“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

Winter Bird Feeding

FebCS_Cardinal648EAlthough Eastern North Carolina historically does not experience much snow, if at all, during winter, the colder temperatures still cause outdoor food sources to become scarce, especially for some of our favorite back or front yard bird visitors. Lately, calls have piggy-backed at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport inquiring about the absence of birds. “I don’t understand why I have no birds in my backyard” or “in the winter at least the little gray birds with the white tummies show up, but they aren’t here either.” The sparrow size gray bird with the white tummy the caller was describing is a Junco, and they do winter in Eastern North Carolina. Winter can be a difficult time for birds, whether they experience freezing temperatures or snow cover along the coast or not. Birds are warm blooded and have to maintain their body temperature by eating rich energy foods such as seeds, nuts, insects and suet. Most insects are dead or dormant by the time we humans need to don jackets and scarves, so birds will start eating food sources they don’t generally choose during warmer weather. Winter is the best time to set up bird feeders because birds are trying to fatten up during this harsh season. You will also see them puffing up their feathers, creating air pockets, to keep warm. The more air pockets, the better the insulation. You might also see them alternating an exposed leg, keeping one held up in their breast feathers for warmth. The days are short and the nights are often cold and long. To survive the cold, birds will visit whatever food sources are available. Some birds you will likely see at your feeder are Black-capped Chickadees, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, and the Dark-eyed Juncos.  The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide more than enough energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include: Black oil sunflower seed, Hulled peanuts, Niger or thistle seed, Safflower, suet mixes with seeds or fruit, Peanut butter, cracked corn and White millet seed. FebCS_MG_8565CEWhen choosing birdseed and other foods for winter feeding, take into consideration which bird species are present in the winter and what foods they prefer to avoid wasted seed. Fruits, such as raisins soaked in warm water to soften are also well received. Something a little more expensive and definitely a luxury for your birds would be mealworms that can be purchased from most pet or bait stores. I don’t know too many birds that wouldn’t love a fat, juicy meal worm!  Feeders should be located out of the wind. The east or southeast side of a house or near a row of trees is ideal. It is best to have a perching spot such as a bush or tree for the birds to use to survey the feeding area and provide sufficient cover for safety from predators, as well as, shelter from the wind and weather. The feeders should be positioned near cover but in the open to allow birds to continually watch for danger. To minimize window collisions, place feeders more than five feet away from a wall or window and use window clings or other techniques to prevent collisions. For ground feeding, an area near cover with a clear view of the surroundings is best.  Placing seed in a ground feeder entices birds such as sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Quail, Pheasants, Towhees and Brown Thrashers. Even the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is thought of as a tree dweller, does some foraging on the ground. Ground feeders are also seen eating the seeds that fall from hanging bird feeders. Platform and hopper feeders are especially good for attracting Cardinals, Wrens, Chickadees, Titmice, Jays, and Grosbeaks. Hanging feeders, because they blow in the wind, are generally used by those species able to hang on while feeding such as Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Finches.  Birdfeeders are most attractive to birds in winter, when natural food supplies are least available. Seed eaters such as finches, sparrows, titmice and chickadees may flock to feeders in higher numbers than natural food sources alone in the immediate area could support. Seeds that are merely a welcome supplement under normal winter conditions may suddenly become vital during a fierce ice or snow storm. Wild birds are resourceful, gleaning most of their food from the natural habitat; except in extreme or unusual circumstances, they manage to find enough to eat to survive. But birds that have become used to supplemental feeding may suffer when that food supply is suddenly missing, especially in winter. So, keep your feeders full when winter is toughest.  It’s also important to properly clean and sterilize your feeders routinely in efforts to minimize mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could foster disease among backyard bird populations. When cleaning, discard soggy seed or seed encased in ice, and let the feeder dry before refilling.  FebCS_CardinalENesting boxes and year round bird houses help shield birds from inclement and freezing temperatures. And for the very serious birder, a heated bird bath or adding a heating element to your current bird bath would be quite ducky!   Keep your feathery little visitors healthy, comfy and safe during the harshness of winter!!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of

“Save Them All”

All Fly, but All Different!


Feeding tiny birds is a full time job when springtime, baby season rolls around at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC where I volunteer. There is no down time between feedings because baby birds, especially songbirds, eat every thirty minutes or less, depending upon their size when admitted to the shelter. By the time a wildlife rehabilitator at OWLS has made the baby bird feeding rounds in the infant nursery, it’s time to start the process all over again. And because birds eat from sun up to sun down, the shelter adds a third shift of volunteer personnel to cover evening hours until the sun dips beneath the horizon.
Baby birds are admitted for a number of reasons; some understandable to rehabbers and some not; a tree holding a nest might be cut down, a nest may have been built in an inconvenient place such as on a lawn mower or in a mail box where Carolina Wrens are known to homestead, a baby Robin might have fallen out of a nest and a cat brought him home, high winds could have blown a Cardinal’s nest apart which spilled newborns on the ground for power walkers to find or House Sparrows built a nest in a hanging plant on the porch causing bird parents to dive bomb the residents whenever they were too close to their babies. Now, that last reason is puzzling to wildlife rehabbers because our first thought as an animal caretaker, which we sometimes verbalize, is ‘can’t you use the side or back door until they fledge?’ Songbirds grow and fledge very quickly, in a matter of weeks. Remember, the smaller the bird, the faster they mature and become the capable flyers and self-feeders they need to be in the wild. If an alternate door is not an option, our next inclination is to see if there is a way to relocate the babies to a safe place in the vicinity of their parents. If that is not doable, they or the loner is admitted to the shelter’s nursery, formal identification takes place and care begins.
The keys to taking care of baby birds is possessing knowledge of dietary needs for a certain species, being aware of their unique behaviors and knowing what physical set-up is required for specific birds. Yes, they are all birds and all fly, but they are all so very different. Some birds are Passeriformes or mainly seed eaters, such as the House Finch while a Mockingbird enjoys fruit more, insectivores, like a Chimney Swift, eat bugs on the wing and some birds metabolize protein better than others. Hand held tweezers, that keenly resemble Mom or Dad’s beak, deliver mealworms that are quite popular with most baby birds, and our shelter provides 10,000 a week to nursery mates during peak baby season. At OWLS, we also have species specific infant formulas that are somewhat pasty but filling, nutritional meals we administer with a syringe. We have the gapers, such as Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Starlings and Sparrows, who cooperatively hold their mouths wide for feeding time and those who don’t gape at all, such as Mourning Doves or Pigeons, who have crops to fill. Some birds, like Killdeer, are precocial, which means they start eating on their own shortly after hatching. Most birds are built to perch on limbs, but Woodpeckers, Flickers and Chimney Swifts need to cling vertically to a rough surface and still, others, such as Woodcocks or Quail, sit or hide from predators in tall grasses or shrubby areas.
Wildlife rehabilitators need to know what makeshift habitat is best for each bird youngster admitted and provide that environment when they have grown beyond their incubator stay and need to stretch their legs and wings a bit. The knowledge required to appropriately and successfully care for an array of baby birds is quite extensive. That’s why when someone calls the shelter to tell us they found a baby bird and asks what they need to do to keep it alive, we advise the caller to try to get it back into the nest or place the baby bird in a small basket high in a tree so the parents can find the infant and feed him or her until ready to fledge. If that isn’t possible, we ask them to bring the youngin’s to us. Not many people outside the shelter have the time (every thirty minutes from sunrise to sunset, 24-7), particular diets available, specialized equipment and bird know-how to devote to these fragile little beings most of us love to watch in the wild. Birds need to learn to be birds and experience a series of developmental stages very quickly during that process. We don’t want them habituating with human caretakers. So, the faster we get them fully feathered, physically strong, eager to fly and out to our pre-release flight cages the better. Sometimes, in the nursery, a few juveniles are more eager than they are ready and may escape during feedings for short bursts of freedom until we encourage them to return to their enclosure mates. We deal with their acting out!
It’s a busy time at the shelter, but I eagerly invite you to tour the facility at 100 Wildlife Way (252-240-1200) in Newport, NC on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays at 2 pm. Take the opportunity to check out baby bird care in action! It’s amazing to see birds in their unique developmental stages; from homely bobble headed, skin blobs clad only in fluffy down, if not naked, to the beautiful, fully flighted and self-reliant wildlife they become.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com