Archive for the ‘Bird Behavior’ Category

Male Red Crossbill. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson, naturepicsonline.com

Male Red Crossbill. Photo: Elaine R. Wilson, naturepicsonline.com

As bird lovers, most of us live for the day when a rare (to us) bird flies into our air space, and – instead of just passing through – decides our yard looks good enough for a stopover. This happened for me last year when a Lazuli Bunting stopped in for a bite and lingered for a few hours. Last week, it was a pair of Red Crossbills.

The Red Crossbill, a colorful yet smudgy-looking member of the finch family, has one very interesting feature. And if you’re seeing this bird for the first time, this feature – a curved beak that crosses at the tips – may look like a deformity. But that crazy beak isn’t a deformity at all. Rather, it’s a handy feature that helps it collect the seeds that are the main part of its diet.

Of the rare-to-me birds on my list, the Red Crossbill is the one I’ve been most wanting to see, and for one reason: to get a first-hand look at that crazy, curvy, crossed beak myself. And it finally happened.

As I was gazing at my feeder birds the other morning, I was perplexed by what resembled a too-small, “dirty” Evening Grosbeak. She was eating seeds from a snowman-shaped cylinder feeder and was soon joined by a reddish friend that at first glance appeared to be a male House Finch. Of course, I knew they weren’t either of those and set about to identify them. (I knew what I wanted them to be, but had to make sure). After snapping a couple of photos to get a closer look, I was very excited to confirm that they were the Red Crossbills I’d been waiting for (the yellow one was the female). Oh, happy day!

Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t turn out well – see below – and I wasn’t able to get a great look at their beaks, but it was enough that they had finally showed. And hopefully they’ll be back.

If you, too, would like to see that amazing beak in action, watch as this female Red Crossbill devours an immature pinecone in slow motion:

And here’s a nice close-up of the Red Crossbill’s fabulous beak:

Want to learn more about the Red Crossbill? Read on.

Scientific name: Loxia curvirostra
Family: FRINGILLIDAE

Size and markings: The Red Crossbill is 5.5-7” in length with a wingspan of 11-12”. Its heavy finch bill is crossed at the tip. The male is a dull brick red with brown wings, and the red is lighter on the rump. The female is a yellow/olive-green with brown wings and also has lighter coloring on the rump. Tail is short and brown.

Food: The main diet of the Red Crossbill consists of seeds from pinecones. It also eats other seeds, berries, and insects.

Habitat/nesting/behavior: This bird forms loose colonies with other crossbills in coniferous forests. Its chunky nest, built on a branch, is made up of twigs, grasses, and lichen. The Red Crossbill has been known to breed “off-season” if a plentiful supply of pinecones is found.

Number of broods per year: Varies. At least one, but possibly more if plentiful food is found.

Number of eggs per brood: 3-4

Migratory pattern: The Red Crossbill is a year-round resident throughout much of the Pacific Northwest, but will micro-migrate nomadically in its search for pinecones.

Months usually seen at backyard feeders: Most likely to be seen at lowland feeders during the winter months, though rare.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

There’s something about this spring that has me feeling pretty melancholy. Just as our backyard birds are currently experiencing empty nests, I’m right there with them: My third oldest child — and first daughter — has just graduated high school. With two sons already in college, she’ll be doing that, too, in just a few short months. My nest won’t be totally empty, since I’ll have number four at home for quite a while longer, but it’s still a very poignant time watching each one grow up and move on.

Yesterday was orientation day at the college of her choice (Northwest University in Kirkland, WA, where one of my sons also goes), and during a session for the parents, we were shown a video that actually made a few parents cry. Stalwart that I pretend to be, I only got tears in my eyes but laughed at its cuteness. (Reality hit a little harder today.) I think they wanted to make sure we understood that our kids really are “leaving the nest.”

We get it — we really do. Sunrise, sunset. Quickly fly the years, etc., etc. I readily admit that this would not be the best time for me to watch Fiddler on the Roof, as I would probably just end up throwing folded laundry at my television.

