Wild Birds Unlimited – Omaha, NE

November 27, 2017

Winter Finch Facts

In addition to our year-round finches, the House Finch and the American Goldfinch, winter often brings more species of finches into our area. Irruptive migrations of Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, and Purple finches typically occur every two to three years or so.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

     Common Redpolls are small brown-streaked birds with a reddish spot on top of their heads. They have tiny yellow bills and appear to be rather fluffy. The male usually has extensive deep pink color on his chest, while the female has none. Birch thickets and weedy fields are common places to find them.

A Common Redpoll will quickly gather numerous whole seeds and store them in an expandable section of its throat called the diverticulum. Once the bird has flown to the safety of dense cover, it will regurgitate the whole seed, husk it, and re-swallow the nut meat. It will also fill the diverticulum with seed just before darkness in order to provide an extra source of energy to help it survive the night. A study in Alaska documented that Common Redpolls could survive temperatures of sixty-five degrees below zero.

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

     Purple finches may be found in small flocks in shrubs or open woods. Unlike the House Finch, the male Purple Finch has extensive red color on its head and back. During the winter, Purple Finches will often forage and roost with mixed flocks of Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch. In these flocks the Purple Finch are socially dominant over the Goldfinch, but subordinate to the Pine Siskin. They will visit birdfeeders, but competition with House Finches and House Sparrows may drive them back into the woods.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

     Pine Siskins look like Goldfinches disguised as sparrows, with their predominantly brown and white color with darker brown striping. Males sport yellow wing bars. They are found mainly in open coniferous forests or fields of thistle or sunflower. Primarily seed eaters, they will sometimes hang upside down to reach choice seeds. In winter, they often flock with Goldfinches and visit birdfeeders. Their winter migration patterns are very erratic, coming south in great numbers some years and very scarce in other years.

RBNuthatch on Pnt FdrJRC c

Red-breasted Nuthatch

     Red-breasted nuthatches, although not finches, are also here many winters. These small birds, about the size of chickadees, have bluish to brownish gray backs and a white belly with a band of rufous between. The head is distinctive, with a black stripe through the eye, making the birds appear to be little bandits when they snatch a seed from your feeder and fly off with it.

So look closely at your feeders this winter and you might just find some visiting winter finches and red-breasted nuthatches.

 

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October 28, 2017

Nuthatches

Filed under: Birds,Nuthatch,Red-breasted Nuthatch,white-breasted nuthatch — wbuomaha @ 1:57 pm
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     The name Nuthatch probably results from the corruption of the word “nuthack,” referring to the bird’s habit of hacking away at a seed with its beak until it opens. Nuthatches have short legs, flat bodies and large heads. Nuthatch pairs stay together throughout the year. They hoard seeds and nest in cavities.

Nuthatches have a peculiar way of creeping head first down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insects to eat. A nuthatch’s foot has one big toe (the hallux) that faces backward, while its other three toes face forward. They are able to walk down the trunks of trees head first by moving one foot at a time while the hallux toe on the other foot holds firmly to the bark.

Nuthatches frequently visit birdfeeders. With larger seeds, such as sunflower, they usually select a seed then fly to a tree to eat it. They have stout bills (for pounding) that come to a point (for probing). The nuthatch cracks food open by wedging it into bark and then hammering it to pieces with its bill. Peanuts (out of the shell) and suet are also attractive to them.

In our area, two nuthatch species are the most common, White-breasted Nuthatches and Red-breasted Nuthatches. White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents, favoring mature deciduous forests. They are often seen in heavily treed areas within the city as well as in more rural areas.

Nuthatch on Mesh Ball Feeder

     The White-breasted Nuthatch is a common visitor to birdfeeders. One study found that they selected shelled sunflower seeds approximately 25% more often than seeds still in the shell. This preference is likely driven by the fact that it takes a nuthatch about half the time to transport and cache a shelled seed than it does a seed in its shell. They’ll often store seeds for later in the same day or as a quick source of food for the next morning.

During winter, White-breasted Nuthatches will often forage together with other birds such as titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers in a group known as a foraging guild. Nuthatches are able to recognize the alarm calls of these species, thus reducing their own level of alertness by relying on vigilance of other species. This leaves them with more time to focus on finding food.

However, nuthatches are monogamous and defend a territory from other nuthatches throughout the year. Female White-breasted Nuthatches rarely stray far from their mates and stay in constant vocal contact when they are more than a few yards apart. Females play the dominant role as “watchdog” when they are together, leaving the males to focus on hunting for food.

RBNuthatch on Pnt Fdr

     Red-breasted Nuthatches are not year-round residents, and they do not visit us every year. When natural food supplies are scarce in northern Canada, numerous species of birds, including Red-breasted Nuthatches, will “irrupt” into a southern migration in search of food.

The preferred habitat of Red-breasted Nuthatches is an area with many fir and spruce trees. They line the entrance to their nesting cavities with drops of sticky conifer resin. It is thought this may be a tactic to discourage predators or nest competitors from entering the cavity. The nuthatches avoid the resin themselves by diving directly into the nesting cavity without ever touching the sides of the entry hole. Red-breasted Nuthatches very aggressively defend their nesting cavities, especially during the building period. They chase away much larger birds and have even been observed to bully the very aggressive house wren.

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September 26, 2017

Common Backyard Hawks

Filed under: Birds,Hawks,Uncategorized — wbuomaha @ 2:03 pm
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For some people, hawks are frequent backyard visitors. But for most of us, their presence is unusual and unexpected. Three hawks commonly seen in backyards are the Red-tailed Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Redtailed Hawk Flying  c

     The Red-Tailed Hawk is about 19” from head to tail. While perched, the tips of its wings just about reach the tips of its tail. Plumage varies in a continuum from whitish to very dark, but you can tell adults by their rufous-red tails. Juveniles have a brownish tail with narrow white bands.

Coopers Hawk

     The Cooper’s Hawk is about 16½” from head to tail. Its tail reaches well below its wing tips when perched. The outer tail has alternating bands of light and dark gray, with  a  broad  white  band  at  the  tip.   The

Under-tail bands are dark gray and white. Wing feathers of adults are blue-gray, and the chest is white with rufous horizontal barring. Juveniles have more brownish plumage. Their chests are creamy white with vertical brown streaks.

Sharpshinned Hawk

     The Sharp-shinned Hawk appears to be almost a miniature version of the Cooper’s Hawk, with very similar adult and juvenile plumage. However, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is significantly smaller, only 11 inches from head to tail. Its legs appear skinnier than those of the Cooper’s Hawk. The white terminal band on the Sharp-shinned Hawk’s tail is narrower, if visible at all.

All three of these hawks prey on songbirds, with the larger two also consuming small mammals. If you have bird feeders and baths in your yard, it is a good idea to locate them near evergreen shrubs, bushes, or trees which will provide the smaller birds an easy escape when they are threatened by a hawk or other predator.

While hawks are present in your backyard, you will rarely see a songbird. Federal and state laws prohibit the harassment or harming of hawks, so any action that may endanger them is not an option. They are fascinating birds to watch, so enjoy them while they are with you. Usually, they will leave after a few days, and your usual songbirds will return.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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