It is super sad for me to read home-made suet recipes because nearly all of them are dangerous for birds, even deadly.
Reality is fats can get on birds' feathers and harm their ability to stay dry and warm. This is deadly in the winter, and even summer. And it's why feeding soft or liquid fats, or fats that melt easily at low temperatures is very unsafe. Greasy birds are dead birds, as lack of waterproofing, allows water to contact their skin, which then makes them cold - cold birds spend more time preening than eating. Once a bird is very cold, preening is most of what they will do. More preening, less eating = starvation.
Avian rehabilitators must use a high solvent soap to remove fats from feathers. And actually, in terms of removal, it is often harder to remove suet than petroleum products. However, sadly, we do not get the chance to catch most of these dirty birds.
Melt points matter! All but true suet and peanut butter have low melt points - veg oils, subcutaneous fats, bacon drippings, many fats misnamed as 'lard' or even 'suet' all melt at low temps. Making soft fats hard with ingredients (that birds don't really need like flour and corn) is not a solution. Note, even in winter fats can melt from the heat of the sun on them.
Beef FAT is not suet! This should not be used for feeding birds. Rendered beef fat is not "suet" -its low melt point makes it risky for birds' feathering and waterproofing. (Regions with zero degree weather, 24 hours a day, this can work, like the Arctic in winter). True suet is the fat around the loin of a cow. It is nearly dry, thus it crumbles when you handle it. Bacon grease, drippings from beef cooking, whatever is NOT suet, and is deadly to birds.
Vegetable oils: Coconut and palm are the only plant fats that are hard at room temperature. Their melting points are 75-77 degrees. This is way too low for a "suet" type of bird food. Also, birds likely do not have the digestive enzymes to digest these oils.
Peanut butter - Yes, it's safe, when mixed with something else. Melting point is high, 104. Just make sure that it has NO ADDED OILS - no other vegetable oils and no sugars. The best kind is fresh ground kind - where you pour the peanuts into a machine and you get fresh peanut butter, no salts, no oils, no sugar. Added to suet, this makes a "no melt" sort of suet. Peanut butter melts at 104 degrees, so adding it to the suet gives you a solid, low melt, hard 'suet' that is safer to feed birds (whom are landing close to these fats).
Test: pinch your suet between two fingers. Does it squish? Toss it and go for a no melt beef suet that has no or very little veg oil in it.
Test 2: handle the suet - If it crumbles and is nearly dry - it's suet. Recipes that require a lot of dry ingredients are likely using a soft fat that they have to try to hold together. Melting point 95 degrees - this is why it's safe to feed.
Cages only please. Never feed suet in a way that allows the bird to land on the fats. They will preen these fats right into their feathers. Log feeders work if they have a perch only - so drill a hole and put in a chopstick or small dowel. The squirrel proof one that has the suet inside and the cage out away from the suet so little birds can hop around and not on suet. If it's hard suet, it will fall as crumbles.
NEVER EVER EVER SPREAD FATS OR OILS ON TREEs!!! I cannot express how dangerous this is for birds. And you will NOT notice their demise, unless you are banding and keeping watch for months. What I am saying here is common sense, not that hard to reflect on why this is bad.
Keep feeders clean by washing in very hot water and soap like Dawn, regularly.
Time of Year
Fall, winter, spring are main suet feeding times. Late summer too before fall migration. Never over 80 degrees. Not in the sun, shade only, even winter as sun anytime of year directly on suet will soften it. (Partial sun is ok, just monitor to make sure it's not softening). Summer - make sure it does not go rancid! Change out frequently! (by putting in garbage).
Recipe for Favorite suet: No Melt peanut butter & suet. Ground oatmeal, corn flour or finely ground, quick oats with its flour, rendered suet. Add peanut butter if you want a no melt. You can add seeds, nuts, and fruit.
In sum YES, feed suet...safe, beef suet with good ingredients like seeds, some no melt with peanut butter, Test your suets...they should be hard. Have fun feeding. (Picture is from my friend Jane Tibbetts, songbird photographer extraordinaire! She's made a safe, very neat log feeder for the suet. Thanks Jane!
Sick and dying birds are still showing up at feeders all across the country. Mainly these are Pine Siskins ill with Salmonella, a bacterial infection.
We getting asked if it is safe to put all the feeders up. It actually depends on whether there are sick birds in your area or yard still.
For disease to stop spreading, the source of the infection must be removed or disinfected. Contamination happens as soon as a sick bird lands on a feeder, and that may be right after you just cleaned and disinfected it.
This makes it challenging to keep a feeder truly clean when you have sick birds coming to the feeder.
As we head into breeding season, if sick birds are making other sick, they very well could be infecting the babies as well.
Now that it is Spring, we recommend these protocols.
*If you have a sick bird - remove the feeders for a week or two. The sick one may stick around, if so try to catch him so you can get to rescue. Leave feeders down until the sick birds have dispersed.
* Continue feeding ONLY if you are able/willing to use the feeders that are least likely to spread disease - mesh hanging types, hopper with narrow feeding area, tube feeder. Remove any feeder that allows a bird to poop into the food!
*Continue feeding ONLY if you are able/willing to keep the feeders cleaned and disinfected, and able to do this frequently. Accumulation of fecal matter - poop - is how this disease is spread (and also saliva). Salmonella lasts a long time, so not bleaching is not an option. See below on how to do this right!
*If you saw or are seeing more than one or two sick birds, please assess your feeders for their safety in terms of disease spread. See below.
You play a huge role in protecting your birds and creating a safe backyard habitat.
Please explore the instructions below for specific details on how to help your birds.
