Watch for birds in your dogwoods

I was in for a treat today. Actually it started about two days ago when I noticed a flash of red in my dogwood tree. I watched closely expecting to see a bright red cardinal, when in the same spot I briefly saw gray and white and thought I had seen a mockingbird. But it didn’t seem right to have seen the two different birds in the same spot so close together. As I continued to watch the mystery resolved itself. What I had seen was brief glimpses of parts of a much larger bird, the Pileated Woodpecker. It was eating the red berries on the dogwood tree.

Today I again noticed a large bird in the dogwood tree, though I couldn’t get a good look. So I retrieved my binoculars and began searching for the bird and found it. This time it was a Northern Flicker. I had commented to my husband only yesterday how we never saw flickers in our yard, only the Red-bellied Woodpecker which I used to mistake for a flicker.  Then I began to notice robins which don’t come to our feeders. All of the birds were after the red berries. I then discovered a female Baltimore Oriole eating the berries as well as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers. All within about five minutes I saw a wide assortment of birds, three of which I had never seen at our bird feeders.

But then, alas, the berries were all gone and the show was over. I went out in the rain to look closer, and sure enough, they had cleaned the branches of all red berries, though there were several lying on the ground under the tree. When the rain stops I may pick them up and put them in our feeders. I hung a suet basket near the dogwood hoping to attract some of the birds to it, especially the coveted orioles. I’ll be watching to see if the birds find it. We haven’t used that feeder for some time.

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Feeding bluebirds?

I have bluebirds nesting in my bluebird house again this spring. This time there are six eggs in the nest. If you read my earlier posts on bluebirds you will see pictures of several stages in the growing process.

But I have been disappointed every time the babies fledged. I’ve never seen it happen and the birds mysteriously disappear as a new nest is begun. I don’t know for sure if they have successfully fledged or not. I know the mocking birds give them a hard time throughout the nesting process, so maybe once the babies fledge they find a safer place to finish their parenting role.

So here is my dilemna. I want to keep the babies around so I can watch them too. I plan to set out a feeder to entice them to stick around. But bluebirds eat expensive food that the mockingbirds will also want to eat. I need a bluebird feeder that is the right size for the bluebird while the larger mocking birds can’t get to the food.

I hope I have a few readers who can offer some suggestions on how to feed bluebirds without feeding the mocking birds as well.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count has begun for 2009. This is an annual event hosted by the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is my first year to participate, but I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Dave and I had noticed a new bird on our bird feeders within the past week and wondered what it was. With the help of their bird list of appropriate birds for our area and time of year, coupled with my bird hand book and their web site, I was able to identify this bird as a Pine Siskin. Here is a picture I took of my bird feeder.

Pine Siskins with one American Goldfinch

Pine Siskins with one American Goldfinch

The Pine Siskins have speckled bars going up and down their heads and breasts. The American Goldfinch has a solid drab yellow colored head and breast. The Goldfinch’s bright yellow coloring will return later in the spring when their mating season begins.

Can you find all eight birds in this picture? The Siskins and Goldfinches have flocked to our feeders in droves. It is very difficult to count either species when they are all mixed together and bouncing around, so I did my best to count everything to get a total count. Then I counted the species that seemed to have fewer numbers and subtracted that from the total.

I also counted several Cardinals, a Red Bellied Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker, a Mockingbird that was standing guard over the territory even though he wasn’t eating at the feeders, Titmice, Purple Finches, White-Throated Sparrows, a Chipping Sparrow, a Towhee, and a Blue jay. Later Dave and I went walking and saw and heard 9 crows flying overhead so I turned in a second count for the crows.

I encourage my readers to check out the Great Backyard Bird Watch on-line and either participate or check out the findings. See if anyone is posting for your community by selecting your state first. Have fun!

Constantly amazed with the birds

I just have to say I’m constantly amazed at the number of different kinds of birds we have around our house and yard. Yesterday I saw another first for me–the Summer Tanager. It is a totally red bird–the color is almost psychedelic. At first I thought it was a cardinal but the color was a little different with no black around the beak and no crest on its head. Its wings were barely darker than the rest of its body but still red which tipped me off to look under tanager in the bird guide book. I saw the same bird again this evening. Both times, the bird was eating from the suet basket while hovering like a hummingbird.

I also saw another visitor that I don’t see often this evening–the Indigo Bunting. I’ve seen them before, but very seldom.

Then we had all the regular visitors: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mocking Birds, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch, Chickadee, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Titmouse, Morning Doves, Eastern Bluebirds (in front yard). They love our bird feeders. I wish I was better at catching them with the camera.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

Bluebirds and American Goldfinches

Goldfinches on thistle feederIf I were asked to name my favorite bird of all, it would have to be the American Goldfinch. I have many childhood memories of watching these delightful black and yellow birds flitting around on the fence rows in the Indiana countryside. After moving to South Carolina I have enjoyed watching them appear in flocks on a row of small sunflowers I had planted in my yard one fall. Since my last move, I have been less successful with growing sunflowers from seed, but we have still had the privilege of watching them come in flocks to feed on sunflower and thistle seeds at our feeders. I learned that in the winter their plumage becomes a dull yellow and brown, so it took a while for me to recognize them. But by now, they are ready to migrate back north and their feathers are becoming brilliant yellow and black again. What joy to watch them!

The bluebirds are another favorite bird for me, though I have had less opportunities to watch them. But this promises to change this year. Last Wednesday my husband and I purchased and set out two bluebird houses in our front yard. We purchased a small booklet about planning for bluebirds, and by the time we got home, we had a plan in place for the best place to set up our birdhouses. When we drove into the back yard and got out of our car, the first thing that caught my eye was not one, but two bluebirds in the treetops between our yard and the next. Joy upon joy! I had been watching for them and thought I had seen a brown female at the feeder recently but couldn’t be sure.

We lost no time in getting our birdhouses up realizing that we were already at the tail end of the time bluebirds made their nests. I have been watching one of the birdhouses out my window as I work at my computer hoping to see some action. This Saturday morning – only the third day after setting them up – I watched a flurry of bluebird activity around one of the birdhouses. There are at least two pair of bluebirds checking it out. I am concerned that they may already be fighting over this birdhouse and ignoring the other birdhouse which is not in as suitable of a location. We read that they bluebirds have been known to kill another bluebird that is competing for their nesting site, so tomorrow after church we will be moving the second birdhouse to a more suitable location in our neighbor’s yard. (They have already agreed to this.) I hope we haven’t taken too long to move it, but there was no opportunity to do this today because of prior commitments that kept us out of town.

While watching the bluebirds in the front yard and the goldfinches on the feeders in the backyard I made another discovery. Goldfinches love dandelions. We are not lawn fanatics who get bent out of shape over dandelions in the lawn. We like having both dandelions and clover for the honeybees. But while watching the bluebirds fight over the birdhouse, I discovered a flock of goldfinches on the ground around the dandelions. It first appeared that the dandelions were popping like popcorn until I realized that the things that were popping up and down were goldfinches. I hurried to get my camera, but my movements scared them away and they didn’t come back to the dandelions. Walking around the house with camera in hand I found them on the bird feeder, though I couldn’t get close enough for a really good picture.

Goldfinches at dish feeder

We had to leave for Charleston by noon and didn’t get home ’till after dark. I can’t wait until tomorrow to see them all again. I hope we will get the second birdhouse moved quickly, and then get a few good pictures of both bluebirds and goldfinches.

If bees are visiting your holly bushes you are blessed.

Press Release: I wrote this as an article for a local newspaper. Please feel free to use it in its entirety with attribution. No compensation is required; however, please notify me by email concerning where it was published. (queenbjan [at] msn [dot] com)

HEMINGWAY, SC – I love the spring when the flowers are popping out everywhere, the birds are singing, a few butterflies have already hatched out, and the bees are buzzing from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar. This is as it should be.  Unfortunately, some are not happy with this picture.

Honeybee on Holly

Honeybee on Holly

Only yesterday I received a panic call from a lady who knew that my husband and I were (retired) beekeepers. She wanted to know what she could do, because the bees were all over her holly bushes. It wasn’t the first time we had received such a call, and it won’t be the last. Fortunately, this lady hadn’t already resorted to spraying them with Raid before she called – as some others had done.

I explained to the lady that the bees would only be in the holly bushes until they finished blooming. Holly blooms are pale green and so tiny that you have to look closely to notice them. These bees, I explained to the lady, are happy bees. After the long, lean winter season, they are so excited to be finding nectar and pollen that you would probably have to knock them around to get one to sting you. I also explained to the lady that without the bees in her holly, she wouldn’t have holly berries on her bushes in the fall. I hope I successfully put her mind to rest so that she would let the bees “bee” and not try to harm them.

Our declining honeybee population has received a lot of publicity in the past couple of years, so many people are discovering for the first time the importance of our bee population on our food supply. One third of the food we eat is dependant upon pollination by bees, and this has nothing to do with the honey they make.

