Monday, August 21, 2017

Lehigh Valley bird sightings for August 19

Blue Grosbeak
Here are the Lehigh Valley bird sightings for the period ended August 19. The list was compiled by Dave DeReamus, of the Eastern PA Birdline, which is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society.

Plainfield Township, Northampton County
(at the Grand Central Landfill)
Blue Grosbeak, 2 on July 31.

Green Pond, Northampton County
Black-Crowned Night-Heron, 1 on August 10.

Bethlehem Township, Northampton County
'Plegadis' Ibis, 1 flyby on August 10.

Leaser Lake, Lehigh County
Blue Grosbeak, 1 on August 6.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Heidelberg Township
(at Church and Applebutter roads)
Red-headed Woodpecker, up to 4 to at least August 16.

Bake Oven Knob, Lehigh County
Bald Eagle, 4 on August 16 and August 17.
Broad-winged Hawk, 98 on August 17.

Trexler Park, Lehigh County
Red-headed Woodpecker, 3 on August 6.

Whitehall, Lehigh County
Merlin, 1 from August 12 to August 15.

Haafsville, Lehigh County
'Plegadis' Iris 1 on August 8.
Common Gallinule, 1 from August 6 to August 8.

Wescosville, Lehigh County
(along Krocks Road)
Little Blue Heron, 1 on August 6 and 1 immature bird on August 13.

Breinigsville, Lehigh County
(at a retention pond along Nestlé Way)
Glossy Ibis, 1 on August 5, August 6 and August 8.

Merlin
Deep Creek/Knight Lake, Montgomery County
Little Blue Heron, 2 from August 4 to August 8 (immature birds).

Lake Nockamixon, Bucks County
Common Tern, 1 on August 7 (immature bird).

Peace Valley Park, Bucks County
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 1 on August 15 and August 17.
White-throated Sparrow, 1 on August 4 and August 14.

To report bird sightings to Dave DeReamus, send an e-mail to becard@rcn.com with the word "Birdline" in the subject heading.





Sunday, August 20, 2017

Questions and answers

DO BIRDS COME TO A FEEDER BECAUSE THEY SEE THE SEED OR BECAUSE THEY SMELL IT?

Most backyard birds have some sense of smell but it is poorly developed. They come to feeders because they see the seed or they see other birds feeding. Some birds are naturally inquisitive that they investigate something new, such as seed.

HOW DO I GET RID OF STARLINGS THAT OVERRUN SEED AND SUET FEEDERS?

Non-native European Starlings are a huge problem not just for us but ecologically. They take over nest cavities from woodpeckers and bluebirds, often killing nestlings and even parent birds. 

You can close the feeders down for a week or two in the hope that the starlings will move on. 

You can try using safflower seed—the white-color seed—which starlings and native grackles do not eat. 

You can use tube feeders that are protected by a cage. Smaller birds such as chickadees, titmice, wrens, finches and Downy Woodpeckers can easily get in to reach the seed but the larger starlings cannot. 

Starlings with their softer bills cannot crack striped sunflower seeds but cardinals, chickadees find the appealing.

WHEN DO GOLFINCHES CHANGE COLORS? HOW CAN YOU TELL FEMALES FROM OTHER SPECIES?

Male goldfinches already are in their bridge yellow color bodies and black and white wings. First-year males have a paler color without the black cap. Female goldfinches do not change color. They remain a general buff color with black wings and a noticeable stripe on them.

WHICH BIRDS USE BIRD HOUSES? WITHOUT A HOUSE, WHAT WILL THEY USE?

Not all backyard birds use bird houses, which are also known as nesting boxes. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, wrens, bluebirds, swallows, House Finches, Purple Martins, various woodpeckers and some owls use nesting boxes. In the absence of a house, woodpeckers will create their own cavities by pecking a hole in a tree to excavate a nesting area. Some birds will move into old woodpecker homes to build nests there.

CAN I PUT OUT DRYER LINT FOR THE BIRDS TO USE FOR NEST BUILDING?

Dryer lint used to be a recommendation but researchers have found it actually is a bid idea. Lint makes nests very unstable. Take a ball of lint and wet it. See how it shrinks? As it dries, it becomes crushed and loses its fluffy quality altogether. 

Instead you can put out dog or cat hair that has not been treated for fleas or ticks.

You can use string or yarn but make sure that the pieces are only 4 to 6 inches long so birds don't get tangled.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Providing water

Like all living creatures, birds need water. While some moisture can be extracted from food, most birds need to drink every day in summer. As we know, birds also bathe in water every day. Birds use water to clean feathers of dust and parasites. After splashing around in the water, the bird will flutter to a branch, fluff out its feathers and dry out. Then it will carefully preen each feather, adding a protective coat of oil secreted by a gland at the base of the tail.

For these reasons, a dependable source of water is attractive to most birds. In fact, you may see birds at the bath that don't eat seed and would not visit a feeder. Providing water improves your backyard habitat and provides you with great fun to watch bird behavior.

A good bird bath mimics shallow puddles. Most birds provide to bathe in water up to their thighs so look for a bath that is not too deep. Style does not mean much to the birds. They are just looking for the water. We, however, want a bath that will look good in our gardening scheme, as well as attract birds. Ideally the bath should be one that is easily cleaned. Cleaning the bath daily also discourages mosquitoes. Baths that are dirty are of no benefit to the birds.

Baths should slope gently to allow the birds to wade into the water to the depth they prefer. You can imitate a natural puddle by placing a low bath at ground level, but be wary of cats. A bath with a pedestal of a hanging bath 2 or 3 feet off the ground gives birds a fighting chance to get away. The wet bird must be able to flutter to a limb where it can preen and dry off. The bath should not be so close to shrubbery so as to conceal a crouching predator.

A good way to make the bath even more attractive to birds is to provide some sort of gentle motion on the water's surface. Water dripping or circulating in the basin watches the bird's attention. Well offer "Water Wigglers" that create motion, run on batteries and are silent, with does not disturb the birds. One battery usually lasts most of the summer.

The key to attracting large numbers of birds is to keep the bath filled with fresh water. If you are trying to make your backyard a better place for birdlife, few things are more attractive than a well-maintained bath.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summer birding

Why feed birds in summer?

There is plenty of insects. Wisdom seems to suggest that we should feed only when natural foods are scarce. But birds will visit feeders all year long. And in summer, for you the backyard birder, the rewards are great. 

Some of the best moments can occur when overworked parent birds bring their fledglings to feeders and baths. Summer is the best time to spot birds, not during the bitter cold of winter. In the summer you'll also see the most vivid plumage.

For a majority of species in the summer, natural food found in backyards is important. Seed from feeders is a supplement. During breeding season, insects are the main source of food. Numbers and diversity of caterpillars (a top food source for chickadees and warblers) decline when non-native plants replace native plants—ones that are meant as the best food for birds.

Don't forget to provide water during summer for both drinking and bathing.

Keeping feeders and baths clean during the summer is very important. Wet seed easily can become moldy in hot summer days. Mold can make birds sick. Throw out suspect seed and replace with fresh seed.

Change water in baths daily. This practice provides clean water for the birds and discourages mosquitoes from hatching.

Naturalist George H. Harrison puts it this way: "Perhaps the greatest advantage of summer bird feeding is that warmer temperatures encourage up-close feeding. Birds become accustomed to your presence and will eat and bathe only a few feet away while you enjoy the calls and songs. … To me there is no better way to enjoy a summer day."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer is feeding time

Male American Goldfinch in summer plumage
Summer can be a rewarding season for backyard birding. Here are a few tips to entice a variety of birds.

First, it is a myth that feeding birds in the summer will make them dependent on feeders and cause them to ignore natural foods. Study show that wild birds eat no more than 25 percent of their daily intake from feeders once natural food is available. Birds that migrate fly south based on changes in the reduced summer sun.

Summer is a great time to observe feeders because …

Parents of nestlings do not need to forage far from the next to find food. The nestlings are not left alone for long periods of time and therefore they are safer from predators.

Birds being raised in the backyard give us an opportunity to watch the nestlings as they mature and learn to visit feeders.

Birds are in striking or colorful breeding plumage, making it easier to identify and enjoy.

There is a greater variety of birds in our area during the summer months; by offering food only in winter, you miss seeing many species.

Hummingbirds benefit from nectar to fuel their high metabolism. Late-breeding goldfinches benefit from Nyjer seed until natural thistle, coneflower and rudbeckia go to seed later in the summer.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lehigh Valley bird sightings for July 21

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Here are the Lehigh Valley bird sightings for the week of July 21. The list was compiled by Dave DeReamus, of the Eastern PA Birdline, which is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society.

Lake Minsi, Northampton County
Pectoral Sandpiper, 1 on July 15.

Bethlehem, Northampton County
Peregrine Falcon, 2 on July 14.

Beltzville State Park, Carbon County
Common Loon, 1 to at least July 19.

Trexler Park, Lehigh County
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 1 on July 18 (immature bird).

Haafsville, Lehigh County
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 1 on July 18 and July 19 (immature bird).

Trexlertown, Lehigh County
White Ibis, 1 on July 17 (the remains of an immature bird found in a private backyard).

To report bird sightings to Dave DeReamus, send an e-mail to becard@rcn.com with the word "Birdline" in the subject heading.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

European Starling

European Starling in the summer
Who doesn't love a good challenge? Often referred to as pests, starlings seem to take over especially after fledging. We can either embrace them or try to discourage them from our feeders, baths and nesting boxes. One thing you have to say about them, starlings are extremely resourceful.

As the name suggests, European Starlings are not native to North America. In the 1890s, Shakespeare enthusiasts wanted all birds mentioned in the bard's works to be found here in the United States. They released 100 starlings in New York's Central Park. The population took off, and now the bird is found from Alaska to Mexico, and from coast to coast, to the tune of 200 million birds!

European Starlings are stocky black birds with short tales. They are covered with white spots during winter but the birds turn dark and glossy in the summer. This happens without shedding feathers. Feathers grown in the fall have bold white tips that give them their spots. By spring, these tips have worn away, and he rest of the feather is dark and iridescent brown. It's an unusual change that scientists term "wear molt."

European Starling in the winter
In flight, starlings' wings are short and pointed, making them look like small four-pointed stars, thus their name.

Starlings are found in backyards, cities or agricultural fields. The need open grassy areas in which to forage, a water source for drinking and bathing, and trees or buildings with a cavity or niche in which to build a nest.

Starlings eat insects and other invertebrates, including grasshoppers, beetles, snails, earthworms, millipedes and spiders. They also eat fruits, including cherries, holly berries, hackberries, mulberries, Virginia creeper, sumac and blackberries. Another favorite in the diet is grain, nectar, seed, livestock feed and garbage. No wonder there are 200 million starlings!

However, it appears that starlings do not like safflower seed. We switch to safflower seed on our platform feeder in summer to give other birds a chance to eat.

Starlings will eat almost anything, including suet
Male starlings build the nest using grass, pine needles, feathers, trash or string. Females finish the nest and may discard some of the material that the male selected. One to three broods are raised each year, with each consisting of three to six eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for 12 days. Chicks are helpless when they hatch. They fledge after 21 days.

Due to their relatively recent arrival in the United States, all of our starlings are closely related genetically. Birds in Virginia are indistinguishable from those found in Utah, for instance.