Bird Bio: Cliff Swallow

If you’re a paddler or fisherman and spend time on local rivers and lakes you have probably seen and experienced the Cliff Swallow.  This bird arrives in middle-TN in early spring from March to early April from its winter home in Southern South America.   

The Cliff Swallow is about 5.5” in length with a wingspan of roughly 13”.  Like other swallows they are aerial specialists catching their main food source, flying insects, on the wing.  It is similar to the Barn Swallow in appearance. The difference is the Cliff Swallow has a squared tail as opposed to a notched tail, and has a tawny, buff colored rump and a white patch on the forehead.  It has a chestnut face with bluish black head.  You must see one through binoculars to appreciate the beautiful color contrasts and details.

Once a western U.S. bird only its range has increased from Alaska to New England and south into Mexico.  The reason may be that they have continued to adapt to man-made structures like bridges and buildings for nest building.  Cliff Swallows are colony nesters with most colonies numbering between 100 and 200 nests.  Both male and female construct distinctive, gourd shaped-mud nests.  The mud is shaped into pellets and one by one set in place.  Nest building takes from 5-14 days but in many cases birds return to nest-sites and repair the year previous nest.    Nests are placed on a vertical wall, usually just under an overhang and usually over water.    The male and female tend to the nestlings, which fledge when about 24 days old.

Side Notes:

  •        Some of you are seeing Bluebirds nesting for a third time.  Usually by mid-August a third nesting will be completed, although I have seen a few times Bluebirds fledge in the first week of September. We stock live mealworms year round in case your Bluebirds need a little assistance.  Currently we distribute mealworms in styro cups, however, if you have a suitable container at home (like a reusable plastic container)we can fill it for you.  Just bring it with you and we can add the desired amount.  The less need for styro the better.
  •        We are hearing from some of you hummingbirds are beginning to increase in number and frequency at feeders.  Be patient if you haven’t seen much activity yet.  This will change soon.  We hear all too frequently that people are leaving nectar in their feeders far too long.

IMPORTANT!  Nectar is only good in the feeder for 3 to 4 days, less if the feeder gets a lot of sun.  You will not get much activity if the nectar is hot and spoiling. 

  •        Be careful to not purchase too much seed as we enter the dog days of summer.  Believe it or not the feeding will slow down at your feeders.  Storing a lot of seed in a container for several hot months may result in a mealmoth hatch.  Buying smaller quantities and using it up completely before getting more is a good strategy.
  •        The Wood Thrush Shop offers free at home Squirrel-proofing Consultations.  John and Jamie have been busy making house calls assisting customers frustrated by squirrels.  We know our product and where it works best enabling us to suggest real solutions to your bird feeding problems.  It is in our best interest for you to have squirrel-proof feeding stations.  We’ll make it happen.

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 the first has always been an adult male. 

Occasionally we here a customer say "I have all kinds of different hummingbirds" when in fact they really only have one kind, the Ruby-throated hummingbird.  Only the adult male has the bright red throat while both sexes have an iridescent green back.  Adult females and juvenile's look very much alike but will vary somewhat in plumage.    

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 infrequent and minimal until at least early to mid-July when there is a sudden surge.

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 feeders.  Then as we move into August 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 there is an alternative to offering only nectar. Try placing some fruit in a mesh sack or container with holes, 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. Last year we introduced a new feeder called the Humm-Bug that is designed to hold fruit and draw fruit flies.  

Aspects high view Hummingbird feeders are some of our favorite feeders. They are easy to clean, fill, and come with a built in ant moat. The high view refers to the new perch design which is raised up compared to older models. This helps keep the feeder from obscuring the bird while perching.

Hummzinger high view excel holds 16oz and has 6 ports.

 Hummzinger high view feeders come in three different sizes. 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz.

Hummzinger high view feeders come in three different sizes. 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz.

 Humzinger high view mini holds 8oz and has three ports.

Humzinger high view mini holds 8oz and has three ports.

 Humzinger high view holds 12oz and has four ports.

Humzinger high view holds 12oz and has four ports.

Hummingbird 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 in the feeder 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 and concerned 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!

Hummingbird Myths

Hummingbirds have "scouts".  Not really sure how this got started but likely because people would see an early arrival and then other hummers would eventually follow.  There is no way an adult male Ruby-throated hummingbird would actively help or encourage others to share "his" territory.  Everyone sees how territorial they are as they fight for the rights to a feeder.  It is believed an adult male can and will defend a territory of up to an acre.

Hummingbirds and Geese.  I haven't heard this one in a long time so hopefully it has gone away for good.  It was believed by some that hummingbirds would ride on the backs of larger birds, specifically geese, during migration.  This does not occur. 

Feeders must be taken down in the fall.  We still hear this one quite often.  People believe that hummingbirds will not migrate in the fall if feeders are left out.  Not so.  It is in their DNA to migrate.  Again, hummingbirds do not NEED sugar water, so why would an artificial food source keep them here?  If we had to take away all food sources to make them migrate we would also have to eliminate all of the various insects they feed on.  

 

 

 

Product Profile: Amazon Lights Garden Incense Sticks

Dozens of Wood Thrush customers have discovered this wonderful alternative to the hardware store variety of citronella candles for keeping mosquitos and no see-ems away from your favorite outdoor sitting area.  We have carried this effective product for nearly 15 years.

Amazon Lights incense sticks keep mosquitos and no see-ems away while burning emitting a pleasant aroma.  They are made from earth friendly ingredients including Brazilian andiroba, citronella, rosemary, and thyme. For best results make a perimeter around your deck, patio, or wherever you choose to be. Or if you like solo quiet time, position a single burning stick so the smoke drifts toward you. Each stick covers a 6 to 8 foot area. A stick can be placed in a small clay pot of sand or gravel and will burn for 2.5 hours, and can be extinguished and relit. Simply turn the stick burn-side down in the sand to extinguish.

Each tube contains 12 incense sticks.  That’s 30 hours of burn time for just $14.  We just got in a large order and would like more of you to discover this effective product. 

Get 20% off thru the remainder of June by mentioning this post. 

Stick them in a pot of sand or rocks. To exstinguish just invert the lit end of the stick into the pot.

You can place them almost anywhere even a potted plant.

Goldfinches Beginning to Nest

While many of our most familiar backyard birds are near the end, or have already concluded, their breeding season, for the American Goldfinch it is just beginning.  Many of you have already seen a reduction in goldfinch numbers at your feeders as they begin to move away from feeders toward nesting areas. Goldfinches typically nest in June and July when certain nest materials, and more of their food sources, become available. 

The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common.  So, if you live close to one of these types of areas you may continue to see good numbers of goldfinches at your feeders.  If you live in a more forested area you will likely see far less goldfinches until they finish nesting.  So, don’t be concerned that something has happened to “your” goldfinches or you’ve done something wrong. They are simply transitioning into their nesting phase and will return to feeders in due time. 

The male and female locate a suitable nest site together. Nests are often near water.  At Hidden Lakes Park on McCrory Ln, which borders the Harpeth River, goldfinch nests are common to see.

The male may bring nest materials but the female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting rather than in forest interior. The nest is often built high in a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; usually shaded by clusters of leaves from above, but often open and visible from below. 

The nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female bonds the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seedheads that goldfinches feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2-4.5 inches high.

The female incubates about 95% of the time and takes 10-12 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates.  The young leave the nest after 11-17 days. Both sexes tend to the young and are fed a regurgitated milky seed pulp.  Insects are rarely part of their diet.

Goldfinches are monogamous per year but commonly change mates between years.  

Open Garden Tour

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Saturday, June 9th from 10 am to 2 pm. If the weather is bad on the 9th we will try again on Sunday June 10 from 1 pm to 4 pm.

Join John Douglas and Leslie Matthews at their home.

148 Cheek Rd.

Nashville, Tn 37205

Windsong Garden is a retreat with an environment focused on serenity and relaxation. We have combined hosta and daylilies with perennials and hydrangeas, as well as our new introduction of native azaleas for spring color and summer texture.

          We offer water and food for the birds that reward us with the gift of beauty and entertainment all year long. We provide flowers for the pollinators, especially the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. One of our favorite gardens, the "secret garden", is tucked away in the upper corner providing deep shade for ferns, hosta and spring woodland wildflowers.

Wind and song are present anytime in these gardens. Come and enjoy with us.

If you have questions please email: matthews@harpethhall.org