bird bio

Bird Bio: Hermit Thrush

Look for the elegant Hermit Thrush in brushy areas and understory of forest. I consistently see Hermit Thrush at Hidden Lakes State Park in the wooded part of the trail back near the trail that leads to the “dance floor” on the hilltop. There is quite a bit of bush honeysuckle and vine honeysuckle in this area which provides a lot of food and dense cover.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Related Bird: Swainson’s Thrush. Click picture for more info.

Related Bird: Swainson’s Thrush. Click picture for more info.

Related Bird: Wood Thrush. Click on picture for more info.

Related Bird: Wood Thrush. Click on picture for more info.

The Hermit Thrush is mostly a buffy brown but has bold spots on the breast. It is distinguished from other thrushes by its reddish colored tail and distinctive white eye ring. If you see one look for its habit of flicking wings and tail pumping (click here for a quick video). This is the only thrush normally seen in the winter in North America. This is not a bird you can set out to attract. On occasion I have seen Hermit Thrush below my birdfeeders during wintery weather, perhaps picking up pieces of suet or bits of seed. Some customers have seen them attracted to live mealworms, too.


Those of you who truly love feeding birds understand how it enhances your life.

This Holiday Season consider giving the gift of birds to a youngster, friend or loved one needing an interest, or to someone you may know confined indoors.

The Wood Thrush Shop is offering a starter bird feeding kit for $39. The kit includes choice of hopper feeder, or Droll Yankee tube feeder, choice of Black-oil Sunflower, Safflower, or Woodland Blend 8# bag, and a Pocket Naturalist guide to Tennessee Birds.

These items regularly retail for $52.

Get someone started feeding birds and help them discover a whole new world right outside their door.

Choose between a hopper or tube style feeder, a bag of sunflower or safflower, and a Tennessee folding guide for $39.

Bird Bio: Fox Sparrow

Sparrows are a family of birds that the backyard birder tends to overlook. All sparrows seem to be lumped into the same vague description of “little brown birds that mostly stay on the ground”. Sparrows, though, are a pretty diverse group. Yes, they have many similarities but upon closer inspection you can see just how beautiful and varied they are. The Annotated Checklist of Birds of Tennessee recognizes 26 species of sparrows, 10 of which breed here. Many are considered rare, to uncommon, to seasonal, with few as year round residents. This time of year we see with regularity Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and Juncos are included in the family, too. This week we’re going to focus on the Fox Sparrow. Last weekend I was birding at Hidden Lakes State Park on McCrory Ln and really had fun looking for sparrows in the lower meadow area along the Harpeth River. I got several good looks at Fox Sparrows as they darted from cover to cover feeding on native plant seeds.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The Fox Sparrow is a large sparrow measuring up to about 7”, which is just a little smaller than a Northern Cardinal. It is recognized for its heavily streaked rusty colored breast, and a rufous, or orange-brown tail, which is more noticeable in flight. The rusty brown combined with gray around the neck gives it its foxy look. Its song is described by Peterson’s Field Guide as brilliant and musical; a varied arrangement of short clear notes and sliding whistles. Click on the picture above to hear their song and read more. Behaviorally it feeds similarly to the Eastern Towhee scratching with both feet on the ground while foraging. It is a very distinguishable hopping forward and back motion. Look for Fox Sparrows to appear on the ground below feeders during wintery, snowy weather. Millet is a food of particular interest to them. By April Fox Sparrows leave this part of the country to go back north to their breeding areas.

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: Baltimore & Orchard Oriole

Adult male Baltimore Oriole 

Adult male Orchard Oriole

In just a couple of weeks, around mid-April, we will have an opportunity to see Baltimore and Orchard Orioles as they move through mid-TN.  I say move through because we see very few Orioles spending the summer here.  Every spring we are asked by customers if we carry Oriole feeders, and if we can suggest the best ways to attract them.  First let’s look at the profiles of these birds. 

The Baltimore Oriole is a fairly common spring and early fall migrant.  They migrate through TN on the way to their breeding destinations, which tend to be north of TN.  Some of my bird store associates in Iowa and Ohio do a very strong “Oriole” business because they are in the heart of Oriole breeding territory.  Both species of Oriole are insect, fruit and nectar feeders.

