Backyard Bird Count Follow Up

Did you participate in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Great Backyard Bird Count? (see 2/11 post)

March 1st  is the last day to record your observations at:

Submit Button.

To date there have been almost 95,000 reports submitted! The site includes a lot of cool things including regional data, observer photos, total species observed and the total birds counted – the number is staggering. On this page, you can also learn more about eBird; a year-round bird count, and Project FeederWatch; a winter-long bird count. If you love data as much as you like birds (I fall into this category), plan on spending a lot of time on this site.

Here is my list from Saturday, February 13 from 7:45 – 8:00am:

8 purple finches

2 red-bellied woodpeckers

2 mourning doves

4 cardinals

1 dark-eyed junco

1 chipping sparrow

1 downy woodpecker

9 starlings (!)

2 tufted titmice

1 northern flicker

1 pileated woodpecker

Absent

The birds have been absent from my feeders. I discovered research indicating that if feeders are left empty for a week, the starlings will become disinterested and ‘move on.’   After they  finished off the two cages filled with homemade suet I decided to wage battle. My only consolation toward the end was that the bluebirds didn’t sit by and watch as the starlings devoured the delicacy like vultures. Last night, after a week of fasting, I filled all my feeders, and put out the last bit of homemade suet. I woke this morning to find a squirrel and, you guessed it, a starling finishing off the suet. The battle continues.

We’re just coming out of a week of snow, and during the worst two days, a northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker and a couple of starlings were diehards, venturing out in the most blustery weather we had. We were also visited by a deer so hungry he licked thistle seed out of the tiny holes in the finch feeder. This would be similar to a human trying to lick salt out of a shaker. When he tired of that, he found the black oil sunflower seed in another feeder and patiently worked about 1 cup of seed out of the tiny holes with his tongue. I’m planning a trip to Ed’s Seed and Feed this week for some deer food. I usually keep a 50 pound bag of corn in the garage, but they made their way through that about a week before the storm hit.

Suet, Starlings and Bluebirds

The homemade suet was a hit with everybody – especially the starlings. And I thought they didn’t like peanut butter at first – wrong!  We’ve lived in this home for almost 7 years, and I’ve never seen one starling. They arrived on the scene about 2 weeks ago, and have quickly fallen out of my favor despite their pretty winter plumage. They’ve set up camp in the back woods like a mob, and attacked the suet within 5 minutes of hanging it. Over the next two days, my backyard looked like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. I only wish I would have snapped a photo of it, as it is fairly indescribable.

Two mockingbirds and a red-bellied woodpecker gave the starlings a good fight, but were eventually forced away. The most disheartening sight was when a group of about 15 bluebirds came and roosted on several trees nearby, patiently waiting a turn at the suet cages. The (vulture) starlings didn’t budge and the timid bluebirds never got a turn. Both days they stayed for about 5 minutes, then flew away in defeat. It was like seeing a loved one from a distance and not being able to catch their attention before leaving your sight forever.

The creatures are so nasty they fought amongst themselves when the food got down to the end. After they ate every last crumb, they disappeared mid-afternoon on Thursday. By mid-day Friday, the bluebirds returned (oh joy), and several took a bath after discovering the suet was gone (see pic below.) I also captured a picture of one sharing a bath with a yellow house finch in winter plumage (picture not so great – purchasing new camera soon.) It was the first time I saw a finch in saveral months.

Google: how-to-get-rid-of-starlings.

Four discoveries:

  1. In the 1890s a particular group decided that it would be a great idea to have every bird Shakespeare ever mentioned here in America. They brought 100 European starlings over and released them in New York’s Central Park.  The more than 200 million starlings in the US and Mexico today are descendants of those 100 birds.
  2. Starlings are sucrose intolerant of regular table sugar, and have the ability to taste the difference between fructose (fruit sugar), and regular sugar. Idea: lace the next batch of suet with sugar!
  3. Many people actually buy starling traps and kill them! Don’t think I could handle that kind of guilt.
  4. Many manufacturers make starling-proof or starling-resistant feeders. Some are suet feeders that only provide access from underneath the feeder, supposedly making it difficult for the starlings, as they cannot hang upside down.  There are also ‘cage within a cage’  feeders with holes small enough to keep out starlings and squirrels, but large enough to let in bluebirds, tit mice, nuthatches and other small birds.

I think a starling-resistant feeder is in order.  I just can’t let the bluebirds think there is nothing here in my yard for them, and run the risk of never seeing them again, especially after the miracle of seeing them after their near 4-year absence.

Great Backyard Bird Count

This is a genuine invitation to Bird With Me – and thousands of other bird lovers across the US this weekend. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, and it takes as little as 15 minutes on one of the four days, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.*

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (one of my favorite birding websites), the national Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. You can download a tally form from the website (see link below,) and enter your findings online. Results are published sometime in the Spring. I’ve participated for the last few years. It is a lot of fun, and a great way to introduce and share your love of birding and nature with children.

If you need help identifying the birds you see, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great resource. You can also get a basic field guide at your local bookstore. My favorite guide is National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which you can purchase for under $20 in most bookstores or online. Other basic guides are a bit less and still detail most birds that you will find in your backyard.

So, grab your binoculars, grab your child or grandchild, or maybe even your honey on Valentine’s Day and spend 15 minutes counting the birds in your backyard. It’s 15 minutes you won’t forget or regret. Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear about your experience. Have fun!

*info taken from the GBBC website

Click on the link below to learn more about the GBBC.

Check out this and other bird guides at Amazon by clicking on the link below: