Summer Hummingbird Celebration

Join us and the Warner Park Nature Center staff Saturday August 26th for a day all about Hummingbirds. We will have a booth set up so stop by and and say hello. 

Finches with Eye Disease

We’ve been seeing some reports on TN birding sites of House Finches and Goldfinches with an eye disease known as Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, or House Finch eye disease.  And just yesterday a customer inquired about a bird that seemed sick.  It did not move away as she approached, as if it was not really aware of her presence.  The bird turned out to be a sick House Finch.  We hear reports and see evidence of this every year that range from sparse to wide-spread. 

Birds infected with House Finch eye disease have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes. In extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut and the bird becomes blind. House Finch eye disease is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum. This bacterium has long been known as a pathogen of domestic turkeys and chickens, but it has been observed in House Finches since 1994. The disease has affected several other species, including American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, and Purple Finch

You might observe an infected bird sitting quietly in your yard, clumsily scratching an eye against its foot or a perch. While some infected birds recover, many die from starvation, exposure, or predation.

The House Finch eye disease has affected mainly the eastern House Finch population, which is largely separated from the western House Finch population by the Rocky Mountains. Until the 1940s, House Finches were found only in western North America. They were released to the wild in the East after pet stores stopped illegal sales of “Hollywood Finches,” as they were commonly known to the pet bird trade. The released birds successfully bred and spread rapidly throughout eastern North America. In 2006, however, the disease was found west of the Rocky Mountains, and researchers are using FeederWatch data to monitor the spread west.

Whenever birds are concentrated in a small area, the risk of a disease spreading within that population increases. Research suggests that House Finches that spend large amounts of time at feeders spread the disease more effectively.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, House Finch Disease Survey data tell us that the disease has decreased from epidemic proportions and is now restricted to a smaller percentage of the population. It’s estimated that 5% to 10% of the eastern House Finch population has this disease and that the dramatic spread that occurred a few years ago has subsided. This means that it is still an important and harmful disease, but that House Finch populations are not currently at extreme risk of wide-spread population declines.

What To Do

If you detect a sick finch at your feeders the standard procedure is to take down your feeders for a few days to a week and give them a very thorough cleaning.  Cleaning your feeders is always a good idea and is recommended it be done on a regular basis.  Clorox wipes are very handy to give your feeder a quick clean particularly around the feeding ports.

The Hummingbird Wave is Coming

Soon hummingbirds will ramp up their interest in feeders and the action will be fast and furious.  August through mid-September is 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.  This year the first reported sighting by a customer was March 30.  My first sighting was April 6th.  By the way, I've recorded first of spring (FOS) hummingbird sightings for over 20 years and it's always between April 3 and April 12.  And it's always been an adult male. 

Although all Tennessee, summer resident hummingbirds are here by mid-May, most people will see very little of them and activity at feeders will be minimal and infrequent until at least early to 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 or even two broods of offspring and are ready to begin taking advantage of the free nectar in the feeders you've provided. Also, the added activity is indicative of recently fledged hummingbirds beginning to understand and visit the feeders.  Then hummingbirds that have been north of us, as far as Canada, will begin their migration south and stop at feeders along the way. 

It must be remembered hummingbirds don't travel all the way from central and south America because there are hummingbird feeders here.  They DO NOT NEED the feeders but will take advantage of them when they are ready.  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.

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. We have a new feeder in the store this year called the Humm-Bug that is designed to hold fruit and draw fruit flies.  Check it out.

Hummingbirds and Nectar

A question frequently asked at The Wood Thrush Shop is “what nectar is best for hummingbirds”? 

The best nectar you can offer hummingbirds is a simple 1 part sugar to 4 parts water solution.  It is not necessary for the water to be brought to a boil before adding sugar.  The nectar is ready after the sugar has been stirred in and fully dissolved.  Do not add color. Color is absolutely unnecessary and potentially harmful. When hummingbird feeding activity is slow, like it tends to be in early spring to mid-summer, make small amounts and avoid refrigerating large quantities.  Think in terms of making fresh nectar each week in small amounts until feeding activity becomes vigorous, like it does in the latter summer months.  This is when it makes sense to make larger batches and refrigerate extra nectar.  Remember, nectar is only good for about 3 days in summer heat.  Fill your feeder according to the activity level and you will waste less nectar and reduce your maintenance on the feeder.  The peak time for hummingbird feeding activity typically starts mid-July and lasts through September, and even into October.

So, if you’ve been disappointed because you haven’t seen much of hummingbirds now is the time to make sure your feeders are clean and the nectar is fresh.  It’s going to get very busy!

Stop by the Shop!

All Hummingbird Feeders and Accessories 20% to 30% Off  

Friday July 21 thru Wed. July 26th

Bird Bio: Yellow Billed Cuckoo

While playing golf last week I was treated to a nice long look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Sometimes my best birding happens when I’m not even trying.  What a beautiful and interesting bird.  I’ve seen them before but never much more than a glimpse as this species stays very well concealed in tree tops and heavily vegetated areas. 

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a common summer resident in TN arriving from Central and South America in April and departing by mid-October.  They are seen, but more often heard, in deciduous wooded areas.  Large caterpillars are its preferred food.  The tent caterpillar may be its favorite. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a long slender songbird about 12” in length.  They are tan to gray above and white below with rusty brown wing edges, and has bold white spots on the underside of its tail.  The bill is long and decurved (curves downward), the lower mandible is yellow.

While many of you may never see this bird you may be hearing it on a daily basis and not even know it.  To describe the call is a bit difficult.  It is a rapid throaty kind of knocking sound.  Click here to listen to a sound clip on allaboutbirds.org

Hummingbirds In The Spring

Male Ruby-thoated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

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.  This year the first reported sighting by a customer was March 30.  My first sighting was April 6th.  By the way, I've recorded first of spring (FOS) hummingbird sightings for over 20 years and it's always between April 3 and April 12.  And it's always been an adult male. 

Although all Tennessee, summer resident hummingbirds are here by mid-May, most people will see very little of them and activity at feeders will be minimal and infrequent until at least early to 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 or even two broods of offspring and are ready to begin taking advantage of the free nectar in the feeders you've provided. Also, the added activity is indicative of recently fledged hummingbirds beginning to understand and visit the feeders. 

It must be remembered, hummingbirds don't travel all the way from central and south America because there are hummingbird feeders here.  They do not NEED the feeders but will certainly take advantage of them when they are ready.  Hummingbirds have been migrating here for a few thousand 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.

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.

Hummingbirds and Nectar

A question frequently asked at The Wood Thrush Shop is “what nectar is best for hummingbirds”?  The best nectar you can offer hummingbirds is a simple 1 part sugar to 4 parts water solution.  It is not necessary for the water to be brought to a boil before adding sugar.  The nectar is ready after the sugar has been stirred in and fully dissolved.  Do not add color. Color is absolutely unnecessary and potentially harmful. When hummingbird feeding activity is slow, like it tends to be in early spring, make small amounts and avoid refrigerating large quantities.  Think in terms of making fresh nectar each week in small amounts until feeding activity becomes vigorous, like it does in the latter summer months.  This is when it makes sense to make larger batches and refrigerate extra nectar.  The peak time for hummingbird feeding activity typically starts mid-July and lasts through September, and even into October.