13 January 2011

Winter bird care

There are about 50 birds that nest in cavities and will use a birdhouse. Almost any size birdhouse will attract starlings and sparrows but if you want bluebirds, wrens and chickadees, you have to provide a birdhouse that they can utilize.
Muskogee artist Joshua Blundell designed an Oklahoma-Indian Territory bird house


For example, a chickadee house has a 4-by-4-inch floor, is 8-to-10-inches high, and, has an entrance hole one and one-eighth inch wide. The entrance hole should be 6-to-8-inches above the floor. Hang a chickadee house 4-to-15-feet above the ground.

For bluebirds, the house floor is 5-by-5-inches, the height is 8-to-12-inches, and the entrance hole is one and one-half inches. Bluebird houses are hung 4-to-6-feet above the ground. See www.wild-bird-watching.com for more birdhouse size tips.

Russell Studebaker, former Tulsa Audubon Society president and long time bird feeder, said, “Bluebirds nest in open field areas, near pastures or large patches of grass.”

“The key to successful small bird occupancy of bird house is the hole diameter. If the hole is not the correct size it allows English sparrows and Starlings to force out and/or kill native nesting song birds.”

Cute birdhouses with thin walls are not very good for birds that need protection from cold and hot weather. Birdhouses that insulate well are made of 1-inch thick wood, heavy walled clay, or concrete.

Also, look for birdhouses with a removable side, top, bottom or panel so they can be cleaned. Drainage holes and ventilation holes help keep the house cool in the summer and cleaner all year.

Feeding birds is a great way to help them make it through the winter. Birds that eat insects in the summer will eat berries and seeds in the winter.

Goldfinches, purple and house finches will eat thistle/black nyger seed from a hanging tube made specifically for feeding goldfinches. Goldfinches are tame so the feeders can be hung under the eaves of the house where you can watch them.

Safflower seeds are eaten by chickadees, titmice, and downy woodpeckers but not squirrels, grackles, blue jays or starlings. So even if it seems more expensive, it will all go to the birds you want to feed.

White millet is scattered on the ground for Native American sparrows, mourning doves, thrashers and juncos.

Mice also enjoy eating bird seed so it’s a good idea to store seed in metal containers that seal well.

Solid beef and venison fat, or suet, is important for winter-time wild bird health. The fat helps Woodpeckers, Mockingbirds, Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Wrens, and Ruby Crowned Kinglets survive freezing nights.

Studebaker said, “Your solid beef fat can sometimes be obtained from butchers and should be stored in the freezer until you use it, otherwise it becomes smelly. Butcher suet holds up longer and better and will not melt like suet blocks. Also the blocks contain seeds and grains that attract the Starlings.”

Birds need fresh, thawed water sources. Thermal, heated dog bowls are more available and less expensive than heated bird baths. But, you can also just take a pot of hot water out to freshen and thaw the water in your birdbath.

In place of a birdbath, you can use a garbage can lid placed on a section of drainage pipe, a large plant saucer on a tree stump, or a large bowl on top of a flower pot. Use something no more than 3-inches deep. If your available container is deeper, put stones or gravel on the bottom.

Two plastic saucers, 18-inches wide and 3-inches deep, can be alternated: One is brought in at night, thawed, refilled, and taken outside each day. A slow dripping hose also prevents a water source from freezing.

Studebaker recommended “National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America”.

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