Wild Birds Unlimited – Omaha, NE

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.)
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.

BB Hse eastern c (2)

      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)


February 25, 2016

Robins – A Sign of Spring

Filed under: Birds,Robin — wbuomaha @ 1:53 pm
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Robin Singing

After a long winter, sight of the first robin is frequently considered a welcome sign that spring is near.  It is widely believed that all robins fly south for the winter.  In actuality some may weather the cold months as far north as Canada, flocking together so they are concentrated in smaller areas and less widely seen.  While some may return from southern climates, others return from wooded areas just a few miles away as the flocks disband for the nesting season.

Males appear on the nesting grounds before females.  Their territories range from less than half an acre to an acre.  Unlike many other species, their territories may overlap.  The male defends the territory by singing and fighting.  During the nesting season, the robin’s song is often one of the earliest of the day, frequently beginning just before dawn.

During courtship, several males may pursue the same female, but once the pairing is established they are normally (but not always) monogamous.  Although robins nest in a wide variety of locations, including ledges of human structures, they typically do not use birdhouses. The nest is cup-shaped, built of twigs, grass, mud, and miscellaneous other materials.  It is typically lined with soft plant fibers or animal fur.

Egg numbers range from three to seven, but usually there are four. Color is the familiar light blue.  Both parents feed the young.  Nestlings normally remain in the nest for thirteen to sixteen days. In a single season, robins will raise two to three broods.

Robins’ diets consist of earthworms, insects, spiders, caterpillars and many fruits and berries. Although they rarely visit seed feeders, you can entice them to fruit feeders with apples, cherries, grapes, raisins or berries.  Water sources such as birdbaths or shallow ponds attract them for drinking as well as enthusiastic splashy bathing.  They also like misty water and are frequently seen running around the yard during light rains. Manmade sources, including misters and lawn sprinklers that simulate light, misty rain, provide inviting substitutes.

Throughout the spring and summer, when you hear the cheerful song of early birds, listen and look carefully. Robins are probably welcoming the new day.

Robins w Htr & Bath c

January 23, 2016

Nebraska’s Sensational Spring Spectacle

Filed under: Birds,Migration,Sandhill Crane — wbuomaha @ 9:58 am
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Sandhill Cranes JRC c (RGB, 72 DPI, 300x200) For a few weeks each spring, one of the world’s most awesome wildlife spectacles occurs right here in Nebraska. Nearly half a million sandhill cranes descend upon the Platte River Valley to feed and rest before continuing their long northward migration to their breeding grounds in the northern United States, Canada and, for some, even Siberia. This is estimated to be approximately 80% of the world’s population of lesser sandhill cranes.

Typically, a few will arrive in mid-February, with more and more arriving, peaking in mid-March, then tapering off into April. The sights and sounds of cranes gathering along the Platte are unique and unforgettable.

Today, crane habitat is found primarily along an eighty-mile stretch of the central Platte River and the wetlands to the south. The birds’ migration paths funnel through this area, resulting in the congregation of the large numbers of cranes before they again spread out on their journey north. This was not always the case. Westward-traveling pioneers described the Platte as ‘a mile wide and a foot deep.’ Wet meadows and marshes, the ideal habitat for sandhill cranes, were found along much of the river. Cranes used many miles of the Platte for their migration stopover before the river was dammed for flood control and irrigation. Sediment collecting behind the dams, woody vegetation encroaching on the channel and reduced water flow have significantly decreased the area suitable for use by migrating cranes.

This spring, as they have for thousands of years before, the sandhill cranes will return to the Platte. They will share this migration oasis with endangered whooping cranes and many species of waterfowl, also migrating northward. People from all over the world will come to experience this spectacular event that occurs nowhere else on the planet – only in Nebraska.

October 30, 2015

Talkin’ Turkey

Filed under: Birds,Turkey — wbuomaha @ 3:19 pm
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If Benjamin Franklin had his way, the Wild Turkey would be the national symbol of our country. Instead, the Wild Turkey has become the symbol of our Thanksgiving holiday.

In recent years, Wild Turkeys have become a common sight in rural settings and even some urban locales. Their preferred habitat is a combination of wooded areas, especially those with oak trees, and open clearings. Turkeys do not migrate, although they do tend to wander in the fall. They are strong flyers and commonly roost overnight in tall trees. However, they typically get around by walking or running.

Turkeys generally forage on the ground for food, scratching in the leaf and plant litter. The majority of the turkey’s diet consists of plant material. Acorns are a preferred food, but they also ingest leaves, seeds grains, berries and buds. Sometimes they scratch up roots and bulbs for food. They also frequently eat insects, spiders and snails, as well as the occasional frog, lizard, salamander or snake. Early morning and evening tend to be their most active feeding times.

At Thanksgiving, turkeys are often depicted with the appearance of the male in courtship even though breeding season occurs in the spring. The male gobbles to attract females, then puffs out his feathers, spreads his raised tail feathers, swells up his face wattles and struts around. He may rattle his wings and make humming sounds which heightens the effect. One male may mate with several females.

Nests are often located under a shrub, at the base of a tree or in tall grass. The female usually lays 10-15 eggs (but can be more or less) in a shallow depression on the ground, sparsely lined with leaves or grass. Eggs are white to buff with reddish-brown dots. Sometimes more than one female will lay eggs in the same nest. Only the females incubate the eggs and tend to the young. The incubation period ranges from 25-31 days.

The downy young leave the nest soon after hatching and feed themselves,
although the mother broods them at night for several weeks. They are not full grown for several months. Females and young of several family groups may range their territory in large flocks in search of food.

This Thanksgiving take a moment to be thankful that Wild Turkeys, whose numbers were seriously depleted at the beginning of the 20th century are making a strong comeback at the beginning of the 21st century.

