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, August 22, 2013

Wild Grapes Attract a Variety of Fruit-Eating Birds

Cedar Waxwings  Photographed by Minette Layne
If you happen to be a Cedar Waxwing, or a Grey Catbird, then you are always on the hunt for wild grapes.  You know how to stab the fruit with your beak and then tip your head so that the delicious juice runs into your beak and down the hatch.  This is a treat that just can’t be beat!
Grey Catbird Photographed by Matthew Petroff
Even in the wintertime, wild grapes continue to sustain hardy birds.  Those that have not been plucked earlier in the season will remain on the vines as a frozen delicacy.  Loaded with vitamins and minerals, the fruits offer lots of antioxidants to strengthen a bird’s immune system and help maintain energy levels.  The fruits are much smaller than that of domestic grapes, but the tart flavor is concentrated to pack a major grape punch when used in wine, jelly and jam. 
Wild Grapevine growing in my ditch!
by Grandma Pearl

Vitis riparia, or Riverbank Grape is native to North America, and is used to hybridize other varieties to create hardier (some to -70 degrees F.), and more disease resistant fruits. And it grows everywhere, quickly and profusely; but being riparian, it does best in sunny riverbank habitats, and appreciates rich soil with a slightly acidic ph:  5.5 to 6.0, but will tolerate a range from 5.0 to 8.0 .  In some parts of the country wild grapes are considered noxious weeds.  In fact, we had a wild grape vine growing on one of our 75 foot maple trees.  It competed for the available nutrients and light, and eventually won the battle. Wild grape vines like sunshine and moderately moist conditions.  However, judicious pruning and training on an arbor or trellis can keep this fast-growing vine under control.

Learn How to Make My Autumn Hummingbird Feeder Wreath
from Grandma Pearl

Old dead grape vines can be used to make decorative wreaths for both indoor and outdoor seasonal decorations.  I don’t mind if there are leaves and tendrils still attached to the vines.  I think they add to the rustic natural feeling this type of wreath evokes. The longer the lengths of vines, the fuller your wreath will be.  Wear gloves and use pruning shears or long handled loppers to cut them.  To more easily work with the stiff vine material, be sure to have a bucket of warm water on hand for soaking.  Allow to soak for several hours.                          
·         Either use a metal wreath form from the craft store, or wind 6 to 8 of the grape vines around the proper-sized form--such as a metal bucket that has been inverted.  Make a regular old overhand knot with the vines, removing the wreath shape from the bucket; and then interweave each vine end in and out around the wreath.  Poke the end inside the wreath where it won’t show, and
·         Secure by wrapping 22 gauge paddle wire several times around the wreath in 3 or 4 different places.    

Video showing how to make a grapevine wreath

·         Fashion a loop for hanging from the paddle wire, and secure it to the back of the wreath.
·         You can maneuver the wreath to make sure it is the shape you prefer.   Decorate it with seasonal silk flowers, acorns, pine cones, interesting dried grasses, wheat or oat stems, etc.
·         Another way to make a grapevine wreath from crafts.creativebug.com

If you prefer not to make your own, grapevine wreaths can be found for sale at craft shops and discount stores.  
Grandma Pearl                                                   

Learn how to prune wild grapes and train them along a fence, trellis or old tree stump.  
Make this feeder wreath to help fuel hummingbirds for their autumn flight back to South America!
This easy-to-make wreath can decorate your window long after you have removed the hummingbird feeder!
by Grandma Pearl

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Are Your Bird Houses Ready for Fall and Winter?

One of my bird houses that holds at least one bird family every year!
by Grandma Pearl

You purchased a sturdy, well-ventilated bird house, and mounted it so birds could easily move in and start raising a family.  Good for you!  There, your job is done, right?  Uh, No. . .as a caretaker for your songbird families, another responsibility comes with the territory.  Maintaining bird houses so they provide a clean, healthy and safe environment for your feathered friends is a major priority!

Have you looked inside your bird houses lately?  Chances are old nests, dirt etc. need to be removed before you can either store or re-hang your nest boxes.  It’s a simple but necessary process in order to ensure your next generation of backyard birds will have the healthiest start possible.

I cleaned out this bird house and made it ready for re-hanging in just about 5 minutes!
by Grandma Pearl

This bird house is in need of cleaning!  Here are the easy steps to get your bird house ready for re-hanging or storage for the fall and winter:

What you will need:
  • Several thick layers of newspaper
  • Plastic garbage bag that can be securely closed
  • Garden or plastic gloves with no holes
  • A small bucket or water pitcher  (dedicate this to your bird house cleaning only)
  • Warm water
  • Household bleach
  • Screwdriver (for opening ‘clean out’ access door)
  • Small scrub brush or wire brush
  • Large paper bag or plastic bag for storing the clean bird house

Additional Items you might need:
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • sandpaper

  1. Spread out several thicknesses of newspaper onto a flat surface outdoors.  Open up the bird house ‘clean out’ and remove any nesting material, dirt, debris, etc., collecting all of it on the newspapers.   If there is no clean out, you can shake your birdhouse over the papers until nothing more comes out.  If necessary, use a stiff but flexible length of wire to dislodge any leftover nesting materials, and then shake and dump.    
  2. Gather up the newspapers and put them into a plastic garbage bag; close the top of the bag securely.  If there has been a nest mite infestation, you don’t want any of those nasty tiny parasites to have a chance to multiply in the environment!  By the way, adult mites are no bigger than this dot [.]
  3. Mix up a solution of 1 part of bleach and 10 parts of clear water.  I have a dedicated old pitcher with a spout that works well for this, especially if there is no clean out or easy access to the inside of the bird house.  Pour this warm water/bleach solution into the bird house a little at a time.  Move the liquid around and dump it out where it will not harm plants, animals or humans.  Repeat a couple more times and then follow with clean, plain warm water.  
  4. If your bird house has an accessible clean out, you can use a wire brush to scrub the inside with the bleach/water solution, then rinse out thoroughly several times.  It should not smell of bleach when it is completely dry.  If you can smell bleach, then you need to rinse until that odor disappears.  
  5. On another thickness of newspapers, leave your bird house outside in the sunshine and wind to dry thoroughly.  This might take a day or two, depending upon the amount of humidity in your area.  So watch the weather forecast!
  6. This is a good time to make sure any nails or screws are tight, and replace any that are missing.  Ensure there are no splinters or broken pieces that might harm adults or young birds.  If necessary, use sandpaper to smooth any rough spots, especially at the entrance hole.
  7. I like to wrap my dry bird houses with plain brown paper, or place the house into a paper bag.  Close the bag tightly so that no insects can enter.  Store in a dry place on a shelf in your garage or shed. 

All this may seem like a major hassle that you can skip, but it is vitally important that you keep your bird houses clean and parasite free for the next generation of birds.  The bleach/water mixture kills bacteria from old droppings, and diseases carried by lice, fleas, ticks and other parasites, as well as the tiny critters and their eggs; all of which can pose a very real risk to nestlings.
Some birds will even pass up a bird house if it has debris or old nesting material inside.   It really doesn’t take that long to mix up a bucket of life-saving bleach/water.  Just make sure you use the proper proportions of 1 part bleach to 10 parts of water, and rinse thoroughly.

Spraying chemicals inside a nest box could potentially harm or even kill nestlings.  Using harmful pesticides on the outside of the box may also pose a threat to adult as well as fledgling birds.
Don’t assume if you live in a northern climate that these tiny critters will freeze!  Nest mites can survive from -4 degrees to +125 degrees Fahrenheit.  Their detrimental effects on tiny birds, as well as adults, can range from minor itching irritation, to anemia and/or a severely compromised immune system; which can lead to death.

Remember, baby birds are helpless to fight off pesky critters that might be hiding in old nesting material.  It often happens that insect and parasite infestations in bird houses actually kill baby birds before they ever have a chance to open their eyes!  It’s up to you to become a vigilant caretaker ensuring your young feathered aviators survive and thrive.
Grandma Pearl

Optimal Placement of Bird Houses Around Your Yard and Garden

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What's the Difference Between a Purple Finch and a House Finch?

Male Purple Finch and Male House Finch Share the Same Tree
by Grandma Pearl
Just 2 days ago I was fortunate enough to notice both a male purple finch and a fledgling male house finch sharing the same tree branches.  If you look closely, you can see some of the differences in coloration and where it occurs on each bird.

Male purple finches (he's on the upper left side of the above picture) have a bright raspberry colored head, chest and rump.  When the sun's rays strike that rose hue just right, you're hit with the most beautifully intense rose red that is amazingly vibrant. 

