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Helping Spring Birds: Bird Houses, Foods and Baths for Small, Shy Species

Indigo Bunting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dan Pancamo

With winter finally vanquished here in the USA (or, most of the USA, anyway!), our long-awaited migratory birds have returned and are busy fattening up and building nests.  Many standard bird feeders, foods and other supplies work well year round, but spring also brings some changes that provide new opportunities for us to assist our avian friends.  As competition for food (especially insects), water and nest sites increases, small, retiring birds may be forced away from backyard bird feeders, baths and houses. This is especially true in areas where Starlings, English Sparrows and other aggressive species are common.  Warblers, Vireos, Wrens and similar native birds are at a disadvantage, and many are in decline.  Bats are also in trouble, with many suffering from an emerging disease, habitat loss and insecticide use…a bat house can be a real boon to local populations.  Following are a few interesting items that can be used to lend a hand.


Species-Specific Bird and Bat Houses

Although common birds can co-opt houses designed for rare ones, trying to cater to the needs of individual species can prove effective.  This is especially true if you place nest boxes in locations that will draw target species and discourage others.  Please post below if you have questions on nest box placement.


I especially like the Gourd House.  Although designed with Purple Martins in mind, this unique little nest site should also prove attractive to various wrens and finches.  It is constructed of plastic and equipped with a drain hole.  A ring allows you to easily hang it in the thick cover favored by many small, shy birds.  Also available are houses with dimensions that will suit Chickadees, Blue Birds and similar species.


t261082The Audubon/Woodlink Bat House is very sturdy, and quite attractive.  Even if you do not regularly see bats, it may be worth a try.  Little Brown Bats and several other species have managed to hang on even in the heart of NYC, and safe roosting sites are critical to their well-being.  Given that even the smallest bats can consume at least 600 insects per hour – many of which will likely be mosquitoes – bat roosts aren’t bad for our well-being either!


Bird Baths and Drinkers

I found two interesting items which should appeal to birds that are reluctant to leave cover in order to drink and bathe.


t261017The Perky Pet Droplet Station is a source of drinking water rather than a bird bath (water is enclosed…so no cleaning needed!).  It is small and easy to hang amid vines and branches.


The terra cotta Glazed Bird Bath can also be hung in locations that may dissuade starlings and other backyard “bullies” while attracting warblers, native sparrows, thrushes, and similar birds.


Important Breeding Season Foods

Most typical backyard birds consume protein-rich foods as the breeding season approaches, and rear their chicks on insects and other invertebrates.  While the spring spike in insect populations is usually sufficient, there may be situations where supplementary feeding will benefit small birds.  Freeze-dried mealworms might be just the thing to convince Brown Thrashers, various warblers, and other secretive insectivores to visit your feeders.


It may also be useful to provide species-specific foods and feeders that are designed with finches, hummingbirds and others in mind.  Seed mixes that contain ingredients favored by Goldfinches, Cardinals and others are now available.


Chuckanut’s Backyard Wildlife Diet will attract chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and other native mammals.  If you’re lucky, and able to view your feeders after dark, you may even get to see my all-time favorites, Flying Squirrels.



Audubon’s Bird Conservation Report – Many Common Birds in Trouble

The National Audubon Society has released the 2012 State of North American Birds Report, an impressive annual study that highlights species and habitats at risk.  Because many birds respond quickly to changes in their environments, the report’s findings are also useful to organizations studying pesticide use, air quality, pollution, climate change and similar concerns.  Compiled in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report also relies heavily upon the input of “citizen scientists” participating in the Christmas Bird Count and similar projects (please see the articles linked below to learn how to become involved…help is needed and appreciated!).  Today I’ll summarize some of the report’s key points, including the disturbing finding that populations of many common birds, including typical garden and feeder visitors, are in steep decline.

Baltimore Oriole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mdf

Common Birds in Decline

I was especially troubled to read about the population crashes being experienced by quite a few species that were so common that we might have been tempted to “take them for granted”.  But as with so many other animals around the world, large populations are proving no match for rapidly changing environmental conditions.  All of the common species on Audubon’s watch list have declined by at least 50%, while the 10 mentioned below have lost 70-82 % of their populations.  Bobwhite Quails (one of my all-time favorites to observe and care for), for example, have decreased from approximately 31 million to 5.5 million individuals! Read More »

Good News for African Gray Parrots – A Conservation Milestone

Adult in wild

Image uploaded to Wikipedia by Snowmanradio

Despite clear evidence that African Gray Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are declining in the 23 countries to which they are native, conservation horror stories continue to mount.  Recently, for example, 750 parrots died on board an airplane in South Africa, and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo returned 500+ wild-caught birds to smugglers.  So it was a pleasure to read that Uganda has recently taken a giant step forward in parrot conservation.  For the first time ever, African Gray Parrots seized in Europe have been returned to the wild.  The historic 3-year effort also illustrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation between governments, zoos, airlines and conservation organizations.

Can 32 Birds Make a Difference?

Conservationists estimate that at least ¼ of the adult population of wild African Gray Parrots are trapped each year. The return of 32 birds to the wild in Uganda may, therefore, seem to be insignificant.  However, I believe that the operation’s value goes well beyond the number of birds that were rescued.
For too long, wildlife criminals have operated with near impunity once they managed to get parrots and other African wildlife out of the continent.  Cooperation with unscrupulous officials in Africa and abroad, and the inability of under-funded law enforcement agencies to compete, have kept convictions low and penalties inconsequential.  Uganda’s dogged determination to see justice done has recently broken new ground, and has hopefully set a standard for neighboring countries to follow. Read More »

2012’s New Bird Species – Barbets, Owls, Turkey-Like Dinosaurs and More

Powerful OwlHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Ranging from easily- overlooked little wrens to large owls and brilliantly- colored barbets, a variety of spectacular new bird species were discovered or described in the past year. Fossils of dinosaurs that may have displayed colorful feathers in a manner similar to modern-day peafowl and turkeys also grabbed our attention as 2012 drew to a close.  Unfortunately, some depressing findings concerning accelerating avian extinctions also came to light. Today I’ll highlight a few species and news items that were of particular interest to me. I hope you enjoy, and please post your own favorites (whether covered here or not) below.

Sira Barbet, Capito Fitzpatricki

Montane cloud forests are well-known for sheltering creatures new to science, but even so ornithologists were surprised that the large, colorful, Sira Barbet was able to remain hidden from view for so long.  Beautifully clad in scarlet, black and white, this bird was first glimpsed in 2008, but was misidentified as the related Scarlet Barbet (please see drawing). Read More »

54,000+ Wild Caught Parrots, Cockatoos, others sold as “Captive Bred”

Sulphur crested CockatooAlthough revised airport security procedures have cut down on animal smuggling, wildlife criminals continue to circumvent the law in other ways.  Much as is done with “dirty money”, wild-caught parrots are now being “laundered” and sold as captive bred. A recent TRAFFIC study revealed that, in the past decade, over 54,000 parrots, lories, cockatoos and other birds have been illegally yet openly exported from the Solomon Islands. The audacity of those involved is shocking…for example, 76 Birds of Paradise of 7 species were claimed to have been bred in a single year (I’ve worked with these birds in zoos, and know the difficulties involved – few institutions have been successful). Add to this the ongoing parrot smuggling problems in Africa (please see below) and it’s easy to see why many pet trade species are in dire need of help.

Native Solomon Island Parrots

The Solomon Islands, located east of Papua New Guinea, are home to a host of unique species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.  According to TRAFFIC’S report (see text below), the mostly wild-caught birds exported in the past decade included 18,444 Yellow-Bibbed Lories, 15,994 Solomon Cockatoos, 8,000+ Eclectus Parrots, and 10,000+ Cardinal and Rainbow Lorries.

Many Solomon Island endemics are poorly studied, and their needs are difficult to meet even in well-funded zoos.  Bird trapping seriously depletes wild populations, especially where, as on the Solomons, re-colonization is not possible. A further consideration is that wild-caught parrots invariably make poor pets. In all likelihood, the 50,000+ exported birds are faring miserably in captivity.  Read More »

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