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Reasonably priced gifts for your backyard birders?

Christmas shopping for birdersLooking for some reasonably priced gifts for your backyard birders?

Whether they have been naughty or nice, backyard birders, like anyone else, think they deserve at least one expensive gift, whether it’s during the Holidays or on any other special occasion.

Starting at the top of the Extravagance List yet providing excellent value is a Birding Trip.  Birding trips allow the birder to visit exotic locations to be shown birds they have only dreamed of seeing.  Locations on any birder’s list include San Padre Island in Texas, or further afield to Mongolia, Costa Rica, Belize or Peru.  Birding trips in the US or overseas are run by private tour groups and conservation organizations.  Some of the best trips (based on destination, accommodation and leadership) are put on by the Massachusetts Audubon Society (www.massaudubon.org).

Next on the list is Optics.  A budget of over $1,000 but under $5,000 will buy a first glass pair of binoculars or a telescope.  Expensive, comfortable and well balanced binoculars with 8 to 10 times magnification and a superb set of lenses will bring a life time of excitement for a birder.  Similarly, a world class telescope with most importantly, a world class sturdy but lightweight tripod is essential to any birder’s tools for viewing birds that in large open areas such as on water or in prairies.

If the backyard birder lives in an area known for purple martins, in other words, near a body of water and near open fields, then an elaborate purple martin nesting system makes a great gift.  A suitable set up includes a purple martin house, a mounting pole and accessories for lifting and raising the box, cleaning the houses and ensuring their stability under harsh climatic conditions.

Lastly, a handsome gift certificate to The Bird Shed would be very well received, especially in this house!

Christmas Bird Count

Christmas shopping for birdersChristmas Bird Count

Last Saturday, my Christmas Bird Count team helped maintain the century old tradition of counting and not shooting the wintering birds in a small area of Eastern Massachusetts. Three of us welcomed a fourth, Jim, an eager novice with a short but impressive life list (including Harlequin Duck and Northern Gannet), sporting a nice pair of new binoculars and bringing a voracious appetite for sightings, facts and lore.

We were in the field from 6:30 AM until 2:30 PM on what will stand out as one of the few counts done under ideal weather conditions – almost no wind, only a few degrees below zero, and no snow under foot.

Dressed for the cold and with coffees in hand we steamed up the inside of the old F-150 and set off in search of pockets of open water and large open spaces. We gave up on owl prowls many years ago, the distant owls’ “Whooo’s awakes?” and “Whooo cooks for yuooos?” having become increasingly inaudible under the truck tire noise echoing off I-495.

We lamented over the falling numbers of black birds of all types, but were startled by the abundance of Blue Jays, the latter having apparently enjoyed the bounty of two consecutive years of heavy acorn harvesting.

However, on the bright side, our excitement was piqued to levels of breathless awe several times that day.

While approaching a particularly large lake reliable for scoping out the usual ducks, Canada Geese and Mute Swans, we all immediately noticed a large bird on the ice observing a tiny raft of Ring-Necked Ducks fussing around in a tiny pool of open water. As the bird lifted and soared, so did our hearts when we realized it was a Bald Eagle, our first ever on a CBC.

Later, proving that attention to detail is vital, we all rejoiced over a Snow Goose maintaining its chevron with 24 Canada Geese. The perfect response to this unusual sight came from our new birder, who asked us long-in-the-tooth birders “Why is it with the Canada Geese and not with its own kind?” We stumbled around a few behavioral ideas, but in reality, and the one reason why we love nature – we will never know what traumatic event happened in the past to force that Snow Goose to flock with the Canada Geese.

CBC Stats for our team: 41 species, 600 birds, 8 hours, 2 by car and 6 by foot.

If you have comments or would like to share your CBC anecdotes, please let us know.

BTW – No matter what religious denomination you are, get out there and count em up for the Holidays!

Check out this Tsunami of Geese!

Check out this Tsunami of Geese!

- Enjoy!

The Bird Shed!

Ideal Gifts to Encourage Young Birders

Christmas shopping for birdersIdeal Gifts to Encourage Young Birders

Although computers will greatly enhance a child’s appreciation for nature, actually observing and participating in nature is the best classroom and playground.

Ideal gifts for young birders and children will captivate the imagination and help develop an appreciation for all things wild.  Inexpensive bird feeders hung close to the house will bring in birds that can be seen and enjoyed from the comfort of a warm room in the winter.  A bird house mounted on a fence or tree in a safe but visible spot will be watched closely in the spring as parents fly back and forth first with nesting material and then with food for the babies.

The most impactful bird feeder for children is a window mounted feeder that fits in the window.  The feeder is a box that rests securely on the window sill and which has a one-way mirror on the inside wall enabling the birds to feed peacefully while wide-eyed children, and adults, peer at them through the one-way mirror.  They can be filled and cleaned without leaving the house.  The variety of birds is dependent upon the types of food, but kitchen scraps, sunflower seed and mixed seeds will bring in a nice array of birds, and best of all, bring them up close for the entire family to enjoy together.

Other feeders will also provide year ‘round enjoyment if mounted close to windows, such as the always popular hummingbird feeders that brings in the jewel like marvels of nature that move quickly, hover, and unlike any other bird, can fly backwards.

Children will eagerly await activity at a recently mounted nesting box.  Nesting boxes become active in the early spring when males are looking for suitable roosting sites with which to entice a mate.  The pair will fly back and forth with nesting material and then be seen working tirelessly in the warm weather carrying food to the babies.  The lucky child may even see the clumsy down covered fledglings after they leave the nest, continuing to be fed by the parents and taught the miracle of flight.

Looking for Decorative Gifts for Non-Birders?

Christmas shopping for birdersLooking for Decorative Gifts for Non-Birders

Many birders share their backyard with non-birders, people who enjoy the birds but who are not so keen on feeding them and maintaining housing for them.

Fortunately there is an abundance of great backyard gift ideas for non-birders.  Examples of items that can enhance the backyard or porch include a wide range of windchimes, flags, bird housesdecorative bird baths and interesting novelty items such as bat houses and squirrel feeders.

A windchime placed in a breezy part of the backyard will provide a pleasant sound that will inspire or calm the listener.  Made of a wide variety of materials, the windchimes can make a bubbling tinkling sound or a series of deep resonant booms.  Chimes comprise bells, gongs and most commonly hanging tubes and they can be large or small.

Flags also remind us that the air is in constant motion.  Flags depicting colorful natural images will enhance a backyard, particularly during the drab winter months.

Bird baths are a common sculpture enjoyed by most gardeners and they have the added advantage of being functional.

Accommodating to the needs of creatures other than birds can be fun and rewarding.  The bat houses provide ideal shelter for the bats during the day.  The bats themselves will stay busy all night feeding on pesky flying insects.  The squirrels are present in most backyards, often dining on expensive bird food.  Catering to their tastes directly can help divert them from the feeders and at the same time provide some year around entertainment.

Owl Prowling with the Bird Shed

Bird ShedHere is an adventure in Owl Prowling with the folks from the Bird Shed!

Saturday night just a mile from shore in Eastern Massachusetts was cold and windy, but that did not deter parents and children from participating in an Owl Prowl at a wildlife sanctuary that boasts vast open spaces of marsh and field, ideal habitat for Short-eared Owls.

A word of caution to trip leaders – have a back-up plan!  Twice now I have taken these folks Owl Prowling only to have them go home cold, owl-less but soundly entertained.

As before, on Veteran’s Day, we watched the harriers at dusk wrapping up their day’s hunting, and opening up the fields to the Short-eared Owls who swoop in to fill that otherwise empty niche.  Even in poor light it is easy to see the difference in the birds as the former fly with precision, low and purposeful, whereas the owls are fluttering around like kites on a tight string, still making their mark, but in a much more conspicuous manner.  Unfortunately for me, I have not been able to show these frigid weather enthusiasts a living example.

Still, they loved the Eastern Bluebirds, the roaming deer, the fox, and the hard to see American Woodcock.  The highlight of the trip this weekend though was the Moon rising like an orange carnival tent, filling the telescope with its brilliance and filling the young boys with a sense of awe.   Within a few minutes, the moon had left the horizon and become smaller.  But for those few minutes, we were connected to every person in every millennium who ever stood in a large open space and watched a full moon rise in the same moment the sun set behind them.

Next time I’ll bring a flashlight so we can enjoy the Woodcocks.  I am striking out on the Owls.

The Esstential Backyard Birders Tool Kit

Bird ToolsWant to know some essential  backyard birders tool kit?  The Bird Shed answers!

1.  Attracting Birds to your backyard

Let’s start with getting the birds to your backyard.  Providing food, nest boxes, nesting materials, water, and natural habitat can attract birds to our backyards, giving us much nicer views of them and, when done properly, making life easier for the birds. Attracting birds is also a great way to introduce young people to nature, and it’s something the whole family can share. Having a bird-friendly yard has never been more important – nearly 80 percent of wildlife habitat in the United States is in private hands, and an average of 2.1 million acres each year are converted to residential use.

How do you begin?

An easy way to start out attracting birds is to put up a bird feeder. Food is a powerful incentive to any living thing and birds are no exception to that.  Having and maintaining Bird Feeders is the first and foremost tool to get our feathered friends to spend some time with you.  Keeping them well stocked and understanding what types of food will attract what type of bird is essential for success.  We’ll be covering types of food and species in a later post so stay tuned for more.

Some birds, especially woodpeckers and chickadees, excavate cavities in tree trunks for nesting and roosting. Many other species, such as wrens, bluebirds, and some ducks and owls, nest in cavities that other birds have made. Nest boxes offer these birds a place to raise their young, especially where natural cavities are at a premium. Our nest box section describes the features of a good nest box, where to place it, and how to avoid predators.   Again, knowing what essential nesting requirements by species will take the guessing out of selecting a good bird house or nesting box.

2.  Water and Bird Baths

A source of clean water, for drinking and bathing, may attract birds that don’t visit feeders. We can help ensure that your water helps birds, not mosquitoes or algae. And we’ve got ideas for other great attractants, too, such as building a brush pile.

3.  How to spot them

How to choose binoculars

  • Look for a right eyepiece that focuses to adjust for individual eye differences, plus central focusing to adjust for various distances.
  • Most popular magnification strength among experienced birders is either 7 x 35 or 8 x 40. Those larger than 10 x 50 tend to be overly bulky and difficult to hold steadily.
  • Depending mainly on lens quality, binoculars for birding can range in price from $50 to more than $1,000.

4.  Field Guides

  • Our online field guide is a good place to start identifying birds you see in in you area. We also recommend getting a couple of good print field guides. The three listed below are illustrated in color, show range maps for all species, and contain a birder’s checklist in the back. They are standards in the field and are available at most bookstores.

5. Bird song recordings

Learning bird songs will quickly expand your ability to distinguish one species from another. It frequently is the only way to identify species that remain hidden. Song differences are also the best way to identify certain look-alike species, such as alder and willow flycatchers. You can purchase recordings of bird songs or borrow them from your public library. Recordings should rarely be used to attract birds, because nesting birds can be threatened by invaders in their territories.

There are so many different tools out there and so many different ways of using them that we would love to hear from you.  Join the discussion on our Facebook page.  We would love to hear from you.

Happy Birding!

What to do or not to do if you find an injured bird.

Awhile back we received an email about how to care for an injured bird.  We thought it would be useful to post this short article from the national wildlife organization on what to do and NOT to do:

550px-Care-for-an-Injured-Wild-Bird-That-Cannot-Fly-Step-5If you find an injured bird, carefully put it in a cardboard box with a lid or a towel over the top, and place in a cool, safe place. Birds go into shock very easily when injured, and often die from the shock. If a bird has hit a window and is still alive, it may just need a little time to regain its senses, then may be able to fly away. Do not try to force feed or give water to the bird. If it is still alive after a few hours, you can try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator. Many belong to your state association for wildlife rehabilitators, and can be found with an on-line search.

The Wildlife Rehabber website has a listing by state of many rehabbers that might be useful:http://wildliferehabber.com/modules/xoopsmembers/

The Wildlife International website also has a directory of rehabilitators worldwide that may have other facilities listed for your region:www.wildlifeinternational.org/EN/public/emergency/emergencyrehab.html

If you have found an orphaned bird, the first step is to determine if it is really orphaned. When many young birds first fledge and leave the nest, they may still have a little down with short tail and wing feathers. Fledglings often also have weak flight muscles and may be fed for a few days by their parents outside of the nest. This is a very vulnerable time for young birds, as they are easy prey for roaming cats and other predators. It is important to keep fledglings safe and to allow the parents to continue feeding them.

If the bird has fallen out of the nest prematurely, or if a tree was cut down and a nest of young is found, a rehabber may be needed. The following chart from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association can help you determine the proper course of action:http://www.nwrawildlife.org/sites/default/files/FoundBird.pdf .

Picture courtesy of wikiHow.

Name that bird!

whoamiCan you name that bird by the sound it makes?  If not, here are some other clues:

Good luck!

Some people call me “crazy”others think I’m cute,  no matter what you think of me I eat the bugs that others wont.

Why Birds migrate and what we can do to help them

Helping Migrating BirdsWe are often asked why do birds migrate in the first place and what can we do to help them? Migration is a great time for many bird watchers as there is a major change up from our daily backyard bird watching, and we get to see new birds coming through that we normally don’t see any other time of year.

