Wild Birds Unlimited – Omaha, NE

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

          200 feeder

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.

 

 

 

June 29, 2016

Fun Facts About House Finches

Filed under: Birds,House Finch — wbuomaha @ 11:32 am
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House Finch 2

      The house finch has not always been found in the eastern United States. In 1940, they were illegally captured in California and imported to New York by pet dealers. Fearing prosecution, the dealers released their “Hollywood Finches” on Long Island in 1940. Since then the finches have spread to all corners of the East and have even rejoined their relatives in the West.

Populations of house finches found east of the Rockies are rarely found far from urban or suburban areas, but in its native western range they may also be found in a wide variety of open or semi-open habitats, including undisturbed deserts.

House finches differ from purple finches by the male purple finch’s purple side streaks (unlike the brown streaks in a house finch) and by the female’s conspicuous eye stripe (female house finches lack this feature).

Male house finches display a wide variety of plumage coloration ranging from gray to bright crimson. The coloration comes from carotenoid pigments found in some wild foods. The more pigment present in the foods eaten when they are molting new feathers, the redder the male. Female house finches prefer to mate with the reddest males they can find.

House finches are early nesters, beginning in March in most of the country. Both male and female house finches display a strong tendency to return to the same area to breed, often occupying the same nest site as the previous year. House finches rarely use bird houses; instead they seem to prefer locations such as coniferous trees, cactus plants, ledges, street lamps, ivy on buildings, and hanging planters. Typically they produce at least two broods each nesting season.

A water source can be a strong attractant for house finches. They can drink up to 40% of their body weight on a hot summer day. Also fond of nectar, they can become a nuisance at hummingbird feeders. If they do, offer them a dish of nectar for their own use.

House finches’ diets are the most vegetarian of any North American bird; approximately 97% of their diet is made up of vegetable matter including buds, seeds, and fruits. Strongly attracted to feeders, they prefer sunflower or safflower seeds. They will also eat at niger/thistle feeders.

Unlike most other seed eating birds, finches do not switch to an insect diet during the summer nesting season. They continue to eat mostly seeds, although they will prey on some insects when they are abundant.

The Eastern population of house finches has decreased by almost 50% in the last 10 years due to an eye disease known as avian conjunctivitis. Studies have shown that when the avian conjunctivitis enters a new area, it takes three years before the population of house finches stabilizes, at about half of the pre-disease level. It is theorized that transmission of avian conjunctivitis among house finches is dependent on high density populations.

Banding studies show that house finches may live to be over 11 years old in the wild.

 

 

May 30, 2016

Sparrows Can Be Sensational

Filed under: Birds,Sparrow — wbuomaha @ 11:27 am
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A sparrow is a sparrow is a sparrow. Right? Wrong!

The sparrows you see at your backyard feeders may be American Tree Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows or White-crowned Sparrows.

And the English House Sparrow? He’s no sparrow at all. House Sparrows actually belong to the weaver finch family. They are not a native North American bird.


Here are some facts that may help you distinguish the sparrows in your yard. A field guide can also be helpful. Most contain hundreds of bird images and comprehensive details to help you identify the birds in your backyard.

American Tree Sparrows typically summer in far northern forests and may winter in small flocks in our area. They tend to visit feeders mostly during migration. Many times they will scratch for millet underneath feeders. They have a large crop (or neck pouch) in which they can store up to 1,000 seeds.

Chipping Sparrows are shy at feeders when other birds are present. When these birds were studied in Arizona, researchers discovered they ate seed every few seconds. During the winter-long study, a Chipping Sparrow consumed 2 1/4 pounds of seed – 160 times its body weight!
Song Sparrow
Song Sparrows have a wide range, and when it’s cold they are hungry! These birds must eat 85 to 4,000 seeds an hour to maintain energy levels when the temperatures are freezing or below. They visit platform feeders in search of millet and sunflower seed pieces. They also like to have a nearby brush pile (to escape danger if necessary.)
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White-throated Sparrows are one of the most widespread sparrows at feeders. There are two types – one has white stripes on its crown and the other has tan stripes. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips and cracked corn. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. Some White-crowned Sparrows migrate; others do not. Those that migrate join larger winter flocks and establish communal territory. They usually return each winter to the same area.

