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, December 31, 2013

Basic Suet

Female Downy Woodpecker enjoying home made suet
by Grandma Pearl
Basic Homemade Suet is easy to make and more economical than buying commercial suet cakes.  Plus, you can be sure there are no harmful additives if you make it yourself.

You can find suet or beef fat trimmings at your local butcher shop, usually at a drastically reduced price.  Or, you can trim the fat from meat you cook yourself--save the fat scraps in a container and keep refrigerated until you are ready to render them.

Wild bird supply stores carry plain suet cakes that have already been rendered.  These can be used without any additions, or you can supplement them with bits of fruit, seeds or nutmeats to please your backyard birds.

If you choose to make your own suet from fat trimmings, here is the process:

1.  Cut the fat into small pieces, or use a food processor or meat grinder.
2.  In a deep saucepan, melt the fat OVER LOW HEAT.  Don't rush this step!  It is better to do this slowly than to risk a fire!  Treat it with respect as you do any cooking oil or other fat on the stove.
3.  Once the fat is completely melted, pour it slowly and carefully into molds or other containers.  Remember that the unmolded product will need to fit into your particular suet feeders.
4.  Allow to cool and then refrigerate for several hours.  Refrigeration causes the fat to solidify so it can be handled more easily.
5.  If you decide to add other ingredients to the suet, do that before pouring the suet into containers. 

These are some of the ingredients that I like to add:

  • small pieces of nuts like peanuts, pecans or walnuts
  • black oil sunflower seed
  • peanut butter
  • cracked corn or corn meal
  • oats, wheat or white flour
  • raisins, apple or other small fruit pieces, currants
Some of the birds that visit my suet feeders:

Monday, December 30, 2013

White Violets, Narcissus, Serviceberry Blossoms: It's All About White!

Delicate white violets show their purple splashed throats.
by Grandma Pearl

Today it is all about the white I see in Nature.

White violets are some of my earliest wildflowers to bloom.  To the Victorians white violets meant modesty and innocence,  honesty and humility; the religious connotation is that of faithfulness and spiritual understanding, death and resurrection.
All kinds of bees and bee flies find these dainty flowers irresistible!

Male Hairy Woodpecker enjoying a bountiful breakfast.
by Grandma Pearl
This beautiful white and black male Hairy Woodpecker is looking over his ample choices for breakfast.  I purchased a small bag of fruit and nut bird seed mix and combined it with regular black oil sunflower seeds.  My birds are definitely enjoying the variety.  I also occasionally add pieces of day-old bread as a special treat.  Mr. Hairy obviously doesn't know what to choose first!

Coltsfoot, also known as coughwort,
is used as an expectorant for clearing the lungs of congestion.  It is often combined with other herbs such as marshmallow or horehound to relieve symptoms of asthma, bronchitis and colds and flu.  But recent research has connected the use of this herb to liver disease.
Coltsfoot was probably brought to North America from Europe by the colonists because of its usefulness as an herbal solution to lung problems.

This herb grows in groups in waste areas in early spring, and blooms even before the dandelions emerge and flower.  It is one of the first nectar sources used by honeybees.   Prized by birds as a soft lining for their nests, it appears at just the right time in the spring!
Its leaves resemble a horse's hoof, and fully mature only after the flower has withered.  All parts of the plant were used medicinally. Coltsfoot as a healing resource goes back to the ancient times of Pliny and Galen.

Arabis 'Snowcrop' perennial
by Grandma Pearl

Arabis 'Snowcrop' is one of my favorite little springtime perennials.  The delicate 4-petaled flowers are cold hardy and remain on the plant a long time. It grows in partial shade without a problem, and it is deer resistant.  Snowcrop prefers slightly moist soil, but will tolerate dry conditions as well.  Compact and showy, it makes a very pretty addition to a perennial garden.

White narcissus
by Grandma Pearl

Lovely and familiar, my narcissus stand proudly against the cool spring breezes without batting an eye!  They are reliable harbingers of the season with their sunny yellow centers.  Every day they greet me with a nod and a reflection of brilliant sunshine.  The squirrels scurry back and forth in my bulb garden without causing any injury to these hardy narcissus.  It is necessary to keep them behind a fence though, because the deer think they are just another part of the salad buffet around here!

Serviceberry Tree in full bloom.
by Grandma Pearl
The beautiful Serviceberry tree blooms with oceans of bright white flowers.  It has other names:  shadbush, shadblow and juneberry.  A gorgeous addition to your landscape it produces edible fruits that birds love.  The fruits resemble blueberries but have a very different flavor, and the seeds taste like almonds.  Serviceberries start out red and change to blue as they ripen.  Use them in the same recipes where you would use blueberries, if the birds leave any for you! 

Flowers bloom in May here, then fruits appear in June; which is also the time when shad (fish) start spawning, thus the alternative names.

