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First Time Red Bellied Woodpecker Nesting

Redbellied Woodpecker 1They’ve Finally Nested!

After years of feeding Red Bellied Woodpeckers in my back yard, I finally have a pair that are calling a nearly dead tree just over my back fence home!

Since shortly after I put up my first peanut feeder and suet I’ve had them around and about my yard. I’ve always loved listening to their vocalizations that sound like they mean business. I’ve always wondered where they were nesting since they seemed to be very close all year round.

Now, I’ll know for sure.

What’s That Tapping?

My wife was the first one to notice the tapping sound. Since I have many types of woodpeckers around and a LOT of wood, it can be very hard to isolate any sound. We even have a tall tree back in the woods behind my property that every woodpecker from Downy to Pileated has used for drumming. It must have the perfect combination of height, density and circumference. You can always tell which woodpecker is using it by the pitch it makes. Very cool!

I walked to the back of the property and looked up at the tree she mentioned. I could hear muffled tapping but it was very hard to discern exactly where it was coming from. After a few minutes, I just gave up and went back to work.

The Male Stuck On a Tree

A couple of days later, I noticed the male was perching on the side of a tree near where I heard the tapping. I walked back there again being careful not to spook him.

That’s when I saw her sticking her head out! She looked around a little and then went back inside. I knew then I was looking at a future woodpecker nest.

Redbellied Woodpecker 2

My Surprise

The strangest thing about this is if I had seen the hole before now I would NEVER have thought it was big enough for a Red Bellied Woodpecker. I know they do a LOT of excavation inside but I wouldn’t have thought the hole was nearly big enough for either of them. Subsequent viewing proved me dead wrong.

Got the Shot

A day or two ago, I decided I was going to go back there and just wait for her to go in or come out. I was determined to get a shot of her in there working. I knew if she was around, preservation DNA would keep her from entering while a potential predator watched. Still, I wanted the shot and took my chances.

I didn’t have to wait long. After about a minute, I heard the same tapping resuming. In a couple more minutes, she stuck her head out. I took a few quick pics and I’m posting them here for your enjoyment.

Redbellied Woodpecker 3

Going Forward

I’ll try to keep up with them and see if I might be able to get a shot of the youngsters fledging when they do. I’ll have to review the nestling to fledgling stats and see if I can make a decent prediction about when to expect them. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Talk to Me

Have you had a pair of Red Bellied Woodpeckers nest close enough for you to watch them? Leave me a comment below and tell me how it went. Also, if you’ve enjoyed this post please share it on your favorite social media site using the buttons below.

Happy Birding!

Jeff

I’m Being Overrun By Goldfinches! Here’s How You Can Too

goldfinchesNo Goldfinches?

Like a lot of people I’ve been talking to this year, I’ve had a real challenge getting goldfinches into my back yard. I’ve tried cleaning, changing seed, changing seed brands and praying. Up until a couple of weeks ago, it didn’t seem like there was any way to change this trend.

One day, I was out in my garage inventorying my feeders and supplies. I came upon a chickadee feeder that I had cleaned and retired last year at some point. It’s one I normally keep hanging just outside my back door. I know the reason I took it down is I wasn’t really getting anything but house finches on it and it does make a bit of a mess so close to the house. This has a tendency to attract all manner or things, including skunks. I clean out there at least twice/week so I’m not talking about a heap of stuff either.

I can remember vividly the night last year when I ALMOST let my dog out the back door. Thankfully, I remembered to check outside before I let her out. At the bottom of my steps was a young skunk trying to get as much sunflower seed scraps it could. That made up my mind to take it down. It just wasn’t worth the risk for the little bit of traffic it was getting.

Seeing this feeder I thought I might as well put it up and see if that would help my goldfinch issue.

And that has made all the difference!

Within two days of putting it out there, I started seeing a couple more, five more and then twenty or more new birds coming to this feeder! Within a week, they were attacking my previously uninteresting thistle feeder. Now, I can’t keep seed in the chickadee feeder and the thistle feeder is being emptied at least one perch level per day. As I’m looking at it now, it’s almost empty because I missed yesterday due to rain.

Besides this, they are also making regular rounds to my other sunflower seed feeder!

I’ve written previously about How to Attract Golfinches Into Your Back Yard but I wanted to review some things I think will really help you bring them back.

Updated List of How to Attract More Goldfinches

In no particular order, they are:

  • If you have a feeder with old seed in it, take it down, clean it and refill it. If your seed is more than six months old, consider composting it and replacing it. Goldfinches are very aware of seed age and old (not necessarily bad, mind you) seed will kill your chances of getting them at your feeders.
  • If you have tube feeders, consider getting a clear plastic dome to hang it from in your back yard. Preferably not one with the two piece wind resistant fixture. Those are no help whatsoever in keeping water out of the tube. Trust me on this!
  • Buy some sunflower chips or chips and hearts and put them in a chickadee feeder you can hang close to your house. This will discourage other birds from taking it over.
  • If you have squirrels, consider buying a squirrel proof tube feeder for your chips. Squirrels don’t care at all about thistle but they’ll take your house down looking for sunflower seed!
  • Consider adding water if you don’t have it already. Just another nicety they love to visit. Especially if it’s close to one of their feeders. Here’s a simple but elegant resin bird bath.
  • If you’ve done everything above and still don’t see them, consider moving your feeders around. They do like to have readily available cover (trees, bushes and brush) and will reward you for easing their minds.

