Posted by Bob Lefebvre
A few days ago I had a surprising visitor to my yard in SE Calgary, a Townsend’s Solitaire.
By Ernie Allison
Ernie Allison loves nature. More specifically, he loves birds and wants to teach others how to appreciate them, too. To help further this mission, he writes for the Perky Pet bird feeder provider, birdfeeders.com .
Many bird enthusiasts wish they could help more with bird conservation efforts, but they just don’t have the money to donate to national and international foundations set up for the cause. Luckily, there is a lot you can do in your own back yard to help birds and nature in general. Here are some simple steps you can take to enjoy nature and protect it at the same time.
While it is true that birds survived before people started using bird feeders to feed them, the presence of bird feeders have changed the habits of many species. A few birds that would naturally migrate during the winter may choose to overwinter if you make food available (Overwintering Birds of Calgary). This means that by researching what birds are native to your area, you can provide the right food to keep them healthy during the winter. Fat is hard for them to come by in cold weather so suet, peanut butter, and other fatty treats are best.
White-breasted Nuthatch at suet feeder. Photo by Pat Bumstead
Northern Flickers will come to suet feeders. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
This does not mean that you should only feed birds in the winter. Truthfully, in the summer there is more competition because there are more birds around, so by feeding year-round, you will be more effective, as well as get to see more variety of species. This is also a good way to get birds in the habit of visiting your yard.
Millet feeders attract house sparrows, blackbirds, cowbirds and not much else. So if your goal is to attract a variety of birds, a millet feeder alone will not do the trick. In order to attract a variety of birds you must have a variety of feeders and food types.
Pine Siskins eating niger seed. Photo by Pat Bumstead
House Finches and Dark-eyed Junco. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
However, the activity around your millet feeder will attract the attention of other birds. Other birds will land nearby to see what is going on. Once they see that the sparrows have found millet to eat in a safe place, they will check your yard for other types of food. If the type of food these birds are looking for is available, they may decide to feed in your yard as well.
Be sure that you know what kind of birds will be attracted to your feeder. Certain feed attracts Rock Pigeons, which are not only annoying, but it is illegal to feed them in some areas. While Alberta and Calgary are not among these places currently, it is always good to check out your local laws to be sure.
American Goldfinch eating a niger seed/sunflower seed mix. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
Mourning Doves at sunflower chip feeder. Photo by Pat Bumstead
The types of birds you see will depend on the type of food you provide. Black-capped chickadees will be most attracted to oil-sunflower seeds, but will also visit suet feeders occasionally. House finches and nuthatches also enjoy sunflower seeds, so this is a good choice if you want to attract a variety of birds with one type of food. Woodpeckers enjoy suet feeders most. Make sure your feeder is properly anchored and has bars and places for the birds to cling to. Saucer feeders are effective for woodpeckers as well, and woodpeckers have even been seen at hummingbird feeders.
Northern Flickers on nut feeder. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
White-crowned Sparrow. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
A great way to help out the avian creatures in your area is to provide a natural environment where they can thrive. By installing plants that are native to your area, you promote the health of other local native species.
Be sure to provide water sources as well. These are great for the health of your garden and for attracting wildlife. Running water is less likely to lie stagnant and accumulate diseases, but there are many ponds and birdbaths that can be easily cleaned with a little effort.
American Robins are regular visitors to birdbaths. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
House Finch bathing in a fountain. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
You can also design your landscaping in a way that allows smaller birds to be unseen by predators when they are at your feeders. By having multiple levels of trees and shrubs, you promote a safe, diverse environment.
If invasive species are growing in your lawn or garden, remove them by hand. Chemicals harm native species and animals as well. By taking the time to weed by hand, you are protecting the environment, not exchanging one evil for another.
By leaving rotten trees, grass clippings, and other debris in specific areas, you can attract wildlife. You also keep those materials out of the landfill by allowing them to compost in your yard. There are ways you can arrange it so that it’s not an eyesore. The bugs and worms that are attracted to these areas will draw birds and other creatures, which can lead to some great photo opportunities.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are attracted to flower gardens. Photo by Pat Bumstead
Common Grackles feeding on the ground. Photo by Pat Bumstead
While house sparrows are the most common species attracted to birds in the Alberta area, by doing a bit of research, you can set your sights on rarer birds. There is an abundance of wildlife in this area, so take these steps to protect it and enjoy it at the same time.
Swainson’s Thrush. Photo by Pat Bumstead
Varied Thrush. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
Baltimore Oriole feeding on oranges. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
Harris’s Sparrow. Photo by Bob Lefebvre
Posted by Matthew Sim
The other day, I was sitting outside in my yard, soaking up some sunshine when I heard a big commotion coming from the spruce tree in my yard. There were Grackles, Robins, Blue Jays, Pine Siskins, Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches all making as much noise as they possibly could. The reason? Look at the photo below; do you see anything?
How about now?
Though the Sharp-shinned hawk was rather well hidden, it couldn’t hide from the neighborhood birds who know all too well what will happen if they leave this predator undisturbed.
Here are some more photos of this beautiful bird.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre.
I have three Downy Woodpeckers that come to my feeders regularly. They are not shy, and I managed to get some close-up photos that show the prominent nasal tufts of this species. These help to keep wood chips (and nut chips) out of the bird’s nostrils. It is sometimes said that Downy Woodpeckers are named for these downy feathers at the base of their bill.
Posted by Matthew Sim
As spring approaches once again, I like to reminisce about the previous year and all of its most exciting moments.
For the past several years, flickers have nested in my neighbor’s tree. I had never really observed this nest closely before; however, last year, I did just that. Flickers usually excavate nest holes in dead or dying tree trunks or large branches. These nest holes are most often found at 6-15 feet off the ground and will often be reused. By late May/ early June in Calgary most flickers have laid their 5-8 white eggs. I started to notice that the flickers were more active around the nest in early June and it is my belief that on around the 3rd or 4th of June, “my” pair laid their eggs.
Incubation of the eggs ranges from 14-16 days and I had been closely following all the bird’s actions in attempt to discover when the eggs would hatch. On June 24, I heard the first sounds coming from the hole. The flickers had been born! I think that we can assume that there is a possibility that the young flickers were born a day or two earlier and I had not heard them until then.
The first visible evidence of the young flickers was the clean-up crew. As all parents can attest to, there is a lot of cleaning up involved with kids. The adult flickers, both male (pictured in photo above) and female, had to work constantly to ensure that their young were well-fed, safe from predators and, perhaps most importantly, in a clean home.
July 1st came around and I had still not seen the young flickers, though I had definitely heard them. Each and every day they were getting louder and louder and soon I could hear them from across the alley, in my yard, maybe 35 feet away. The young flickers cry is often described as a hissing noise and is uttered for two weeks, day and night, growing stronger as the birds grow older. I was not worried about not having seen the flickers yet as their eyes do not open until they are ten days old, so wouldn’t be seeing them until then. July 3, I was up in Banff, where I happened upon a flicker nest with two young already poking their heads out of their hole. At that point, I couldn’t help but wonder how my flickers were doing.
July 5th, marked a special day for my monitoring project. That day, I got my first glimpse of the young flickers. I took my first photos of the young flickers on July 9th, and they were looking healthy and fit; all 3 of them!
But that’s where it went all wrong. The nest holes of flickers (and often of many other species of birds) are the scenes of very fierce battles. Three young birds with very sharp bills, duking it out for supremacy and the right to remain looking out of the nest hole, therefore receiving the most food. The stronger birds almost invariably end up on top, and maintain their authority by jabbing the others with vicious pecks of their beak. The opening is only big enough for two heads and the third one gets pushed to the bottom. There, the young flicker receives very little food and consequently, it perishes. July 9th, I took the photo above, showing 3 young flickers. By the next day, July 10th, I was only seeing 2 young flickers.
Disappointed though I was, I realized that sometimes, this is the way nature must work. I continued to watch the flickers for several days, amazed at the rate at which they grew. After about 4 weeks, the flickers would fledge and would begin to leave the nest; my flickers started appearing out of the nest around July 16th. The two young birds started hopping about and practicing flying, getting ready for the day when they would leave the nest altogether.
Than one day, I did not see the flickers. Nor did I see them the next day. Or the day after that. It would seem that the two young flickers that I had watched for a nearly a month had successfully fledged. I don’t think I ever saw these two again, though I was seeing flickers in the neighborhood, which might just have been one of the young. From time to time, I did hear the distant call of several Northern Flickers and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the fledgelings, calling away.
While I was in Calgary over the holidays I took some photographs of feeding nuthatches and I thought I would share them with you so as to illustrate some of the effort that these little guys put into this common daily activity!
Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the way nuthatches feed perfectly, ” an intense ball of energy “, is exactly what they are!
When they start hacking away, usually their legs are the only part of their bodies not moving!
Posted by Matthew Sim
Recently both Pat and Dan have posted about Sharp-shinned Hawks in their yard. Now it’s my turn. Last week we had our first ever accipiter in our SE Calgary yard, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that stopped here briefly.
It took me a while to figure out whether it was a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk, but it actually is almost identical to the one Pat posted about here and here, and which was identified as a juvenile Sharp-shinned. The bird that Dan saw was an adult, and you can read about it here.
The hawk was followed by about forty Black-billed Magpies, but they didn’t mob it. While it sat on our fence, they just kept their distance in a nearby poplar. But when the hawk left, they followed.
About twenty of the magpies that were following the hawk.
Unlike Dan’s hawk, my bird didn’t take any of the hundred or so small birds that were around my feeders at the time. It just rested on the fence for three or four minutes, then flew off, and I haven’t seen it again.
Gus Yaki saw these pictures and said that he believes he has seen this same individual several times this autumn and winter in Fish Creek Park and along the Bow River. It is distinctive because of the prominent white tips to the back feathers, which is unusual in this species.
A view of the bird’s back, showing large white areas on the feather tips.
It was certainly exciting to see this bird, even if it was only for a few minutes, and it’s one more species for the yard list.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
This topic has come up a lot this winter; all the wintering finches here this year. I am going to add on to this topic once again.
My yard in southeast Calgary has gathered a fairly respectable list; about 90 species of birds have visited it in the last 10 years. The Common Redpoll is on this list, having been seen in my yard once in 2009 for all of about 10 seconds. For whatever reason, my community is not favored by redpolls. This year, though, they were everywhere, including my yard.
On December 23, I had a redpoll in my yard for almost half an hour. And not only was it in my yard, but it visited my feeders as well.
We have been seeing so many finches this winter likely because it is an irruption year; a year when food sources (such as catkins and cone crops for finches and lemmings for Snowy Owls) are hard come by on these birds’ normal wintering grounds.
It’s neat for me to be able to see birds I don’t usually see in my backyard, such as the not-so-Common ( in my neighborhood) Redpoll.
Posted by Matthew Sim
On of my favourite Christmas presents this year was an adult male Varied Thrush that arrived in our front yard on Christmas Day, just as we were opening our gifts.
When it first flew across our front yard, I thought it was a robin, a bird it is closely related to. I saw a robin in the neighbourhood as recently as December 17. But the male Varied Thrush has unmistakable orange and black markings.
These beautiful birds are not too common in Calgary, with just a few reports every year on migration, and the occasional one overwintering here. This one appears to be trying to overwinter in our neighbourhood, as it has now been seen feeding in our yard for three straight days. This is the first time we’ve had one in our yard, and only the second one I’ve seen in Calgary. We didn’t have one reported on the recent Christmas Bird Count, so I wonder where this bird was then?
Here is a video of the Varied Thrush feeding on niger and sunflower seed.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre