Fall Migration is Underway

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down in October birdwatching in the area will be more interesting. Have your binoculars with you and ready because Warblers, Tanagers, Orioles, Grosbeaks, and Flycatchers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries. Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species, and mornings after a storm tend to be even better. Mornings are better because many of the migrants are moving at night. They settle down to rest and feed in the morning. Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some birds you may not have seen before. The usual hot spots include:

Radnor Lake, Warner Parks, Bells Bend, Harpeth River Greenway,

Hidden Lakes State Park, Gossett State Park, Shelby Bottoms, Montgomery Bell.

Common Nighthawk

Chimney Swift

One of the more interesting things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and downtown, these birds gather and feed on insects in impressive flocks.

For information about great places to birdwatch this fall click on the links below…

Tennessee Birding Trails

Tennessee Birding on Facebook

TOS Nashville Chapter-Radnor Lake Wed morning walks

As for birdfeeders October is a good month to do maintenance on bird feeders, cleaning and repairing. We often have, or can get, parts for birdfeeders. It’s a good time to clean out nest boxes, too, or move them to a potentially better location if they were not successful.

Why are feeders slow in October? During the spring and summer birds take great advantage of feeders while they are raising young. Now that the breeding season is over and youngsters are mostly independent a bird’s life is a little more leisurely. And natures harvest is beginning. Weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and trees are producing seeds, nuts, and fruit. Birds will gravitate to these natural offerings for a while before finding our feeders interesting again. While we miss seeing our bird visitors for a while many of you will get some relief from squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons, as they too take advantage of natural food sources.

Keep the hummingbird feeders clean and nectar fresh. The hummers are really feeding heavily now. Go out and see some birds!

Hummingbird Migration, and Bees

For the next 4 weeks here in mid-TN we will be experiencing peak hummingbird activity at our feeders. Now it is crucial that your nectar is fresh and your feeders are clean for best results. Our summer resident hummers are mostly done nesting and youngsters are coming to and beginning to understand feeders. Just days ago an active nest was observed at Radnor Lake. And already we are probably experiencing hummingbirds that have been north of us beginning to move through TN and visit feeders as well.

If you have given up on hummingbirds because you did not see any activity earlier in the summer it’s time to give your feeder a good cleaning and make some fresh nectar. This is the time that hummingbirds are most interested in your feeders and are packing on as much weight as possible before making their long journey back to Central and South America.

Perhaps the most encountered problem at hummingbird feeders this time of year is bees and wasps. There are a variety of things one can do to alleviate the competition between bees and hummingbirds at feeders. Mind you these strategies are, and should be, passive given the challenges honey bees are faced with now. Killing bees is not what we advocate. So, try any or all of the following tips and we’re pretty sure you will have fair to good results.

  • It’s a fact; bees prefer sweeter nectar than the recommended hummingbird nectar (1 part sugar, 4 parts water). Making it more sugary (1 to 3 ratio) is of no benefit to hummers and may attract more bees. Lure the bees away with a bee feeder. In a shallow container add gravel and a 1 part sugar (white cane sugar) to 2 parts water solution. Fill so that bees can land on the gravel and get the sugar water. Offer this feeder relatively close to where your hummingbird feeders are. This offering should begin to pull the bees away and each day move it a little farther from the hummingbird feeder.

  • If you experience year to year problems with bees you may consider a feeder that does not have yellow decorations (flowers, etc.) It is believed by many that yellow is more of an attractant for bees than for hummingbirds. If you have yellow flowers on your feeder try painting them red with non-toxic paint. I’ve tested this theory at my house and found there is no negligible difference. Bees seem to be just as attracted to feeders with just red. Again, results may vary.

  • Very Important. Keep feeders clean. All too often when consulting with customers about feeding hummingbirds we find many are not cleaning their feeders regularly, nor are they changing nectar as often as they should. In 90 degree heat nectar is only good for about 3 days. Maybe less if the feeder is getting several hours of sun. Consider a shadier location and put only enough nectar in the feeder that the birds can consume in 2 or 3 days. And regular cleaning will reduce trace amounts of nectar that settles around feeding ports that bees are drawn to.

  • If you have a feeder with yellow flowers try applying a little vegetable oil around and on the flower. The bees are not fond of landing on the oil and the hummingbirds do not make contact with them. This is a method I’ve used for many years with decent results.

  • Start over next spring with a bee resistant feeder like one of the Hummzingers by Aspects. Not only are they much easier to clean but they don’t have yellow flowers and by their design more bee resistant. They also have nectar guard tips that can be added for a more bee proof offering. They come in 8, 12, and 16 oz capacities.

Hummingbird action will be fast and furious for the next month, so don’t miss out. Use the proper nectar recipe (no coloring) and remember, there is not a specific time to take down your hummingbird feeders. The presence of feeders will not cause them to stay.

Also Saturday August 24th the Warner park nature center will be having their Hummingbird celebration from 9am - 2:30pm. There will be lectures, bird banding, and activities for all ages. For more information Click Here or visit the nature centers event page on facebook.

Bat House Sale thru August 31 20% Off

Read our last blog on bat houses!

Bat Houses and Placement Strategies

I have invested a fair amount of time researching bats the last month or so trying to learn more about the fascinating creatures sharing my yard this summer.

After last week’s blog about my recent success with bats a few customers had questions.

One customer asked “why do you think you have more bats this year. What did you do to encourage them”? The fact is I’ve done nothing different and I wish I knew why we have this surge in numbers. The bat house has been in the same place for several years. The only thing about the “Rocket” style house that’s different is Downy woodpeckers have pecked a couple of holes in it ranging in size from about 1 ½” to 3” in diameter. I hardly think that would increase the chances of a box being used.

Bats have to find new roosts on their own. They investigate new roosting opportunities while foraging at night, and they are expert at detecting crevices, cracks, and nooks and crannies that offer shelter from the elements and predators. Bats are not blind as the saying goes but in fact have sharp eye sight.

BCI (Bat Conservation International) indicates 90 percent of occupied bat houses were used within two years (with 50 percent occupancy in the first year). The rest needed three to five years for bats to move in. So, perhaps it was just time needed for bats to locate my house. Now that I’ve attracted bats to this house I am planning on putting up at least one more before next spring.

There's a lot of information about success rates of various types of bat houses and, perhaps more importantly, how they are presented. I am merely going to summarize some of the more pertinent information and would encourage you to visit www.batcon.org if you want to learn more or have enough interest to construct, or buy, a bat house to install in your yard.

Below are some basics of presenting a bat house.

Three chamber bat house.

Rocket style bat house.

Facts, Tips and Suggestions

Bat houses installed on buildings or poles are easier for bats to locate, have greater occupancy rates and are occupied two and a half times faster than those mounted on trees.

Tall designs like the multi-chamber (nursery) and rocket-style houses perform best

Occupancy in rural areas is over 60 percent, compared to 50 percent for urban and suburban areas.

According to BCI maintaining proper roost temperatures is probably the single most important factor for a successful bat house. They say interior temperatures should be warm and as stable as possible (ideally 80º F to 100º F in summer) for mother bats to raise their young. Some species, such as the Big Brown bat, prefer temperatures below 95º F, while others, such as the Little Brown bat, tolerate temperatures in excess of 100º F. This is very interesting because we always think of bats in relation to the coolness of caves but this is mostly during the hibernation months, fall through winter.

Bat house temperatures are influenced directly by the exterior color and direction faced. East-, southeast-, or south-facing are generally good bets. My Rocket house is, as you have seen, a darker color. Bat houses we sell are almost always a plain western cedar. From now on I will suggest staining the box a darker color.

Avoid placing bat houses directly above windows, doors, decks or walkways. Bat urine and guano would fall directly down to whatever is below. The urine is known to stain some finishes.

For more information about constructing, painting, installing and maintaining your bat house, please see:

The Bat House Builder's Handbook

Single chamber bat house plans

Four-chamber nursery house plans

Rocket box bat house plans


My Summer Bats

Bats have been of particular interest to me this summer as I’ve had great success with a “Rocket” style bat house. This box has been on a 10’ post in my yard for several years and seen only minimal success.

Most evenings my wife and I settle in to watch the bats emerge from the box which is situated in a clearing surrounded by trees. We’ve been able to count over one hundred several times. Only recently have I come to the conclusion they are the species, the Little Brown Bat, perhaps the most common, widely distributed in the U.S. They measure less than 4” in length and vary in color from olive-brown to a yellow-brown. The wings consist of naked skin, which are attached alongside the feet.

There are several bat species that are very similar in appearance, so we are still observing for more details and clues that will help definitively identify them.

During summer Little Browns often inhabit buildings, usually in hot environments like attics, where females form nursing colonies of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Not much is known about where the males are at this time but they are likely solitary and scattered in a variety of roost situations. Colonies are often close to a lake or stream. This species seems to prefer to forage over water, but also forages among trees in open areas. Little Browns may repeat a set hunting pattern around houses or trees. Little Brown bats eat a variety of insects, including gnats, crane flies, beetles, wasps, and moths. Here is a very interesting thing I did not know about bats. Insects are usually captured with a wing tip, transferred into a scoop formed by the forwardly curled tail, and then grasped with the teeth. Because we don’t get to see them working in slow motion we would never see this action.

After doing a little more research on Southeastern bats, I learned some very interesting facts about these fascinating little nocturnal mammals. For instance, did you know that at certain times of the year we can have up to fifteen different species of bats in the southeastern United States? Or that all bats in the eastern United States feed exclusively on insects? They are the only major predator of night flying insects and may eat more than 50% of their body weight each night. Unfortunately, the amount of mosquitos they consume is not as great as once thought.

In late fall and winter the Little Brown Bat usually hibernates in caves and mines. Bats return from migration and awaken from hibernation as early as mid-March and they will be abundant throughout the summer and into early fall. By mid-October most will have migrated to more southerly states, or are going into hibernation. For more information about bats in our area please visit: www.tnbwg.org the Tennessee Bat Working Group website.

Hummingbirds. Here We Go!

Male Ruby-throated

Female Ruby-throated

Here we are in mid-July and the time everyone anticipates. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon ramp up their interest in feeders and the action will be fast and furious through the end of September.

For many of you the spring and early summer months produce little if any activity at your feeders. Why? Let’s not forget Ruby-throated hummingbirds DO NOT make the long journey here from Central and South America for the sugar water. They DO NOT NEED the feeders but will take advantage of them when they are through with nesting and fattening up for migration is their foremost concern. Hummingbirds have been migrating here for thousands of years to breed and to take advantage of the abundance of insects, which is their primary food source. They would come here even if hummingbird feeders did not exist.

August through September is the peak time for us to see hummingbirds at feeders. Based on frequently asked questions at the store there's a lot of confusion surrounding Ruby-throated hummingbirds and the first few months they are here. It is true Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin migrating through and into TN as early as mid-March. At this time you may see some activity at a feeder as migrants move through, feed, and then keep moving. Or an early arrival summer resident may visit a feeder often for the first few days as it settles in after its long journey.

Although all summer resident hummingbirds of Tennessee have arrived by mid-May, most people will see very little of them and activity at feeders will be minimal and infrequent until at least mid-July when there is a sudden surge in activity.

It is thought by many the reason for this sudden surge is they have just "come back" from where they've been. Actually, it is that the summer resident hummingbirds have concluded raising one to three broods of offspring and are ready to begin taking advantage of nectar in feeders.

Ruby-throated hummers usually raise two chicks at a time so when the nesting phase concludes you may be seeing at least 6 young hummers coming to feeders.

Since hummingbirds feed on small insects an alternative way of feeding them is available.Try placing some fruit in a mesh sack and hang it near your hummingbird feeder.The fruit will draw fruit flies which the hummingbirds will readily devour.It is quite interesting to see a hummingbird dart its specialized tongue out to snag the flies. And it is their long tongue that laps up the nectar from feeders.

So, if you have been disappointed because you haven’t seen hummingbirds at your feeders that’s all about to change. Give your feeders a good cleaning and get some fresh nectar made (1 part sugar to 4 parts water). Remember, nectar is only good for about 3 days at a time in summer heat. Enjoy the action!