Talk To Me!

Try these things and let me know what success you have with them. If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends and family on social media using the links below. That is unless you just want to make your birding friends green with envy and don’t want to share your secrets-HA!

Have a great week,

Jeff

Shade Grown Coffee Is For The Birds

shade grown coffeeSo, it’s a little play on words, ok? The thrust of this article is to show you how to get great tasting coffee that helps the birds, the small growers and the the planet at the same time.

I got an email from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that had a video with Amanda Rodenwald doing research in Central and South American coffee farms. In it, she talks about how migratory birds are losing their wintering refuges. These places are being destroyed to grow sun grown coffee. Colombia has lost 75% of its mountain forests! And birds are not the only ones affected by this either.

Short History of Coffee

Up until 1972, almost all coffee was harvested from shade-grown plants. That’s how they naturally occurred and the ecosystem was perfect for it. Shade trees dropped leaves which helped retain soil moisture and the birds took care of insects. These crops were grown with little to no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

In 1972, hybrid coffee plants were developed to produce more beans per plant, were easier to harvest and did best in direct sunlight. These plants also require high doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This caused only the smaller, low-tech farms to preserve their shade trees because they could not afford the chemicals needed.

This caused most coffee producers to clear land for this new type of coffee crop. Of the 6 million acres of coffee growing lands, 60% have been stripped of shade trees since 1972. This has caused an estimated 20% decline in migratory bird populations in the last ten years.

Why Buy Shade-Grown Coffee?

Here are the main reasons to seriously consider buying shade-grown coffee:

  • Bird Habitat
  • Sustains Rainforests
  • Better Tasting and Healthier
  • Healthier Environment
  • Support Small Growers

Bird Habitat

Common birds like the Baltimore Orioles and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks spend their winters in the most productive coffee growing countries. We are already seeing sharp population declines in these and many other birds who overwinter in these countries. To date, as many as 150 species of birds have been identified on shade-grown coffee farms.

Sustains Rainforests

Sun-grown coffee plantations suffer from soil depletion and increased erosion. Rainforest is stripped to provide growing area for sun coffee.

Better Tasting and Healthier

Shade-grown coffee beans are larger, less bitter and more complex in flavor compared to their sun-grown counterparts. Shade-grown coffee is normally grown organically.

Healthier Environment

Shade trees help filter carbon dioxide to reduce global warming. Also, their help with moisture retention reduces soil erosion.

Support Small Growers

The smaller growers are the ones who were left behind by the sun grown coffee movement. By purchasing shade grown coffee, you help the little guys prosper and keep quality coffee production alive.

How to Buy REAL Shade-Grown Coffee

There are two main ways to make sure your coffee is shade grown.

First, look for coffee plantations that state in their literature or on their website that they produce shade-grown coffee.

Second, the coffees that come from Southern Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala are almost certainly shade-grown. Coffee grown in Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea and Ethiopia are very likely shade-grown.

Third, look for the words “bird friendly”, “fair trade” or “certified organic.”

Conclusion

If you want the healthiest, tastiest, most sustainable and human-centered coffee in your cup, give serious thought to finding and buying shade-grown, fair trade coffee! Please leave me a comment below and tell me about your experience with shade-grown coffee!

Also, if you enjoyed this article and think it may help somebody make a better coffee decision, please share it using the buttons below.

A Couple Places to Find Shade-Grown Coffee

https://www.birdsandbeans.com/

Amazon

Thanks to Tatsiana Thomson from Brome Bird News for these sources!

Sources

http://eartheasy.com/eat_shadegrown_coffee.htm

http://www.alternet.org/food/6-reasons-choose-organic-shade-grown-fair-trade-coffee

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/fair-trade-coffee/

http://www.futurity.org/shade-grown-coffee-911482/

 

How To Feed Squirrels Successfully

feed squirrelsTo Feed or Not To Feed?

As many of you have already guessed, I have squirrels in my back yard and have since I started feeding birds in 2003. I’ve written before about their antics and some of the challenges with them. I’ve said before that it’s not something you should do without doing some research first. If you want to feed squirrels you do need to understand what you’re getting into potentially.

With this being winter in the US, I thought it would be a good time to talk about this again. Winter is the time they are scavenging for food and a place to have their young. I just felt it would be timely advice.

Plus, this week I watched a Brome Bird News segment where their resident ornithologist, Dr. Bird (his real name) advised against feeding squirrels. His main issue was that they are destructive toward birding habitat. I don’t think he was keen on seeing their numbers increase either.

I wanted to counter with my advice for those who are considering feeding squirrels or just have them on your property. I’ll lay out the major areas of concern and how I believe you can avoid problems in those areas.

  • Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces
  • Competition for Bird Food
  • Destruction of Property

Then, I’ll conclude with my experiences and why I support feeding them.

Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces

I hear a lot about how squirrels will get into bird houses and cause all kinds of mayhem. From breaking eggs to killing young to destroying the house, I’ve heard all the horror stories. Here is how I’ve dealt with this threat.

As soon as I figured out I had squirrels in my back yard, I started consulting with my local bird store for help. Their immediate reply: baffle your bird houses and do not place them anywhere near a tree. By anywhere near I mean away or below too. A squirrel is able to fall 100 feet onto ground and walk away. I’ve personally seem youngsters jump out of trees on top of my feeders so I mean NOWHERE near a tree.

The baffle prevents them from being able to climb on top of the house and fish around inside. If you do these two things alone, you won’t have any problems with squirrels bothering your nesting birds if they are cavity dwellers. If not, you’ve got to realize feeding squirrels WILL endanger birds that nest in low branches of trees, for instance. Most of the non-cavity nesting birds in my back yard make their nests elsewhere.

Competition for Bird Food

I think the main problem I see here all the time is people underestimating squirrels. Just because you have food at the top of a shiny pole don’t think they can’t get to it! Like the nest box issue, you need to invest in a baffle and not place feeders where they can be jumped onto. Same above and away rule applies.

Because my property borders a wooded common area, I invested a little more in a raccoon baffle (which is longer) and it has paid off many times. If you know you have raccoons and want to continue feeding birds, it’s worth the extra investment.

You should also make sure any feeders you have that are not baffled are squirrel proof feeders like Brome Bird Care sells. They are high quality and their customer service and guarantee are next to none. You can get feeders that are hopper or tube feeders that have mechanisms in them close off food for any squirrel that gets on them.

I’ll just add that this is another area where bird food manufacturers will tell you just to switch what your feeding. While it’s true squirrels don’t care for a food like safflower much, do you really want them crawling all over your feeders to find that out? I know I don’t-LOL!

Destruction of Property

Here is probably the hottest of the issues with feeding squirrels that I know of. Being rodents, they do have a destructive streak in them. Plants, and yard fixtures are among their folly. However, the hot button issue with homeowners is them getting into your house or attic.This is potentially the most expensive threat of any I know of. Having them chew their way into your attic, have babies, soil and tear up your attic and any contents could cost you thousands. I have personal experience that might have some changing their minds about feeding squirrels.

Notice I said “could” in the last paragraph. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my tips for keeping their destructive and invasive tendencies at bay.

Once again, I’ve got to lead by saying Do NOT Underestimate Them, EVER!

If you want to feed squirrels and enjoy them as I do, you’ll make sure to:

  • Cut back any trees or bushes that give them easy access to your gutters and roof.
  • Have your gutters cleaned and inspected by a competent service. Angie’s List is a great place to start looking. You want to make sure they are able to check fascia and soffit boards for any sign of damage. Repair as necessary. The main place I’ve had trouble with them is where the roof hangs over the gutter.
  • If you are not willing to have your gutters, roof and structures checked at least annually, I would advise against feeding squirrels in your back yard.
  • Once again, do not underestimate them, ever! If you or your tech sees a problem, fix it! NOW! Otherwise, they WILL find a way in.

Final Thoughts

So, has this article got you running for the hills or do you believe you can safely feed squirrels? I honestly believe it is a very pleasurable thing to do if you know the rules. I’ve outlined the major ones above but let me share a few more tidbits here.

  • Don’t believe you can “make a pact” with your squirrels by giving them their own food and feeders. They don’t understand those rules and will find your feeders and clean them out!
  • Don’t kill them! Besides my having a soft spot for them in my heart, it’s just not a good idea. Besides the threat of poison, traps and firearms on your other back yard guests, it’s not smart ecology. When some are killed, others will move in! Guaranteed!
  • Don’t give them food they love. Give them food that’s good enough. I feed a wildlife mixture that’s heavy in corn that they eat just fine. Why do I say this? If you feed food they love, they will come from miles around! The word travels fast-LOL! I know from experience what it’s like to wake up to thirteen squirrels in my back yard! Any of those squirrel logs are a BIG no-no because they have suet bases and squirrels will kill to get them. I’ve watched one of those squirrel logs be completely destroyed in a few hours.
  • Put up a squirrel box for their food and by all means, you have to get a squngee to hang off a tree limb. The entertainment value from one of those is just huge!

Tell me about your experiences, good and bad with squirrels. I’m always interested in hearing new approaches. Leave me a comment below and we’ll talk about it.

Also, did you enjoy this article? If so, share it on your favorite social media platform using the buttons below.

Here’s to feeding squirrels successfully on YOUR terms!

Jeff

There is also a small book called “Enjoying Squirrels More (Or Less!)” by the people at Bird Watcher’s Digest. It’s a quick and fun read that may help you if you’re on the fence.