Mama Chickadee will soon be tending her nestlings.
by Grandma Pearl
White and black chickadees chat happily among themselves while busily tending their nests.  My newest batch of chickadees should be hatching soon.  Several days ago I saw this little bird with a beakful of dandelion fluff.  I'm sure she used it to line her nest inside the bird house she has chosen for her babies' nursery.  Both the male and female spent 2 days gathering materials to add to the loose grass cup they made.  When the babies have hatched, I will attempt to carefully open the birdhouse and quietly take a picture of her brood.

Cherry Blossom up close.
by Grandma Pearl
 My cherry blossoms never cease to take my breath away!  Their delicate and fancy white petals surround a tiny pink rosette center.  What a lovely cloud of blooms they produce!  These are Nanking Cherries that I planted about ten years ago.  Last year they were held back by a snowy cold snap.  But this year they have recovered nicely.  I should have enough fruit for a tasty cherry cobbler soon!

White Quartz Rock
by Grandma Pearl

I have a collection of white quartz that I have found around here.  This piece that is about the size of a hen's egg will be added to my others.  It sparkles in the sunshine, but that doesn't really show up in this picture.  I have also found some sandstone with mica flecks.

Nuthatch foraging under bird feeder
by Grandma Pearl
I love the little nuthatches with their white fronted tuxedo outfits!  They are snappy dressers for sure.  It's the contrast in colors that makes them so distinctive; that and their 'yank, yank,' call.  Acrobatic and agile, they forage under the bird feeders for seeds, and up and down trees for insects of all kinds.  They are year round visitors here, and always welcome in our neck of the woods!

Grandma Pearl
original post 5/13

 Nuthatches:  Little Devil Down Birds

Best Bird House Pole and How to Install It

Threaded Galvanized Conduit and threaded flange with screw holes
by Grandma Pearl
After a lot of trial and error, I have finally found the very best pole to use for installing a bird house or bird feeder.  And it comes from an unlikely place—the hardware store!  Go to the electrical department of your nearest big box hardware store and purchase inexpensive conduit about 10 feet long.  It’s made of galvanized metal, which helps it outlast the worst weather conditions, and it is sturdy.

 But the best part is that one end is already threaded.  In the same department, find a threaded flat metal flange with screw holes that will fit your pole.
What You’ll Need: 

 Bag of quick setting cement in which to permanently install your pole
·         Bucket in which to mix the cement
·         Shovel to mix cement
·         A level
·         Screw Drive
·         Wood Screws
Step By Step:

1.       Attach the flat metal flange to the bottom of your bird house with appropriate length wood screws.  Check to make sure the tip of the screws will not penetrate into the nest box itself, because the points might harm baby birds.
2.       Dig a hole at least 3 feet deep in your selected bird house location.  You may have to go deeper if you live in a region that has a deeper frost depth. 
3.       Attach your bird house by screwing the metal flange onto the threaded end of the pole. 
4.       Set your pole in the hole and use a level to make sure the pole is straight.
5.       Add some large stones to support the pole while you mix up your cement.
6.       Read the directions to properly mix your cement. 
7.       Once the cement is ready to pour, check for level once again, and as the cement goes in the hole.  Make adjustments as necessary.  It is very important that the pole be level all around so that the baby birds don’t fall out!

Most backyard birds that will use a bird house like to nest from 5 to 10 feet off the ground.  Keep that in mind when you buy your lengths of conduit.  Remember to add the depth of the hole to get your overall pole length.  I suggest 10 feet of threaded conduit, which gives you about 7 feet of height, plus 3 feet for the depth of the hole.

Your birds may not find their new house right away, but be patient!  Once they find it, you will enjoy the fun of watching all the activity as the babies are fed, and eventually learn to fly.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Favorite Bird Feeders

A variety of birds enjoying a variety of bird feeders.
Image by Grandma Pearl

Some of My Happy Birds!

There are 5 birds in my picture above; can you find them all?  (Hint-the head is not visible on one of them.)

By the way, my bird feeder 'post' is actually an old speed bag holder my husband found alongside the road.  He thought he would eventually buy a new speed bag and use it, but I had other ideas!  It worked perfectly to hold a variety of feeders, and it has a heavy enough base so there is no danger it will fall over in the wind. My husband actually thought I was quite clever!  Evidently, he wasn't all that keen on using it himself after all.

I have several more feeders in another part of the yard, but these seem to be the favorite for many of my birds.  Instead of suet or peanut butter plugs, I use an offset spatula (the kind used for spreading cake icing) to fill the holes of the cedar suet log

(Suet Log Bird Feeder) with chunky peanut butter.  It was a hit from day 1!

The metal mesh feeder (No/No Red Seed Ball Wild Bird Feeder - RSB00343)
fills from the top and is also extremely popular with the smaller birds in my yard.  I have to fill it every 3 days!  They enjoy clinging to the mesh and swinging back and forth as birds land and fly off the round feeder.  I have also used these in my bird feeder wreaths, which keep the birds from colliding with my front windows.

And then there is the suet holder.  There is always at least one bird working at the suet.  It might be a woodpecker or a chickadee, a nuthatch or a titmouse.  It is occupied from dawn to dusk, especially in the colder weather.  All these feeders are inexpensive and draw a variety of birds to my yard in all seasons.

When there is fresh snow on the ground, I enjoy tossing sunflower seeds out for my ground feeding birds.  It's a joy to watch them gather and feed where I can observe them at close range.

Goldfinches and juncos searching in the snow for sunflower seeds.
Image by Grandma Pearl
Gold finches and juncos are the first ones on the scene;  they snatch up the seeds on the freshly fallen snow but never seem to have any squabbles among themselves.  It's not a good idea to scatter seeds on the ground if you have outdoor cats that might prey on your birds.

I plan on making a snowman when we have enough wet snow.  Then I'll add a dish to hold bird seeds and watch as my backyard birds have fun with their newest feeder!

Goldfinches are among the many birds that enjoy tube style seed feeders.
image by Grandma Pearl
This tube style feeder (Aspects 392 Quick-Clean Seed Tube Feeder, Medium - Brushed Nickel) in another part of the yard is always popular with goldfinches, titmice, chickadees, and purple finches.  In the cold months I fill it with a combination of black oil sunflower seeds and a fruit and nut mixture I found at the local tractor supply store.  That mixture also contains a little gravel to help the birds digest their food. 

My snow-covered bench--Guess I won't be sitting there anytime soon!
Image by Grandma Pearl

The more variety of feeders and types of food, the larger the variety of birds you will attract.  Also, don't forget to provide unfrozen water in your bird bath.  Those birds get thirsty and need to drink and bathe all year round, not just in the warmer months.  

Grandma Pearl

Best Feeders for Winter Birds
How Do Birds Stay Warm?
Myths About Wild Birds
Easy Ways to Provide Water in the Winter 

Thank You for Inspiring a New Generation of Bird Lovers

Here is a wonderful video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, showing how a group effort can make a huge difference in bird populations and their survival rates.  It's only about 3 minutes long, but it is wonderful to watch.  Enjoy!

Grandma Pearl

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Five Ways to Keep Predators Away From Baby Birds

Vulnerable robin's nest in an oak tree.
by Grandma Pearl

Nature can be harsh, especially when it comes to wild babies.  Newly laid eggs, nestlings and fledglings are particularly at risk because they are favorites of predators like other birds, raccoons, squirrels, feral cats, etc.  But you can give them a safer environment and a better chance at survival using the following easy solutions. 

*Remember not to use toxic chemicals in your environment.  They harm all life, including humans; plus they find their way into our water sources.  If you attract birds, you will not need poisons to be rid of insect pests.  But if you still feel you need to control the bug population, choose organic and non-toxic options.
1.  Make a bird nesting basket to camouflage and thus hide the baby birds.  Click here for the 5 easy steps.
Make a bird nesting basket using my 5 easy steps.
by Grandma Pearl

2.  Plant a briar patch.  You'd be surprised how many birds are attracted to thorny berry plants.  In addition to being a great food source, the sharp tangles discourage even the most persistent predator.  It doesn't have to be a large patch to make a huge difference.  Find out more here.
Briar patches don't need to be large to help birds.
by Grandma Pearl

3.  Climbing Rose Bushes offer another type of shelter with built-in predator resistance.  Not only that, but these bushes are home to bugs relished by backyard birds.  Cardinals are especially fond of nesting in rose bushes.  Choose rose varieties that produce rose hips, and you will also be feeding birds all winter long.  Rose hips provide much needed nutrients not otherwise available during the wintertime.  Create Safe Bird Habitats With Climbing Roses  
Robin Hood Climbing Rose creates a dense tangle of thorny branches just right for hiding bird nests and baby birds
by Grandma Pearl

4.  Dense vines make excellent nesting sites for birds.  Tangled vines are easily accessible by birds, but are a natural deterrent for the predators that would make easy pickins' out of birds' eggs and bird babies.  See which vines work the best here
Wild grape vines will quickly grow to shelter bird nests in the future.
by Grandma Pearl

5.  Mount your birds houses right on your own house.  Birds like hawks don't like to venture too close to human habitats.  Other predators find it hard to reach the baby birds when the nest box is installed on a high vertical surface.  Install them on the non-windy side, and under an overhang if possible.  See how I used a climbing hydrangea vine to surround one of my bird houses here.  
bird house mounted on my house in my hydrangea vine
by Grandma Pearl

Grandma Pearl