The Baltimore is the more familiar of the two and is known for its bold orange and black plumage. Females are olive to brown above and burnt orange-yellow below.  White wing bars are very noticeable. Baltimore’s are about 8” in length, are long tailed, and have sharply pointed beaks.

The Orchard Oriole is slightly smaller.  The male is a rich chestnut color on its underparts and black above.  Females are an olive-green above and yellowish below, much like female Tanagers, but have distinguishable white wing bars.

Over the course of 25 years I have tried various proven methods of attracting Orioles to my yard with little success.  Available information about Orioles suggests orange halves and jelly are the two most common food choices to grab an Orioles attention.   None of my attempts with these offerings ever produced results.

The years I did attract them I did nothing specific to make it happen.  A few times I had multiple male Orioles visiting hummingbird feeders, and other years it has been the moving water source (fountain) that is very popular with all birds.  The times they decided to come to hummingbird feeders were likely a result of a lack of natural food sources they would normally be drawn to during their spring travel. Over the course of the few days Orioles were visiting my hummingbird feeders I also presented orange halves in plain view, because that’s what you always see pictures of them feeding on, but they showed no interest and seemed to be content with the sugar water nectar.

Types of Feeders for Orioles

A simple suet basket is a great feeder because it’s very easy to drop an orange half or bunch of grapes in and hang on a tree or shepherds pole.  The glass dish type feeders we sell for feeding Bluebirds are also good options for nectar, mealworms, and fruit.  We also carry hanging fruit feeders on which the fruit is held with a spike.  As for nectar feeders I think the Aspects brand feeders are most suitable and an orange can be impaled on the hanging rod of the feeder for extra appeal.

These small dish feeders we stock are great for feeding fruit, nectar, jelly or just about anything. 

Suet feeders are great for holding fresh fruit such as apple and orange halves and grapes.

We offer this simple fruit feeder at the shop that works great for apples and oranges.

Aspects feeders are most suitable for orioles. Orange halves can be added to center stem.

There is still time to sign up for the spring birdsong workshop with Richard Connors. For more information and dates read our last blog "Spring Migration" for info. Contact Richard at Rconnorsphoto@aol.com to sign up.

Bird Bio: Mockingbirds harassing feeder birds.

northern_mockingbird_3.jpg

With each day that passes the breeding season for birds’ draws ever closer.  As of the last week of January some songbirds were already singing, like Cardinals and Chickadees.  Spring really is right around the corner and soon the habits and behaviors of birds will begin to change noticeably.

Many of you will experience our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, ramp up its territorial defense of its chosen breeding- ground.  The typically feisty Mockingbird can be seen harassing predators that encroach on its territory, like hawks and cats.  Maybe you’ve had a Mockingbird take a swipe at you when to close to their nest. 

But it also means “Mockers” may present a problem for your feeder birds.  If your feeding stations are anywhere near the intended nesting area of a Mockingbird one or both of the mating pair may fly in aggressively and make all the feeding birds scatter, over and over again.  This tends to be a very frustrating experience, more so, for the person trying to feed birds than for the birds being chased. This behavior usually persists well into the Mockingbirds first nesting in April.  When the babies hatch and the “Mockers” are feeding young they are usually too busy to chase the feeder birds away.  It will still happen but not with the frequency of earlier in the breeding season.

Suggestions:

  • Temporarily move, or spread out, your feeders. One Mockingbird cannot be in two or three places at once.  Move feeders further away or out of sight of the location they appear to be guarding.  Mockingbirds often use evergreen trees or shrubs, or dense hedges to nest in.
  • Try offering the Mockingbirds a few live mealworms a couple of times a day.  This may or may not alleviate the tension but you may gain an appreciation for the “personality” this intelligent bird displays. Be sure to offer the mealworms near the Mockingbirds’ supposed nest-site and not near the birds feeding station.  
  • When we have fed Mockingbirds on our loading dock at the store it’s been an enjoyable experience.   They nearly come to our feet and are quite tolerant of our presence. 

February is national birdfeeding month so stay tuned for more blogs througout the month. Also stop by and take advantage of our big bird feeding sale running through February.

Click Here to read more about the sale.