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)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Plant a Climbing Hydrangea Vine to Help Protect Birds

Climbing Hydrangea Vine (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) from urbanext.illinois.edu

My climbing hydrangea vine has come a long way in 3 years!
from Grandma Pearl
Vines Provide Birds With:    
  • Food in the form of seeds, berries flowers and nectar, as well as caterpillars and lots of other insects
  • Fragrance, which in turn attracts insects
  • Shelter from bad weather and hot sun
  • Safe Nesting Places
  • Nesting Materials
  • Vantage Points from which to Watch for Approaching Predators
  • Hiding Places from Predators

Climbing Hydrangea Flower Bud
from Grandma Pearl
Climbing Hydrangeas produce fast-growing stems that yield aerial rootlets capable of clinging to almost any surface; this plant is slow to start, but once established it will dazzle you with white lacy blooms and dense green foliage.  Mine has been growing for over 3 years now, and you can see its progress from the 3-foot stick I bought at an Autumn nursery closeout sale!   
A-Frame Shingled Bird House will attract all sorts of songbirds
from Grandma Pearl

This little bird house is mounted on the side of my house among the lovely hydrangea leaves and branches.  It’s just right for most songbirds like chickadees, wrens, sparrows, finches, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers.  This vine will keep the bird house cool and dry while baby birds are growing big and strong.  More than that, it will discourage a whole host of predators from trying to reach the eggs and baby birds.  When it comes time for baby’s first flight, the nearby branches will make great practice landing spots for their first tentative flights.

Climbing Hydrangea Requirements:
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Rich evenly-moist soil, but will tolerate less than perfect soil conditions
  • Thrives in Zones 4-9
  • Use organic mulch to retain moisture
  • Amend with compost as needed
  • If desired, pruning should be done after plant has flowered in the summer
  • Provide a sturdy support for this vine, which can reach 60’ to 80’ tall if left unpruned

 I planted my climbing hydrangea on the east side where it receives about 5 hours of morning sunlight a day.  It's the perfect vine for a shaded area, but it will do very well in full sun, too.  The bark of this plant peels and has an interesting texture; and it can be used by birds to weave into their nests.  In addition to the bark, birds will find shelter and nesting opportunities in this versatile and beautiful long-lived climbing vine.

Detail of bark and leaves of Climbing Hydrangea Vine
from Grandma Pearl
Detail of aerial roots that help the plant to cling to surfaces
from Grandma Pearl
 If you wish to prune the plant, do so after it has flowered in the summertime.  It can grow to be 60 to 80 feet in height, and will live happily in cold hardiness zones 4 - 9.  It's not fussy, but does best in moist, well drained rich organic soil.     Butterflies and beneficial bees are attracted to the fragrant creamy white flowers that remind me of Queen Anne’s lace.  
Be sure to water your hydrangea vine regularly to encourage deep roots and vigorous stem growth.  Use soil that is rich in organic matter to ensure this vine will be healthy and gorgeous for many years to come.  Amend with organic compost as needed, and cover with mulch to retain moisture.  Since I have access to lots of sawdust, this is my preferred mulching medium.        

Although its stems and rootlets grow quickly, the climbing hydrangea is slow to bloom.  The average time before blooms appear is 4 years.  I expect that next summer this clinging mass of green will be loaded with lots of beautiful and fragrant flowers.  If you have an unsightly concrete or stone wall, or a chain link fence you wish to beautify, this might be the vine for you. Your birds, butterflies and beneficial bees will appreciate this excellent plant.
Grandma Pearl

To Purchase a Climbing Hydrangea Vine:

Climbing Hydrangea Vine
Giant Hydrangea Vine

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bee Balm and its Uses

Monarda, or Bee Balm, is beloved by bees, butterflies and me!
by Grandma Pearl
When I was a kid, I remember a huge bed of red bee balm growing happily against the side of my grandparents' old garage.  It was perpetually filled with butterflies and happy honey bees and bumble bees.  You could always tell when they were 'working' the bee balm.  The lovely aroma filled the summer air.  To me it smelled like minty oregano, and it was wonderful.