Here’s the video we were shown yesterday at Northwest. Whether or not you’ve got birdies of your own leaving the nest (you may even be one), you’ll enjoy this video of Wood Duck fledglings jumping from their cavity nest high in a tree. I’m still amazed that it doesn’t hurt them. I could draw a parallel to that, too, but I’ll stop here.

Enjoy!

(A big thank you to Northwest University for showing us parents such great hospitality at orientation. Take good care of our fledglings!)
_________________________________________

Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Male Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Male Evening Grosbeak. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Along with the sun and milder temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest, migrating birds have been making their appearance, too. Whether they’re in the area to stay or just stopping for a rest and a few morsels of food before taking off again, their arrival is a fantastic opportunity for us to do some backyard birding. (By the way, spring is a great time to start a “life list” of birds you’ve seen, if you haven’t done so yet.)

While watching these birds is enjoyable for us, spring can be a dangerous time for them. The following tips will help to ensure a safer experience for your feathered visitors.

1. Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats allowed to roam their yards and neighborhoods can do real damage to the bird population. (The outside world isn’t the safest place for cats, either, which is another good reason to keep them inside.) It’s normal, I think, to assume it’s not a big deal for cats to catch a bird or two. But when we realize just how many cats are actually out there catching “a bird or two,” and the huge negative impact this has on bird numbers, we see how much of a big deal it really is. This article by the Washington Post says outdoor cats (they’re including feral cats in these numbers, too) kill between 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds each year. Just one domestic cat alone can kill up to 34 birds a year (that number is quite a bit higher for feral cats). So, if at all possible, make a difference for the birds in your yard and keep kitty inside where she can spend time chattering at the birds instead of pouncing on them.

2. Learn Good Birdhouse Etiquette. Wait…there’s etiquette for birdhouses? Well, not really, as the word etiquette usually implies a code of conduct regarding proper and polite ways to behave in a social setting, but it sounded better than rules. But rules they are, I guess, and following them might make for a better nesting experience this spring for all concerned.

First of all, don’t place a birdhouse too low. A too-low birdhouse makes it easy for predators like cats and raccoons to reach in and remove eggs and nestlings — and possibly the parents — from the nest. Poles with baffles, like this one and this one from Duncraft, make it difficult for predators to reach the birdhouse.

Don’t hang it in a full-sun location. I made this mistake when I started caring for backyard birds years ago. The back of our house – a spot that got full sun – seemed like a perfect location for a nesting box I’d just purchased, and for a while it was. It just didn’t occur to me that it would overheat on the inside. (That’s called naïveté on steroids.) A family of sparrows raised one brood that spring, and then had a second brood that summer. The second brood didn’t fare as well: It ended up being too hot inside the birdhouse and the nestlings didn’t survive. Needless to say… I felt horrible about it, learned a huge lesson, and didn’t make that mistake again.

Become an expert with the Audubon Birdhouse Book.

Only use birdhouses or nesting boxes that have a side or bottom panel that opens, and clean them out after nesting season is over. Many birds will simply build a new nest on top of any old ones left in the birdhouse. Over time, this raises the level of the nest dangerously, leaving the nestlings susceptible to predators. Also, if the young are too close to the entrance hole, they could fall out before they’re old enough to survive on their own. Birdhouses should also be cleaned out to remove parasites and any wasp nests that may have been started. The best time to do this is in the fall, when it’s obvious to you that the birdhouse is no longer being used. (Do put the birdhouse or nesting box back up after you’ve cleaned it — overwintering birds will use it for shelter during harsh weather.) For more tips about housing birds, check out this article by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Nesting and Roosting Boxes for Birds.

3. Do not use rat poison. Rat poison, commonly used by homeowners as an easy way to get rid of rodents, is made with anticoagulants (blood thinners) that cause internal hemorrhaging and subsequent death. These dying rats or mice become weak, easy prey for raptors like hawks, eagles, and owls, who then become secondary victims of the poison and die a slow, painful death.

