Tag Archive | bird questions

Autumn Birding Call-in Show Today

Tune in to CBC Radio today, October 1, at 12:30 as local bird expert Sid Andrews will discuss autumn birding in Alberta. If you have an unusual sighting or a question you can call in and ask Sid.

In Calgary, CBC is at 99.1 FM or 1010 AM.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo at Elliston Lake, Calgary, September 22, 2013 by Dan Arndt.

Q & A: Follow-up on Attracting Birds to Feeders

Last May we answered a question from a reader who had been trying unsuccessfully to attract birds to her yard in Calgary. The yard was in an awkward location at a small townhouse without trees or shrubs. Although she was putting out many types of high-quality seeds, the birds were not coming.  We gave some advice on attracting birds, which you can read about here. We are happy to report that after nearly a year of persistent effort, finally there are birds coming to the yard.

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Hi,

Nearly a year ago I approached you looking for suggestions on how to attract birds to my feeder in my awkward yard.  While I was not successful last year, I’m happy to announce that my patience has finally paid off.  
 
I thought I’d send you an update because others in a similar situation may find what I did will help them as well.  When we got our Christmas tree (real) I kept the branches that were cut off the bottom, and was able to take a bunch more from other people’s trees as well.  When I got home I bunched all the branches together and made several boughs out of them, tied them with wire, put a pretty bow on them and hung them from our balcony.  Within 24 hours I had birds foraging through my boughs and feeding at my feeders!
 
The last month has been wonderful, I’m finally able to watch birds from my own window and I have a steady flock of Common Redpolls and finches that come throughout the day.  I’m not sure what I’m going to replace the boughs with once they’re all dried up, but I’ll figure something out.  I’ve attached a few photos just to demonstrate my situation and solution.  I hope my experience may help someone else in the future.
 
Thanks again for all the suggestions, all the best.
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Here are the photos of her yard:
Rachel Paris 1
Rachel Paris 2

Q & A: Odd-looking Birds on the Light Standards

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address without permission.

Here’s a question we received last September, but which is relevant again this year.

Q:  Hi.  There are birds that sit on the light standards on 16th Ave NE over the tracks alongside Deerfoot Trail.  They appear to be sleeping when I drive by at 8 AM, I am curious to know what they are.  There have been 2 or 3 on the westbound side and usually one on the eastbound side.  Thanks.

A: It’s hard to say what they are without some idea of the size, shape, or colour of the birds.  But I’m familiar with the area, and I think you might be referring to the “odd” birds that are sometimes seen there, which look long, slim, long-necked, and black.  If so, those are Double-crested Cormorants.  Their silhouette looks like this (photo taken in Fish Creek Park last week [September 2011]):

In better light they look like this, also taken last week [September 2011]:

Double-crested Cormorants are waterbirds that dive for fish and crustaceans.  They are often seen holding their wings out to dry off after a dive.  There are quite a few in the area of the weir on the Bow River, but they will soon be heading south.

Q: It’s definitely the Cormorants – last year there was just one, but now there are 2 or 3 on the westbound side and one on the eastbound side of 16th. They are always there in the morning but not always on my way home at 4:30. It’s quite high up so I can’t see much details from the car but definitely have the yellow beak and dark feathers.

(Note: In the past three weeks I have been seeing up to 35 cormorants in the area of Harvie Passage (the old weir on the Bow River) often perched in trees or on light standards along Deerfoot Trail.)

Q & A: Attracting Birds to Feeders

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address without permission.

Q:  Hi there, I have a question regarding attracting birds to my feeder.  I live in Calgary, and I have tried everything this fall and winter to attract birds to my yard with no success.  I’ve looked at all kinds of websites and followed their advice; I have the best seeds, suet, nuts, feeders…however my yard is in a horrible location.  I live in a small townhouse, and I access my yard and front door via an alley that is ‘walled in’ by the neighbour’s house and two other townhouses.  I hear the birds all around me when I go outside, but my yard doesn’t have a tree, and is somewhat hidden as my yard is recessed due to the neighbouring townhouses.  I know the birds are around, I just can’t seem to get them to see my feeders because my yard is hidden.

I’ve sprinkled seed around the area and in my alley, I’ve even leaned my old Christmas tree against a wall near the feeder in the hopes of attracting even one small chickadee! I’m reluctant to invest any more in this effort (like a heated bird bath) because I’m not fully convinced I’ll ever be able to attract birds.  I’m just wondering if anyone at your great website has any advice for me, I love birding and want to attract birds and help them throughout the winter, but I’m just not having any luck!  Other than waiting until to spring to plant some flowers and shrubs that might attract them, do you have any advice?

Thanks so much, love the website.

A:  It’s likely that your location and the lack of trees in your yard is a problem, but I think that with patience you will be able to attract the birds.

It’s true that having trees or shrubs is definitely a big plus.  The birds need to feel that they have a safe haven to retreat to if attacked. Also, if there are no large trees around there will be fewer nesting sites for species like Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. Some of the newer neighbourhoods in Calgary with few large trees have a smaller number of bird species than old, established neighbourhoods.  But as you said, there are birds near your house, so you should be able to get them into your yard.  It seems most likely that the birds just have not yet discovered your feeders.

You are probably hearing House Sparrows in the area, so you have to try to get them in your yard first.  Normally, they will feed at almost any type of feeder.  The location of the feeders can be important too.  Are they too high or too low?  They shouldn’t be placed anywhere that a cat could ambush the birds as they feed.  It seems to me that House Sparrows don’t like to come to feeders that are right against a building or in a window, if they have any other choice.  (Some other birds will not come to a raised feeder but prefer to feed on the ground.)  Once the House Sparrows begin feeding in your yard, other species like House Finches, Black-billed Magpies, and Black-capped Chickadees will notice the feeding activity and come to the food.