Grandma would sometimes use the leaves when she roasted chicken.  It made the chicken taste exceptionally delicious.  Now I do the same thing in my cooking.  Whenever bee balm is in season, I grab a couple of fresh leaves and add them to the meat, or the cooking liquid, when I make chicken.  I let the meat cook on simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  By then the juices have concentrated and made a lovely brown thick sauce I use on mashed potatoes-YUM!  Be sure to remove the leaves before serving the sauce.
Deep Purple Bee Balm is beautiful against the dark green colors in my garden.
by Grandma Pearl

You can do the same thing, and I have, with fresh sage leaves and a couple of sprigs of thyme.  Don't go overboard, though.  Fresh herbs have a more concentrated herb flavor than dried herbs.  In this case, less is more.  When I cook 3 or 4 chicken breasts, after browning both sides in melted butter, I add one sage leaf and one sprig of thyme, and maybe the very top of a rosemary sprig to each piece of meat.  Also add salt and pepper to taste.  I just use plain water as the cooking liquid. . . about 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  Check after awhile to make sure the water has not totally evaporated.  You don't want to burn your chicken!  I cover it at first, and turn it on medium to get it going.

After 20 minutes or so, remove the cover and turn the chicken.  It won't hurt anything if the herbs end up in the bottom of the pan, they will just flavor the drippings.  At this point, I turn the heat down to low and keep the cover off.  Check in another 20 minutes or so to make sure there is still liquid in the pan.  If not, add more. . .about 1/4 cup at a time.  Also turn the chicken again.  Continue to cook until all the juices run clear when you poke the chicken with a fork.

Turn off the pan, remove from burner and cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.  This helps the juices to stabilize inside the chicken so that when you cut into it, they don't flow out and leave you with dry meat --UGH!

Pink Bee Balm from my garden,
by Grandma Pearl
Bee Balm has antiseptic qualities as well.  Did you know that the Native American Indians used it to make poultices?  If they had a skin infection or skin wound, they would treat the area with bee balm.  After crushing the leaves and adding them to boiling water, the resulting liquid could also be used for an antiseptic mouthwash to treat bad teeth or a sore throat.  Headaches and other aches and pains could be relieved with this bee balm infusion as well, according to wikipedia.com.

There are several different colors available, including a range of lavenders, pinks and reds.

My plants are growing in partial sun.  That is, they receive about 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.  The red bee balm is planted in an east side garden, which gets morning sun.  The others are on the north side, and do very well there.  All are visited by beautiful butterflies and bees that sip the nectar and pollinate the rest of my garden for me.  My plant hardiness zone is 5 here in the southern tier of New York State.  You might want to give these gorgeous flowers a try!
Grandma Pearl

Attracting Birds to Your Yard with Flowers
Top 5 Alternative Lawn Ideas
Secrets to a Healthy Backyard

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Biodiversity in Roadside Habitats

The ditch on the side of our rural road provides habitat for
thousands of insects and caterpillars that our birds need for feeding their babies.
by Grandma Pearl
Have you ever thought about ditches as anything more than a place by the side of the road?  There are hundreds of thousands of miles of ditches in the U.S.  And they provide essential habitat for many different kinds of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and birds.  
Black-capped Chickadee found a juicy spider to feed her growing nestlings.
by Grandma Pearl

So many songbirds and game birds rely on the ditch environment.  It’s a rich source of protein in the form of insects and invertebrates; but it is also a water filtration system.  Rainfall that accumulates in a ditch percolates into the soil and is absorbed and filtered by the reeds and native grasses.   
Male Northern Cardinal foraging in the roadside ditch area.
by Grandma Pearl

People as a society don’t seem to appreciate the ‘messiness’ of natural habitats.  Ditches definitely fall in to the ‘messy’ category with the tall reeds, sedges and slimy denizens lurking therein.  Snails, mollusks, dragonflies, damsel flies, skimmers, and yes, mosquitoes do inhabit these freshwater areas.                                        
We always called these insects Dragonflies.
by Grandma Pearl
There's lots more to ditches that just  places alongside the road.  Please read my latest article entitled "Keep it Between the Ditches" ,for much more information on the biodiversity of this habitat.

Grandma Pearl

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Truth About Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vulture from  nps.gov
As humans, I think we sometimes tend to equate beauty with goodness, and ugliness with evil.  All living things have a role on this Earth.  The misunderstood and much maligned Turkey Vulture serves a noble purpose.  We need to look past the superficial idea of attractiveness, and give the Turkey Vulture the reverence it has rightfully earned and deserves.

Facts about Turkey Vultures:

  • Gentle, caring and devoted parents
  • Essential part of Nature’s cleanup crew
  • Perform removal of carcasses before they can become diseased
  • Purify environment by eliminating animal cadavers that are already infected
  • Do not spread any diseases whatsoever, contrary to popular beliefs
  • Considered sacred in some cultures for their gift of sanitizing
  • Enjoy soaring on high using warm thermals to lift them ever upward

Alas, their distasteful Hollywood reputation precedes them.  And they are often mistakenly referred to as ‘buzzards’ or ‘turkey buzzards’.  But their scientific name, Cathartes aura, actually translates to either ‘purifying breeze’ or ‘golden purifier’.  Either of those interpretations is more accurate than the word ‘vulture’, which means to tear.

The unfounded fears that these birds spread disease often prompts intentional shootings and cruel poisonings and trappings.   But these birds keep the environment clean and disease free, rather than the reverse. 
Read more about these helpful and important birds by clicking here

Monday, July 8, 2013

How to Help Birds Survive Excessive Heat

Poor little mama chickadee opens her beak in an attempt to keep cool
during our recent heat wave.
by Grandma Pearl
Birds need to stay hydrated just like humans; never more so than during a heat wave.  We have had a string of 90+ degree days, and this little chickadee is busy feeding and caring for several chicks inside this bird house.  It's in the shade most of the time, but even then the air is hot, sticky and humid.
Her babies should be close to fledging, and in the  meantime I make sure she has plenty of clean water in the bird bath every day.

That's just one way birds are able to keep cool during this type of excessive summer heat.  Discover more by reading 5 Tips to Help Backyard Birds Survive Summer Heat

Grandma Pearl

Bird Baths: Best Placement and Maintenance Ideas
Bird Houses Made from Antique Barn Wood

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Create Safe Bird Habitats--Plant Climbing Roses

David Austin English Climbing Rose
'A Shropshire Lad'
I may be old fashioned, but to me there is nothing that compares to a rose.  The fragrance and beauty of older heirlooms, wild roses and new varieties just cannot be beat.   Choose climbing roses, and you automatically create an outstanding habitat for birds that will have long-reaching benefits for all of us.

"Wow, did you see that?  Your climbing rose bush just saved a whole family of Northern Cardinals!"  My friend and I were enjoying a fragrant walk around my garden, when suddenly a hawk swooped within inches of the tail feathers of a bright red Cardinal.  That bird was flying hard and fast as it approached the thorny tangles.  It had a beak full of food obviously meant for his babies. 
I had just been telling my friend about the active Cardinal's nest in my climbing rose, when all this drama unfolded right in front of our eyes.    A smaller bird like a Cardinal or Catbird can easily maneuver between the thorny branches without injury.  But a predator like a hawk or crow would definitely suffer if it attempted to penetrate a dense rose bush.
Aside from keeping birds safe from both sky-born and earthbound predators, there are more benefits in planting climbing rose bushes:
·         fragrance
·         beauty
·         appeal to butterflies and beneficial insects
·         provide shelter for birds from inclement weather
·         afford safe nesting opportunities for songbirds
·         furnish secure places for birds to survey their territory for predators
·         harbor additional food sources for birds in the way of destructive insects and caterpillars
·         some climbing rose varieties develop nutritious rose hips to sustain overwintering birds

Enjoy the beauty and fragrance of climbing roses, and give your lovely songbirds safe places to nest and shelter at the same time.  Room service for your birds is included at no extra charge in the way of bugs and caterpillars.  Plus, they'll enjoy a free all-day garden insect buffet!  Discover all the benefits these roses have to offer you and your backyard avian visitors.
Grandma Pearl