"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pennies may prevent algae build-up in birdbaths

Photo from Dirt Du Jour

My good friend, garden writer Cindy McNatt, suggested this trick to prevent algae build-up in birdbaths: Place a few pennies in it. Apparently, you need pre-1982 pennies, because later years have very little copper. The pennies are supposed to prevent algae not get rid of it, so start with a sparkling clean birdbath first.

Try it and let me know if it works!

Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Use mealworms to draw black phoebes

Black phoebes are year-round residents in So. California.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
In case you missed my column today in the O.C. Register, here it is:

A friendly pair of black phoebes became year-round residents of our yard a few years ago.  Most mornings I can hear their shrill chirps before I’m even out of bed.
They often sit on the backs of our patio chairs that afford a direct view into our kitchen window. When really impatient they’ve been known to hover in front of it and even tap on the glass to get my attention. A string of sharp chirps generally continues until I come out with mealworms. Sometimes I think I’m being scolded for taking too long.
Lately, only one bird has been visiting. It repeatedly gathers a couple of mealworms in its bill then heads out of the yard in the same direction each time. It’s clear the pair is nesting, the second time this season.
Black phoebes are monomorphic, meaning that there are no differences in the physical characteristics between males and females.  These small songbirds are mostly black or dark sooty gray with a white belly. They have a large head and often show a slight crest. Juvenile plumage shows a hint of brown with cinnamon wing bars and rump.
Common throughout California, black phoebes are from the family of tyrant flycatchers and are often found near water, where they skim the surface for insects.  As the term flycatcher implies, they often sit on a fixed perch then dart out to catch insects on the fly.  They pump their tails up and down continuously when perched, seemingly in rhythm with their chirps. Because they can perform incredible aerial maneuvers, it makes them fun to watch.
They’re very territorial and often remain year-round in an area with an established food source. They build mud nests under the eaves of buildings, bridges and other protected shelters. The female lays three to five eggs then incubates them for 15-18 days. Both parents tend the nestlings. The male often continues to feed the young after fledging while the female re-nests.  Once the babies are deemed old enough to fend for themselves, the parents will aggressively run them out of their territory. 
 Because black phoebes are insect eaters, they do not visit seed feeders. But you can attract them to your yard by offering live mealworms. Start by placing a few in a dish out in an open area where they can be easily seen on a flyby. Live mealworms can be purchased at many nature and pet supply stores. And don't use pesticides, if you'd like to attract insect-eating birds to your yard.  

Happy Birding!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ants on your hummingbird feeders?

Ant moats prevent ants from reaching your hummingbird feeder.  Just fill with water to create a pesticide-free barrier.  Refill it with water every time you clean your feeder and replace the nectar, which in 80-degree temperatures should be every 2-3 days!

Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Smaller goldfinch flocks reported

Nyjer is the seed of choice for goldfinches.  Photo by J.J. Meyer

Last year at this time, Debbie Sugg of Lake Forest had a large flock of goldfinches that covered her three large Nyjer feeders every day.  This summer it's been just a few birds.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch 2012-2013 reported that American goldfinches were on the decline in the Southwest and California regions. Some are speculating that the drought may be impacting birds.  Birds will not reproduce when there is not enough food.

What are you seeing at your feeder?  Please leave your comments.

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When it comes to birdseed: you get what you pay for

Nutmeg Mannikins flock to a seed feeder in Mission Viejo. Photo by J.J. Meyer
A reader recently wrote:  "I have two birdseed feeders in my back yard and they get plenty of action but the big problem is 70 percent of the feed is tossed on the ground. I have tried several different brands of feed with the same results. Walmart, Ace, and Home Depot. Any suggestions?"

When it comes to buying birdseed, I believe the old adage--you get what you pay for. 
Generally, if the seed is really cheap, it contains a high percentage of filler grain to keep the price down. Fillers are seeds that birds don't eat, like those big red chunks that always end up on the ground.  In addition, cheap seed can be old and dry. Examine the bag. Black oil sunflower seeds should be black, not gray. Birds often reject old seed because without the oil, it is no longer nutritious.

I suggested that the reader try an experiment. First, dump the old seed and clean the feeder. (soak in 10 percent bleach solution for about 30 minutes, rinse well and let dry overnight.) Then go to a nature store, feed store or one of the Wild Birds Unlimited stores and purchase some fresh, quality seed.  You will pay more than the discount stores, but you will get 100 percent edible seed. Certain seeds, such as millet, may still be kicked to the ground. But the ground-feeders such as sparrows, doves and towhees will gladly clean up under the feeder.  At the end of the day, there will be no filler seed left on the ground to attract rats. If shells are a problem, consider purchasing a no mess blend.

Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Drought takes a toll on birds

Nothing fancy: Make a simple birdbath by using a plant dish and tomato stake.
In case you missed my column in today's O. C. Register, here it is:

As another hot, dry summer looms, things just aren’t looking good for our fine feathered friends.

Many songbirds rely on insects for food. During times of drought, fewer insects will hatch. A lack of vegetation and flowering plants will further reduce the populations of insects, as well as reptiles, rodents and rabbits that birds of prey rely upon for food.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, severe drought can cause migration and changes in animal and bird behavior. Wildlife becomes concentrated in areas where it can find food, which increases the risk for disease outbreaks from close contact.

Without enough food, birds will not reproduce. Local scientists discovered a reduced number of active hawk nests in our area this year.

Local bird enthusiasts have also noted changes at their backyard feeders. Some have reported seeing smaller flocks of house finches and goldfinches this spring. While others indicate that more insect-eating birds, such as Western bluebirds and black phoebes, are visiting back yards when live mealworms are offered.

Valerie Sinex, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Yorba Linda, said: “There seems to be a major uptick in the amount of worms we’re selling. Lawns aren’t getting watered and people are putting in fake grass and xeriscaping; therefore insects aren’t as plentiful.”

Sinex also says her customers have reported seeing more red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks visiting back yards, which had previously been the territory of Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks.
Some residents have also reported an increase in hummingbirds at their nectar feeders as extreme drought continues to destroy flowering plants.

So what can homeowners do to help birds during the drought?

“It’s important to provide birds with a source of clean water,” said Dave Brandt, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mission Viejo.

“Installing a fountain or birdbath in your yard will attract a variety of bird species, including those that do not visit feeders,” he said. Because birds are attracted to moving water, he suggests adding a small battery-powered gadget such as the Water Wiggler to create a rippling effect in the water. Adding a mister or dripper will attract hummingbirds and other species that love to shower.

Replenish the water daily. Stagnant water can play host to algae and mosquito larvae, which can carry the West Nile virus.

“It’s also important to keep nectar and seed feeders filled throughout the summer,” he said. “Our company’s research has shown that when quality food is provided at feeders, birds spend less time searching for food and more time protecting their nests and young. This supports better survival rates for the broods.”

Homeowners can also help birds by delaying tree trimming until fall. Trees provide protection and shade.

Temperatures can be far lower under trees and bushes, so birds will seek out these microclimates.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Salute to the American bald eagle

A non-releasable bald eagle at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. Photo by J.J. Meyer

Unique to North America, the bald eagle is the continent’s most recognizable aerial predator, with a shocking white head, electric yellow beak, and penetrating eyes. In the 1960s, this symbol of the United States became an emblem of environmental degradation as the pesticide DDT and other human pressures brought it to the brink of extinction. But following their protection as an endangered species, bald eagles have come roaring back.

Watch an amazing hour-long documentary online at: PBS American Eagle

A special thanks to our military who are responsible for the freedom we enjoy.