middle tn birds

Spring Notes

With spring almost here there is so much to anticipate happening with regard to birds.  Many of our year round resident songbirds have begun courtship.  Currently there’s a lot of singing and territorial squabbles going on.  We’ve had some reports of the always eager Carolina Wrens building nests.  If you haven’t seen any Bluebird activity at your nest boxes yet don’t despair, there’s still plenty of time.  Although some Bluebirds will start nesting in March the majority of Bluebirds tend to begin actual nesting closer to mid-April.  Other cavity nesters like Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Nuthatches, and Tufted titmice tend to start a little earlier.  Make sure you’ve done some maintenance on your nestboxes and cleaned out old debris from last year’s nests.  The old nest debris can attract insects, like ants, that can be a major problem for baby birds. 

Much More on Bluebirds Coming in the Weeks to Follow…

Male Bluebird. Photo by Eli.

Photo by Eli.

Migration is not in full swing yet, however, any day now Purple Martins and other members of the Swallow family will be moving into and through TN.  Tree Swallows, Rough-winged Swallows, Barn and Cliff Swallows are among the earlier migrants to return.  Every day birds from Central and South America are moving closer to middle TN.  By the last week of March and first week of April the first hummingbirds of the year will begin arriving or passing though on the way to their summer breeding destination. That’s right! The first Ruby-throated hummingbirds to arrive are just about 5 weeks away. For birdwatchers this is a most exciting time. Warblers, Vireos, Tanagers, Indigo buntings, Orioles, and Flycatchers will soon be pouring into and through middle TN.

Tree Swallow.

White-eyed Vireo. Photo by Eli.

Look for Rose-breasted grosbeaks and Indigo buntings to start arriving at seed feeders around mid-April through mid-May.  Rose-breasted grosbeaks especially like platform feeders but will manage very well on tube type feeders, too.  They really like sunflower and safflower.  Indigo Buntings also like a variety of seeds but seem to prefer feeding on the ground.  Keep the suet feeders going and you will be amazed by the increase in suet consumption well into the spring.  Woodpeckers take great advantage of the suet while they are nesting.  Raising young is high energy work and the suet is an easy high energy food source.  I typically see suet consumption double at my house during the spring and early summer months.

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Indigo Bunting. Photo by Eli.

Get your feeders cleaned up and your binoculars ready. Clean feeders are very important in reducing the chances of avian disease like avian conjunctivitis which is very common among the finch population.  A good cleaning with warm soap and water or a mild bleach solution is recommended.  Speaking of finches, have your Goldfinches suddenly disappeared? Or suddenly appeared?  Are you seeing them beginning to change to their spring-summer plumage?  Goldfinch numbers at your feeders can change daily during the early spring as there is a lot of movement among flocks. Don’t be surprised or think you’ve done something wrong if you don’t see finches for a few weeks.  This is normal spring activity for Goldfinches. 

Bird Bio: Brown Creeper

I recently had the pleasure of spotting one of my favorite, but seldom seen, birds of winter, the Brown creeper.  It is not a rare bird to be seen but elusive for sure.  Every winter I get a few glimpses of a Brown creeper heading up the trunk of a tree where I have a suet feeder.  This is the only species that we have that only goes up a tree and never down.  It has an unusual way of foraging for food by creeping up a tree and then dropping down to the base of another tree and spiraling up. It’s very interesting to watch.  It’s found as an uncommon winter resident statewide October to April.  Brown creepers are very small and slim, and quite well camouflaged keeping to trunks of trees.  They are brown above and whitish below, with a slender de-curved (downward curve) bill.  Like a Carolina wren they have a prominent white eye stripe.  Brown creepers are primarily insect eaters but suet seems to be its preferred food at feeders, probably because it is found often on trunks of trees. So, next time we have a little inclement winter weather, that’s when they seem to appear, watch your suet feeder a little more closely. Look for this interesting and elusive little bird.

AND…check out the video I recently took of a Pileated woodpecker taking advantage of a water fountain in my yard.  It’s always a treat to see this bird and observe its interesting habits and behaviors, not to mention its stunning plumage, but it was especially nice to see it drinking.  I had never caught one using one of my water sources before. 

The Fall Slowdown

Have you noticed a lack of bird activity at your feeders in the last few weeks? It’s not anything you’ve done wrong and there is nothing wrong with the seed, it’s the seasonal transition that makes birds scarce at feeders. 
This time of year many of you will notice an abrupt and sometimes dramatic slowdown at your feeders.  You may even notice some species become practically non-existent.  Bird feeders in September and October are typically very quiet. This is normal and understandable.  With thebreeding season well behind them birds are now in less need of a quick, easy food source like your feeders.  While raising their young during the months March through July birds expend great energy and will take full advantage of backyard feeders.  We sell far more seed and suet during those months than we do even in winter.
Let’s not forget that the food birds get at your feeders is really only a supplement to their natural diet.  They do not become dependent on feeders.  Their frequency of visits to feeders is based largely on what is going on at that time in their life-cycle, seasonally and environmentally.  Your feeders are slow at this time of year because the breeding season is over and adults are not raising and feeding young, and practically all plants; weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, are producing seeds, nuts, and fruit.  Birds are taking advantage of the bounty nature is providing them.  Nature provides all this food in the fall to help wildlife get through the winter.  They are busily feeding and storing food for the months to come.  Will this be a tough winter? The birds likely know.
So don’t worry that you are not seeing many birds around the feeders right now.  It is totally normal. About the time we get the first frost or two you will begin to see a return of your favorite birds to feeders.  And be on the lookout for our winter birds like Purple finch, Pine siskin, Red-breasted nuthatch, and White-throated sparrow.
Although there are fewer everyday hummingbirds are still being seen.  Keep at least one feeder going and keep the nectar fresh.  

Bird Bio: Chimney Swifts & Common Nighthawks

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

This time of year some of the more interesting bird movements to look for are those of the Chimney Swift andCommon Nighthhawk.  In the evenings, about an hour before sundown, look to the sky for small, dark birds gathering in flight.  Their numbers will grow and as they amass they will begin to form a funnel, circling round and round as they eventually begin to descend.  They are in the act of settling into a roosting sight for the night.  I have seen this occur many times in downtown Nashville. Chimney Swifts are a ”cigar-shaped” bird with a short stubby tail, and measure about 5 ¼” in length. They are sooty gray to dark gray with long wings that come to a point.  Chimney Swifts nest in chimneys, barns, old buildings, and hollow trees and are a common summer resident.  You may have noticed them in constant flight over your home with their distinguishable twittering sound. It would be rare to see one below building height.

We are always amazed with the migration of hummingbirds, but these birds will summer as far north as southern Canada, and return to their winter grounds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. That’s an amazing journey indeed.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

The Common Nighthawk is another interesting bird to be on the lookout for while you are enjoying fall evenings in a well-lit park or perhaps attending a high school or college sporting event.  Pay attention to the large lights around the sports fields.  Common Nighthawks make great use of these lights as they swoop and dive for the insects that gather.  The Common Nighthawk is a member of the Goatsucker family, a small family of birds known for their wide mouths and night-time activities.

Common Nighthawks are about 10 inches in length with long pointed wings, and a slightly forked tail.  While in flight the prominent white wing bars are easily seen.  Its colors range from dark brown to gray with underparts whitish and barred.  Males have a white throat.  Listen for its characteristic “peent” call.  During fall migration large flocks of up to several thousand have been seen.