Daily Archives: June 30, 2014

At last, a sparrow


I’m not very good with sparrows, but I’m pretty sure this is a Chipping Sparrow. It’s nibbling some Agway blended bird seed from a tube feeder.

A crisp, pretty sparrow whose bright rufous cap both provides a splash of color and makes adults fairly easy to identify.


In 1929, Edward Forbush called the Chipping Sparrow “the little brown-capped pensioner of the dooryard and lawn, that comes about farmhouse doors to glean crumbs shaken from the tablecloth by thrifty housewives.”

Actually, the female has a white throat

female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The name really only applies to the male of the species. The female has a creamy white throat and belly.

They are amazing little animals.

As part of their spring migration, portions of the population fly from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico across the Gulf of Mexico, arriving first in Florida and Louisiana. This feat is impressive, as a 800 km (500 mi), non-stop flight over water would seemingly require a caloric energy that far exceeds an adult hummingbird’s body weight of 3 g (0.11 oz). However, researchers discovered the tiny birds can double their fat mass to approximately one gram in preparation for their Gulf crossing, then expend the entire calorie reserve from fat during the 20 hour non-stop crossing when food and water are unavailable.

Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1260 beats per minute, breathing rate of about 250 breaths per minute even at rest, and oxygen consumption of about 4 ml oxygen/g/hour at rest. During flight, hummingbird oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue is approximately 10 times higher than that seen for elite human athletes.

They feed frequently while active during the day. When temperatures drop, particularly on cold nights, they may conserve energy by entering hypothermic torpor.


Muscles make up 25–30% of their body weight, and they have long, blade-like wings that, unlike the wings of other birds, connect to the body only from the shoulder joint. This adaptation allows the wing to rotate almost 180°, enabling the bird to fly not only forward but fly backward, and to hover in front of flowers as it feeds on nectar or hovers mid-air to catch tiny insects. Hummingbirds are the only known birds that can fly backward.

During hovering, (and likely other modes of flight) ruby-throated hummingbird wings beat 55 times per second.

Mealworms for bluebirds

nestling bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird nestlings, Day 12.

We won’t look in the nest box anymore because now they are feathered and we don’t want to surprise them into flying before they are ready, in about a week. Although they do look pretty relaxed in this photo.

blue dad

Here is the bluebird dad looking for a perfect peanut in the bird food mix I tossed into a ceramic bowl and left on the porch railing.

He is a lively fellow. After a good feeding, and when he has helped mom bluebird feed the babies, he enjoys dive bombing squirrels and bluejays.

Young Eastern Bluebird

Here is one of the two fledglings from the first brood that still come around.

They and their parents and their little brothers and sisters have been thriving on backyard bugs, plus peanuts, suet, dried fruits, and their favorite food of all: live mealworms.


Mealworms are the larvae of darkling beetles.

When I ordered these online they arrived in a box marked “Live Animals.” I stowed them in the refrigerator overnight (cold slows them down), then gently shook them out of their tasty newspaper and sawdust food/bed onto a baking sheet, then pushed them into the plastic container I have marked “Worms.”

I keep them in the fridge and they go kind of dormant – until feeding time when I put them outside in the bluebird feeder and they warm up and start wriggling irresistibly.


Okay, maybe it’s a little weird to order live mealworms to feed the birds. But how can I resist this little charmer?

Info from sialis.org, Feeding Mealworms to Bluebirds

It’s possible (though not proven) that baby bluebirds fed mealworms fledge earlier, are healthier, and have a higher survival rate when receiving a steady diet of mealworms for the first two weeks after hatching. Adults also need extra food during the breeding season due to increased exposure and the energy drain associated with feeding young. 


Storing Mealworms: As long as the worms are at least 1″ from the container, and the sides are vertical and slippery (glass or plastic), they won’t get out. Store the worms in the refrigerator, where they go somewhat dormant and will last for several months. If your family is too grossed out by the concept, you can keep them in a small dorm-sized refrigerator. If you store them outside of the refrigerator, don’t put them in too small of a container as they will overheat and die. Also, if the weather is warm, they will pupate and turn into beetles.