Sadly, one of the major enemies of the bees, both honeybees and native bees, is man. Pesticides have been used without regard to the regulations written on the labels – and have killed the bees along with the pests they were trying to eradicate. Natural nesting areas are destroyed as homes, shopping malls and industries continue to use up the land. Then there are the totally uninformed who think anything with six or more legs is a pest and must be destroyed. Unfortunately these uninformed bug killers may be depleting the population of an otherwise healthy hive of honeybees owned by a local beekeeper, who is trying to make his garden (as well as his/her neighbors’ gardens) productive. Or even worse, they could be killing off one of the few feral colonies of honeybees still left in the wild, or the native bees and pollinators around them.

But back to the holly bushes and the bees—my husband and I have been enjoying watching not only the bees as they pollinate our holly bushes, but we have also seen how the holly bushes have provided food and protection to hundreds of birds throughout the winter season. We keep birdfeeders on our deck and in our back yard and have been continually entertained year round with the antics of the various birds vying for domination of the food supply. When we walk past the bushes in the yard there is a constant fluttering of wings as birds scurry from one branch to another to get away from us, who they still perceive as a potential enemy even though they regularly see us filling the feeders and fuss at us if we let them go empty.

There are many kinds of holly bushes, and all provide food and shelter for the birds, but our personal preference is for the Dahoon hollies. These bushes are quite dense and their leaves are slightly less prickly than other more decorative varieties. Their blooms provide abundant nectar for the bees and other pollinating insects, and are followed by green berries that turn red in the fall. The birds tend to prefer other fruits and berries over the holly berries, but when winter turns its coldest and other food supplies have become scarce, the holly berries are still there waiting for them, and by spring the birds will have picked them clean.

So if you should notice there are bees all over your holly bushes, or dandelions, or clover, or …, consider yourself blessed. Somewhere there is a hive of bees still carrying out the task it was created to perform—pollinating the food supply for both wildlife and man.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

Note: This popular post is on my first blog, QueenBJan’s Weblog. I no longer post on this blog as I combined it with several of my other blogs. For more great posts see Honeycomb Adventures Press, LLC.

Birdfeeder watching

Our back deck is just outside our kitchen window.  We have a table on the deck, but it has gone to the birds, so to speak.  On the table we have potted plants and a bird feeder and water dish.  Of course, this time of year the plants only serve to provide perches for the birds as most of them have died back for the winter.  But the birds are very active this time of year. 

We are currently feeding American goldfinches, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, titmice, chickadees, blue-jays, mockingbirds, house-finches, wrens, and a downy woodpecker.

The goldfinches are not the bright yellow color that I remember enjoying as a child in Indiana.  In the wintertime their feathers change to a dull brownish yellow, so that I almost didn’t recognize them.  My bird guide helped me to confirm that these birds were indeed the goldfinches and their plumage was for the non-breeding goldfinches.

I’ve enjoyed watching the birds through the seasons.  We feed more black sunflower seeds than anything else, but we do keep several suet baskets filled as well.  The first time we put out a suet basket I used a berry suet that was supposed to attract orioles.  I saw what had to have been an oriole feeding on it within a day or two.  At first I thought it was a robin because of all the red coloring, but then as I watched it I realized that this bird had more red than a robin and that the black seemed blacker.  But sadly that was the only time I saw the oriole.  It never came back.

Early last spring we had a number of house finches at our feeder.  I noticed one that had a serious problem with one of its eyes as it protruded abnormally from the birds head.  The bird almost lived in the feeder and only left when the other birds chased it away.  I took a picture of it with my digital camera to get a better look at it, and then realized that its beak was also malformed.  No wonder it stayed in the feeder, I’m sure it had to struggle to get the sunflower seeds out of the hulls.  One day a storm was coming up as I was leaving for work and I knew the rain would fill the dish we were using as a feeder.  I worried that our poor bird wouldn’t survive the storm, and apparently it didn’t as we never saw it again.

Malformed house finch

Another time I was working in the kitchen when I heard something hit the window hard.  I looked out the window and found a woodpecker lying on the deck.  I suspected that it had only knocked itself out and that after it came to, it would fly away, so I ran to get my camera.  I tried to get it to perch on my finger but it didn’t catch on too well.  Maybe it was the way woodpeckers use their feet, but I was finally able to get it to perch on my fingertips like they were a stump.  I eventually urged it to sit on one of the posts in the railing of our deck and took several more pictures before it gained its senses and flew away.  I then went to my bird guide and learned that my woodpecker was really a male yellow bellied sapsucker.  I never saw the bird again.

Sapsucker 1

Sapsucker2

The birds are very entertaining to watch.  When they are feeding their young they get aggressive and it is like a king of the mountain game as they commandeer the bird feeder until they are satisfied or until they get sent on their way by a more aggressive bird.  Bird seed seems pretty cheap compared to the amount of enjoyment we get from watching our birds out the window.