I know it’s hard to admit…sometimes even to yourself…that you might have a rodent problem, so I’ll go first: Last summer, we had an experience with a family of rats that were getting into the crawl space under our house. They’d been attracted originally by the birdseed I’d been putting out, but since I wasn’t about to stop feeding the birds to get rid of the rats, we had to think of a different solution. After locating the place they were entering our home through, my husband placed one trap near that spot and another trap near what may have been their underground nest, using peanut butter as bait. He’d get a couple rats, reset the traps, and repeat. We ended up getting rid of the mama and several of her quickly-growing children that way. I was concerned that the birds would be attracted to the peanut butter and be harmed by the traps, too, but that didn’t happen. Whew.

If you do have a rat problem, you’ll enjoy this article by Animal Planet on 10 Rat Myths. Or, if you’re like me and you hate rats, you won’t enjoy it…but may find it interesting.

4. Keep birdfeeders clean and full. I don’t need to tell you, especially if you live west of the Cascades, that it’s been very wet and rainy lately. Birdfeeders can be magnets for bacteria, and quickly become their very own petri dishes. Buy an easy-to-clean feeder (one that can be completely taken apart) and clean it at least weekly during wet weather. If you see sick birds, take the feeders down entirely for at least a week or two to keep the disease from spreading to other birds.

Also, don’t place your feeders too close to dense shrubbery where predators can easily hide. Hanging them from a shepherd’s staff, like the one shown below, at least five to six feet away from the nearest shrubs will give your songbirds a better chance of escaping a hungry raptor or cat. (Pictures can be deceiving, by the way: The grape arbor in the photo, below, is really about 20 feet away from the feeding station.)

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Evening Grosbeaks. Photo credit: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Nectar feeders for hummingbirds should also be cleaned at least weekly, and the nectar changed every few days, especially in warm weather when it can quickly turn rancid. Some people change the nectar every day, and it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Just keep an eye on it – if the nectar starts to look cloudy, it needs to be changed and the feeder cleaned.

5. Keep Window Strikes to a Minimum. We’ve all heard that dreaded thunk when a bird flies directly into one of our window panes. At my house, it’s usually juncos, because we have so many, but one year it was a Yellow Warbler that hit our living room’s bay window (he lived, as far as we know). What’s particularly deceiving about window strikes is that the birds, even if knocked silly for a while, will eventually fly away…provided they weren’t killed instantly when they hit. It’s been discovered that birds who hit windows suffer concussions and possible bleeding inside their skulls from the window collisions, which can lead to their deaths later.

One way to keep window strikes to a minimum is to place decals on the windows most often hit by birds (for me, it’s my dining room and living room windows). The decals are more visible from the outside than from the inside, so your view won’t be impeded as you watch the birds while drinking your morning coffee.

That’s it for now. Do you have any tips for making your backyard safer for birds? Leave a comment below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

The above post contains a few affiliate links. Patronage of these links helps to keep Pacific Northwest Birds up and running and full of fun information about our beautiful Northwest birds. Thank you!

This isn’t the best shot, but I have to share it with you because I almost missed getting it yesterday morning. I was counting birds at my feeders during the final day of the Great Backyard Bird Count, when I heard the cawing of American Crows in the trees across the street. A few minutes later, the cawing got louder and more frantic. I ran to the front door with my iPhone (the closest thing within reach), threw it open, and started taking video of the crows going crazy…cawing and flying around. Suddenly, I saw him. A beautiful juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was hanging out on a light pole, camouflaged against the trees behind him.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Sally Dinius/Pacific Northwest Birds

I’ve seen this happen before with crows in our neighborhood as they chased Bald Eagles away. They’re very protective of their territory (and of their young during nesting season). My daughter brought me my camera and I was able to get this photo right before the crows successfully chased him away. I wish I’d had my camera set to video (you can’t zoom in on an iPhone video) to capture the chase.

For those of you who may be thinking, “Funny…his tail doesn’t look red in this shot,” he did flash a bit of that lovely rufous color as he flew away, though a juvenile’s tail is mostly brown with dark barring. What a treat to witness nature like this! (And of course, I was thrilled to be able to add a Red-tailed Hawk to my bird count.)

The moral of this story: If you hear crows going crazy, grab your camera, because they might be setting you up for a great shot of a raptor!


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

Male Northern Flicker (Western)

Male Northern Flicker (Western)

I like Northern Flickers…really, I do. I think they’re fascinating and beautiful. But they’re also skittish and mildly annoying. As one of my favorite birds to watch as it swings and nibbles on the suet feeder (and sometimes hangs precariously from a too-small seed feeder), I am careful not to move lest I should scare it away. Despite being a somewhat large woodpecker, if this shy bird catches even a glimpse of human movement nearby, it’s gone.

As far as the Northern Flicker being a bit annoying, that’s an opinion I didn’t hold until recently. I’d actually wanted them to come to our yard. To be completely honest, Northern Flickers and other woodpeckers are the ones I really put out suet for, though it tends to be Dark-eyed Juncos and chickadees that feed from it the most. I love seeing the Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and the rarely-seen Pileated Woodpeckers feasting on our gourmet peanut butter suet.

But being awakened early — and twice in one week, to boot — by a bird pecking on the roof just over our bedroom took away any soft and fuzzy feelings I had for flickers. I still like them, I’ll still feed them, and I still love to watch them, but doggone it, anyway.

The only thing that made the situation better was knowing how skittish they are. A few raps on the sliding glass door in the family room (from where I could get a clear view of the flickers) and those bogies disappeared.

Northern Flickers aren’t that discriminatory when it comes to choosing feeding sites. If they suspect an insect might be living inside a structure — whether it’s a gutter, a roof, a wooden bench, a power pole — you name it, they’ll drum on it.

I watched in fascination one day as a Northern Flicker appeared to be wiping it’s face from side to side on our old wooden bench; I thought perhaps it had something stuck on its beak that it was trying to get rid of. But then it pecked a few times and I realized it was looking for insects, and the sweeping motion it made was an effort to lift up the layers of old paint on the bench. I saw those same sweeping motions from the Northern Flicker on our roof just before I scared it (along with a second flicker that had joined it) into the neighbor’s trees.

Northern Flickers don’t always peck on structures to find ants and their larvae (their favorite food). You might also see them pecking the ground to find insects, as well. I’ve noticed them doing this most often in the spring.

While they can be irritating as they search for food…on your house…on the roof directly above where you’re sleeping…mere minutes before your alarm is supposed to go off…I still hope you get to see a Northern Flicker or two on your suet feeders. They’re beautiful birds and a joy to watch (but maybe not to listen to).


Learn more about your backyard birds in Birds of the Pacific Northwest: How to Identify 25 of the Most Popular Backyard Birds. Get it for your Kindle (which you can also read on your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet with this free reading app), Nook, on Smashwords, or in the iTunes bookstore.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

Search Our Site…
Shirts for Birders
Birding is more fun when you have the right shirt! Check out our new collection of shirts for birders on SunFrog
Get 50% Off at Duncraft!
Hey, What’s That Bird??
Need to brush up on your backyard birds? Get Birds of the Pacific Northwest for your Kindle or Nook today! (On sale right now for just $2.99.)

No e-reader? No problem! Read it on your tablet, smartphone, or computer with the free Kindle reading app
.






Or Click Here to Buy On
We’re So Excited…
...about the NEW Kindle Oasis E-Reader!



Got Hummers?
Check out the great deals on hummingbird feeders at Amazon, like this 20-ounce More Birds Red Vintage Antique Glass Hummingbird Feeder with Burnt Penny Accents. This feeder's wide mouth makes cleaning and filling easy-peasy.

Got Suet?
Let’s Connect!
Have you joined us? We love your pictures and stories!
 
"Like" Us on Facebook!

Sign up for the Pacific Northwest Birds newsletter!

Email Format
Follow Me on Pinterest
About Our Posts
Posts on this page may contain one or more affiliate links. Patronage of these links helps to keep Pacific Northwest Birds up and running and full of fun information about our beautiful Northwest birds. Thank you!
Be a Part!
Your contribution helps to keep Pacific Northwest Birds online and ensures more fun, informative content will be heading your way. Thank you for your support!