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)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Leave Some Leaves For the Birds

Maple Leaves are just starting to change
Photo by Grandma Pearl
My leaves are changing colors, and there is a definite chill in the air.   I can smell that crisp autumn leaf aroma, which will become more pronounced as the next couple of weeks pass by.  With the leaves comes the inevitable task of raking and bagging.  They tell me raking leaves is good for the waistline, and for strengthening arm and back muscles.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that I end up with aches and pains, as well as calluses on my hands!

Nine times out of ten, the wind picks up my piles before I have a chance to bag them.  Why is it that the wind decides to gust just when you have finished your raking chores?  Here in the woods, I don’t have any neighbors whose leaf piles might blow into my yard, thank goodness.   Being surrounded by all kinds of hardwood trees, however, the task of raking is multiplied tenfold!
Leaves are changing already in late September
Photo by Grandma Pearl

Many thanks to the inventor of the leaf vacs and blowers that now populate the shelves at the neighborhood hardware store.  They do make short work of an otherwise overwhelming task.  My contraption is a combination of a vacuum and a blower.  So my first job is to blow the leaves into windrows.  From there I can convert to the vacuum and bagger, and proceed to turn those windrows into nutrient-rich mulch.

Most of my mulch I bag up and store for next spring’s plantings.  Another large bunch I use to cover my flower beds.  I like to make the depth about 8” to 12” because it will be weighed down by snow.  When the soil begins to warm again, the earthworms will efficiently incorporate that golden layer into the earth.  It’s a process that greatly enhances the health of the good microbial activity necessary to help your plant roots easily assimilate nutrients they need to flourish.
Insect Egg Mass cradled inside dead fallen leaf
Photo by Grandma Pearl

But I also save some leaves for my birds.  Ground forages especially love to sift through the dead foliage for tiny critters and their eggs.  Birds like juncos, sparrow, robins and catbirds especially enjoy the millions of insects to be found in the mulched leaves.   This ‘top dressing’ I save for under my shrubs and berry bushes.  A thick layer serves to protect the roots during the bitter cold of winter.

Before it does turn really cold, though, my backyard birds will benefit from the extra nutrition found in that leaf mulch buffet table I set out for them!  Some of my birds wait until later to leave on their migratory journeys southward.  For them, this leaf mulch is an extra food source to help them on their way.

So do your backyard birds a favor, and leave some leaves for them!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Anting: Ancient, Mysterious Bird Ritual

What do robins, marigolds, cigarette butts and ants have in common? 
Male Robin hunting, possibly for ants?
Photo by Grandma Pearl
 Add to this list:  lemons, limes and mothballs.  Any ideas?
Lemons, limes and marigolds grow in a garden, are all natural; but then what about the cigarette butts, mothballs and ants.  Any guesses yet?
I won’t keep you wondering any longer.  All of these seemingly disjointed objects are used in a mysterious ritual known as “anting”.  What in the world is “anting”, you ask?

You know, for as long as I can remember, when referring to people who are less than average in intelligence, the phrases ‘bird brain’ and ‘feather brain’ are routinely employed. The birds and I take exception to this!   In fact, birds often demonstrate their aptitude for performing tasks, playing with found objects, and using tools!
Blue Jays are noted for using ants to spray their feathers; and they love to eat the little critters as well!
Photo by Grandma Pearl

Anting demonstrates just such a use of ‘tools’.  Birds use live ants to ‘squirt’ formic acid onto their feathers.  There are a couple of theories as to the real purpose of “anting”, which is used by over 200 species of birds.   Some believe it is a form of prey preparation.  Birds somehow realize that before consuming them, it is best to empty the poison sac the ants carry in their abdomen.  By squeezing the ant in just the right place, birds avoid damaging the ‘crop’ or nutritious abdomen, and a possible painful attack from the business end of the ant’s pincers.  When the ant feels the ‘pinch’, its defense system goes into ‘red alert status’, and out from its poison sac comes formic acid.   After combing its feathers, the bird can then safely enjoy a tasty ant hors d’oevre!

There are 2 schools of thought on the reason behind the ritual of 'anting'.  Food preparation and natural insecticide.  Read more . . .

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Is a Birding Festival?

image from:  njaudubon.org
Contrary to what your mind might conjure up at the mention of a bird festival, there are no conga-line dancing birds, no elaborately costumed South American Toucans, no beads thrown by flocks of turkeys in face paint!  There are, however, many bird-related activities for young and old, often highlighting a particular regional bird population at peak migration times.

