Category Archives: Feeding Birds

Monthly Journal – May, 2017

May’s journal focuses on activity in and around backyard feeders one afternoon on the north end of the neighborhood.  We were invited over to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks who had been showing up to recharge on good food in a wonderful wooded setting before continuing on their migration.  For one hour we sat quietly with our friends and watched.  This is some of what we saw.

Remember Wildlife in Cold Weather

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal in the snow

All of a sudden it’s about to be cold here in Atlanta.  Later this week the nighttime temperatures will be in the twenties.  So while you’re all warm and toasty in front of the fire, remember there are little guys outside trying to survive the cold.

You  might think it’s no big deal; wildlife has been living outside in the cold for millions of years.  But consider the fact that urban wildlife faces a little tougher challenge with a reduced supply of food, water and shelter and the added disturbances of humans.

January 23, 2016

Pine Warbler on Suet Feeder

Food – Keep bird feeders stocked and if snow or sleet covers the ground, toss a little extra on the ground. And remember to keep your bird feeders clean and free of mold.  Suet feeders are especially popular in cold weather.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - January, 2016

Song Sparrow eating native grass seed

Also, a great source of free food is seed heads from summer and fall perennials–leave some standing and enjoy watching the appreciative birds.  (see our blog out Brown is Beautiful for more)

River Oats

River Oats left for seed

Other wildlife will benefit from dried nuts, or fruit such as cranberries.  Roasted peanuts are good, but do not toss out uncooked peanuts. Peanuts are legumes not nuts, and raw peanuts consumed in quantity can be fatal to squirrels or chipmunks. [2]

Water – Make sure a couple of birds baths are always available and not frozen  (see our blog Surviving Cold Weather).  Both birds and other critters will thank you.

Screech-Owl Box

Screech-Owl Box can be shelter

Shelter –  “‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.” – Bob Dylan.  OK, sorry – drifted off for a minute.

There are many forms of shelter that help wildlife.  Birdhouses can provide protection from the wind and biting cold. One year we had a Downy Woodpecker roost each night in a bluebird house in the front yard.

Leaf piles, logs, rocks and ground cover help all manner of small critters and insects.  Native bees will nest in the stems of perennial plants, which is another reason to leave them in place until the spring.  Even the shrubbery next to your house can provide critical shelter on very cold nights.

Don’t disturb – especially after dark.  This paragraph from What The Robin Knows by Jon Young tells why:

What The Robin Knows“…conservation of energy is a major priority for all animals, but especially for birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers.  This bird may well die before dawn.)”

Try to avoid walking next to shrubbery where you think someone might be sheltered after dark.

Now, go enjoy your hot mulled cider.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Humane Society of the United States: Fall into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
[2]  Northwest Seed and Pet: Danger of Feeding Raw Peanuts to Squirrels
[3]  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Feeding
[4]  What the Robin Knows – Jon Young

Heading South

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder in Peachtree Park on September 21, 2016

Do the hummers that you are seeing now seem to be a bit more skittish than the ones that you’ve been seeing all summer?  Maybe it’s because the migrants are here, and they aren’t as familiar with their surroundings as the locals.  [1]

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

adult male Ruby-throat 9/21/16

Hummingbirds overwinter in Central and South America. [2]  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to most parts of Georgia in March (in Atlanta, around March 15 – April 1) [2] and usually stay with us until the first week in October. [10]  So it’s a great time to enjoy the last days of the locals before they head south, as well migrants passing through from points north.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Archilochus alexandri Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX - April 7, 2015

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin TX

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird known to nest to Georgia. [4]  In fact, it is the only hummingbird known to breed east of the Mississippi River. [11]  Our female Ruby- throated hummers produce up to two broods per year.  Nests are typically built on a small branch, sometimes rebuilding the nest from the previous year. [4]

However, Ruby-throats are not the only hummingbirds in Georgia.  There are 10 others that spend time here in the summer: Black-chinned, Rufous, Calliope, Magnificent, Allen’s, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Green Violet-ear, Green-breasted Mango and Broad-tailed hummingbird. [4]

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ - March 2010

Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna
Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ

Some hummingbirds do overwinter in Georgia [6] and there are periodic sightings in Atlanta. So, it’s a good idea to keep one feeder up in the winter.  Even better, make sure you have pollinator-friendly plants blooming year-round. Witch Hazel, Lenten Roses, and winter bulbs such as Crocus are some examples.

Despite what you may have heard, you cannot keep hummingbirds from migrating by leaving feeders up during the fall and winter seasons.  Hummingbirds migrate in response to a decline in day length, not food availability. [5]

We’ve included some links below with additional information on migration, feeding, and overwintering.  The first link from Lerner.org will direct you to a dynamic hummingbird migration map and the second link from the University of Georgia has good information on feeding.  Also, If you haven’t visited the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Hummingbird Trail, you should consider a drive over to Athens.

Hummmmm.  Zoom!  Zip!    We’re outta here.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Learner.org – Journey North: Hummingbird: Pushing Southward
[2]  UGA: Make Your Backyard a Favorite for Hummingbirds
[3]  GA Department of Agriculture: – Plant a Garden for Hummingbirds
[4]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Interesting Facts
[5]  Georgia DNR: Hummingbirds in Your Backyard – Feeding Hummingbirds
[6]  Georgia DNR: Out My Backdoor – Creating Hummingbird Havens
[7]  UGA: Creating Native Plant Hummingbird Habitat in Georgia
[9]  Georgia DNR: Georgia’s Wintering Hummingbirds
[9]  UGA: Extension: Attracting Birds to Your Backyard
[10]  The State Botanical garden of Georgia: Hummingbird Trail
[11]  The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.

Winter Fruit and Suet

A week ago the Crabapple tree between our house and the house next door was loaded with Cedar Waxwings feeding on crabapples which still remain on the tree.

This morning, after a light snow fell, birds were scrambling for food.  The Crabapple tree was invaded once more and this time the Waxwings were joined by Robins, Jays and Towhees.

In addition, our suet feeders were a very popular spot.   Appearing in this clip are a Pine Warbler, Carolina Wren, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and  two Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Brown is Beautiful

Especially if you are foraging for food, Like the Song Sparrow below in the native grass.

We plant for color and to attract pollinators in the spring, summer and fall.  But when winter comes and the garden turns brown, leaving plants with seed heads will provide much needed food for all manner of wildlife – especially birds.

Like this row of river oats beside the path.

Goldenrod’s spectacular fall display leaves much in the way of food.

Seeds in the heart of spent Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans are a bonus.

Even plants in pots on the deck can provide good foraging material.

Feeder Activity High

It’s been warmer today, but the bird feeders were about as busy as they get.  Lots of House Finches, Goldfinches, and Northern Cardinals.  Also present were Eastern Bluebirds, Brown-headed Nuthatches, White-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Thrashers.

Lots of Finches

The Finches were present in abundance.

Cardinal & Finch

A house Finch and Northern Cardinal

Titmouse & Finch

Yet another House Finch with a Tufted Titmouse

Surviving Cold Weather

We’ve had unusually cold weather this week with temperatures in the teens at night and below freezing for several days.  Food, water and shelter become very important.

Ice on Pond

The pond is almost iced over. The waterfall keeps an opening clear for oxygen.

Heated Bird Bath

This heater keeps the water in the birdbath from freezing.

Brown Headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatches taking a drink.

Bird Feeders

Northern Cardinals at the back yard feeders.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the front yard suet feeder.