September 26, 2015

Boisterous Blue Jays

Filed under: Birds,Blue Jay — wbuomaha @ 9:58 am
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Blue Jay with Suet Snacks

Blue jays are some of the most intelligent and brightly colored birds in your backyard. Not to mention some of the noisiest. Their raucous “jay! jay!” is probably their most familiar call and one that is easily identifiable. However, they also make a variety of more musical sounds, and, when distressed by predators or other perceived danger, they can do a pretty good imitation of a red-tailed hawk. Other bird species are often alerted to danger by the blue jay’s alarm call.


A very adaptable species, the blue jay is found in habitats ranging from oak and pine woods to wooded areas of cities, suburban gardens and rural groves. In our area, they are year round residents.

They are omnivorous, with most of their diet being made up of plant matter. Consequently, they are easily attracted to birdfeeders with peanuts, almonds, sunflower and/or safflower seeds. Peanuts in the shell are a favorite. Often a jay will pick up a peanut and shake it to see if it is full or empty. If full., the bird will pound hard on the shell with its bill to open it. Jays also store nuts in the ground. They select only undamaged nuts for burial, avoiding the 90% that would not germinate due to insect or other damage.

Frequently, jays will eat fruits, berries, acorns, and many kinds of grain seeds. They also eat lots of insects, especially grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles. Occasionally they will eat spiders, small rodents, birds’ eggs or baby birds. They also frequent suet feeders.

2 Bluejays w seed Boyd c

Blue jays are a species in which the male and female plumage is identical. The variations of blue in their feathers are among the most beautiful colors in the avian world. The occasional black stripes, white belly and crest on the head add to the distinctive look. Monogamous in their mating behavior, blue jays often mate for life.

The nest is built by both male and female, usually in the fork of a tree, about eight to thirty feet above the ground. The female lays 3-7 eggs. Both parents bring food to the nestlings.

Blue Jay w babies

Blue jays are surprisingly quiet and inconspicuous in the vicinity of the nest. However, after the babies fledge, the racket begins in earnest, as the young birds demand food from their parents, even when they are nearly indistinguishable in size from the adult birds.

July 29, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the New

Filed under: Bird Feeding,Birds,Molt — wbuomaha @ 9:44 am
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molting Cardinal Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. Molting is when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete. Distinguishing birds that are molting from those that are not can be difficult. Though some birds may lose patches of feathers and appear “balding,” most birds’ feather loss and replacement are far less noticeable However, molting is so physically demanding for most ducks and geese that they can’t fly and will molt in seclusion to avoid predators.

For many birds, the color and brightness of their feathers play a very important role in their breeding success. The more brightly colored a bird is, the more likely it is to attract a mate. Bright, vibrant plumage signals that the bird, usually the male, can be a good provider and successfully obtain a sufficient amount of quality food.

Feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation. Though feathers are mostly protein, fats are essential for developing the best feather coloration. In many bird species, carotenoids (from fats) are used much like the pigment dyes that color clothing. Carotenoids provide red, orange and yellow to violet colors in feathers. Without fats and proteins, birds such as House Finches, Northern Cardinals, American Goldfinches would appear less bright.

molting Goldfinch Molting season varies by species and time of year. Right now many birds are beginning their main molt of the year; however, American Goldfinches are one of the last to molt. Due to their late nesting period, they won’t start their molt until late August.

By providing foods that are loaded with fats and proteins in your birdfeeders, you will help your colorful birds maintain their vibrancy. Peanuts are the best single source of protein and fat for your birds and attract woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, jays and more. Mealworms are a good protein source. Suet is a high-fat food that also contributes protein if nuts and/or bugs are mixed into it. Birdfoods, such as niger/thistle, sunflower, and safflower all contain oils that help to meet the nutritional needs of molting birds that are not peanut eaters. These high-fat, high protein foods are good to feed throughout the winter, too. They provide energy to help birds survive the cold.

June 26, 2015

Red-winged Blackbird

Filed under: Birds,Red-winged Blackbirds — wbuomaha @ 10:42 am
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Red-winged Blackbird

     In summer, Red-winged Blackbirds are commonly seen along rural roadsides. Males are easily recognized by the red markings, called “epaulets,” on their wings. The male birds flash these epaulets when defending their territory. They can also cover and hide their epaulets. This usually happens when a male is intruding on another male’s territory. Intruders often avoid territories of males with very large epaulets.

Female Red-winged Blackbirds look nothing like their male counterparts. Consequently, they are often misidentified. The female is brown-and-white streaked, with a brown bill and a white streak above each eye.

Seeds (birdseed, weed and grass seed and waste grain) make up the preponderance of Red-winged Blackbirds’ diets. They will also feed on some berries and small fruits. But during the breeding season, they eat mostly insects.


Canadian and northern U.S. Red-winged Blackbirds migrate south for the winter. Populations in the southern and western U.S. and Central America are not migratory. In winter, Red-winged Blackbirds can form huge roosts, with up to a million birds staying in one area at night. During the daytime, they will disperse up to fifty miles away from the roosting area in search of food.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. As many as fifteen females have been observed to be nesting in the territory of one male, but on average a male will have approximately five females in its territory. Males fiercely defend their territories during breeding season. They do not hesitate to attack much larger animals, including people. Over a quarter of the male’s time is spent defending its territory from other males and predators. During non-breeding seasons, he spends most of his time foraging, preening and resting.

Female Red-winged Blackbirds build their nests in three to six days. They usually lay three to four eggs and incubate them for 10-12 days. Both parents tend the hatchlings. The young will leave the nest 10-14 days after hatching. Second broods are rare.

The oldest known male lived to be fifteen years, nine months, but the average lifespan is believed to be just over two years.

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