Other than providing a variety of feeders in proper locations, the two most important things you can do to get the birds to start coming to your yard regularly is to put out water, and to feed them year-round.

I know you said you didn’t want to get a heated birdbath, but you should consider making water available in your yard.  It really makes a difference in attracting birds. (Running water is the best attractor, but you can’t have that in the winter.)  If you get a metal or plastic birdbath, the water will freeze in cold weather but on many winter days it will melt at least a little, and you can always add hot water to the ice to yield a little drinkable water on all but the coldest days.  (Ceramic and concrete birdbaths can break when water freezes.)

You mentioned that you have been trying to attract the birds this fall and winter.  It’s much easier to get birds in your yard in the summer, when there are many more around, and thus get the local birds in the habit of feeding there.  So I would encourage you to keep at it through the summer.  I know people who feed birds only in the winter, and they get very few species in their yards.  Many people believe that birds do not need to be fed in the summer because there is more natural food around.  In truth, we don’t have to feed the birds at all, but it is during summer when there is more demand for food.  The numbers of birds here in the summer is many times higher than in the winter, and when they are raising young they need a lot of food.

I know you’d like to get the birds to come to your yard right away and there might be something you can do to get their attention.  I have put up feeders that the birds just didn’t seem to notice, even though they were feeding at other feeders nearby.  I tried attaching a piece of aluminum foil to the new feeder (about 4 inches wide and two feet long, hanging down below it) and the House Finches found the feeder the next day.  I’m not sure why that works, (perhaps the birds are just curious) but you might try that.

Finally I just want to encourage you to be very patient!  It can take a while to get the birds to start coming, but once they do, they will keep coming.  Continue through to the fall, add water and plant a shrub, and see if the birds find your feeders.  When I moved into my current house I put out a feeder and kept it out all year, and I never saw anything but House Sparrows and magpies until almost a year later, when the first House Finch arrived.  Now I’ve been here eight years, and in 2011 alone I had 57 species on my yard list, and dozens of individual birds every day.  This year I’ve had 26 species already.  If you keep at it through the spring and summer you will be on your way.

Reply:  Thank you so much for your advice and encouragement!  I will try your suggestions, and keep trying to attract birds to my feeder.  That’s interesting to know that birds need feed more in the summer than the winter, I never thought of it that way.  I only started to get into birding this summer and I’m loving it so far, it’s amazing how many different species there are.  I especially enjoy it when I think it’s just a bunch of Canadian Geese, and then find out that there’s a merganser, golden eye or bufflehead mixed in with them.  At Fish Creek the other week I was fortunate enough to see 2 bald eagles!  As an Ontarian, I haven’t seen many in my life so that was definitely a good day.  I’m hoping to get out this weekend to try and spot some snowy owls, following tips from your website should definitely help.

Thanks again for your advice.

Q & A: Northern Shrike

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address without permission.

Q:  I was walking along the Bow south of 22x today [April 6] and saw these, which I haven’t seen before.  I couldn’t get close for a good picture but I’m hoping you can you tell me what they are.

Thanks, Jim
 
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A: These are Northern Shrikes, which are songbirds that behave like raptors.  They hunt insects, snakes, rodents, and small birds.  Shrikes are called ”Butcher Birds,” and they have been known to take birds as large as Blue Jays and Mourning Doves.  They will often impale their victims on a thorn or barbed wire, which is thought to be a way of marking their territory and attracting mates, and for short-term storage of food. Shrikes are only about 10 inches long, but they have a sharp hooked beak like a falcon’s.  They sit on high perches and scan for prey, then swoop down on it.  Sometimes they hover over the ground to watch for prey.
These birds will be on migration right now (I have seen a couple in the same area in the last two weeks).  There are always a few around here in the winter, but they breed in the high arctic.  In the summer, we have the closely related Loggerhead Shrike on the prairies east of town, but it is not usually seen in the city.

Q & A: Feeding Ducks

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address.

Q: I was wondering if there is anywhere in Calgary that is a good location to go and feed ducks on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

A: There are several good spots to observe ducks at close range in Calgary, but it actually is not a good idea to feed them.  Many people do feed them bread and similar items, but these are like junk food for ducks, with lots of carbohydrates but not enough minerals and protein to provide for proper health and growth.  This sort of artificial diet is especially bad for the ducklings once they hatch. Besides malnutrition, there are other problems associated with feeding them bread products, such as the spread of disease and the loss of natural behaviors.

However, there are healthy products you can feed to ducks.  They do well on grains like cracked corn, wheat, barley, and oats; high-quality birdseed; grapes (cut up); chopped lettuce; and frozen peas and corn.  Any such feeding should be done in moderation and cautiously, with every attempt made not to disturb the birds.

Mallards at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

There are many small ponds in parks in the city where waterfowl can be seen.  Good places include Prince’s Island downtown, Pearce Estate in Inglewood, and Confederation Park between 10 Street and 14 Street NW.  All of these have benches or grassy areas near the water.  There is also a great lagoon at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where you can observe Mallards, Canada Geese (and, in a few weeks, ducklings and goslings), the beautiful Wood Duck, and other ducks at close range, but it is illegal to feed wildlife in the sanctuary (it is also illegal in Fish Creek Park).  In any case I would encourage you to watch the birds but let them feed naturally wherever you go.

Canada Geese with goslings at IBS