How Birds Migrate

Going over incredible distances can be taxing on any species of animal.  Birds though have a streamlined body shape and a lightweight skeleton composed of hollow bones minimize air resistance and reduce the amount of energy necessary to become and remain airborne. Well-developed pectoral muscles, which are attached to a uniquely avian structure called the furculum, power the flapping motion of the wings. The long feathers of the wings act as airfoils which help generate the lift necessary for flight.

Birds have a large, four-chambered heart which proportionately weighs 6 times more than a human heart. This, combined with a rapid heartbeat (the resting heart rate of a small songbird is about 500 beats per minute; that of a hummingbird is about 1,000 beats per minute) satisfies the rigorous metabolic demands of flight. Unlike mammalian or reptilian lungs, the lungs of birds remain inflated at all times, with the air sacs acting as bellows to provide the lungs with a constant supply of fresh air.

Birds are truly designed for long distance travel!  If only our airlines were this efficient!

How high do birds fly?

Most songbirds migrate at 500 to 2,000 meters, but some fly as high as 6,800 meters; swans have been recorded at 8,000 meters and Bar-headed Geese at 9,000 meters (9,000 meters is almost 30,000 feet!!!)

Flight = Mobility

Flight affords mobility and has made possible the evolution of avian migration as a means of access to distant food resources. It also means avoiding the physiological stress associated with cold weather. Variations in the patterns of migration are numerous. Some species move only a few kilometers up and down mountain slopes. Others will travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers, some over vast bodies of water or tracts of inhospitable terrain. The Arctic Tern makes an annual round-trip of about 30,000 kilometers (18,000 miles)  from the Arctic breeding grounds to Antarctic seas. According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, a Blackpoll Warbler could boast of getting 720,000 miles to the gallon if it were burning gasoline instead of reserves of body fat.  We need cars like that! The tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird, weighing only about as much as a penny, makes the 1,000 km, 24-hour spring flight across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatán Peninsula to the southern coast of the United States.

Importance of Stopover Sites

A migrating bird faced with the dilemma of a stopover site having disappeared may not have any viable options. Without places along the way that provide an adequate food supply for the quick replenishment of fat reserves, shelter from predators, and water, these birds are probably not going to make it.

Declines in the numbers of many Neotropical migratory bird species have been detected over the past several decades. There are two main causes: fragmentation of breeding habitat and destruction of tropical forests on the wintering grounds.

As the birds move north in waves, they fan out across the eastern U.S., feeding on the all-you-can-eat buffet of insects that hatch out in the spring. This broad-front movement pattern means that songbird stopover sites are widely dispersed across the wooded areas of the eastern U.S. in the spring.

For those birds heading south in the fall across the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf coast is an important area for stopovers.

In the fall, higher elevation sites–especially mountain meadows–become important because of the abundant populations of insects that peak late in the season. Also in the fall, at lower elevations, foothill riparian areas (rivers, streams and creeks) provide important fruit bearing plants for birds such as tanagers and grosbeaks.

Loss and degradation of stopover habitat not only can result in more birds dying while on migration, but it can also have serious repercussions in terms of nesting success. For example, birds heading north are already constrained by the relatively short amount of time available to get to the breeding grounds, establish a territory, pair with a mate, and get on with the further demands of raising young. Late arrival, or arrival in poor condition, on the breeding grounds because of inadequate food and rest en route, is likely to jeopardize a bird’s ability to reproduce.

Here are some great points to help birds

  • You can start by evaluating your property. It is important to remember that a diversity of habitat encourages a larger variety of birds.
  • Dead trees and brush piles provide shelter, nest sites and food (insects) for migrating birds.
  • Providing water can be as simple as putting out a bird bath or as complicated as installing a pond with a creek and waterfall.
  • Herbicides, fungicides and pesticides – can be lethal to birds.
  • Put out bird feeders, seed, fruit and nectar feeders, and fruit.
  • Landscape the yard with native evergreen and fruit bearing trees, shrubs, grasses and vines. Design the garden so that plants flower and fruit throughout the spring, summer and fall.
  • Having a source of water (especially a moving source) can help attract more migratory birds.
  • Getting involved in migratory bird conservation here in the United States or in Latin America can be as simple as writing a check, donating equipment or picking up a shovel.

Being aware of and assisting our friends during their long travels is a sure fire way of getting them back every year.  Let’s all do what we can to lend a helping hand.

- The Bird Shed