Bird Bio

Attracting Warblers

Fall is a Great Time to Garden for the Birds

Fall is the best time to plant and perhaps you are thinking about adding something to your landscape that appeals to birds and wildlife. Fantastic! Adding plants is a great way to attract birds of all kinds but especially those that do not regularly visit seed feeders. I’m referring to the small tropical birds known as Warblers. This diverse and beautiful group of birds goes unnoticed by many backyard birders because their yards don’t have the habitat appeal necessary to pull them in. Each spring Warblers migrate into and through TN on the way to their breeding destination. As they travel they are searching for food, water, and suitable, safe resting areas.

Native trees and shrubs are critical to attracting birds of all kinds and especially warblers. Native plants attract native insects, an important food source to migrating birds. In spring when leaves are first opening the first caterpillars begin hatching which is an abundant and important food source for all migrating birds. In early fall native trees and shrubs are producing fruit that will help fuel their migration back to the tropics. The fruit also attracts native insects which then become an important source of protein. You can’t go wrong planting natives because they are, typically, less susceptible to disease and insect problems.

 Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

 Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Here’s a short list of some of my favorite native plants and shrubs:

 Devils Walking Stick, Berries

Devils Walking Stick, Berries

 American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry

Serviceberry               Bottlebrush Buckeye            Devils Walking Stick

American Beautyberry  Redbud                                Dogwood

Hawthorn                       Persimmon                           American Holly

Winterberry                    Eastern Red Cedar               Mountain Laurel

Sumac                            Oak and Maple varieties       Viburnums

and there are so many more great plants to choose from.

But Warblers need water, too, and from my experience water is the x factor.  It is probably that my water source is very easy to see from in my home that I have seen more Warbler species there than anywhere else in my yard.  Bubbling, moving water is much more appealing than the standard pedestal type birdbath.  Keep the water moving in some way and birds will be drawn.  There are drippers and misters that run on water pressure provided by a standard outside faucet, and waterfall rocks powered by an electric pump that are quite effective at keeping water moving.  I recently hung a plastic jug with a pin hole above a standard pedestal birdbath.  When filled with water the jug will provide a steady drip for a few hours at a time.  The dripping and subsequent rippling effect is absolutely more appealing than a still source of water.

So, if making your yard more appealing to birds is on your mind think about native plants and water.  It is a combination that most definitely works.

For more information about native plants please take a look at the TN Native Plants Society website, www.tnps.org, or check out a local grower like Growild located in Fairview, TN. Their website is www.growildinc.com

Bird Bio: Blue Grosbeak

 Male Blue Grosbeak

Male Blue Grosbeak

 Female Blue Grosbeak.

Female Blue Grosbeak.

Now that fall migration is underway there will be many opportunities to see lots of different birds passing back through TN on their way to Central and South America.  The Blue Grosbeak is one of those birds and while not rare one usually has to put in a little leg work to find.  Unlike the Rose-breasted Grosbeak that regularly visits feeders in the spring and sporadically in the fall, the Blue Grosbeak rarely visits feeders.  In fact, we’ve only had a handful of reports of Blue Grosbeaks at feeders over the course of my 23 years at the store.  This is curious to me because both Grosbeaks seem to share similar food preferences. 

The Blue Grosbeak is about 7 ½” in length, a Cardinal sized bird. The male is a deep blue, similar to the Indigo Bunting, with a thick conical bill (slightly narrower than a Rose-breasted’s), and has broad, rusty brown wing bars.  They are commonly seen in or adjacent to scrubby fields and meadows.  Fields that have not been cut are more likely to produce these beautiful birds.  I have seen them on the Harpeth River Greenway, Hidden Lakes Park, and Gossett Tract. 

The female could easily be mistaken for a female cowbird.  Look closely for the soft brown plumage above and lighter brown below, with 2 buff wing bars.

Have the binoculars at the ready because the next 8 weeks will be full of nice surprises if you get out and look a little harder.  And in your own yard a good clean and consistently available water source can produce some very interesting visitors.

Next week more on hummingbirds and the hummingbird celebration taking place at The Warner Park Nature Center August 25th.

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.

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.  

Bird Bio: Pileated Woodpecker

 Male Pileated Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker

 Female Pileated Woodpecker

Female Pileated Woodpecker

Migration is in full swing and birdwatching is almost at its peak as neo-tropical migrants are arriving and passing through middle TN.  For daily birdwatching reports to your E-mail you may subscribe to TNBird@freelist.org.

At your feeders you may be seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting.  Keep an eye out for these beautiful birds because their presence at the feeders only lasts for a few weeks.  Usually by mid-May they will have moved on.  Indigo Buntings can be seen all summer long especially in fields and meadows, and in areas along the Harpeth River.  The Harpeth River Greenway is an excellent place to see Indigo’s. There is access to the greenway from the back of the warner parks or from Reese Smith Jr. baseball fields.  Both species are very interested in bird feeders and will go for a variety of feeds including black-oil sunflower, safflower, and millet. 

But this week we are going to profile the Pileated Woodpecker only because I captured some great video of one working an old rotting stump for food.  The normally very shy woodpecker was so intent on extracting ants, beetles and larvae from this stump it did not seem to be concerned that I was close by.

With the probable extinction of the Ivory-billed woodpecker the Pileated Woodpecker is now the largest member of the Picidae family in North America.  This crow sized woodpecker, up to 19” in length, is an impressive bird known for its bright red crest.  In fact, “Pileated” means “crested”.  Males tend to be 10 to 15 percent heavier than females and can be distinguished from females by the red mustache stripes.  Note the red mustache on this male in the video.   On males the red crest extends from the bill to the nape of the neck while on females it is smaller.  They are often heard and not seen in dense wooded areas.  The call is loud, high-pitched and nasal, and is given as a single note or in a series.  

The Pileated Woodpecker’s main food source is insects and when available seasonal berries.  One fall I witnessed a pair of Pileated’s strip every berry off a Dogwood tree in my yard.  They are excellent excavators, as you can see in the video, and are important to other species of birds and animals for that reason.  Other birds and animals eventually take up residence in the abandoned nest sites.  Pileated woodpeckers excavate a new nest site every year and mate for life.

If you live in an area of dense woods you are likely to see these great birds but do not expect them to visit feeders.  Although there are occasions for this bird to visit feeders it is uncommon.  During the spring months while they are on nest is the most likely time to see them take advantage of suet or shelled peanuts.   

Get out there and enjoy some birdwatching this weekend. It will be perfect conditions to get out early and take a walk with the binoculars.