Winter Bird Feeding

A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds. Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds.
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
Most people enjoy watching birds, except for their occasional deposits on cars or windows. In an earlier program, I mentioned at least fifteen benefits that birds provide to humans and planet Earth. But as human population and developments increase, the survival of many bird species becomes threatened. Now, as winter approaches, colder weather and lack of food adds to the life-threatening dilemmas birds face. Some birds migrate to warmer habitats, but for those that stay in the northern regions a helping-hand from humans is no doubt appreciated.

Presenting “gifts” of birdfeeders and seeds to others (and your own family) will help songbirds and fowls to survive so they can provide their songs and beauty in the Spring. Consider these tips:

  • Buy large birdfeeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. Wet seed can grow harmful bacteria, so use feeders with wide covers.
  • If deer, or other pests, invade your feeders, hang them up higher in trees.
  • Place feeders 10’ away from dense cover to prevent sneak attacks from cats.
  • Provide multiple feeders to increase amounts and diversity of foods.
  • “Favorite” winter foods depends on the species. Black Oil sunflower seeds are loved by most birds, but niger, millet, peanuts, corn, and wheat will attract a diverse range of birds. Experiment and see what comes to your feeders.
  • A combination of beef-fat, with seeds or fruit, is called suet. It is a high-energy food which helps birds stay warm. The 4” cakes are placed in small cages and are loved by flickers, woodpeckers and many other birds. Peanut butter is also relished by birds, but is more expensive than suet.
  • Once birds find your feeders, they will rely on them for regular food supplies. If your feeders become empty, especially during ice storms or blizzards, birds will have a hard time finding natural food. If you take a trip, have a neighbor keep your feeders filled.
  • Buy extra seed and store it in a cool, dry place like a covered plastic trash can which can be kept on a deck, porch, or in a garage.
  • Make sure the feeders are kept clean with hot water, and then dried, about once a month.
  • Some birds, like juncos, towhees, doves and pheasants prefer eating seed which has fallen to the ground. Compact the snow below your feeders so they can find that seed easier.
  • Unless you live near a natural water source, place a pan of water near a feeder on warmer days. Or you could consider a heated bird bath to provide drinking water.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, leave some of the fruit on the plants to provide natural foods.
  • You may wish to leave birdhouses and nest-boxes up all year for winter roosting sites.
  • Now the fun part comes. After your feeders have been discovered by some birds, word soon gets around the neighborhood and others will arrive. But do you know what they are? The Peterson Field Guidebooks are a great help for beginners because the illustrations are often grouped by color. Then you can become a citizen-scientist and submit your observations to Cornell’s Project Feederwatch or participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count each December. Look online for details.

    Time to get started with your own feeders, or as gifts to others, and begin enjoying the colorful company of finches, woodpeckers, towhees, juncos, sparrows, doves and many others.

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Feed the Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Dec 1, 2011, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010, http://www.audubon.org/magazine/november-december-2010/audubon-guide-winter-bird-feeding

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/songbird-conservation.php

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/articles/backyard-bird-feeding-resources/

    Farewell Autumn

    Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
    Cache Valley Autumn Colors
    Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
    Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

    Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

    Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

    In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

    Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

    The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

    In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

    On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

    Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

    The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

    It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
    So would I—if I were the wind.

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-colors/

    Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/red-leaves-in-autumn-whats-in-it-for-the-tree/

    Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-leaf-color-change/

    Autumn Migrations

    Autumn Migration: Redhead Ducks Courtesy US FWS Nate Rathbun, Photographer
    Redhead Ducks
    Courtesy US FWS
    Nate Rathbun, Photographer
    Here comes Autumn, especially noticed in the northern parts of Utah: the colors, the cool air, the absence of many insects, the falling leaves, and the occasional dusting of snow in the mountains.

    In these weather-changing conditions, wildlife species have four options: adapt to colder weather, migrate to better conditions, hibernate…or die. Today, we’ll consider migration.