House finches sport a brown patch behind their eye, and they have a brown upper back and wings.  Brown streaks mark the house finch's chest, while the male purple finch has no brown streaks on its chest.  Male house finches show a more reddish-orange coloration, which can vary through the orange shades and into the yellow spectrum, depending upon how many carotenoids they have ingested from their food. 

Their neck and upper chest, rump and stripe above the eye, and forehead are all orange.
Note, too, the difference in the tails.  Purple finches have a more deeply notched tail; house finches have a more square-shaped tail with just a slight notch.

The lovely warbling songs of the purple finches always brighten my day, especially when springtime is at hand.  House finches, on the other hand, have a less harmonious song, I think, than the purple finches.  It is, however, joyful and as bright as their warm orange color.  Both of these finches are very close in size, with the house finch being just a tad smaller at about 5-3/4 inches.

In both the purple finch and the house finch, females are heavily streaked.  House finch females are a lighter shade of brown with a brown head.  Purple finch females have a white streak behind their eye and a brown patch on their cheek.

The little house finch fledgling in my picture is just learning how to fly by making short hops from bush to tree branch.  One of the first places I saw him land, albeit a little awkwardly, was the tube seed feeder.  There he perched and dined for quite some time.  Occasionally he traded one perch for another, but seemed to be comfortable on that feeder.
Grandma Pearl

Fledgling Male House Finch Enjoys Sunflower Seeds
by Grandma Pearl

Friday, August 9, 2013

Audubon Advisory Concerning Migratory Songbirds and Congressional Funding Cuts

Ovenbird, one of many migratory songbirds at the mercy of major funding cuts
Grandma Pearl
The House of Representatives is planning major cuts to critical conservation programs.  These latest attempts to reverse the important recovery efforts that were in place and were working to protect and aid migratory neotropical birds, should be abandoned. 

August adjournment has left the bill unfinished, but when Interior Appropriations Members return in September, they will try again to implement these injurious funding cuts.   Audubon will use the interim period to work on behalf of songbirds that are already in distress from climate change and habitat destruction.  

You can read the short article by clicking this link: Critical Conservation Programs Targeted

To support Audubon's National Conservation Initiative, click HERE

Grandma Pearl

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cape May Autumn Birding Festival

Ovenbird in the underbrush.  This little guy will be headed
back to South America soon!
by Grandma Pearl
Save the date:  October 25-27, 2013.  If you want to see a multitude of birds during their fall migration, Cape May, New Jersey is the place to be!  You can register online at www.BirdCapeMay.org         NOTE that meals, transportation and lodging are not included.
Pricing for individual activities and daily registration can be found by emailing: deb.shaw@njaudubon.org

Friday Morning, Oct. 25:  Beginning at 7:30 am you can participate in Migratory Watches and diverse Field Trips.

Boat Trip, Oct. 25:  From 10:00 am to 12:30 pm, and again at 1:30 pm until 4 pm relax and enjoy Birding By Boat.  Bring your camera, camcorder and/or binoculars, and delight in cruising New Jersey's southernmost salt marsh waterwaysthere is an additional cost, and registration is required. 

Friday Evening, Oct. 25:  5 pm to 7:30 pm   Authors of The Warbler Guide, Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle, explain their tips for making warbler identification easier by using overlooked identification points.

Field Workshops, Programs, Demonstrations, Exhibits and Presentations fill all three days, and offer a wide variety of activities from which to choose.

Saturday Morning, Oct. 26:  Beginning at 7:30 am you will find Migratory Watches and many Field Trips that will help you discover the birds that live in and migrate through the Cape May area.

Boat Trip, Oct. 26:  10:00 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm to 4 pm enjoy Birding by Boat.
Birding From the Ferry starts at 10:30 am and goes to 2:30 pm.  Both of these events require registration and there is an additional cost.

Book Signing at the Grand Hotel:  5 pm to 6 pm   A chance to meet the Authors and Special Guests, including Pete Dunne, author of many books on birding and natural history, founder of the World Series of Birding, and currently the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory.

Saturday Evening, Oct. 26: 5 pm to 7:30 pm Social and booksigning, dinner the Program entitled 'Conservation, Connections, and 150 Million Years of Birding' presented by John Kricher.

Sunday Morning, Oct. 27:   Migratory Watches and Various Field Trips to The Meadows, Higbee Beach, The Rea Farm, Cape May Point State Park, Cycling Cox Hall Creek, the Beanery, Stone Harbor Point and Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, starting at 7:30 am and continuing up until 5:00 pm.  Email deb.shaw@njaudubon.org for a complete list and timetable of activities and demonstrations.

Demonstrations will include Hawk and Monarch Banding.
Field Workshops are scheduled to include Hawk Identification, Seabird Identification, Small Subject Photography and much more.

The Annual meeting of NJ Audubon 5 pm Friday, Oct. 25, 2013--members are welcome to attend.

Enjoy visiting the many exhibits in the Cape May Convention Hall during the 67th Annual Cape May Autumn Birding Festival.  For More Information visit www.birdcapemay.org or
email:  birdcapemay@njaudubon.org

Grandma Pearl

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hummingbirds Love Rose of Sharon Bushes

Does this picture remind you of tropical hibiscus?
Deep Pink Rose of Sharon blossom
by Grandma Pearl

Rose of Sharon, also known as Althea, is a member of the hibiscus family (Hibiscus syriacus), originally from Southeast Asia, which explains why it loves the heat of August.  That's when my bushes begin to open their fancy blooms to the sunshine, which they also love.  Being drought tolerant, they grow best in Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9.

Be sure to give them good drainage--they don't like wet feet!  In fact, if you over water Rose of Sharon, its leaves will turn yellow.  I love the V-shape of this bush, which works well in a mixed hedge row.  It will be in bloom towards the end of the summer when most other hedge plants have finished flowering.

If you prefer to make your Rose of Sharon into a tree shape, you must do so when it is a year old.  Start by pruning the lower side branches to encourage the top growth.  This plant will reach a typical height of 8 to 10 feet.
I love the pure white of my double Rose of Sharon bush.
by Grandma Pearl

If you love hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial pollinators, this is the plant for you!  I have several female ruby-throated hummingbirds fighting over this particular bush on a daily basis.  All kinds of insects are attracted to its nectar and pollen as well.

I think you'll love this plant, but don't despair if it does not have leaves on it right away.  It is very slow to produce leaves, and also to produce flowers.  It's the proverbial 'late bloomer', but it is definitely worth the wait.

By the way, if you have a deer problem, be sure to protect your Rose of Sharon bushes from their browsing habit!  
Can you see the 2 female ruby-throated hummingbirds in this picture?  They sort of blend into the bush, don't they.
There is one in the upper left, and just the blur of a fast-flying hummer on the lower right.  They do love the nectar!
                                                                                   by Grandma Pearl
My white-flowering Rose of Sharon bush is 10 feet tall, and has been growing here in the southern tier of New York State for about 15 years.  That shows you that even though it loves the heat, it is hardy enough to stand our cold, snowy winters!
Grandma Pearl

Friday, August 2, 2013

Deer Deterrent Resources

A Young Deer on the Edge of the Woods
by Grandma Pearl
I love deer!  Their beauty and gentle nature appeals to me.  Every season finds them with a different shade of brown fur; it becomes thicker in the wintertime to help shield them from bitter cold winds and snow; their soulful eyes, large ears and sensitive nose are ever alert to possible danger.

In the spring, the youngest tag along behind the adults in groups of 3 to 5 and more. Feeling frisky, they like to suddenly sprint from a dead stop, with stiff white tails held straight like flags bidding me farewell!  Spring is when I most often see the young bucks with their newly-blossoming antlers covered in soft velvet.

I love deer, but I hate what they can do to a garden in no time flat!  My favorite deterrent is a natural product that I spray on those plants that my deer find most delectable.  The name is 'Deer Off' and it is manufactured by Havahart*.  The ingredients are all natural, which is what I'm all about; and they include eggs, capsaicins and garlic.  This particular deterrent works by not only smelling bad, but tasting bad as well.  A similar product from the same company is Deer Away 5200.

Deer Off II can be applied a lot less often than other deer repellents I have tried.  I usually reapply it after a heavy rain, but other than that, it lasts a long time.  Because it tastes bad, rabbits and squirrels seem to steer clear of my treated flowers and shrubs as well, which is a definite plus.

 Links to help manage deer in suburban gardens can be found at Cornell University's "Deer Defenses" website, and they include:

There's lots of greenery in the woods for this young deer to enjoy!
by Grandma Pearl
Easy Steps to Creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat
Shop for Barn Wood Bird Houses

Shop For Havahart All Natural Deer Repellent