Welcome to my Bird Blog!

Welcome to all my fellow bird lovers and gardeners! I'm so glad you stopped by.

Migratory bird populations have taken a nose dive in the past 40 years. But you can help bring their numbers back by creating beneficial, beautiful and fun habitats in your own backyard. Discover favorite plants and environments that shelter and feed colorful songbirds, as well as how to make them feel welcome by offering their preferred natural foods.

Grandma Pearl
(Connie Smith)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Downy Woodpecker Youngsters

Young Downy Woodpecker has just left the nest.
by Grandma Pearl

Mama Downy Woodpecker has been showing her fledglings where the bird feeders are.  I have enjoyed watching them interact as the babies beg for food.  Mama dutifully pulls a seed out of the feeder and flies to the branch where her little one waits.  She sometimes lands on the branch several feet from her youngster, presumably to coax it to come to her rather than the other way around.

Baby Downy Woodpecker on the left, waits for its parent (on the right) to feed it.
By Grandma Pearl
Both a male and a female baby Downy woodpecker have made short, insecure flights around and near the feeders.  They seem to prefer a small tree behind the feeders at the edge of the woods.  (Although I have seen them clinging to the edge of one of the feeders.)  There they can watch how their Mom flies to and lands on the feeder, picks out just the right sunflower seed, and flies to a tree to open up the shell.   

Baby Downys use a high-pitched ‘begging’ call to let their mother know they want to be fed.  This will go on for about a week or so, then she will decide that despite their pleas she must let them start fending for themselves.  Watching nearby, she will make sure there are no predators in the area.  
Female Baby Downy Woodpecker practices her landings!
by Grandma Pearl

If a hawk should appear overhead, she will become motionless.  As a defense mechanism this works quite well.  Predator birds rely on their keen eyesight to detect motion of possible prey in the area.  The baby woodpeckers instinctively follow their mother’s lead, and freeze in place until she indicates it is safe to move again. 
Male Downy Woodpecker Fledgling clings to the edge of
the bird feeder.
by Grandma Pearl
As the days go by, the young Downy Woodpeckers will become as proficient at flying from tree to tree as their parents.  It just takes practice; and it helps that the parents keep watch over them as they develop into self-sufficient juveniles, and then progress to adulthood.  

The whole family will remain here year round ridding my trees and shrubs of destructive insects.  I show my appreciation by feeding them through every season; and offering suet and mealworms when colder weather settles in.  I’m glad to see the newest generation learning how to survive and thrive!

Grandma Pearl

Cute little Female Baby Downy Woodpecker,
by Grandma Pearl

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top 5 Alternative Lawn Ideas

brick pathway flanked by glorious flower gardens
from:  http://www.ltmuseum.org
If you are tired of mowing lawn every time you have a day off, then you are a prime candidate for an alternative lawn.  If you want to be surrounded by fragrance, beauty, birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, then it's time to consider something other than grass in your yard.  Discover my top 5 alternatives to the plain old boring lawn.
Imagine not having to mow the lawn on your day off!
from Grandma Pearl

What’s your idea of a relaxing day?  In this busy life we lead we need downtime; time to relax and unwind.  I don't know about you, but for me relaxation does not include mowing the lawn!  Although there are people who really do enjoy that activity, this article is not aimed toward them.  This dissertation is , however, intended for those of us who would rather do almost anything other than haul out the old mowing machine, fill it with expensive fuel, and then spend the afternoon in the hot sun going in circles!

Top 5 Alternative Lawn Ideas:

1.       Low growing maintenance-free drought tolerant ground covers
2.       Herbs that are tolerant of foot traffic and drought
3.       Wildflowers with stone pathways
4.       Naturalized bulbs
5.       Flower beds that include old-fashioned fragrant varieties like lily of the valley, roses, etc.
My lily garden is an example of summer bulbs that return to flower year after year.
Learn more about Bulb Gardens as an Alternative Lawn
from Grandma Pearl

With each of these 5 alternative lawns there comes the added bonus of several benefits.  For instance, if you should choose to plant a mixture of herbs, you would find that they are drought resistant, fragrant when stepped on and tolerant of foot traffic.  They need no special fertilizer or any chemicals to help them grow.  In fact, none of my herbs even like fertilizer.  Neglect is something that makes most herbs very happy. 

But the best benefit of all is that they attract butterflies, essential pollinators like honeybees, and birds!  In light of the devastating honey bee colony collapse phenomenon, the more fragrant herbs, flowers and vegetables we plant, the better to help the bees recover.

My Number One Rule:  Use No Toxic Chemical Pesticides or Herbicides!  They are deadly to all life, including us.  Once they enter the ecosystem, they end up in our watersheds.  Look for organic, safe alternatives.  If it contains ingredients you cannot pronounce, do not use it!

Read my Article to Learn All About Alternative Lawns:  Top 5 Alternative Lawns

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Easy Wheelbarrow Herb and Vegetable Garden

Herb and Vegetable Garden in an old Wheelbarrow
by Grandma Pearl
My husband picked this old wheelbarrow up along the side of the road one day.  The basin part is in good condition, except that the 4 bolts inside have loosened up so if anybody tried to use it, it would leak!  But that makes it perfect for a garden.  It has both handles, but the fork that holds the front tire is separated from the supports that would make it usable.

So rather than have it rust away, I decided to add some peat moss, garden loam, the clay that makes up the majority of my available dirt, and sawdust.  We cut wood for heating in the wintertime, so I have a lot of sawdust available.  As you can see, the 15 plants I used are very happy.

Since I live in a wooded area, there is very little open sky for sunshine.  That makes a wheelbarrow a handy receptacle, as I can move it into the sunshine if that is necessary.  This particular spot receives about 7 hours of sunshine every day.

Green Pepper plant full of blossoms in my wheelbarrow garden.
by Grandma Pearl
I have 3 pepper plants that are loaded with blossoms; two tomato plants that have blossoms, and one has a large green tomato on it; thyme, opal basil, pineapple sage, tri-color sage, variegated sage, parsley, dill and rosemary all planted in this one wheelbarrow garden.  All are doing well and have not become waterlogged, despite the heavy rain we have had in abundance this spring so far.  I used no fertilizer, but the peat moss and sawdust provide lots of organic nutrients.  These plants are very happy!

My wheelbarrow garden holds a lot of herbs, 2 tomato plants and 3 pepper plants.
by Grandma Pearl

I have used the herbs from this garden in some of my recipes for a couple of weeks now .  I love to add the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to my braised chicken breasts.  These herbs impart such a lovely flavor you just don't get with dried herbs.  I have also used them on my salads and in pasta dishes (the opal basil is wonderful with pasta sauce). 

There is so much concentrated flavor in fresh herbs, that you do not want to overdo it.  Less is more in this case.  For instance, when I cooked 3 chicken breasts I added just 3 small sage leaves, 3 short stems of parsley and thyme, and one short stem of rosemary.  But you can add less or more depending upon your own taste.
Wheelbarrow Garden from overhead,
by Grandma Pearl

I bought the herbs as small plants, and the same with the peppers and tomatoes.  That was about a month ago, so you can see they are growing quickly.  This type of garden is ideal for herbs and upright rather than root vegetables.  And it would also be great for a hummingbird garden filled with wave petunias, fuchsias, coneflowers, bee balm and salvias.

In fact, the hummingbirds have visited the pineapple sage's tubular dark pink flowers in the wheelbarrow garden.  I think I will be on the lookout for more old wheelbarrows to plant full of beauty, herbal goodness and fragrance!

Grandma Pearl
Attracting Birds to Your Yard With Flowers
Rustic Bird Houses made from Antique Barn wood

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Weigela Shrubs -- Hummingbird Magnets

Weigela Florida 'My Monet'
from Grandma Pearl
There's something special about these beautiful shrubs that attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects of all kinds.  The graceful arching stems are loaded with tubular flowers in early spring right through the end of June.  Several varieties rebloom toward the end of summer for a new show.  They are drought resistant, and hardy in zones 4 to 9.

When I planted my 'Red Prince' Weigela many years ago, I mixed up a wheelbarrow full of equal parts of garden loam, clay, peat moss, and sawdust.  To that I added a shovel full of wood ash.  That's it!  These bushes seem to thrive on neglect.  Other than watering them when it is absolutely necessary they are not fussy about water or fertilizer.  In fact, the birds that love to shelter in among the branches provide the only fertilizer these bushes get.  Red Prince Weigela is one variety that blooms in early spring and then again in late summer.
Weigela  'Wine and Roses' along with Rhododendrons
this is a much smaller and younger shrub than my other
from Grandma Pearl

Weigelas can be planted in full sun to partial shade, and add a pop of much-needed color in a shade garden. Plan on giving them lots of elbow room, because they grow from 3-9 feet tall, and 3 to 12 feet wide!  I have one planted in a large container that is very happy; another is the centerpiece of a garden bed and others are part of a shrub 'fence'.  So they can also be used for a privacy border.  Weigelas give you a lot of bang for the buck!

My oldest 'Red Prince' Weigela bush has fed a lot of hummers!
by Grandma Pearl
'Red Prince'  Closeup of these tubular hummingbird magnets
by Grandma Pearl
Bumblebees as well as other beneficial insects love these
nectar-rich flowers.  This variety of Weigela starts out light pink
and turns to white.
by Grandma Pearl
Closeup of light pink and white weigela.  This is the one that
is planted in a large container.
by Grandma Pearl
Chickadee in weigela bush in wintertime
by Grandma Pearl
Birds love to use the weigela all year round.  This one is not far from the bird feeders, so it serves as a good place to watch for any predators.  Juncos and other ground foragers use these shrubs as fast get-away areas where they can easily hide.  During heavy rainstorms, shrubs make great places to get out of the wet weather, while opening up a tasty black oil sunflower seed!

You can't go wrong with Weigela Bushes.  They can't be beat for beauty and for attracting birds, butterflies and all kinds of beneficial bugs.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Finches Come In All the Colors of the Rainbow!

Remember that old mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow?  
R O Y G B I V representing Red—Orange—Yellow—Green—Blue—Indigo—Violet

Well, members of the finch family represent all those colors and more.  These seed and fruit loving birds literally come in all the colors of the rainbow!  Beautiful and musical, Mother Nature has created finches for our pleasure.  They are most helpful when ridding us of weed seeds, and serenading us with their cheerfully expressive songs. Smaller finches range in size from 5 to 6”, while grosbeaks are the largest at 8”.

Male Purple Finch
by Grandma Pearl

Blue Grosbeak from Dan Pancamo, flickr.com, cc-by-sa
The Purple Finch, also known as Raspberry Finch, and the Blue Grosbeak are just two of the colorful members of the rainbow.  Can you guess which finch is yellow? violet? orange?
Find out Here

With all the rain we've had lately, my gardens have exploded with colorful blooms!  I love to use flowers and plants that attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects.  Adding to the native wildflowers and bushes that my resident birds recognize and that are familiar to them, keeps my yard flowering all season long.
variegated pink and white weigela bush
by Grandma Pearl
Variegated pink and white weigela bush is a hummingbird magnet.  It also attracts butterflies and bees.  I'm in zone 5 and it has always been hardy here.  It will bloom for about a month, and last year it bloomed again toward the end of the summer!  The blossoms start out pink and then turn white with blush pink centers.  I have several weigela bushes, and the hummers are in and out of them constantly all day long.

white weigela blossoms--hummingbird magnets
by Grandma Pearl
My oregano in one part of the herb garden.
Grandma Pearl
When the oregano flowers in late summer, it attracts lots of beneficial insects and bees, plus butterflies.  It's a very popular plant.  I use this herb all the time in cooking and salads.  In the foreground is golden oregano, in the background near the lattice is regular oregano.  There is also monarda, or bee balm, just starting to grow.  Bee balm is another hummingbird magnet, and it attracts butterflies and bees.  I love the smell of it, and I can always tell when the bees or hummers are working it.  The aroma is wonderful!

Grandma Pearl

See the newest Rustic Bird Houses made from antique reclaimed barnwood HERE