    As recorded by the National Geographic Society, Entomology Professor Emeritus, Hugh Dingle, mentions five basic characteristics of migration:

    Prolonged movements that carry animals outside familiar habitats.

    1. They tend to be linear, not zig-zag patterns.
    2. They involve special behaviors of preparation and arrival (such as overfeeding).
    3. They demand special allocations of energy.
    4. They maintain attention to the greater mission. Meaning they are undistracted by temptations, and undeterred by challenges, that would turn other animals aside.
    5. They feel they can eat, rest, or mate later.

    The entire migration movement involves body shape, physical processes, and genetics of each species.

    For ten years, scientists have been documenting one of the largest aerial mass migrations on earth. According to Science Magazine, three and one half trillion insects were recorded on radar traveling from southern England to Africa and back. They represented 3,200 tons of biomass (living tissues), which was more than seven times that of the thirty million songbirds that make that same annual flight.

    Movements don’t have to be monumental to be considered migratory. For instance, some consider the daily changes in depth of ocean zooplankton to be a form of migration. They spend the day near the surface benefiting from the food provided by sunlight, then sink to darker depths at night to hide.

    Some rattlesnakes in Western Canada are also considered migratory as they have been tracked to relocate anywhere from 5 to 33 miles each year. This movement is spurred by cold temperatures which reduce food, and a scarcity of good den sites below the earth’s surface, which must be warm enough and at times capable of holding up to 1,000 snakes. In contrast, Arizona rattlers travel far less because they don’t require that need.

    Pronghorns, which are not really antelopes, travel far and fast, around 60 miles per hour. One group travels hundreds of miles from north-central Montana up into Alberta for breeding in the Spring. Another group of nearly 20,000 goes from Grand Teton National park south to the sagebrush plains near Pinedale, Wyoming for the winter. The routes of both groups do not vary, which can be hazardous if they are blocked by snows.

    Biodiversity of ecosystems and processes, which enable each species to survive, is critical. But Conservation scientists also try to preserve migrational behaviors.

    Monarchs in Mexico Courtesy FWS Pablo Leutaud, Photographer Licensed under Creative Commons
    Monarchs in Mexico
    Courtesy FWS
    Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
    Licensed under Creative Commons
    No doubt, there are fragile creatures which travel south to avoid cold temperatures as well as lack of food. The Monarch butterfly comes to mind. The disappearance of flowers, and freezing cold would spell doom for them in northern climates. So they embark on a 3,000 mile journey to Mexico, or southern California. Let’s consider some other long-distance, roundtrip travelers:
    *Salmon and Caribou also migrate 3,000 miles.
    *Dragonflies will go 10,000 miles.
    *Leatherback turtles swim 12,000 miles.
    *Elephant seals and Humpback whales swim over 13,000 miles.
    *For birds, Northern Wheatears and Pectoral Sandpipers fly 18,000 miles.
    *Sooty Shearwaters fly from the Falkland Islands to Arctic waters, a roundtrip of 40,000 miles.
    *The champion distance migrant, the Arctic Tern, flies 44,000 miles from the Arctic north of Greenland to Antarctica every year!
    *And the longest nonstop flight goes to the Bar-Tailed Godwit at over 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in nine consecutive days!

    An entire program could also be dedicated to human migrations including various Native American tribes, the Nenets who herd reindeer 400 miles in the Russian Yamal Peninsula, and the ancient people who crossed the Bering Strait to settle in the Americas.

    As we close this session of Fall migrations, consider the words of George Eliot who wrote
    the following in 1841: “Delicious Autumn. My very soul is wedded to it. And if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive Autumns.”

    This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


    Credits:

    Images: Readhead Ducks, Courtesy US FWS, Nate Rathbun, Photographer; Monarchs in Mexico, Courtesy US FWS but licensed under Creative Commons, Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
    Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/monarchpopulation2016.html

    https://www.fws.gov/radar/migration/index.html

    http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1290

    Canary in the Cornfield: Why the Fuss about Monarchs?

    https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/snake-migration/

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060808-bird-migration.html

    Majestic Yosemite

    Majestic Yosemite: Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir standing on rock at Glacier Point, Yosemite, May 1903; Yosemite Falls and cliffs of Yosemite Valley in distance. [RL012904] Courtesy US NPS
    Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir standing on rock at Glacier Point, Yosemite, May 1903; Yosemite Falls and cliffs of Yosemite Valley in distance. [RL012904] Courtesy US NPS
    It is the place where the Great Spirit stood when He made the entire Earth. So said the resident Ahwahneechee Native Americans and, aesthetically speaking, few who have witnessed sunrise from the misty meadows of the Yosemite Valley will contend against their point of view.

    It is one of the rare places where the onlooker can pivot in full-circle to take potential calendar photos exposed at every compass point. To the north cascades Yosemite Falls, fifth highest on the planet. Looking Eastward the signature logo of Yosemite National Park, Half-Dome, rises upward to meet the morning sun. To the south, magnificent Glacier Point captivates wide eyes and causes mouths to open in silent wonder. Gazing west, the ever-changing Merced River’s placid sheen soon reflects the grandeur of El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world.

    Linking with Utah’s “Mighty Five National Parks” and Yellowstone as premier displays of American scenery, Yosemite lies at the far western point of that great triangle of unsurpassed natural western beauty. Each park is unique in its own way, but produces the same hypnotic responses in visitors whether surrounded by mountains of granite, sandstone canyons, or geothermal wonders.

    Lafayette Bunnell, the army doctor credited with naming the valley, described his feelings as being one of the first white men to ever witness Yosemite.
    “…suddenly we came in view of the valley of the Yosemite. The grandeur of the scene was softened by haze over the valley, light as gossamer, and by vapory clouds on the high cliffs. My astonishment was overpowering, and my eyes welled up with tears as I sensed my own inferiority. Here, before me, was the power and the glory of the Supreme Being. This seemed God’s holiest Temple where were assembled all that was most divine in material creation.”

    A Morning Council on the Merced Group of about twenty-six Native Americans seated and standing beside a cedar bark structure, near the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1872. (Title as printed on stereograph A Morning Concert on the Merced is in error.) [RL014217] Photo Courtesy US National Park Service
    A Morning Council on the Merced
    Group of about twenty-six Native Americans seated and standing beside a cedar bark structure, near the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1872. (Title as printed on stereograph A Morning Concert on the Merced is in error.) [RL014217]
    Photo Courtesy US National Park Service
    Chief Tenaya, however, was devastated as his villages were torched, and he mourned, “When I am dead I will call to my people to come to you, that they shall hear me in their sleep. I will follow in your footsteps. I will not leave my home, but be with the spirits among the rocks, the waterfalls, the rivers, and in the winds. Wherever you go, I will be with you.”

    Naturalist John Muir wrote about the place he called The Range of Light. The Sierras, 400 miles long and 80 miles wide of granitic wonder, also inspired him to advise, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
    Another of his quotes inspired six of us to hike to the top of Half Dome. “Climb the mountains and get their glad tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves.”

    Although the trek is an arduous 16 miles with a 5,000 foot elevation gain, Muir was accurate. Climbing past thunderous Vernal and Nevada Falls, striding through heavily-scented coniferous forests and reaching the base of the Dome produced sensory overload with every step. Yet, dangers are evident. Signs along the way read simply: “If you fall, you will die.”

    The sight of Half Dome’s crest from the bottom of the cable route can be intimidating. One third of the hikers reaching that point refuse the final 400-foot ascent and retreat to the valley floor. Determined to succeed, we pulled our way up the steel cables to the top where the view exceeded our anticipation. Lush green meadows below were garnished with silver threads of water, imposing granite peaks were embellished with emerald forests, swallows were jetting upward on thermal winds, and the sky was so blue one could scoop it into a bowl.

    Bunnell, Tenaya, and Muir were correct. Nature has a way of providing even more than we seek.

    This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy US National Park Service Archives, Yosemite National Park
    Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Yosemite National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm