Wild Birds Unlimited – Omaha, NE

August 1, 2017

In the Catbird’s Seat

Filed under: Birds,Catbird — wbuomaha @ 4:07 pm
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     If you have an area of thick, brushy undergrowth or a patch of dense shrubs, listen closely. If you hear a symphony of musical (and sometimes not so musical) sounds coming from the foliage, you may be hosting Gray Catbirds.  One of its many calls is a catlike mewing, which is responsible for its name.

The catbird’s gray color, with a dark ‘cap’ on its head and dark eyes, give it the perfect camouflage for darting in and out of in the shadowy growth it calls home.  Its undertail is a rich rusty brown, seldom seen unless you watch closely for it.

Gray Catbird - more contrast

     Catbirds eat mostly insects and berries. Only here in spring and summer, catbirds are migratory. They winter in the southern United States or the tropics, where fruit and insects are plentiful. Sometimes you can lure them to your birdfeeders with raisins or currents that have been soaked in water to plump them up. Or they will take mealworms placed in the vicinity of their thicket.

Water, especially moving water, is attractive to catbirds.  They often nest along  or near streams. If  brushy habitat is nearby, they will often visit backyard ponds or other moving water features.

Although both sexes help build the nest, construction is left mostly to the female over a period of five to six days. Breeding season is May through August, with a pair generally having two broods per year. The average clutch size is three to four eggs, incubated solely by the female. Both parents feed the nestlings a diet made up almost exclusively of insects.  The young are grown and  ready to migrate when fall rolls around.

Next time you pass the undergrowth at the edge of deciduous woods or a dense thicket of bushes, especially one filled with berries, watch and listen carefully. You may hear before you see the catbird, perched on a branch, looking back at you.

 

 

 

May 26, 2017

Wonderful Wrens

Filed under: Birds,Wren — wbuomaha @ 1:16 pm
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Wrens are small birds with loud, often complex songs. Predominantly brown in color, they have narrow heads, with thin, down-turned bills for probing crevices for food. Their wings are short and rounded; this causes them to have a quick and erratic flight pattern. Two species are most commonly found in local backyards, House Wren and Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wrens

Carolina Wren c

     Since the mid 1900’s, rising temperatures have aided the northward expansion of Carolina Wrens. They do not migrate, and are sensitive to cold. Therefore, unusually severe winters may substantially decrease northern populations.

     Insects make up the primary diet of Carolina Wrens. They will often eat berries and small fruits, especially in winter. Unlike House Wrens, they also eat seeds and will often visit bird feeders, especially for peanuts, seeds, and suet.

     Carolina Wrens are truly monogamous, keeping the same mate for life. They usually nest twice a year, but occasionally will nest three times. Nests of Carolina Wrens have been reported in a variety of nooks and crannies, in, around, or under buildings, under bridges, or in holes in any structure such as a porch, flower pot, fence post, tree house, or barn.

      Females normally lay four to six eggs over a period of several days. The eggs are grayish-white, sprinkled with reddish-brown spots. Only the female incubates the eggs, which takes 12-14 days. Both males and females feed the young. The young leave the nest 12-14 days after hatching.

      Carolina Wrens have been reported at feeders in our area with increasing frequency over the past few years.

House Wrens

House Wren singing

     House Wrens are migratory. They prefer semi-open habitat, including open woods, thickets, towns, and suburban gardens.

      House Wrens nest in unoccupied woodpecker holes, tree cavities, and even abandoned hornet nests. They will also use nesting boxes and other human-made nesting sites. A male may claim several nesting cavities by putting twigs inside.The female chooses the final site and takes over, adding the nest cup and lining it with grass, inner bark, hair, and feathers.

      The female lays four to eight whitish eggs with reddish-brown spots, which she incubates for 13-15 days. The young are helpless, blind, and naked when they are born. They remain in the nest 12-18 days after hatching. House Wrens raise two to three broods per year.

      The primary diet of House Wrens is a wide variety of insects. They also eat spiders, millipedes, and snails.

      In summer, House Wrens are common here. These small birds have a busy demeanor and a melodious song. This makes them a favorite of many bird lovers.

April 24, 2017

Going for Gold… Finches, that is

Filed under: Birds,Goldfinches — wbuomaha @ 3:16 pm
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Goldfinch on coneflower

     Often referred to as “wild canaries,” Goldfinches are actually in the finch family. American Goldfinches – those found in our area – and Lesser Goldfinches, are two types found in North America. The American Goldfinch is the state bird of Iowa.   The oldest banded American Goldfinch recaptured in the wild had lived eleven years and seven months.

In flight, Goldfinches have a distinct dipping pattern. They also have a unique flight call with four syllables that can be likened to “potato chip.”

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     Frequent visitors to feeders, Goldfinches prefer thistle (nyger) and sunflower seed. They will even feed on upside-down finch feeders. However, later in the summer, when much natural food is available, they often prefer to feed in the wild. Although attracted to sunflower heads, they often can be found on coneflowers or cosmos that have gone to seed.  Therefore, it is a good idea not to deadhead these species of flowers. Goldfinches will cling to them and sway with the plant in windy conditions and can hang acrobatically upside-down to reach the treasured seeds.

Goldfinch on nesting material

     One of the latest breeding songbirds, the Goldfinch waits until mid-to-late summer to nest. Thistle seeds and down are readily available for feeding young and nest-building. A Goldfinch weaves its nest of plant fibers so tightly that it will hold water, then lines it with thistledown.

Preferred nesting habitats are trees and shrubs, near open areas that support growth of thistle and other prairie plants, with a water source close by. Nests are built four to ten feet off the ground. Sometimes Goldfinches will nest in loose colonies.

They usually lay five blue or greenish-blue eggs. The eggs hatch in about twelve days. Babies fledge about twelve days after hatching.

Goldfinch in Wtr JC c

     These hardy little birds do not migrate, but they do molt the brightly colored feathers of summer. Winter plumage is much drabber, brownish-green in color, making Goldfinches less visible to predators.

molting Goldfinch

     Now that spring is here, male Goldfinches are molting into their bright yellow summer plumage. This, along with the black wings with the white stripe, black and white tail feathers, and black “cap” on top of the head give them a striking appearance that is hard to miss. Watch for Goldfinches at a feeder near you.

 

 

 

 

March 30, 2017

Birdfeeding: From Fruit to Nuts

Filed under: Bird Feeding,Birds — wbuomaha @ 12:10 pm
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BNP Recycled Oriole Feeder

By increasing the variety of foods you offer, you can increase the numbers and species of birds that visit your backyard.

A fruit feeder may attract many fruit-eating birds that might not come to traditional seed feeders. Fruit may be offered in hanging or platform feeders, and there are specialty feeders specifically designed for the purpose of feeding fruit.

Grapes may be placed in a suet cage or on a platform feeder. They are particularly attractive to bluebirds, catbirds, cedar waxwings, house finches, mockingbirds, robins, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and scarlet tanagers.

Robin on Ground Feeder

Raisins can be offered on a platform feeder and are attractive to bluebirds, catbirds, robins, and cedar waxwings.

WBU Oriole Fdr (RGB, 72 DPI, 286x300)

Orange halves, placed on a fruit feeder or spikes, are a delicacy enjoyed by Baltimore orioles, brown thrashers, catbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and scarlet tanagers.

Robin on apple

Apples, cut in half and offered on a fruit feeder, or sliced and offered in a platform feeder, are favorites of robins, cardinals, house finches and red-bellied woodpeckers.

Attracting fruit-eating birds can take time and patience. And it is important to keep your fruit fresh and your feeders clean. If you have mature fruit trees, bushes, or vines, or if you have seen fruit-eating birds in your yard or nearby, you will more readily attract fruit-eaters.

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Peanuts, almonds, and other tree nuts may be offered in hanging trays, platform feeders or specially designed peanut feeders. Shelled peanuts and tree nuts are attractive to many birds, including blue jays, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. Nuts are high in fat and protein, and quite nutritious for the birds that feast on them.  Peanuts in the shell are a treat for blue jays, woodpeckers, and tufted titmice.

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Nuts should always be unsalted, and if possible, peanuts should be roasted. You can roast them at 350-375 degrees for 10-20 minutes.

Titmouse on Pnt Fdr JRC c

Your birdfeeding pleasure can be enhanced by offering a greater variety of choices to our feathered friends. Fruit and nuts will make wonderful additions to your backyard buffet.

 

 

 

 

February 28, 2017

Mourning Doves

Filed under: Birds,Mourning Dove — wbuomaha @ 12:45 pm
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     The mournful cooing sound of the Mourning Dove is probably responsible for its name. Often heard before dawn and dusk, the call is often mistaken for that of an owl.

Most often found on the ground, the browns, grays ,and black of their feathers help them blend into their surroundings. They have been clocked at flying speeds between 40-55 mph.

Male and female Mourning Doves look very similar, but the male is slightly larger and has a noticeable green tinge to his neck feathers, especially when he is in full sun.

Mourning Doves prefer open or semi-open habitat and are commonly found in farmlands, towns, and suburbs. Despite being one of the most widespread game birds in North America, the Mourning Dove is still one of the ten most abundant birds in the United States. The average life span for an adult Mourning Dove is 1 1/2 years, but the oldest known free-living Mourning Dove, discovered through bird banding research, was over 31 years old. This is the record life span for a North American bird that lives on land.

Ninety-nine percent of their diet is made up of seeds, which they forage on the ground. Occasionally they may eat snails and, more rarely, insects. The Mourning Dove’s large crop enables it to feed on a large quantity of seeds in a short amount of time, thus limiting the amount of time it is vulnerable to predators. The crop of one Mourning Dove was found to contain over 17,000 individual annual bluegrass seeds.

     Doves are one of the few species of birds that drink by sucking up their water instead of taking a bill full of water and letting it trickle down their throat. It can suck up its total daily requirement in less than 20 seconds.

    Mourning Doves are known to be monogamous for an entire breeding season, and there is some evidence that they may re-pair in succeeding breeding seasons. Their nests are woven  together by the  female  with materials  collected  by the male.

MourningDoveNest

     In warm climates, Mourning Doves may have up to six clutches per year, with a typical clutch size of two eggs. The female Mourning Dove usually incubates her eggs from late afternoon until midmorning, then the male comes to take his turn during the heat of the day.

Both Mourning Dove parents feed their young on crop milk, a yogurt-like secretion produced by the walls of their crop. It takes both parents to provide enough food for the growing nestlings. If one parent is lost during the nestling’s first seven days, the young will not be able to survive on the food produced by the lone remaining adult.

Some Mourning Doves will stay in our area throughout the winter, but many will move south in the fall. You can attract them to your ground feeder, or sometimes tray feeder, with sunflower, safflower, white millet, or niger/thistle seeds.

 

January 30, 2017

Fun Facts About Cardinals

Filed under: Birds,Cardinal — wbuomaha @ 11:55 am
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CardinalonFdrJRC_4c

     The Northern Cardinal is actually one of seven species in the world with the name Cardinal. The name was derived from the Cardinals (the rank above Bishop) of the Roman Catholic Church who wear red robes and hats. The Northern Cardinal is found in the United States. All of the other six Cardinal species are found in South America.
The size of the cardinal’s breeding territory varies with habitat quality and population density, but generally ranges from two to ten acres. During the breeding season, male cardinals may sing 200 or more songs per hour in the early morning hours. Both male and female cardinals can sing. Mated pairs will often sing duets together.

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By herself, the female Northern Cardinal constructs the nest, incubates the eggs and broods the young. The male’s role is to provide her food and protect the nest. Although socially monogamous with its mate, the Northern Cardinal is not always faithful. DNA studies have shown that between 9-35% of nestlings has a biological parent different from the original mated pair that raises them. Both male and female Northern Cardinals help raise their nestlings.
Northern Cardinals have a very low nesting success rate with only 15-37% of their nests succeeding in fledging young. The impacts of predators and egg destruction by Brown-headed Cowbirds are the major causes of nest failure.
Young Northern Cardinals have charcoal bills rather than the orange-red of the adults. Bill color gradually changes three to four months after hatching.

molting Cardinal

The red color of the Cardinal’s feathers is the result of pigments called carotenoids. This pigment is obtained mostly from eating fruits and insects and is deposited in their feathers as they molt, resulting in the bright red color of their new plumage. In a study conducted during the fall molting period of the Northern Cardinal, over 75% of their diet consisted of fruits and insects. This is why you may witness a reduction of North Cardinals at your feeders in the fall. Seeds are a very poor source of carotenoids and are only occasionally eaten while they are molting.
Research has shown that male Northern Cardinals with brighter levels of red plumage provide better parental care for their young and successfully fledge a higher percent of them. This probably correlates to the fact that they also select and maintain breeding territories that have the greatest amount and diversity of food sources.

Cardinal on Cylinder

Because Cardinals are mainly ground feeders, deep snow may severely affect their ability to feed. Winter birdfeeding probably helps Cardinals in their northern range to survive deep snow conditions. The ability for cardinals to digest food varies with the temperature; studies have shown that digestion efficiency rates are 16% higher at 77º F than at 32º F. This suggests that cardinals must consume substantially more food during cold weather, especially when temperatures are below freezing. Northern Cardinals will visit feeders at any time of day but are typically the most numerous at dusk or dawn and are often the first and last birds at the feeders.
The oldest recaptured banded Northern Cardinal was still alive at 15 years and 9 months old.

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December 27, 2016

Birds are True Blue!

Filed under: Bird Feeding,Birds — wbuomaha @ 9:02 am
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It’s really hard to think of wild birds as being loyal friends. After all, they are truly one of the freest creatures on the planet, able to fly anywhere at anytime with nothing to bind them to any single location.

Wtr Dinner Bell 3 JRC c (RGB, 72 DPI, 230x300)

     But birds, like humans, are creatures of habit, and bird banding studies have shown that many of our winter birds, such as juncos and native sparrows, utilize the same wintering location year after year. With a potential lifespan of over 10 years, it is likely that the junco gleaning millet or sunflowers off the ground below one of your feeders has spent many previous winters as your loyal backyard guest. And recent research shows that is only half the story!

These birds are not only loyal to a specific location, but also to a single feeder! This is why it takes birds awhile to adjust to new feeders in your yard. These studies also showed that once birds were accustomed to a specific feeder in a given location, the only time they abandoned their favorite feeder was during periods of cold weather when the feeder was placed in a location too exposed to the wind. So you can help protect your birds from the elements by locating your feeders in a sheltered location out of the wind. The east or  southeast side of a house or near a row of trees, especially evergreens, is ideal.

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Once you have them in a safe and sheltered location, be sure to keep your feeders filled with the high-energy, high-fat foods that provide your birds with the crucial nutrition they need to survive the coldest months of the year.  Sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, suet, suet nuggets, peanuts, and tree nuts are all good winter choices, depending on the species of birds that frequent your yard.

     Offering a source of open water, like a heated birdbath, in the area near your feeders will provide an added attraction for your birds. Birds need water for drinking and bathing, even in cold weather.

Goldfinch on heated birdbath

     By providing a constant source of food and water, along with nearby shelter, you will help your birds stay loyal and warm.

November 27, 2016

Decorate a Tree for the Birds

Filed under: Bird Feeding,Birds — wbuomaha @ 3:20 pm
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      As winter approaches, there are many things you can do to help birds survive the season. Here are a few tips that are easy to implement.

Birds use a lot of extra energy to keep warm in cold weather. Therefore, they must consume more calories than they do in warmer months. You can help by feeding high-fat foods, such as suet, peanuts, and seed blends high in black oil sunflower content. This will provide the energy boost they need. It is a good idea to fill your feeders in the evening to make sure food is available first thing in the morning for those early birds, like cardinals and mourning doves.

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     Most songbirds fill a special pouch in their esophagus with food to digest during the night. That is why you frequently see birds at your feeders as the sun sets.

Water is important to birds in winter not only for drinking, but also for bathing. Most birds fluff out their feathers, creating air pockets between the feathers for insulation. Clean feathers are warmer feathers, and they are also more efficient for flying, so less energy is expended in flight. A heated birdbath that provides a source of open water will attract birds on even the coldest of days.

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     Some birds perch on one leg and draw the other up to their breast for warmth, alternating legs. Others seek the most sheltered areas they can find. Roosting boxes and nesting boxes give birds a dry place, out of the wind, to rest. Leaving these shelters out provides a haven from harsh winter conditions. Stands of tall grasses, brush piles, and evergreen trees offer birds a place to escape the wind and snow.

If you would like to bake a special treat for the birds, even decorate a holiday tree for them, try this recipe:

Wild Bird Cookies

2 cups flour

2/3 cup Wild Birds Unlimited Simply suet

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup Wild Birds Unlimited Deluxe Seed Blend

You’ll need some extra Deluxe Seed Blend for topping, cookie cutters, elbow macaroni, and string.

     Stir together flour, sugar and baking powder. Cut in suet with pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Add water until well-blended. Add 2/3 cup of Deluxe Seed Blend. Knead until smooth. Wrap in waxed paper and place in plastic bag. Chill for one hour or overnight.

Roll out on lightly floured surface to 1/4” thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut desired shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press macaroni piece through top of cookie for easy hanging. Press more Deluxe Seed Blend over the top of each cookie.

Bake at 325 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies harden. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool. Pull string through macaroni and hang outside for the birds.

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September 26, 2016

Owls – Creatures of the Night

Filed under: Birds,Nesting,Owl — wbuomaha @ 12:03 pm
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That owls are “wise” may be a myth, unless you define “wise” as being accomplished in night hunting. With their hooked bills and sharp talons, they are similar to other birds that hunt, such as hawks and eagles, but there are striking differences that make owls the perfect nocturnal predators.

While most birds have eyes at the sides of their heads, the owl’s eyes face forward. Their eyes have many receptors in the retina which give them excellent vision in low light as well as daylight.

An owl’s keen sense of hearing is another advantage at night. Because its ear opening is higher on one side of its head than the opening on the other side, an owl can judge the direction of sound both vertically and horizontally. The feathers around its face are thought to help funnel sound into the ear openings.

Another advantage owls have is their nearly silent movement.  The leading feather of each wing has a serrated edge and the rest of the flight feathers have soft edges, too.  This, along with the fluffy body feathers, greatly muffles the sound of owls’ flight as they swoop down on unsuspecting prey.

Although all owls are predators, not all are nocturnal. For example, Burrowing Owls routinely hunt during the day. The three most common species in our area, Great Horned, Barred and Screech, all hunt primarily at night. Choice of prey varies with the size of the owl. Large owls, like the Great Horned, will hunt animals as large as rabbits, skunks, or geese. Small owls, like the Screech, live mainly on insects, frogs, mice and other small prey.

As the owl feeds, the indigestible parts of its meal, like bones, fur, and feathers, are formed into pellets, which will later be coughed up.

    Screech owls nest in cavities, such as old woodpecker holes or natural hollows.  They will also use nesting boxes, which Kenn Kaufmann, the famous ornithologist, credits with helping  to slow the decline in numbers of Screech Owls in areas where the natural habitat has been destroyed.

     Barred Owls will nest in an old hollow tree or broken off section of a decaying tree.  They will also take over an old nest of a hawk, crow or squirrel.

Great Horned Owls usually take over the high old nests of hawks, eagles, crows, or herons.  Occasionally they will also usurp a new crow’s nest.

Because many owls are nocturnal, they are often difficult to spot, but they are easily identified by their calls. If you hear a call that sounds like a horse, but you know there are no horses around, chances are it is the whinny call of the Screech Owl.  These owls also make a distinctive trilling, tremelo call.

The sound of the Barred Owl mimics the pneumonic “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

And the Great Horned Owl, considered the “hoot owl”, makes a series of “hooo” sounds of varying lengths.

All three of these owls are year-round residents of our geographical area. Take a walk in the woods after dark, and you might just encounter one or more of these amazing creatures of the night.

 

 

 

August 26, 2016

FALL BIRDFEEDING TIPS

Filed under: Bird Feeding,Birds — wbuomaha @ 10:09 am
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200 feeder

Follow these tips for a fun and rewarding fall and winter birdfeeding experience.

Inventory your feeders.  In addition to hopper feeders and seed tubes, consider adding a peanut or suet feeder to your yard.  Suet and peanuts are high in fat, which provides energy and helps birds stay warm in winter.

Clean your feeders with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.  Rinse thoroughly.

Put up a window feeder to bring birds even closer during fall and winter.

Once hummingbird migration has ended, take down your feeder, clean it, and store it.  A good rule of thumb is to take the feeder down two weeks after you’ve seen the last hummingbird.

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Offer water. Many migratory birds that will not eat seed will stop for water. As temperatures drop, it is important to provide an open source of fresh water.  Birds not only need water in winter to drink, they also need it  to keep their feathers clean.  Clean feathers maximize their insulating properties and make flight more efficient.  Protect all birdbaths made from porous materials by covering with plastic and/or storing out of the weather.  Use a nonporous birdbath for winter.

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     Watch for fall migrants.  Many species adapt to seasonal changes through migration.  Migration is the movement of a species from one location to another.  Age, sex, weather, breeding habits, and the availability of food, water, and shelter seem to be major influences in migratory behavior.  Migration is typically triggered by temperature, food availability, and/or photoperiod (the length of time from sunrise to sunset).  Many birds migrate to where the food supply is plentiful and the weather is not as severe.  Fall migration is a good time to look at your feeders or in your yard for birds that you might not normally see.  Keep your binoculars and a field guide handy for quick identification of the birds you see.

Assess your yard.  A diverse habitat encourages a variety of birds.  Plant bushes that will produce berries next year to attract fruit-eating birds.

Have children help you feed the birds.  Early involvement in birdfeeding can instill an appreciation for nature and grow into a life-long hobby.

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