Red-bellied babies?

red-bellied woodpecker

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker in the platform feeder.

A pair of these medium-sized woodpeckers are taking turns at the platform feeder – which they prefer to the suet cage. I guess they would rather swing than cling.

I think they are feeding some nestlings.

red-bellied woodpecker

They are mostly eating the homemade suet dough and peanuts.

red-bellied woodpeckers

She flew off with a mouthful of suet dough and returned soon for more.

Cornell: Red-bellied Woodpeckers bring bright colors and entertaining action to bird feeders. If you live near any wooded patches, you may be able to attract them using feeders filled with suet (in winter), peanuts, and sometimes sunflower seeds. They’ve even been spotted drinking nectar from hummingbird feeders.

Sparrow: white millet

American Tree Sparrow

One of our winter sparrows, the American Tree Sparrow, with a few pearly seeds of white proso millet on its beak.

I avoid seed mixes with too much millet in them. It is inexpensive and therefore often used as filler. But undoubtedly there are birds that like and even prefer millet, like tree sparrows. I have read that birds, especially in the East, prefer white millet to red.

It might be fun to try to grow some white proso millet next summer.

Proso is a warm-season grass and is well-adapted to the warm summer temperatures. It is, however, sensitive to frost and therefore usually is planted in June. Proso has a shallow root system, but because of its short growing season, the water requirements for Proso are less than for most other crops. Nice fodder crop or to add organic matter to enrich your soil. Plant to attract birds such as indigo buntings!

It is a pretty plant:

DOVEPROSO

And when ripe…

220px-Panicum_miliaceum0

Proso is well adapted to many soil and climatic conditions; it has a short growing season, and needs little water. The water requirement of proso is probably the lowest of any major cereal. It is an excellent crop for dryland and no-till farming. Proso millet is an annual grass whose plants reach an average height of 100 cm (4 feet).

All About Birds on white proso millet…

White millet is a favorite with ground-feeding birds including quails, native American sparrows, doves, towhees, juncos, and cardinals. Unfortunately it’s also a favorite with cowbirds and other blackbirds and House Sparrows, which are already subsidized by human activities and supported at unnaturally high population levels by current agricultural practices and habitat changes. When these species are present, it’s wisest to not use millet; virtually all the birds that like it are equally attracted to black oil sunflower.

Well, we don’t have house sparrows and I don’t mind the seasonal visits of blackbirds and a couple of cowbirds. Anyway, in winter my gardens are imaginary.

Homemade peanut butter suet dough for (blue)birds

bluebird and suet dough

Eastern Bluebird arrives at the suet dough banquet table (aka porch railing). I also serve it in the dome feeder and on the platform feeder if it’s not raining.

Bird Watchers Digest: Top Ten Reasons to Love Suet Dough

10. It’s always fresh and homemade. Commercial suet blocks can be too hard for insect-eating birds like bluebirds and creepers to handle. Some have inclusions, like cracked corn, mixed seed, or whole sunflower seeds, that aren’t useful to birds. Homemade suet dough is soft, crumbly, even in texture, and just right for hungry birds to wolf down.

Here is the recipe: Help birds endure the harsh winter weather with a special treat!

Eastern Bluebird male

Birds I have watched eat the dough: bluebirds, tufted titmice, chickadees, white- and red-breasted nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, tree sparrows and juncos.

The recipe…

suet dough

Use unsalted, natural peanut butter. You can add chopped raisins or other dried fruit – but soak them in water first.

Chick starter in a 7 lb bag is $12.95 at Amazon: Manna Pro Chick Starter Non Medicated

Why include Chick Starter, the only ingredient not available at the grocery store? To add calcium and protein and avoid diseases that can occur from devouring too much bird dough without the added nutrition. Read more… Julie Zickefoose’s blog post: Zick Dough, Improved.

Tree sparrows don’t actually spend much time in trees

american tree sparrow

Forget the name, American Tree Sparrows prefer the ground. Porch railings will do just fine too.

They forage on the ground, nest on the ground, and breed primarily in scrubby areas at or above the treeline.

They reminded European settlers of Eurasian Tree Sparrows, hence the name. They are winter visitors here and return to northern Canada in summer. We have been seeing one or two at once on most days and occasionally more.

American Tree Sparrows need to take in about 30 percent of their body weight in food and a similar percentage in water each day. A full day’s fasting is usually a death sentence. Their body temperature drops and they lose nearly a fifth of their weight in that short time.

Don’t worry, little birdies, we won’t let you down!

And what do tree sparrows like to eat? According to Project Feederwatch

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 6.15.01 PM

Feed the birds.

Black oil sunflower seeds

Nom nom nom.

Shot through the window glass last Saturday, while it snowed. Music is a Pandora holiday mix playing on the kitchen counter next to me.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Choosing Bird Seed

The seed that attracts the widest variety of birds, and so the best choice to offer, is sunflower.

Cardinals love it, for sure. This one is picking mostly sunflower seeds out of the bird food blend. (Dodge’s Supreme Wild Bird Food: black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, white millet, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts and granite grit, from Dodge’s Agway in Hampton Falls.)

cardinal

Bird Watcher’s Digest: Top 10 Foods for Winter Bird Feeding

Black-oil sunflower seed. Bird feeding in North America took a major leap forward when black-oil sunflower became widely available in the early 1980s. Why do birds prefer it? The outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed is thinner and easier to crack. The kernel inside the shell is larger than the kernel inside a white-or gray-striped sunflower seed, so birds get more food per seed from black-oil. This last fact also makes black-oil a better value for you, the seed buyer.

And…

Good mixed seed. Is there such a thing as BAD mixed seed? You bet! Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in it—junk seeds that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat. Good mixed seed has a large amount of sunflower seed, cracked corn, white proso millet, and perhaps some peanut hearts. The really cheap bags of mixed seed sold at grocery stores can contain the least useful seeds. Smart feeder operators buy mixed seed from a specialty bird store or a hardware/feed store operation. You can even buy the ingredients separately and create your own specialty mix.

This might be fun next spring…

Sunflower seeds are the easiest type of birdseed to grow. You can plant seeds directly from your birdseed supply or purchase different varieties of sunflower seeds from nurseries and gardening centers.

We usually plant a few special varieties in our garden (see chickadees on sunflower heads), but why not just dedicate a part of our back field to some bird food sunflower seeds from Agway?

Peanut butter suet dough for birds in cold weather

predough

Ingredients. And in mere minutes…

dough

Homemade suet dough for the birdies. A special treat when the temperature drops.

The recipe is from Julie Zickefoose, natural history writer and artist, via her bird-centric blog.

NEW ZICK DOUGH: SMALL BATCH

Melt in the microwave and stir together:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup lard

In a large mixing bowl, combine
2 cups chick starter
2 cups quick oats
1 cup yellow cornmeal and
1 cup flour

Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well.

I made half a batch this morning. Smells pretty good and the dog thinks so too. He thought I was making dog cookies.

titmouse dough

Here is a titmouse pecking away at a lump of it.

It’s better to crumble it a bit more, which I usually do. Easier for small birds and also then bluejays won’t carry off a big nugget of it to stash and horde in their secret bluejay dragon lairs.

I put some in the bluebird bell feeder too, and on the tray feeder. Popular with titmice, chickadees, bluebirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows and cardinals.

I store it in the refrigerator.

All ingredients are available from the grocery store except (unmedicated) chick starter. But it’s important to search it out at a feed store (or order it on Amazon like I did – F.M. Brown’s Encore Natural Chick Starter) to include high quality protein, nutrients and calcium. According to Zickefoose:

Chick starter is an extruded pellet that crumbles easily. It’s formulated to encourage growth and strong bones in young domestic chicks, kind of like puppy chow for birds. It’s got a lot more nutritional oomph than yellow cornmeal, oats, peanut butter or lard.

Tonight: snow and sleet on the way.

Update next morning…

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker nibbles some dough in the cold rain.

Attracting birds with meat

bluebird

Eastern Bluebird eating… cooked crumbled sausage.

Home from Thanksgiving, I was making a shopping list and cleaning out the refrigerator. I had some sausage leftover from quiche-making last Monday. I tossed it onto the feeder tray and voila! .. instant bluebird attractant.

bluebird chickadee

Chickadee also checking it out.

Suet and Other Foods, Birding Basics: Animal fat is easily digested and metabolized by many birds; it’s a high-energy food, especially valuable in cold weather.

Lots of birds at our feeders since I refilled them after our little holiday snowstorm. And these birds attract attention…

accipiter

A hawk took a run through the backyard, landed on a branch, then flew back across the yard with me standing there on the deck trying to snap a few photos. It did not seem afraid of me.

SONY DSC

It landed on a maple branch nearby, probably pissed off.

I am pretty sure it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They are hard to tell from Cooper’s Hawks, but this was more the size of a bluejay than a crow and had a shorter neck and more of a hunched, hooded look.

It was 13 degrees this morning and 4 to 6 inches of crusty snow blankets the earth.

SONY DSC

The cat perched like a hawk on her cat tower, watching birds.

Ask a Naturalist: Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk?

Project Feederwatch: Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk

Nuts for birds

Blue Jay

Got peanuts?

Four or five Blue Jays have been visiting a few times a day, carrying off every peanut they can find. I watched one big jay wolf down 11 peanuts then fly off!

I thought wow, I guess they have a lot of babies to feed this year.

Or… are they taking and hoarding the peanuts, depriving other peanut-loving birds of a favorite food? Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, grackles, catbirds, pine warblers losing? Blue Jays winning?

According to an article in Audubon Magazine, Slings and Arrows: Why Birders Love to Hate Blue Jays, these bold blue relatives of crows and ravens cache nuts like acorns and beechnuts.

The foraging blue jays, she explained, held an acorn with their feet and hammered the nut’s cap with a closed bill until it came loose. The birds then used their lower mandibles to pry the cap off and either hammered the acorn open and ate it or swallowed the nut whole for caching. The expandable throat and esophagus of a blue jay can hold up to five pin oak acorns or three larger ones from white oaks, and the bird typically collects one more nut in its bill before departing.

Arriving at its cache site, the blue jays usually regurgitated their acorn haul in a pile, then dropped the nuts one at a time within a few yards of each other, covering them with leaf litter.

Blue Jay

Who, me?

From All About Birds

Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

So, my purchased peanuts are part of the little dragon-treasure hoards of our resident Blue Jays!