative impact extreme heat has on vulnerable human beings in our communities, but we might be in the dark when it comes to knowing what harm may be going on with wildlife that is experiencing near-lethal temperatures that lead to drought and loss of food. June and July topped out with record high temperatures, and we never know when they will hit again! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport has admitted a few distressed wildlife due to dehydration which symptomized with staggering, loss of balance and confusion. Good Samaritans were able to recognize that something was wrong and that those cottontails, squirrels and birds needed help. Heat Waves have become the new normal and will impact not only our human communities, but all animals and our entire ecosystem. The same things that can happen to humans in sweltering heat happens to wildlife as well; dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot weather may cause natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and other wildlife will be left without anything to drink, but we can help them by providing safe, alternative water sources. Turning your outside spaces into temporary homes for nature is doable with actions like freshening and topping off your birdbath daily or creating a make-shift pond from a washtub or putting down a saucer filled with water. These three simple acts could offer a vital lifeline to some of our favorite backyard critters that will be fighting against decline. Some people hang a “drip jug” over their bird bath, which is a basic plastic milk jug filled with water with a tiny hole in the bottom. The birds hear the dripping, and the sound attracts them for a cool bath and a drink. Leave shallow dishes, which are safer for smaller animals who could drown in deeper containers, in areas where animals are protected from predators. That means keeping your pets away from this area so the animals can drink undisturbed. A few more tips on providing life-saving water are: always clean the receptacles daily to prevent the spread of disease, don’t place the water to close to bushes or trees to minimize predation but do utilize a shaded area to keep the temperature of the water down and keep the water source away from any feeding areas to prevent the water from getting mucky. Along with the clean drinking water you are providing, birds will also be able to bathe which is vital to keeping their feathers in good condition for flight. Regularly watering your plants and gardens will be a lifeline for butterflies and bees. If your plants die, so will the butterflies and their buzzin’ buddies. If your ground area is drying and rules in your community limit grass watering, birds like Robins, Blackbirds and your turtles and frogs will not be able to access earthworms that will tunnel deeper into the ground for safety. A great substitute for earthworms is canned dog or cat food provided on a flat plate in your yard. Or if you agree with the birds that worms are best, meal worms from the pet store or bait shop can carry them through the hot times. We usually see birds and squirrels coming to our feeders and water sources during the day, but in the evening and during the night other wildlife such as opossums, raccoons or fox will visit our makeshift habitat for water and whatever they can find to stay alive during a searing heat wave. Keep in mind that summer is Baby Season, so wildlife Moms and Dads will be doing what they need to do and wherever they need to do it to stay alive so they can continue to care for their offspring. They might even bring their youngsters into your safe haven for food and drink. For those of you with pools in your backyard, you might consider covering the pool or providing an island or incline for animals to crawl out if need be. Hot animals trying to beat the heat or quench their thirst can drown in pools so taking away that access or providing an exit can save lives. Please keep an eye out for heat stressed wildlife. If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or your own local wildlife organization for help. Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time. Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket/towel and a box. Put a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so you can call for advice if you need it. If you do come across a wild animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely and place them in a cardboard box and place the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. If your distressed wildlife is categorized as a rabies vector species (raccoon, fox or bat), do not touch or pick it up and call a wildlife rehabilitation shelter immediately. This is for the animal’s safety, as well as your own. Also, DO NOT wrap heat stressed animals in wet towels or submerge in water — this can kill them. Just like us, many wild creatures can live for extended periods of time without food but… just like us, they need water. Remember, when you sit back and relax with a tall, ice-cold drink, often to enjoy the sunny weather, our backyard birds and other wildlife might not be having such a good time. Heat waves produce a very negative impact on animals, even mortality. Most humans have a variety of ways to cope with a heat wave, but animals don’t have those luxuries of running water, air-conditioning or places to escape the sweltering environment. So, let’s help our feathered, furred, scaled or shelled friends in any way we can, including offering them a cold one! Water, of course! Cheers!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

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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

“Goslings In The Road!”

Wildlife babies are everywhere! Some are where they should be, in the wild, some are being raised by wildlife rehabilitators until their release into the wild, such is the case at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport right now because it is infamous “Baby Season” and some, unfortunately, are in the most dangerous, precarious and inappropriate places they can be, such as ‘IN THE ROAD,’ especially Canada Geese! Yes, Canada Geese are here and very familiar to us because they are the most widely distributed geese in North America. They are easy to spot by their size and their grayish-brown plumage except for their stately black head, long black neck and whitish chest which extends to their underbelly. They sport characteristic white patches on the cheeks that run under its chin like a strap, which is commonly referred to in fact as a “chin strap.” Their large webbed feet and wide, flat bill are also, black. The bill has lamellae which are miniature ridges inside the bills of water-feeding birds or “teeth” around the outside edges of the bill that are used as a cutting tool. These big boys and girls have a wingspan up to 70 inches and weigh between 7 to 14 pounds with the female being about 10% lighter. Geese are grazers, and they walk as they graze. Of course, they are capable of flight, but walking uses far less energy and conserving energy is what wild animals do whenever possible. When geese fly short distances, it’s like a human sprinting. Yes, they can move fast but tire quickly. Saving flight for longer distances is more energy efficient. Also consider that geese practically need a runway to take off. If they have recently given birth to a clutch of goslings, flying is out of the question. Goslings can’t fly yet and their parents, who are extremely protective, would never leave them behind. Hatchlings are covered with yellowish down, their eyes are open, and they will be walking and swimming within 2 days of birth. They will follow their parents, usually in a straight line, wherever they go. Canada Geese, our goose friends from the north, come to North Carolina to have their babies and have become accustomed to road traffic. They are intelligent, although we question that when we see them in the road, but they know it’s just silly to go further away from the road to get a running start to fly over a road. The length of their run for take-off is longer than the width of a road. Geese have keen hearing and acute vision. They are big, strong, can be aggressive and are less susceptible to predation than most other waterfowl. Hawks and Owls are airborne dangers for goslings, but you won’t see those predators coming down into traffic. Juveniles are also at great risk of predation by other birds such as crows and gulls, fox, raccoons, coyotes, minks, bears, dogs and snapping turtles, but we don’t usually see them in traffic either. Geese have come to know that, and geese can easily avoid traffic, if the traffic is accommodating. However, it’s the drivers on the road who become a problem for the geese when they don’t stop or make way for them, as well as creating a major problem for every compassionate human who cares about the safety and security of the parents and their brood. Spring has sprung when we see so many geese and goslings along our roadways, in the medians and crossing the road. It’s freaky to be sure to see them there, close to or in the road, but let’s be real; there are some good grasses and insects off the shoulders of roads, near retention ponds and in the very grassy and food-plenty medians the cities maintain. Although many animals can’t digest grass, a goose’s digestive system is made for exactly that food item! Canada Geese are highly social creatures and outside the breeding season are usually seen in groups, and because they are flocking animals, they demonstrate their strong compulsion to remain bunched together as a defensive strategy. During breeding season, it’s usually Mom and Dad with their gaggle of young ones, but there might be quite a few parent couples with their children in one area. That’s what we see along the roadways on the coast of North Carolina. While grazing, goose parents take on a lookout’s role to scout for predators and keep danger at bay, but they can’t stop a moving car. So, we the drivers, must be careful, considerate and diligent enough to drive slowly in their presence just in case we need to come to a complete stop if the family decides the grass is greener on the other side of the road. There are, of course, stories of uncaring and reckless drivers plowing through an entire geese family and wiping them out. No one wants to hear that. No one wants to see that, and no compassionate human being and especially a wildlife rehabilitator wants those incidents to happen. Sad to say, but we have orphan goslings at the shelter now who have traumatically experienced such horror. Please watch out for them and allow them to be. Once the goslings become flighted, the whole family will graze elsewhere. The young will stay with their parents, who mate for life, for at least a year and although they reach reproductive maturity around age two, most will not breed until they are four years old. Since geese have become so accustomed to cars and traffic, we humans who drive, should also become accustomed to the presence of geese families, especially during this time of year. Let’s all, including our geese, have a great Coastal Summer!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Don’t Kidnap Fawns!”

It’s fawn season and if you look about during your travels, you may see wobbly-legged baby deer right now standing in tree lines or curled up in the tall grasses or possibly in your own back yard close to the shed. Some wildlife rehabilitators call this time of the year, Kidnapping Season, which of course does not have a positive ring to it not matter how you say it. Most people are quick to want to help animals in distress or orphaned wildlife, but sometimes those benevolent intentions are not warranted and could have far-reaching negative impacts on the health of a perfectly fine baby and the distressed Mother who’s youngster has just been snatched from her. Such is the case with spotted fawns who have been strategically placed by Mom for their own protection during the day while she is foraging for food. A doe knows her baby is at predatory risk when they travel together, so she will leave her baby in a secluded, or what she perceives to be a safe place, for as long as 12 hours while she moves about on her own. This behavior distracts predators away from her youngster, who remains quiet while she is gone. The fawn’s camouflage and ability to remain still, generally keeps the little one safe. However, if a fawn is spotted and approached by a human predator or otherwise, the baby’s instinctual response is to lay very low and freeze in place. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness and feel they need to rescue the helpless little thing, but keep in mind; a still, quiet fawn is a healthy fawn. Wildlife rehabilitators have created a help list called the “Five C’s” to tell if a fawn indeed needs your help and eventual rescue. So, if a baby deer demonstrates any of these five symptoms, you may very well need to intervene to save a life. Is he or she CRYING? Fawns know to be quiet and still, so vocalizing may be a sign they are in trouble. Is he COMING toward you? This would not be deemed normal behavior if they are okay. Is the fawn COVERED with blood or insects? This is absolutely a fawn who needs assistance before it’s too late! Has he or she been CAUGHT by a cat or a dog? There are times when a human in the vicinity actually sees an attack occurring. The fawn may very well be injured or in shock. If possible, this is a time to intervene and transport the fawn to a wildlife rehabilitator. Is the fawn COLD? By touch or by noticing visible shivering, a drop in body temperature may be an indication that something has happened to the Mother, and the fawn has been left for way too long. This is definitely an emergency situation and the fawn does need to be rescued. In the case of fawns, observing any one of the Five C’s indicates the baby does need help. You should be concerned if you see a fawn acting contrary to the normal defense mechanisms of staying completely still, quiet and nestled into whatever spot his or her Mom placed him. If a fawn is up, walking around by itself, and crying, that’s a red flag, and of course, if a fawn is obviously ill, lying on its side, kicking or crying – pick it up and place it in a quiet location. A light cloth placed over the fawn’s head will sometimes calm it. Keep it away from pets and all human activity. Petting the fawn, talking to it or holding it provides no comfort. This cute little creature is a wild animal; therefore, human voices, odor and touch will only add to the stress of the situation and cause additional harm, compounding the pre-existing illness or injury. When a fawn seems calm it may very well be in shock. If the weather is cold, a blanket may be placed over its body to keep it from becoming chilled. In hot weather keep the fawn in a cool location but out of drafts. Please don’t feed the fawn anything other than water. Baby formula, cow’s milk, feed store mixes, pet store domestic animal formulas and soy products will cause diarrhea, dehydration and death. Call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or a wildlife shelter in your area at once for help. If a fawn is seen lying upright, eyes wide open, but flattened to the ground, do not touch it. If you do pick up the fawn just to check and make sure it is ok, the fawn will hold its legs tightly against its body with its head forward. Sometimes, although its legs aren’t broken, the fawn will also allow its body to become limp and dangle in your hands. Put the baby down, walk away and leave it alone. This fawn is too small to follow the doe for the long distance she must travel to find enough food to make milk for her baby. Her milk is very rich and will sustain the fawn for the many hours it spends alone. The doe will return only when there are no humans nearby. You may be curious, but please refrain from sitting and waiting for her to return. If you have removed the fawn from its resting spot take it back at once and walk away. The doe will be searching for her fawn, and when she finds it, she will accept it and provide better care than any human can. Humans cannot teach the fawn the skills it needs to survive in the wild. Also, humans, other than wildlife rehabilitators, do not have the correct diet to properly nourish this wild animal. Please leave it alone and allow it to retain its wildness and natural fear of humans. This is the greatest gift we can give it. If an uninjured fawn is seen on the road or beside the road, do not put it in your car. If no evidence exists that Mom has died by being hit by a vehicle or any other means, place it off the road about 20 feet or more and leave the area. The fawn would not be there if the doe was not nearby. You will not see her, but she’s there, somewhere, watching. She will return for the fawn and accept her baby, even if it has been touched by human hands, as soon as the human disturbance is gone. So, don’t linger in the area. Every Spring fawns are “kidnapped” by well-meaning people who find them alone and assume they need help. In fact, very few fawns brought to the shelter are injured or unhealthy, and healthy babies are promptly returned to their mothers. Fawns are fragile and their situations misunderstood at times, but for the truly injured or distressed fawns, the appropriate care and treatment provided by wildlife rehabilitators will allow them to grow into the majestic and beautiful adults they are meant to become, but they are a WHOLE LOT OF WORK!! Fawn rehabilitators are specially trained to rehabilitate injured or orphaned white-tailed deer fawns and licensed by the state with a Primary North Carolina Fawn Rehabilitation Permit. They are also authorized to temporarily confine deer for release back into the wild. Anyone found holding and raising deer without credentials is subject to heavy fines, and tragically, the innocent deer in their possession is euthanized, and no one wants that to happen. So, please don’t kidnap fawns, but also don’t hesitate to call on a wildlife rehabilitator if you come across a fawn in distress. Happy Spring to everyone, even Fawns and their Mommas!

best always,
Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Water Weasels!”

Cute as a furry button, but feisty and aggressive as a hungry or perturbed bobcat, diminutive Minks, although seldom seen are quite prevalent in North Carolina. Every county has a mink presence, but they are so secretive, solitary and territorial that hardly anyone knows they’re there. They run everybody off, even other minks. So, there’s never a huge population in any one place. Minks need to be near waterways and wetlands, so Eastern North Carolina is perfect habitat for these commonly called “Water Weasels,” but they can be found in the mountains and Piedmont regions of our state, too. Our coastal minks run smaller than those in the western part of the state. It’s a very rare occasion, but an infant Mink was brought to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport after being found alone and in a Pamlico County resident’s driveway. After a full examination, a puncture wound was found that looked ‘talon-esque.’ One theory suggests he was grabbed by a nocturnal raptor, possibly a Great-Horned Owl, and miraculously, he wriggled free and fell to the ground. Initially, the tiny furry find in the gravel was thought to be an otter, probably because we expect to see otters in our area and often do. Our tiny Mink, who is known to be semi-aquatic, feeds on minnow-sized fish, turtles, snakes, small birds, crayfish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, rabbits, mice and other small mammals. So, you may have guessed by now; the mink is a carnivore. Minks are often thought of as dainty looking but extremely vicious because of their capability to kill prey much larger than itself, and even though that may be way too much to eat all at one time, they are not wasteful. They take the leftovers to their den for munching later. The mink is a small mammal with a long, thin body and short, sturdy legs, a flattened head, small eyes and ears, and a pointed nose. Each foot has five toes with claws and slight webbing between each toe. The mink’s lustrous waterproof fur is generally chocolate brown to black, extremely attractive and often sports a white patch on the chin or chest. Long, furred tails are brown at the base tapering to black at the tip. The American male weighs about 2.2 pounds, and the American female weighs about 1.32 lb. Minks have excellent senses of vision, smell and hearing. They are mostly nocturnal but can be occasionally seen during the day. They are as fast if not faster than any Olympic swimmer and can also climb trees. Minks are very vocal, especially when threatened, and will growl, hiss, screech or sometimes purr when perceived as happy or content. Another method of communication is to discharge a strong, musky, foul scent from their anal glands. If they are taking a skunk’s lead, something tells this author that they are not happy when they do that! Prime locations in wetlands for mink include areas with irregular shorelines, dense emergent vegetation, availability of den sites and a variety of suitable food. Although mink will den just about anywhere, they prefer burrows made by other animals, usually muskrats or beavers. They may also choose dens in brush piles, log jams or cavities in the roots of trees. Mink move frequently and adopt temporary dens except when they are rearing young. Most minks are loners and typically come together only to breed. The breeding season occurs from late January through February. Females raise their first litter at one year of age. Minks fall into the category of over 100 mammal species in which the fertilized egg is not implanted in the womb for some time. In mink, this period of delayed implantation lasts 10-40 days and is followed by an active pregnancy of 28-30 days. One litter of 4-5 blind and hairless kits is produced each year. Kits are weaned at 6 to 10 weeks, though how long they stay with their mother depends on the species; American or European. American mink youngsters stay with their Moms longer, 6–10 months, while European kits, only 4 months. The offspring are sexually mature when one year old, and females produce litters after their first breeding season. Though they are not endangered and are common throughout their widespread range across the United States (except for Arizona and Hawaii where they are nonexistent), a mink’s lifestyle is so inaccessible, they have not been intensely studied. But we do know that minks live three to four years, with a maximum record of 10 years. Aside from humans, mink have few natural enemies, although they experience danger and some mortality from domestic dogs, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and owls. Minks need wetlands to survive, so wetlands availability is the primary influence on mink populations. Some biologists believe that mink numbers have declined though, largely because of the steady destruction of prime mink habitat in wetlands. As a predator, minks are near the top of the aquatic food chain, making them susceptible to contamination in the food chain. Elevated mercury concentrations have been found in mink kidneys. It has been suggested that mercury can cause sublethal effects on many physiological functions, such as reproduction, growth and behavior. These studies are stated as inconclusive however, so further studies are recommended to investigate if there is a strong link between presence of environmental contaminants in mink and mink populations. Biologists acknowledge that other factors affect mink populations more gravely, such as habitat loss due to increasing development along eastern shorelines which alters both mink activity and prey abundance. Most important to the future of the mink in North Carolina is the conservation of wetlands, for their future is only as promising as that of the wetlands. Swim on, Little Water Weasel! We were happy to be of service to you!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Hummingbirds Trust Us!

Here they come again, our jewels of the sky! Tiny hummingbirds, the smallest of all birds, who migrate from their winter stay in Central America or the Caribbean are easily attracted to backyard feeders and gardens. Most bird enthusiasts agree they are a joy to watch, and these little buzzers become easy to love! They are called hummingbirds because they generate a humming sound when they beat their wings up to 80 flaps per second. They are also extremely fast flyers that shoot through the sky like a dart. They have been clocked at 34 mph while flying and 49 mph while diving. Ruby-Throated and Rufous hummingbirds, which are the types of HBs that frequent North Carolina, generally return to territories where they were born and raised and where food is not difficult to find. Most hummers are 3 to 5 inches in length and weigh less than .07 of an ounce. Flying in the rain is a big deal and can be dangerous when you consider the weight of rain drops relative to a light weight hummingbird. Collectively, rain drops may weigh 38% of the bird’s total body weight causing them to shift their bodies and tails horizontally, beat their wings even faster than normal and reduce their wings’ angle of motion when flying in heavy rain. Scientists have videoed hummingbirds shaking their heads like a dog to shed rain water while flying. Hummingbirds have the greatest mass-specific metabolic rate of any homeothermic animal. To conserve energy when food is scarce and during the night when they are not foraging, they can go into torpor a physical state similar to hibernation. Torpor slows their metabolic rate to 1/15th of its normal rate. This will prevent them from starving to death. If we humans choose, and many of us do, to take on the responsibility of providing supplemental nutrition and fuel for hummingbirds, we must be diligent about keeping their feeder clean and scrubbed free of bacteria or mold and ensure the nectar or sugar solution is replaced routinely, especially in warm weather because the solution has the tendency to spoil. When hummingbirds are enticed by feeders we provide, they trust us and will return time and time again to the opportunity of supplemental fuel you have provided. BUT dirty feeders and rancid nectar will kill hummingbirds. So, you see, there is a significant commitment of time, energy and attention to detail we must make to ensure “we are not loving them to death.” Hummingbirds will succumb to a fatal fungal infection when exposed to dirty feeders. If you have hummingbirds feeding on your deck, there’s a good chance the females have babies in a tiny cup of a nest somewhere close by. They can easily carry bacteria and fungus to their hatchlings if picked up from your feeder. Always inspect your feeder carefully for black mold or fungus and take them completely apart to check every nook and cranny where mold can hide. Wash the feeder parts thoroughly with bleach or a vinegar and water solution. Then rinse with clear, hot tap water. It is best not to use soap because soap leaves a residue. Lots of folks hang hummingbird feeders in the Spring, so it would be a good idea to pass the word to your neighbors to ensure they are paying attention to the cleanliness of their feeder as well. If you are providing artificial nectar, white granulated sugar and water is best in a solution of one-part sugar to four parts water. There is no need to add food coloring. It’s best to boil the mixture, then let it cool to room temperature before filling your feeder. Boiling the water helps prevent fermentation of the solution. Do not use organic or raw sugars which contain harmful iron. Brown sugar, agave syrup, molasses, artificial sweeteners and honey are also on the Do-Not-Use list as they are breeding grounds for microorganisms that cause rapid spoilage. A hummingbird has a very long, forked tongue equipped with tubes that engage in a pump action when nectar is reached. Nectar is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose and is not the best source of nutrients required to live a healthy hummingbird life, so hummingbirds also eat many insects, including mosquitoes, fruit flies, gnats, aphids and spiders to meet their nutritional needs. Their flexible beak can bend 25 degrees, enabling them to catch insects with ease. On occasion, hummingbirds will hover within insect swarms to facilitate feeding. This method is called “hover-hawking.” Flowers provide a sweet liquid nectar too, but hummingbirds are very particular and will reject flowers that produce nectar that is less than 10 percent sugar and prefer those with a higher sugar content. They love their sweets! However, we do not want to exceed the one to four parts solution we provide them, because two much sugar can cause their internal organs to shut down. It appears that only the female is involved in building a nest and raising baby hummers. A tiny hummingbird nest is constructed in a crook of a tree with materials such as spider silk and lichen. This combination allows the nest to expand as the youngsters grow. Usually, only two white eggs are laid. Incubation occurs for 14 to 23 days and after hatching, momma hummingbird will conscientiously attend to the feeding needs and warmth required of the little ones. Two hatchlings is a low count for a bird, but the theory is because the female is on her own to care for her brood, two is all she can manage to feed and keep warm at one time. Lives are on the line out there, so we must do what we can to ensure Mom and those babies stay well and healthy. Hummingbirds trust that the nectar we provide them is good stuff! These little summer sparklers thank us daily for our gifts of fuel and care with their beauty, charm, remarkable aerial displays and quirky antics. Let’s not let them down! Keep those hummingbird feeders clean!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them ALL”

“The Under-Appreciated Sparrow!”

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

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All