To attract sparrows, place a blend containing millet and sunflower seeds in a ground feeder. Keep your binoculars and field guide handy so that you can readily identify the variety of sparrows that visit your yard.

April 26, 2016

Summer Sojourners

Filed under: Baltimore Oriole,Birds — wbuomaha @ 1:20 pm
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BNP Recycled Oriole Feeder
Baltimore Orioles bring brilliant color and cheerful songs to our summers. The male is black, with an orange breast, tail and shoulders and has white on the wings. The female is pale olive green to brownish above, with a dull yellow to yellowish-orange below and two white wing stripes.

Open woodlands, forest edges, and areas with tall shade trees are attractive to Baltimore Orioles. They tend to nest in cottonwood, maple, poplar, sycamore, birch or willow trees, 14- 60 feet above the ground.

Shaped like a pouch or bag, the nest is often attached at the tips of branches, hanging over an open space. Frequently they will be found near a water source such as a lake, river or stream.
Plant materials, strips of bark, grass, yarn, string and/or hair may be used to construct the pouch, which is lined with soft fibers such as dandelion or milkweed down.

The female lays 4-6 pale blue to grayish eggs, with irregular dark blotches. The incubation period is about 12-14 days, with the babies leaving the nest 12-13 days after hatching.

Being migratory birds, Baltimore Orioles usually arrive in our area between mid-April and mid-May. Many will stay through the summer, then migrate southward again in late July to September. They winter in Central America and the northern areas of South America, spending more months in these regions than in their summer breeding grounds.
WBU Oriole Fdr (RGB, 72 DPI, 286x300)
Insects, nectar and fruits make up most of an oriole’s diet. They will frequently come to oriole feeders with nectar in them, and they have been known to feed from hummingbird feeders. Although well known for eating oranges, they may also come to apple slices, cherries, raisins or bananas. Grape jelly is attractive to them as well. There are many different types of feeders available for offering nectar, fruit and/or jelly.

If you have orioles in your area and trees they like to nest in, there is a good chance you can attract them to your yard with feeders and water. The Baltimore Orioles will reward your efforts with their beauty and song.

March 29, 2016

Bluebird Basics

Filed under: Birds,Bluebird - Eastern,Uncategorized — wbuomaha @ 12:10 pm
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Bluebird flying

     Bluebirds enchant us with their lovely colors and sweet songs. This may explain why we associate bluebirds with happiness, love and spring. Poetry, prose, and lyrics extol the virtues of these warm weather visitors.

In our area, the Eastern Bluebird is the species we are most likely to see. The male has a bright, deep-blue back, which prompted Henry David Thoreau to note, “The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” In contrast, his breast is robin-red and his belly is white. The female’s upper parts are a dull blue-gray, with blue only on the wings and tail. Her breast is a lighter reddish brown continuing to the white belly. Both genders have black bills and legs. Often confused with blue jays, Eastern Bluebirds have different coloring and are much smaller.

Bluebirds tend to be country dwellers, preferring fields or other large open areas. Pastures, extensive lawns, cemeteries, golf courses, parks and other large areas with short vegetation provide the perfect habitat for them and their favorite food: insects.

Dinner Bell w Bluebirds c (2)

     Although insects are their primary diet, bluebirds often supplement the menu with raisins, nutmeats, sunflower chips, mealworms, and specially-prepared foods. They can be attracted to special feeders that have been designed to make it difficult for large birds to reach the food. For best results the feeder should be placed in a visible area that the birds frequent for food.

Nesting boxes specially designed for bluebirds can often attract mating pairs if located in their preferred habitat. They should be placed away from heavily-wooded areas to reduce the likelihood of use by wrens and chickadees. Mount the boxes five feet above the ground with holes facing  east or southeast, away from the prevailing winds and the heat of the day. Styles vary, but it is best to find one that has been approved by the North American Bluebird Society, as these carry the specifications for bluebirds to thrive. In our area, bluebirds usually raise two broods of between three and six young each summer, with the first brood having a larger number than the second.

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      Because of the extensive system of bluebird trails across the United States, and the regular monitoring of the nest boxes which comprise them, much is known about the lives of bluebirds.  If you would like to learn more, many books on the subject are available. The North American Bluebird Society has a very informative web site at http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org.

Bluebird babies c (2)

 

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