Posts Tagged ‘bird feeders’

Throwback Thursday: Chickadee Energetics

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Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee with Seed © Kent McFarland

Throwback Thursday: Chickadee Energetics by Kent McFarland

Originally Posted: 12/28/11

Black-capped Chickadees weigh less than a half-ounce or about the same as two nickels in the palm of your hand. As early winter temperatures bounce up and down here in New England as fast as the chickadees at my feeders, it got me wondering how these tiny birds can survive a cold winter night.

Each night they are confronted with the very high energetic demands of staying alive. If they don’t have adequate energy stores to burn, they may not see the light of day. To compensate for the long and cold nights during winter, chickadees increase proteins associated with intracellular lipid transport. Each evening when they go to roost, they have enough fat stores to supply just a bit more energy than they will need overnight.

More fat to burn isn’t the only answer. Chickadees also have metabolic tricks to save valuable energy. Their daytime body temperature is generally cooking at about 108 F. But on a cold winter night they can crank it down by 18 to 22 degrees into a hypothermic state. One study showed that when a chickadee was exposed to 32 F nighttime temperatures, they could reduce their hourly metabolic expenditure by 23 percent.

Each evening as the sun is dropping below the hills and the chickadees are flitting back and forth to my feeders, I know it’s a metabolic race for them to survive another night in the north woods. And for me, I’ll rely on stored energy from the sun and toss another log into the stove.

Enjoy the Sighting

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Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Cooper's Hawk © Dave Haas

The awe and splendor hawks bring to people is awesome. Anywhere I find myself teaching about raptors with a Red-Tailed Hawk or a Great-horned Owl on the glove, no matter the age, people are in awe. The one question we always get in programs is “How do I get rid of that hawk that’s getting the birds at my feeders”?

There are ways of preventing hawks from coming into your feeders, but my question is why? If we step back and think about Nature and the food web, these hawks are only doing what they’ve adapted so well to do. If you think about it, having bird feeders attracts small songbirds and where dozens of prey items gather, a predator will eventually find its way to the area. By having bird feeders out, we’re essentially ringing the hawk dinner bell for a smorgasbord of tasty treats. I say treats, but to some hawks these flighted songbirds are subsistence for getting them through to the next day. For those that want to create a more even playing field for songbirds, think about setting up feeders close to trees and other brush. Having feeders with cover such as this will help bring in more birds but also give them areas they can quickly take shelter from predators. This will help the songbirds, but it won’t keep hawks from coming in. If you decide you truly want the hawks to stay away, the feeders will have to come down.

House Finch © Josh Haas

When it really comes down to it, think about how rough nature is. Wild animals don’t have it as easy as us and their lives are very tough. They aren’t lucky enough to go to the store, pick up some items and whip together a filling dinner whenever hunger hits. When a Cooper’s Hawk comes in and nabs a House Finch near your feeders, simply enjoy that sighting and think of it as a connection with nature. This is a wonderful thing to experience and learn from. For me, sightings like this are part of the reason I have bird feeders!

Chickadee Energetics

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Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Black-capped Chickadee with Seed

Black-capped Chickadees weigh less than a half-ounce or about the same as two nickels in the palm of your hand. As early winter temperatures bounce up and down here in New England as fast as the chickadees at my feeders, it got me wondering how these tiny birds can survive a cold winter night.

Each night they are confronted with the very high energetic demands of staying alive. If they don’t have adequate energy stores to burn, they may not see the light of day. To compensate for the long and cold nights during winter, chickadees increase proteins associated with intracellular lipid transport. Each evening when they go to roost, they have enough fat stores to supply just a bit more energy than they will need overnight.

More fat to burn isn’t the only answer. Chickadees also have metabolic tricks to save valuable energy. Their daytime body temperature is generally cooking at about 108 F. But on a cold winter night they can crank it down by 18 to 22 degrees into a hypothermic state. One study showed that when a chickadee was exposed to 32 F nighttime temperatures, they could reduce their hourly metabolic expenditure by 23 percent.

Each evening as the sun is dropping below the hills and the chickadees are flitting back and forth to my feeders, I know it’s a metabolic race for them to survive another night in the north woods. And for me, I’ll rely on stored energy from the sun and toss another log into the stove.

Bird Feeding from the Second Floor

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Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Backyard bird feeding is among the most popular hobbies of home owners. It’s no surprise as most people love seeing any natural living animals close to home. Many people don’t know where to begin when they decide they’d like to start feeding birds but keeping it simple is usually the key to successful feeding without breaking the bank.

I’m a big fan of keeping things simple but many look at my setup and think it’s far from it. While building the setup was far from simple, the concept is very simple and keeping feeders filled and clean is a snap. Living in a walk-out ranch home means the main floor on the back of the house feels like the second level. The problem was when we’d sit down to dinner and look out through our slider, all we’d see was the deck and none of the lawn below. This meant to feed birds and enjoy them we’d have to have feeders on the deck somewhere. This would also mean all the mess with feeding birds would be on the deck. That was the last thing we wanted so to the drawing board I went. My vision was for a system that had feeders at deck height but out enough so the mess from feeding would simply fall to the ground sixteen feet below. In the end, I installed two curved steel pipes mounted to the deck and strung a cable in-between the poles. From the stretched cable, two groups of feeders would be installed for proper viewing from the slider as well as the window over the kitchen sink. The feeders hang five feet from the decks edge. Getting the feeders back on the deck for refilling and cleaning is done by using a shepherd’s crook. They can be heavy when putting the feeders back on their hooks but after doing it a few times, I had it down! Most of the feeders have Black Oil Sunflower seed which attracts many bird species including American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and more. I do prefer to use Thistle seed as well, especially in the winter with hopes of Pine Siskins and Purple Finches coming in. All of these feeders are filled from the deck and there is never a mess.

While I choose to use a few types of seed as well as making custom mixes for the platform feeder, this is probably a little overboard for people just getting into feeding the birds. My advice would be to ignore seed mixes (most are filled with waste the birds don’t want). Use Black Oil Sunflower seed and try to place feeders in a group near trees or brush so the birds have a place to hide and retreat. Try your hand at feeding and enjoy the birds as they come close to home and gobble up the food from your feeders.

Time to Wash those Feeders!

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Wednesday, April 6th, 2011


I have received a few reports of sick and dying Common Redpolls at bird feeders around the region. In the past when I have seen this I have sent samples for testing and they have come back positive for Salmonella. Have you cleaned your feeders lately? With warming spring temperatures its time to clean bird feeders with a 10% bleach solution and rake up all the seed waste that may be on the ground around them and dispose of it.

Redpolls come from the far north where they may not be exposed to pathogens common in our year-round backyard birds. Salmonella is commonly isolated from House Sparrows for example. They also congregate in large numbers around a concentrated food source and come into contact with infected droppings. The warmer spring temperatures and old seed on ground probably increases transmission.

Salmonellos is caused by a bacteria belonging to the genus Salmonella. It is a common cause of mortality in feeder birds, but the symptoms are not always obvious. Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, and may have swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easy to approach. Some infected birds may show no outward symptoms but are carriers of the disease and can spread the infection to other birds.

It is primarily transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds, though it can also be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact. Occasionally, outbreaks of the disease cause significant mortality in certain species. It only takes a few minutes to wash your feeders. Take some time and do it today!