Wildlife Wednesday: March 2015

According to my new calendar we just finished The Month When Ants Walk the Earth and Hawks Dance in the Sky.

But I already posted about those things. What is left to talk about? How about ….

little brown bird
Female House Sparrow

Misadventures in Bird Feeding

I have a well established bird feeder that hangs just outside the window of what we call ‘The Computer Lab.’ Its position is less than ideal for photographing birds. The window has a dark screen and the glass is so old I swear it kind of looks warped in places. Does that mean the sun here gets so hot it melts glass?!?! Call me naive but I nearly believe that might be true. ;)

Since I take my Wildlife Wednesday responsibilities seriously I decided to set up a more photography friendly feeder. I placed it in the front yard in the mulberry tree where birds already congregate. And since it is technically winter, I decided to fill this feeder with a suet mixture. I waited. And waited some more.

The first week passed. Not one bird visited. Shrug. Okay …

The second week passed and I began to mumble … How long does it take birds to ‘find’ a feeder?

Week Three. Loud grumbles. What is WRONG with these stupid (I mean lovely) birds? Don’t they know I have a deadline?

Week Four. FINALLY. Bird sign.

Perhaps you are thinking the shy woodpecker found it and decided to use it to fuel his nest building efforts? Was it the house finch all pretty in pink? The Pine Siskin? The little Yellow-rumped Warblers I keep seeing all over the neighbourhood?

The Famous Green Parrots ? ! ?

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

No. It was swarmed by a gang of English House Sparrows.

You probably hate sparrows. But they did such a great imitation of popcorn — hopping and popping all over the place — I just had to smile.

Controversies

Why did the ‘real’ birds shun my feeder? Maybe it was the recipe. I can imagine that a mix of hot chili peppers, oatmeal and sunflower seeds MIGHT be unappetizing.

Perhaps it was the partially hydrogenated fat. Squicked by the idea of touching animal fat I bought some vegetable shortening and mixed in some peanut butter. It is not inconceivable that the birds were in turn squicked by a fat that can’t melt.

unknown little red bird
Incredulous House Finch. Oatmeal spiced with red hot chili peppers? You MUST be joking …

And Then Nature Provided …

Winter can mean hard times for herbivores. But one creature’s famine can mean another’s feast.

This vulture looks more gawky than goth but it managed to find at least one wholesome meal of fat and protein during the cold spell ….

Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Black Vulture

And chic alors! Just look at this dashing — and well fed — shrike …

swoon

DSCN9990
Loggerhead Shrike

So I learned two lessons this month.

  • Meat eaters are far from helpless during a cold spell
  • My suet ‘recipe’ could use an adjustment or two

Once again, thank you Tina from My Gardener Says for hosting the Wildlife Wednesday event each month. The House Sparrows salute you.

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22 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: March 2015

    1. hahaha If you look closely you can see squirrel gore caught in her bristles too. She really gets caught up when it comes to clean up.

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  1. I am a big fan of the darling little House sparrows, so much so I can’t bring myself to cut back my over grown roses over my entry way. They uses it to hide in when the hawk is near. And they are much like popcorn as you say and always make me smile! I have taken to feeding the birds under the arbor on the brick path. I am sure people walking by must wonder. And the sparrows share with the doves and passing pigeons, cardinals and bluejays, grackles and some crows….and a few others now and again. I read that birds are creatures of habit so they go back to food sources they know. Once they find the feeder they will return to it. : ) The vulture picture is amazing!

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    1. Thanks, Laurin! I am pretty sure the birds and I will work out some kind of agreement. =) I think I just need to think about what they are probably seeking. I am guessing they will look for different things throughout the year.

      Your garden sounds busy with life — the way I think a garden ought to be. Welcoming.

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  2. I wouldn’t change your recipe quite yet. Birds aren’t put off by hot chili seeds or bits – the capsicum doesn’t affect their mouthy parts. Putting pepper flakes and seeds into bird feeders is actually supposed to help deter squirrel raiders since squirrel mouths are more like ours. As to the meat fat squickiness factor – not sure about that one. Handling meat fat doesn’t bother me though, so next time if you need a helping “hand” I’m your gal. For the birds…!

    PS – besides the Shrike’s nasty hunting tendencies, our adorable local wrens stalk small lizards in similar ways. They are somewhat shockingly carnivorous!

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    1. Thanks! I really appreciate the offer. The meat thing does bother me. Partly the touching and smell but I can handle it when I need to. Every so often I do cook meat for my guys just because it means a lot to them. It bothers me to use factory farmed stuff — I wonder about things like hormones, antibiotics and who knows what else might be hidden in that fat. Bad enough for large bodies like ours but for little birds with quick metabolisms that seems like bad news. Not that a processed vegetable fat is a big improvement or a real substitute.

      I once read a description of a wren hunting and eating a large bug and it was stomach churning disgusting. All the more so I think because the wren LOOKS so adorable. It is what it is though. Something has to die (plant or animal) for others to live.

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  3. My neighbor has bird feeders so the house sparrows share there and leave my suet alone. I buy cakes as well but am determined to make my own next year. That is an interesting suet recipe, SW style. My wildlife post is on my new blog….birds are still scarce here along with many critters…still cold here and loads of snow left covering everything.

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    1. haha Birds here really do eat the wild hot peppers. Normally. Maybe they prefer their peppers fresh rather than dried. I do have some mulberries I saved in the freezer. I’ll try them next.

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  4. The loggerhead shrike is quite deceiving. He looks so cute and harmless, lacking the talons of a killer. I just read that they kill their prey of lizards, birds, or small mammals by throwing them on thorns, barbed wire, or by shoving them in small spaces. Brutal. But, they are still very beautiful looking birds!

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  5. I splurge and buy cakes of rendered suet. It rarely gets hot enough to melt. There’s a no-melt suet that is mixed with peanuts, but that draws the House Sparrows. I know I should love all creatures in creation. But I don’t. House sparrows drive me insane. If they just didn’t arrive in massive hordes and eat EVERYTHING.

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    1. I may end up buying some instead of fine-tuning my recipe. As for house sparrows: I get it! I would like them a whole lot more if they weren’t so mean to the native birds.

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  6. I love English House Sparrows! They are in serious decline over here, usual reasons, habitat loss, aggressive farming methods, loss of food source for chicks. I don’t make ours but we buy a fat block with crushed insects and dried mealworms which is very popular with our birds, we get swamped when that goes on the menu. Its so good too to see your birds such as the Loggerhead Shrike, its a bird we do not have over here.

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    1. I had no idea they were in decline over there. That’s interesting and alarming. The females look so soft and pretty and the males amuse me with their suave goatees.

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  7. Yeah, I gotta go with the birds on the suet thing. I know the “meat” suet is gross, but I persevere for the birds. It’s all about the birds.

    I love that shrike!! So cool, I’ve never seen one. I have to agree with you on the house sparrows. I know they’re a problem, I know they don’t belong here, but truthfully? They have lots of personality and I get a kick out of them. They do remind one of popcorn.

    The vulture is grand. We have enough squirrel death-by-car and subsequent vulture clean-up crews in our ‘hood that I need to be more conscientious about taking photos of those wonderful birds.

    Great post and thanks as always, for participating!

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    1. Thank you, Tina. That vulture was so awkward looking I at first thought it must be an immature Turkey Vulture. Mueller Pond on the south end of the park is the place to go for shrikes. I see them most afternoons that I happen to visit.

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