Workshops and Guest Speakers are often scheduled to further educate and enlighten those in attendance.  Be sure to bring your camera and/or camcorder to capture all the images you might never have a chance to witness anywhere else.  Learn the best ways to find and photograph birds, help to preserve their habitats and generally enjoy the whole birding experience. 
image from:  olympicbirdfest.org
Activities are geared to all family members, and can be free to anyone.  Some more extensively guided field trips may require a small registration fee.  Either way, there is so much to learn and discover at a bird festival.  The events take on an almost 'county fair' persona with all the vendors and activities offered.

Local businesses and restaurants feature specials to coincide with the festivities, and to take advantage of the happy atmosphere surrounding such an event.  No matter whether you are a novice bird watcher or a seasoned pro, there are all kinds of ways to connect to those who share your interests.  
image from:  laredobirdingfestival.com

There are often helpful presentations on how to identify different birds, where to find them, and what their songs and calls sound like.  Even if you never thought of yourself as a 'bird nerd', attending a bird festival might just make you a bona fide birdwatcher!

Several upcoming festivals will highlight hummingbirds, shore birds, cranes, eagles, hawks, owls and other raptors, birds of the prairie and migratory songbirds.  Discover a whole new world:  check the link at the end of this post to find a bird festival—then go and join the family fun!  Chances are there's a birding festival not far from where you live!
Grandma Pearl

For an extensive list of bird festivals and their dates, go to http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/events/category/lectures-and-workshops/

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Keep Mice Out of Bird Houses

Pineapple Mint
Grandma Pearl
If you are having trouble with mice invading your bird houses, especially over the winter time, I have some tips to help you discourage them from setting up housekeeping in the first place!

1.  Check your bird houses!  If they have old bird nests, mice nests, dirt or other debris inside, be sure to clean them out.  Use gloves to protect your hands, then take a wire brush or putty knife and scrape away anything that might be stuck on.
     Mice tend to use the same nesting material, and add to it repeatedly.  Removing old nesting material should help dissuade them from automatically moving in to a ready-made home.
2.  If you have mint growing in your gardens, or if you know of someone who would like to share some with you, by all means take advantage of this wonderfully aromatic plant.  MICE HATE THE SMELL OF MINT!

Spearmint loves moist soil conditions
Grandma Pearl

3.  After you have cleaned your bird house and are ready to hang it back up, rub the inside with the mint leaves.  The oils will penetrate the wood and help repel rodents.  Also, add a bunch of mint leaves to the inside of the nest box. 
4.  When spring rolls around again, be sure to plant a pot of mint at the base of your bird house pole.  Or if you have the space and a moist area near the nest box, plant the mint in the ground right there.  Be aware that mint is a prolific grower and will take over a garden in short order.  That's why I like to confine my mint to a large pot.  
     You can use spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint or any other strong-smelling mint variety.
Mint flowers attract all kinds of beneficial pollinators
Grandma Pearl

An added bonus with the mint is that it attracts beneficial bugs as well as butterflies and hummingbirds.  Yup, hummers love to poke their beaks into each of the tiny tubes of the mint flower head!  
Here in the northeast, my mint begins to flower at the end of August, and will continue right up until the frost hits.  After the first frost, I harvest my mint by pulling it out, roots and all.  Rest assured, you will always leave some roots behind and the mint will return in the spring.
Once I have gathered all the mint stems, I place them in a large paper bag in a cool room.  I like to use those big bags they give you in the restaurants....you know, the ones that have handles.  Those handles come in handy for hanging your paper bag on a hook.
I then cover my mint with newspapers to keep them dry and dust free.
If I need mint in a recipe, I have the real stuff!  Be careful, a little goes a long way.

If you happen to have an attic or basement that is particularly attractive to mice, place mint all around the areas where they are most likely entering.  Rather than confront the pungent aroma, mice will decide to set up housekeeping somewhere else!

Remember not to use toxic chemicals!  They are deadly to humans, pets and wildlife; particularly the owls and other animals that prey on mice and rats.  It is a painfully slow death they endure after swallowing poisoned rodents.  Instead, use the mint or humane traps.  If you don't like transporting rats and mice in a trap, use the old-fashioned snap traps, or the covered traps that let you know when they are full.  Those are totally disposable, and you never have to see or touch the critter.
Grandma Pearl

Are Your Bird Houses Ready for Fall and Winter?
Mouse and Rat Poison--What They're Not Telling Us
How and Why to Attract Owls to Your Backyard