tn wildlife

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.    

First annual hummingbird happy hour

Art by Anne Goetze. This and many others will be available during this event! 

Art by Anne Goetze. This and many others will be available during this event! 

The Wood Thrush Shop is proud to be a sponsor of this event put together by Friends of Warner Parks and The Warner park nature center. Come celebrate the first annual Hummingbird Happy Hour. Join us on Thur. Sept 14th from 6-9pm for a beautiful evening in the Warner Parks for cocktails & hors d'oeuvres, hummingbird viewings, a Bird art/photography exhibit by Nathan Collie & Anne Goetze and live music on the patio by local well-known Jazz duet Annie Sellick & Pat Bergeson. Ticket and art sales will support the Bird Information, Research and Data (B.I.R.D) programs, keeping these programs free and available for schools, families and Park visitors.

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS!

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.

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