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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.

 

 

The Best Holiday Gifts for Parrots and Parrot Owners

African grey parrot

Cages

Providing your pet with a larger cage is one of the most important steps that you can take to ensure its good health and longevity. My observations of parrots, both in the wild and under my care in zoos, have convinced me of this. Appropriately-sized cages allow our birds to engage in a greater variety of behaviors and, by reducing stress, help to limit health-care expenses.

t5071Training is often simplified, as parrots kept in tight quarters are difficult to interact-with.
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Choosing the Best Cage for Canaries, Finches and other Small Birds

While working as a bird keeper at the Bronx Zoo, I cared for a number of finches that are commonly kept as pets.  Early on, I was struck by the amazing differences in the behavior of the same species when kept in large exhibits as opposed to small cages.  Along with increased activity and interesting behaviors came good health and excellent breeding results.  While few pet owners can keep their birds in zoo-exhibit sized cages, many do not give enough thought to just how much space their finches and canaries need.  Perhaps because these birds “get by” in small cages, and rarely exhibit the problems that afflict space-deprived parrots, they are often denied spacious living quarters.  But, because of their physical make-up and lifestyle, finches are poorly suited for life in cramped quarters…even less so, in some ways, than are many parrots. Choosing the best cage for these small birds is essential for their well-being and it allows you to enjoy more natural behaviors.

Painted Firetail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jim Bendon

Finch and Canary Lifestyles

It’s important to bear in mind that canaries and other finches do not climb about on perches and cage bars as do parrots.  Flight space is a critical point in cage selection.  Also, finches are only rarely let out of their cages for exercise and interaction with owners.  The vast majority spend their lives in a cage…in many cases able to only hop a few inches from perch to perch, day in and day out. Read More »

The Best Finch and Canary Foods – Commercial Seed and Pellet Diets

Double-barred FinchAlthough we are fortunate to have available a wide variety of commercial finch and canary diets, choosing one can be a difficult task.  Once a decision is made as to the basic type – seed or pellet – we must then consider the ingredients, which vary from brand to brand.  Today I’ll examine some well-known foods and a few often-neglected dietary supplements.

Basic Guidelines

It’s important to remember that finch species vary in their nutritional needs.  While many will thrive on the basic diets described below, to achieve optimal health and color the addition of insects, sprouts, fruit, greens and other supplementary foods will be necessary.  Depending upon the species, some of these foods can also be used to bring birds into breeding condition.  Please post your questions concerning diets for specific finches below, and I’ll provide some suggestions. Read More »

Parrot Nutrition – Pellets Re-visited

I read an interesting parrot nutrition article recently and was inspired to expand on a few points that I made in an earlier post on parrot pellets (please see below for both articles).

Pellet Pros and Cons

Great progress has been made in the development of pelleted parrot foods in recent years, and they now play an important role in both zoo and pet parrot care.  However, the convenience offered by pellets may lead one into poor bird-keeping habits.  Ideally, as mentioned in the articles below, a species-appropriate combination of natural and pelleted foods should be provided. Read More »

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