What to Do Now:
Sick or Dead Birds:
How to Clean a Feeder:
Baths & Water Features
Salmonella Symptoms: What do I look for?
What do we do if we find a sick or dead bird?
Living, but sick birds:
Can humans or pets get Salmonella?
Yes, but it is not likely. The amounts in bird feces are tiny, and we are large. Cats that eat birds can and do get it. But if you have outside cats, you shouldn't be feeding birds.
Chickens carry their own particular subspecies of Salmonella. It too can be spread to wild birds. In fact, agricultural animal waste is one source of Salmonella infection for wild birds, particularly those associated with those animals (starlings and house sparrows).
Please use common sense when handling sick or dead birds, and when cleaning your feeders and baths. Gloves are mandatory.
If you would like citations for the research mentioned, email us at email@example.com
Why Pine Siskins & Finches?
Pine Siskins are particularly susceptible to Salmonella infection. These birds are experiencing an "irruption" year, which is when an unusually large number of a species appear in areas further outside of their range. Unfortunately, a shortage of conifer seeds has forced thousands of these birds to head south. Notably, people from across the country and even Florida are seeing these sweet little birds. (Audubon has a nice article on this irruption).
You might wonder why the Pine Siskins are ill, while the Chickadees and Nuthatches are seemingly fine. The finch family of birds seems to is more susceptible to both Salmonella and Conjunctivitis. This family includes Pine Siskin, House Finch, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, and the Goldfinches. Raptors and Owls that prey on sick birds can also contract the disease.
Notably, this disease spread from agricultural poultry farms, and more birds who congregate near agricultural animals carry the infection. A few birds will carry the bacteria in their guts, without visible external symptoms. These asymptomatic carriers will shed the bacteria in their feces; if this fecal matter contaminates foods, like at a feeder, then the disease will spread.
Some birds are able to overcome the disease and gain enough immunity to survive. This is usually the larger birds. Dr. Wesley Hochachka of Cornell Lab of Ornithology speculates that, "many other species are innately more able to fend off Salmonella infections," and develop immunity. However, given the death rate, he notes that it doesn't appear that this is happening for the Pine Siskin and Redpoll.
How & What Diseases are Spread?
Birds share disease wherever they congregate and avian scientists confirm that bird feeders are a location in which disease can be passed to other birds (Adelman et al. 2015; Dhondt et al. 2007; Galbraith et al. 2017; Hernandez et al. 2012, Lawson et al. 2018).
Many diseases are spread through fecal-oral transmission (meaning the birds accidentally eat poop). Any feeder in which a bird is able to sit in their food is a potential source for infection. Flat feeders and those with large seed catchers are primary culprits.
Salmonella is just one of several pathogens that can be spread at the bird buffet. Others are: conjunctivitis, avian pox, aspergillosis, trichomoniasis, and coccidia, along with internal parasites, mites, and feather lice. However, not ALL birds carry these pathogens (just like not all people carry the cold virus). In fact, studies show that only a few birds actually carry the Salmonella bacteria.
Salmonella is highly contagious because it survives in the environment (say a bird feeder) for a long time- "several weeks in dry environments and several months in wet environments" (FDA). In contrast, Conjunctivitis survives from "hours to a few days" according to Dr. Hochachka.
Humans can reduce disease spread by keeping the feeders clean.
Salmonella causes lesions and inflammation throughout the digestive track and esophagus. It can enter the bloodstream and affect the organs and the brain. Once in the brain it causes cognitive impairment, which is why sick birds act "tame" and you can get so close to them. Birds ultimately die from starvation, being unable to absorb the nutrients they need, or organ failure.
Our role in helping these birds is simple. We can create an environment in which the birds have a safe environment to feed.
Well here we are moving into the colder, darker months after coming through such an intense year. We thought we'd share a few happy stories of some of our extraordinary patients that wound up needing help.
It was the busiest year Native Bird Care has seen. My first baby songbird came in April 1st, two months earlier than any other season in my 11 years. By mid-May I was already ordering 35,000 insects a week; July is usually when our insect demand is that high. All those babies were for the most part singletons, individuals rather than full nests. In fact, I rarely get a full nest, it is mostly single babies who have wound up alone, injured, and needing help. So, like all baby seasons, I worked a 96 hour work week, it just started way early and did not stop for nearly 5 months. And this year, due to Covid, we could not have volunteers.
This fall, it has slowed quite a bit but I still have a steady stream of patients needing care. I hate to play favorites since frankly every one of these birds is an amazing, brilliant gem. I love every one of them, even the most irascible, stressy grouch. In fact, it is pure maternal instinct that powers my ability to get up at 6 am every morning to start putting food into mouths and cleaning up poopy enclosures. The bright spot in avian rescue is the babies, little souls with a desperate eagerness to be a graceful, elegant star, traversing the air or cruising the earth.
Here are a few of the stars we had this last year. Enjoy them, fawn over their beauty, relish them as if they are the last one of their species. As we lose bird populations, it is so important to value and cherish every single one of them.
Few birds can match the mesmerizing calls of the Hermit Thrush. The sound from this small 25 gram bird erupts as ethereal waves, flowing from the forest edges. Is that one? Two? The call has a ventriloquist aspect, confusing the human listener, making us wander hopelessly in search of the source of that siren song. To no avail.
We've had several Hermits this fall, two were simply too weak to fly, another hit a window, which is quite odd as these are migrants that do not seek bird feeders. Starvation is a real issue birds must face, particularly in this day and age. Finding insects is tough work, requiring a never ending hunt for food most of the day. In care here, we get them past the critical care stage that results from emaciation and then load them up on as many insects as they can gobble down. All our Hermit Thrushes were able to be released amazingly, even the window harmed one.
Cedar Waxwings are one of my favorite babies to raise. This one dropped out of a tree onto someone's patio. We tried for 3 days to find the parents and the nest with no luck. I concluded that this one was a runt, and just was not able to hang on in the nest. She had mites as well and was skinny.
She ate like a champ though, enjoying fresh berries and insects. Waxwings, like most baby songbirds, are fed small larvae, caterpillars, and other insects. Mainly soft-bodied bugs that are easy to digest. In care, we avoid mealworms with waxwings and feed mainly crickets and some waxworms. These birds grow up to eat berries however, so we dutifully chop of fresh blue and blackberries, and other fruits.
She joined a small flock of other Cedar Waxwings in Camp Polk Meadow.
In July, we had the rare opportunity to help a baby Pied Billed Grebe. All grebe species are 100% waterbirds, meaning that they live full time on the water - eating, swimming, sleeping, and nesting in reeds at lake edges.
Sadly, people can easily disturb families like this when they paddle into the vegetated areas at the edges of lakes and rivers. And that's what happened to this little one. Luckily the person found the soaked baby and got her to us for warming, drying, and some food. Over the next week we searched the lake, found a parent, and were able to reunite the one. Her sibling sadly died from the ordeal of being in the water too long. Baby down is not waterproof for long, which is why you see them crawl up on their parents' backs and snuggle in for a ride. Lesson: don't paddle into reeds and marsh.
As happens every year, some crew of Northern Flicker babies find themselves homeless as people remove trees, or exclude them from hole in a house. We renest a lot of these guys over the summer, providing flicker boxes to home owners and moving the babes to the box and out of the home.
This works incredibly well, and provides a long-term solution for the home owner looking for a way to keep them outside, not in. Get the ant-eating benefit the Flicker provides, while preventing damage.
Win-win! Flickers are a blast to raise. Don't get me wrong, they are a ton of work, but these babies are just so full of attitude and personality. Their tongues and foraging techniques are so very neat. If you go to the videos on the Native Bird Care of Sisters Facebook page, you will see one of our young birds from last year show off her phenomenal tongue eating worms in a tree.
We had so many species this year - our fun and common Robins and Goldfinches, Townsend Solitaires, Red Breasted Sapsucker, Black Headed and Evening Grosbeak, House Finches, Red Crossbill, Common Poorwill and Nighthawks, Ash Throated Flycatcher, Hairy Woodpecker, Hummingbirds, Quail, Chickadees, Pine Siskin, Spotted Towhee, and then Spotted Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, and waterbirds like Lesser Scaup and Canada Geese. And that is not all, here are a few more. I could chat about all of them all day.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at our birds. Please make a donation this holiday season. Without public support we simply could not keep doing what we do to save birds. Our food bill alone is $5000 a year. Medications, medical treatment and supplies, everything that goes into enclosures and housing, utility bills, and so much more costs a lot. We have no paid staff, so 100% of your money goes directly to the birds that make their way here.
Join Native Bird Care in a global project seeking to solve bird-window collisions!
How to Participate: It's easy! You can join in by looking for birds that have been hurt and/or putting up window solutions.
Team Name: Native Bird Care has signed us up as a team. Please put our team name in when you sign up: Native Bird Care of Central Oregon.
Instructions for What Exactly to Do: Please download the Global Bird Rescue Manual and Tutorials on the Global Bird Rescue site. There are specific instructions on what to do if you find a bird, how to rescue one, and so forth.
Dead or Injured Birds: We will be collecting all dead or injured birds. Please text us when to make arrangements re transport.
Downtown Bend Volunteers: If there are any folks who could possibly do a very early morning search in downtown Bend on some of the larger buildings with a lot of glass, that would be great.
Windows Solutions: simply go to here for great ideas on what you can do for those problem windows. Our site has more homemade options, but also most of the solutions listed on ABC: Native Bird Care Windows Solutions and American Bird Conservancy. Be sure to share your accomplishment and ideas with us and on the Global Bird Rescue website!
Goal: Get outside! Share the project with young people! Learn about birds! And help to SAVE BIRDS! :)
Go to Links:
Global Bird Rescue Website
Oregon is experiencing the most tragic and severe wildfire event ever recorded in this state. There is significant suffering going on - human, wildlife, and plants. We wish everyone safety and well-being. If you can donate to those organizations that are helping people and domestic pets, and also wildlife, please do. There will be a lot of homeless people and pets at the end of this. We will also have devastating losses of wildlife and their habitats. Yes, it will recover. It may take a long time though for some species to regain numbers. These fires are not friendly cleaners, they are too intense for that.
I've been asked how birds handle fire. I am no expert, but here's what I do know. Generally some birds will fly away, escaping the coming inferno. In massive fires like this one, some may not make wise choices in the directions they choose and suffer. Some may not realize the epic nature of the fires coming and choose to hunker down, staying in place to ride it out (like some people try to do). As birds move around they are often forced into new habitats where food resources may not be ideal or they are unfamiliar with. Fires may encourage migration as well for those species heading south.
Birds traveling through in migration will hopefully simply fly on past, however, with much of the Cascades on fire, we can only hope they have the reserves and physical capacity to keep going. They will face more challenges as they hit the fires raging throughout California. I look forward to seeing some research on the movement patterns of birds experiencing fire.
I do know that a lot of animals are dying right now. That is a given. I am not getting many as most birds will perish without anyone seeing them, as we are all stuck in our homes. I hope that anyone who finds a suffering bird will text us and give the bird a chance. We do not have the fire staff on these mega infernos for anyone to rescue animals while out on the front-lines. I am sure they wish they could.
How Does Smoke Affect Birds?
Birds lungs are incredibly complex and extraordinary. In fact, the incredible physical accomplishments of birds - flight, long distance trips, and endurance - are in large part due birds' breathing anatomy.
Birds do not have just two lungs like us mere land-walkers. They have up to 9 "air sacs" - balloon-like structures that allow lightness and enormous breathing capacity. Each breath of a bird passes through all of these sacs and the lungs before being exhaled.
The entrance to birds' airways is located at the bottom of the mouth, not the back of the throat like mammals. It is called the "glottis." This odd location allows more efficient and immediate air intake, which aids in the aerial feats birds engage in. (The location of the glottis and the risk of aspiration is a main reason feeding baby birds is actually a developed skill. It's super easy to get food or water into their airways, and birds cannot cough to force anything out because of how distributed the air becomes once in the body. In some birds, like the Common Poorwill, the glottis is darn near the front of the mouth, with the tongue very tiny and seemingly vestigial.
This anatomy translates into a rather complex breathing operation. Note in the picture below, the air comes into the body, passes through the trachea, goes into the posterior air sacs and the lungs. The air in the posterior air sacs goes on into the lungs and back out. The air that goes into the lungs passes through the anterior air sacs before exiting the body.
What this anatomy results in for birds' airways is that what goes in, stays in. So the micro to larger particulates of smoke, wind up going into birds' air sacs and lungs and not leaving. Just like us, these particulates can cause inflammation and impair intake of oxygen. The health effects of smoke are the same as for humans, except they are magnified by the fact that birds are more efficient breathers and retain more particulates.
In sum, smoke inhalation can and does kill birds. It impairs their ability to breathe and that impairs their ability to forage and sustain themselves. Birds will often sit is stasis. They may go to the ground as the air can be clearer there. Birds will often head into the canopy where they are a bit protected from larger particles and predators.
Smoke also dirties birds' feathering, which can lead to birds ingesting this pollution as they preen. Keeping clean is imperative for birds ability to stay weatherproof, so they will try to seek out water. The chemicals and pollutants in the smoke is not good for them, so the cleaner they can stay by bathing, the better.
So what can we do to help?
Keeping clean, fed, and having access to water is critical for all the birds suffering right now. So, if you want to help your yard birds, please consider turning on sprinklers for an hour or so a day. Please wear a mask as you go outside to protect your lungs. Keep all feeders full, and clean the water baths and features as much as possible. You can also add additional trays of water, placed around the yard.
Most birds we will not be able to help as they are simply not yard birds. However, if we are backed to open space or forests, we can help these birds by aiming sprinklers out where a few might get some benefit. Migrants who are desperate for food or water can benefit too from us putting water out.
Putting food on the ground like millet will help the ground feeders and those that will eat millet like the finches. Keeping feeders full is important. And keeping bird baths clean! With so many birds taking baths and with the particle buildup, we want to keep the baths clean.
Why do some act like nothing is happening? Still going about their day. Well they simply have no choice. Little birds in particular must eat much of the day, every day just to survive. As smoke impacts them, they can succumb from lack of oxygen and lack of food if they cannot eat. Birds waiting it out may go without food, leading to starvation. We can do almost nothing for the birds that do not come to the feeder.
Note, putting water pans out helps other animals too, if you happen to be able to put out large pans for the deer and others, I advocate that. Smoke dehydrates everyone...no you should not feed the deer, their food is still there. But adding more water to your landscape cannot hurt. Yes, we are in a drought and water conservation is important. So please, do always conserve water as a general rule.
If you see distressed birds hunkering down, rescue them. Put them in a box and text us. Please keep kitties inside right now, for their health and for the birds that are coming to the ground where the air is cleanest.
For yourselves, tape shut any vents, hang blankets over doors, avoid going in and out, get an air cleaner going, and try to close up leaks.
We wish everyone the best...please pray or say blessings for rain....
This article was just published in East Cascades Audubon, Spring Calliope Newsletter.
This is part one of a three part series on Spring birds, boxes, and babies. Questions? Facebook us!
Bangers, Boxes, & Babies:
Spring Tips for Woodpeckers
By Elise Wolf, Native Bird Care, avian rescue
I always get asked what to do about Northern Flickers, or other head-bangers that visit our homes each spring announcing their presence with a tap tap tap or a loud machine gun dddddddd. My answer is always to joke and say – get up at 5 am. It brings a laugh, and some groans. But, in all seriousness, adaptation is one of the best solutions to this issue. When viewed as a puzzle, not a problem, bird’s relationships with us, our homes, and the altered environment we have created for them can be seen with a more congenial attitude.
Flickers nest in dead or dying trees, providing homes for other cavity-nesting species – small owls, kestrels, ducks, small mammals, and other songbirds. They are considered a ‘keystone’ species, meaning that their presence is key to the success of other species. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The loss or diminution of the Northern Flicker would likely have a large impact on most woodland ecosystems in North America.”
For decades there was a bounty on snags in our surrounding forests (and porcupines as well, which help by making dead trees). Logging protocols have historically allowed or even required removal of dead or dying trees. We continue to see these antiquated and tragic policies played out today in forest plans and decisions. In addition to habitat loss and lack of snags, starling cavity theft, pesticides, and window strikes take a toll on these wonderful birds. Only 40% of Flickers survive the winter according to researchers.
As predominately ant eaters, these birds have to work quite hard to find their foods. Last summer was noticeably short of insects, and that reality showed in our rescue as babies and adults came in low in weight and even emaciated. So, be thrilled that you have someone able and willing to take out carpenter ants on your property (wish they ate piss-ants, but can’t have it all). We can buy new trim; can’t buy Flickers.
Have I pulled at your heart-strings enough now? So what can you do regarding not just flickers, but all our little bangers?
Tip #1: Let them bang & get up early!
Hear me out – this is actually very effective. If they start on the gutters, that’s perfect. They are not going to hurt the gutter, but they get a loud, reverberating – and for them, satisfying – sound. If you relinquish the gutter, then they may leave the roof alone. This is exactly what ours have done. Once they have successfully established that your home and yard are ‘theirs’ – since this time of year banging is territorial – they may stop sooner. By the way, Flickers are only territorial regarding their nests sites, not their food resources. That sharp ach, ach, ach, ach, ach, ach that you hear all day is their trying to attract a girl, or after that, them declaring that their found nesting site in your yard is theirs. Sweet, huh!
Our flickers take about 2 weeks of gutter-banding to convince the others that our house is their house. What does not work, and can make them more persistent, is running outside and yelling at them. My husband has proven this repeatedly, he is now forbidden from this activity as I insist that I prefer the banging to his yelling and clapping. Our Pa Flicker is already done with this activity this year, and politely conducted all of it on the gutters.
Get up early. I can hear the groans. If you find their incessant pounding at first light irritating or waking you up, adapt by adjusting your schedule. Get a start on the day. It will only last a short time. Your reward will be adorable baby ones in another couple of months.
Tip #2: Give them a house!
Ok, not yours perhaps (he he), but one of their own. If Pa Flicker has decided to make a cavity in the wall of your garage or home, then give them an alternate. Flickers will use a bird box…if they want to. They physiologically and mentally need to excavate the cavity. So, pack the nest full of wood chips. Use aspen wood chips from a pet store (not mulch – splinters; not cedar – toxic; not pine – sappy).
Absolutely and always put grooves up all four sides of the inside of the box. Chose a box that opens (which you should do anyway). Remove the side opposite the opening. Use tool of choice to make 1/8th inch grooves. For Flickers, these grooves should be ½ inch apart, bottom to top of box. Flickers begin to perch on the sides of their cavities at about 17 days. Being gregarious, flicker babies need space, so make sure they have use of the entire inside of the box.
Place box a metal post, like you would a swallow or bluebird box, at 8’-12’ high. This prevents predators being able to climb up and get into the box. Place 10’ from nearest tree, in the shade, facing South or Southeast. Proper siting and location is paramount. Chose the most private, least stressful place to site your planet-mate’s new house. Base decisions on June activity levels and locations, not April’s. Ideally, not above a door, or social gathering areas. Younger birds may not have the experience to know they are making a housing faux pau until it’s too late (one way I get baby birds). Placing the box on the house might work best if you have a small yard and this is the safest, private place for your bird family. Or, if you want to exclude a current Flicker’s hole-building project on your own house, try putting up a box over that hole.
Flickers will tolerate activity and humans till fledgling stage (this is true of most our of urban nesting birds). However, all birds get stressed and once the fledglings are able to flap even a bit, they can get spooked from their nests/cavities before they are ready. Also, birds are territorial, not just among their own species, but sometimes with other species as well (like bluebirds attacking swallows; easily solved by doing back to back boxes). So, if this bird made an awful real estate decision, relocate by exclusion (see www.nativebirdcare.org for a long list of options) and put up the pole box if you want the birds.
House on a house placement, by the way, is excellent for your smaller tap-tappers, nuthatches and chickadees. These birds will readily take over a box, and you can often simply place a box right over the hole they have embarked on creating. Simply fill hole with a sealant, and place box over it. Put an inch of the aspen bark in the box. Placement and location are same as Flickers. Grooves are far more, spaced closer together, like 1/8th to 1/4th inch apart, just on the front of the box, below the hole. But, put them all the way across so babies can get alongside and push dominant and bigger babies away from the hole. Too few places to hang can lead to the largest baby dominating the hole and the others starving. (Never put perches on bird boxes, unless you want to feed our corvids).
Did you know some precocial birds are fed by their parents? Loons, shorebirds, coots for example. Only 2 truly precocial birds exist, and they are not in North America. Anyhoo...will continue this later...
This is a nestling Western Wood Pewee. She came in after her nest was blown down after a heavy wind. She was a hoot to finish raising. As an aerial insectivore and eating by catching her insect prey in flight with her feet, she took some extra care getting her ready for release. Babies like this need practice catching their food, so giving her flighted insects was necessary. We do that with bot fly larva and fruit flies (which we make ourselves by...you guessed it...lots of old fruit scraps. Basically we leave a bucket of rotting food out in the aviary with 1/4 inch screen on it so birds cannot get in, but bugs can get out. I would also toss crickets and mealworms in the air for her to catch...she was super adept early on and kept getting better. She learned way faster than her barn swallow buddy who would just look at me from his high perch and shun my attempts. He eventually got it though and both would swoop down to catch what I tossed up. Notably, she caught her bugs with her feet and the swallow caught his with his mouth - both variations on on-the-wing foraging by birds. This little Pewee was surely one of the sweetest birds we have had in care. She got released with a whole flock of other Pewees at Camp Polk Meadows. Birders helped us locate a flock, then we took her to them. She flew directly towards the flock and two came out to greet her. Absolutely perfect!
American Coots are abundant, that's true, but it doesn't take away from them being a fascinating, beautiful, and unique bird. These cuties navigate inland waters year-round, and they fit in a similar niche as a small grebe (like a Horned or Eared). But they are actually part of the Rail family (along with Virginia Rail). Rather than skirt the shoreline like a Virginia though, these guys are eating small fish, crustaceans, bugs, invertebrates and vegetation along the shore while in the water. They are floaters, not walkers. Like the grebes, these birds cannot take off from the ground due to their feet and the size of their wings (which are small in relation to their body size and weight, which is an advantage if you are a swimmer). So, these birds wind up stranded in poor winter weather (like loons, grebes, and ruddy ducks).
This girl rebounded remarkably once we dewormed her, warmed her up, and got her fed and hydrated. In fact, she put on 200 grams in 9 days (its amazing how quickly they can respond once the problem is found!). Like other waterbirds that come through here, we made sure her feathers and waterproofing were in shape, and maintained, and she got a pool. Had we not already put our winter pools away (oops, who knew winter would be in March!), she would have had a bigger pool, but instead she had to do with our large indoor water set up, which is a whole lot more work for us as it has to be cleaned very frequently so she stayed clean. (Note - next year, leave winter pools up in aviary!)
Why the red eyes? Lots of waterbirds have red eyes as it helps them see underwater. Note the babies have brown eyes, red eyes happen as they reach adulthood. Their leg color also changes, from more green/olive to more and more yellow as they age. And while Grebes and Loons have toenails, nothing compares to the talons on these guys. Just check out the first picture. In fact, these feisty birds will flip over on their backs like a raptor and try to slash you with those sharp, hooked nails (yes, we ALWAYS wear gloves with Coots, ha ha!). The boys are another 200 grams on the girls, so they can be a handful (2 handfulls, ha). The lobes on those pretty yellow-green feet are designed to propel them through the water, highly effective paddles, very cool.
We had the fun time of raising a baby coot last summer. So for fun I've added a parent and two babies. Notably, like most waterbirds, Coots also feed their babies bill to bill. So, even though they are born "precocial" (born with down, able to move away from nest soon), they cannot feed themselves. This is such a wonderful picture of their colorful, adorable babies. Coots may be one of the few birds that can make the global transition we are experiencing, because they are adaptable, can eat a diversity of food, and are productive. Go Coots!
A big thanks to Spencer in Ontario who rescued a Horned Grebe! Finding my website which highlights these birds, he called for help, which I was happy to offer. The horrible cold and storm in the mid-west is likely bringing quite a few of these birds up onto the shore or onto parking lots and roads. They come out of the water if they are either frozen out or have lost their waterproofing (like from contamination or bad body condition). I hope more downed ones are found. Always rescue a grebe out of water, and never simply put them back in. They are out for a reason and need help.
Horned Grebes are some of the cutest birds there are. Looking like mini-penguins, their feet are positioned toward their rears to enable efficient swimming. They have a hard time standing for this reason. Like a lot of waterbirds, they have smallish wings that are held tight to their bodies for streamlined swimming (though they do not swim with the wings). The foot position and small wings makes it impossible for them to fly from stand-still. They must run on water for up to 20 or more feet to get into the air. Thus, once down, that's it if they hit pavement.
These cuties breed in AK and Canada mainly, with just a few in the states. They winter in coastal regions, from Alaska to Mexico and Nova Scotia to Florida, also winter inland on lakes and rivers at various locations throughout the US. Horned's eat lots of larvae and insects, as well as small fish. They have charming breeding behaviors and the male and female have similar plumages in breeding season and winter. They mate up during winter, and are monogamous; some continue their relationships for several seasons.
These birds wind up coming down in bad storms and when lakes or rivers freeze over. They will hop onto land if frozen out and basically sit there, helpless and at risk of starvation or predation. They also come down if migrating and hitting severe weather. They wind up emaciated, hypothermic, and at risk of death.
Huge numbers of these birds have come down in harsh storms in parking lots and roads. But when the single birds get downed, it is a bird that simply does not have the stamina from poor body condition.
These birds are prone to parasites (worms), which cause them to be in poor condition and weight. Worm infections can ruin waterproofing as well. can be Birds that I get ALWAYS have worms and are always hypothermic. We follow care protocols similar to those of the seabird-specialist facilities , so every bird gets wormed asap here. However, these birds, if they are in migration, reduce (atrophy) the size of their internal organs. This makes them unable to receive the normal level of food intake. This is a key reason these birds must come into rescue. First, we must access their physical status, including whether they are in a migratory condition.
Downed birds are always cold. Sitting on cold pavement or snow (and given they came down due to condition), would make anyone cold. Putting them back into cold water will either kill them or they will get out again. Hypothermia kills wet, cold birds. Getting them warm is critical. Like all seriously hypthermic patients, including humans, they cannot simply be set on a hot pad. They must be warmed slowly and hydrated.
These birds special water facilities to regain their waterproofing and hydration. So, please make sure to call someone if you find one. Never simply put them back on water, call a wildlife rescue and get a consult with a rehabilitation professional who knows these birds. I am happy to answer questions and help find a facility wherever you are.
A huge thank you to Spencer for caring for this wonderful and unique bird. And thanks for driving him 3 hours to save him!!! Finding rescues who take these birds and can help them sometimes requires some looking.
Spencer - You rock!
Mourning doves are just so precious and gentle, and so pretty. The subtle coloring on them is really beautiful. The one in the back, a boy, came in late fall injured from a cat attack. All of his skin and feathers were torn off from the mid back down. It took a month of wound management to repair the damage. That sort of repair is always stressful just due to the potential infection. But, he pulled through just fine. His new skin is healthy and ready to grow feathers, so we are just waiting for him to finish that process. And he has to grow a tail.
The gal next to him came in after hitting a window really hard. She had a fairly serious hematoma around her eye. Luckily all was fine once the swelling came down. I put her with the other guy so they could keep each other company. She runs over to him when the scary woman comes in. No, they do not get that I won't hurt them. Doves are very stressy birds. They will be released together, and perhaps we will have helped them find love together.
I really adore these birds, but they are one type that are just frustrating in care. Their key defense is to blow out their feathers - and I mean a LOT. You will notice that neither has their tails. Earlier today the girl did, but she decided to let them all go when I went in to clean the cage. I have a protocol that works with this behavior, its called 'let them be.' They will both grow their tails back once in the aviary.
A little science: The right picture is an excellent example of what a "blood" feather looks like (the dark shaft at the bottom of the picture). This is what a feather looks like when it is just growing in. A feather grows out in a protective sheath that holds blood to grow the feather. The blood has all the nutrition for growth of the feather. A bird that breaks a feather low at this stage will bleed. Feathers are fragile at this point. Eventually, the full feather grows in and the blood section shrinks down to nothing.
These two are doing great, and they will be released as soon as they both have all their feathers and tails back.
It takes soap for us rescuers to get fats and oils out of a birds feathers - they simply cannot do this themselves, neither their bills nor their saliva is able to do this. Birds groom their heads with their feet, so even if their belly feathers do not wind up soiled, they can easily spread these fats to their feathers by grooming with feet that have fat on them. Myself and several other songbird rehabilitators are quite concerned about this growing trend and get fat contaminated birds in which we must bath to save. Don't trust me? Smear your hands with any oil or fat you are feeding your bird, now go try to wash it off using only water. I use Dawn soap to get suet and fats out.
Belly feathers and feet touching fat= deadly for birds.
Greasy birds are dead birds, as lack of waterproofing, allows water to contact their skin, which then makes them cold, cold birds spend more time preeing then eating, once very cold thats all they will do and slowly starve to death. Cold wet birds starve or die from hypothermia. Key to fats are their melting points and fats like suet with high melting points are safest. Note the following melting points are for ambient air temp, not direct sun - note any time fats are exposed to sun that temp can get high even in cold weather. Direct sun starts to melt any of these on contact which means always feed fats in the shade. Here are some facts.
Takeaway 3 is that the only safe fat is suet. (and some kinds of peanut butter if fed correctly. Suet: a particular kind of beef fat found around organs and groin. Raw it is hard, crumbly, with far less water and no blood veins as is found in general beef fat. Its melting point is about 110 degrees. It is used raw in recipes (mainly British).
Beef fat; must be rendered (melted down and sterilized) to be made hard enough to form and to kill bacteria. Melting point is 95 degrees. This should not be used for feeding birds. First, though its melting point is 95, surface melt is more likely to occur, making any home suet greasy. Rendered beef fat is not "suet" - you can get it hard, but still its low melt point makes it risky for birds' feathering and waterproofing. (Regions with zero degree weather, 24 hours a day, this can work, like Fairbanks).
Vegetable oils: Coconut and palm are the only plant fats that are hard at room temperature. Their melting points are 75-77 degrees. This is way too low for a "suet" type of bird food. Also, birds likely do not have the digestive enzymes to digest these oils. In contrast, you will see even songbirds pick at dead animals, which is likely why eating our suets was not so hard to get them to do. Animal proteins and fats are closer to the types of foods they eat, at least the insectivores.
Peanut butter - melting point is high, 104. Just make sure that it has NO ADDED OILS - no other vegetable oils and no sugars. The best kind is fresh ground kind - where you pour the peanuts into a machine and you get fresh peanut butter, no salts, no oils, no sugar. Added to suet, this makes a "no melt" sort of suet.
Recipe for Favorite suet: No Melt peanut butter & suet. Ground oatmeal, corn flour or finely ground, quick oats with its flour, rendered suet. Add peanut butter if you want a no melt. You can add seeds, nuts, and fruit.
Please ALWAYS USE A SUET FEEDER...either a cage or something that encloses the fats. You can use logs if they are hung so that the bird cannot get the fat on them (vertical is usually required for this AND if they have a landing perch.
NEVER EVER EVER SPREAD FATS OR OILS ON TREE LIMBS!!!! I cannot express how dangerous this is for birds. And you will NOT notice their demise, unless you are banding and keeping watch for months. What I am saying here is common sense, not that hard to reflect on why this is bad.
Audubon and others sites have fine print that comment about the impact of fats on feathers. Native Bird Care and other Songbird rehabilitators are currently pressuring Audubon and other organizations to stop promoting this fat fad and the impacts its having.
Note that even on a cage, a bird can get its feathers exposed to fats. The cleaner your cage feeder, the safer for the bird. The colder it is, the likely the suet will crumble off the feet, rather than melting.
They look larger than they really are, at only 2 or so ounces. They are tiny really. They live almost entirely on fruit in winter, and today they have moved towards more of our planted species, like the mountain ash. However, they get their name from the Cedar tree, which they ate the berries of historically.
They are highly susceptible to the insecticides and other sprays with coat our trees and shrubs with. And being so little, it does not take much to make them sick. At least 2 of my intakes were sick from what I think was pesticide poisoning. One did not survive, the other I just released. If you love birds, please do not spray your trees with anything...not even "non-toxic" products like soap (soaps kills the waterproofing on birds and makes them sick too).
These are not feeder birds, but if you want them in your yard plant serviceberry, mountain ash, cherry trees, crabapple, and raspberries - but be happy birds are eating all your fruit! Know that your fruiting trees are keeping these cuties alive. In rehab, they are eating soaked currents, pear, chopped raisens, raspberries, and blueberries, along with mealworms (at least they are offered).
Unlike some birds in which we try to return them to their original location and group, with the Waxwings, we release them to larger flocks with abundant resources (if we can). Cedar Waxwings are flocking up at this time anyway and we like to give our rehabs a good chance. There is safety in numbers, and they have night-time buddies to stay warm with on freezing nights and experienced birds that can lead the way to food sources.
Enjoy these special birds! Keep some small binocs in your car, and take that moment or two just to get close up look. However, never walk up to trees at night and try to get closer looks at birds resting for the night or even on really cold days.
Once a bird flies, it loses all of its built up heat. Birds can die from having to lose this critical heat upon a flight made late in the day. For the tiny songbirds, they may not have the physical reserves to make more heat for their frigged night.
Enjoy those Waxwings! See the fb post for video.
Mountain Bluebirds must be one of the most beautiful songbirds that grace our skies here in Central Oregon. I was blessed this summer to be able to save 4 baby mountains who had sadly lost their parents somehow. The kind home owner who noticed this, intervened after a day and called us. The babies were a bit burdened by parasites and a bit thin, and of course quite hungry, but luckily nothing else was wrong. So, in they came.
We are careful to interview people when they want to bring in a full nest of fairly healthy birds. But in this case, their body status did indicate that the parents were struggling to feed them and they needed treatment for mites. With even one parent missing, if the family is having difficulty feeding already, then having a missing parent would have meant a slow starvation for these sweeties. Its nice when owners observe and watch the nest boxes they have. Not only is it fun for them, but they know right away when birds are having a hard time. This summer was difficult for many insectivores since June was really frigid and then we shot up into the 90s, both temperatures take their toll on bugs...and thus baby birds.
These babies lucked out and got all the bugs they needed from us! This summer we created a large indoor aviary because the hot temperatures in July were making the aviaries quite steamy. We often mix and match baby birds once they are fledging so that they have the sense of being with a larger flock (but only if they get along!). Other older birds too can help the younger ones learn to eat out of dishes on their own. The bluebirds had as company a Townsend's Solitaire, Barn Swallows, and 2 feisty Lesser Goldfinch. It was very sweet to see them perched all together at the end of the day.
About Mountain Bluebirds
These beautiful birds are in the family as the American Robin - they are thrushes. And of all the thrushes they eat the most insects. This is why we do not see them at our feeders and instead out in wide open meadows and sometimes agricultural lands. They love caterpillars, but eat many flying insects as well. They also glean insects from trees like aphids which makes them good for the forest.
You will see them perched on fences and on tree limbs on the edges of a forest meadow waiting to flit out from their perch, grab the bug, and land again. They can also hover and dive bomb. Ground insects are not safe either, these expert insectivores will spend some time on the ground hunting beetles and crickets.
In Central Oregon we get to enjoy these sweet birds year-round, some winter here from northern climates, while others are local migrants moving from different areas for breeding or wintering habitat.
Bluebird populations are stable, specially now with fires opening up more habitat. They expanded with logging at the turn of last century, then declined with the use of DDT and the overgrowth of our forests (from logging large trees and clearcutting). Now, they compete with House Wrens, House Sparrows, and Swallows. But swallows will happily nest in an adjacent box, so always post two boxes if trying to offer homes to bluebirds. Swallows are in decline, and they need the same size home. Mountain bluebirds are one bird that actually benefits from prescribed burns (unlike a lot of other birds that need shrub cover).
Mountain bluebirds need wild, native grasses, so our agricultural lands don't really help them like it does Robins. However, humans can assist these lovely important birds by keeping cats indoors and if offering nest boxes, making sure we do not feed raccoons and other bird predators. Putting a box on a metal conduit post is a great solution for preventing depredation. See the instructions for a great box for this bird at www.treeswallowproject.com. And be sure to post one for the swallow too!
Note: wish I was a skilled photographer, but my phone just doesn't do it. The adults in this post are all stock photos, only the babies are Native Bird Care.
Well, we thought she was a Hermit Thrush for a bit, but she does not have a white throat. She smaller than a robin, and makes the most beautiful trill call. Anyone want to gander at who she is? Post comments on fb too if you want.
Everyone is in consensus! Townsend's Solitaire....just LOVE this little bird. I love all the birds I get (ok, maybe not a couple), but some like this really make this whole project worth it. Thrilled that I will be able to release this beauty right here on our property, and maybe, just maybe, she will stick around and find a mate.
Nene Goose found a home! Thanks all who helped us search out someone who knew Nenes and had room for one. Interestingly, she went back to Prineville where she was originally found abandoned at the Reservoir, and then transferred to Smith Rock State Park. The Nene is an endangered goose from Hawaii, however, they are also bred in the US. Update on state and fed rules: No amazingly no permits needed (if you look at the list of non-regulated species, many endangered, its super long); for USFWS Migratory Bird, well these are not really 'migratory birds', they are bred exotics under their rules, so if you are not transferring these birds across state lines then the rules are lax. Now, if you are selling, that is different.
The Nene is one of the gentlest of all the domestic geese from what I have read, also she is smaller than most. Hawaii does not want anymore Nenes, I am sure all the condo owners do not really want all their poop on their lawns. I wish I could have kept her but I have only native fescue and my pools are set up for full-time water birds, not birds that need grass and ponds. Plus, I am way to busy to also care for pets.
Good article about when feeding is good or bad for birds, read it here: When is it OK to feed birds?
They point out that feeding is actually NOT always good for birds. Many assume that feeding has to be good, how can it not? Their key example is the Florida scrub jay, a popular feeder bird until their babies started dying and USFWS made it illegal to feed them (thankfully). The birds were breeding too soon in the season due to the availability of adult food (feeders) - something I think happens A LOT with most feeder birds. Sadly, the insect population the parents relied on for baby food was not born yet, and the babies were starving to death. Parent songbirds must feed insects; our sunflower seeds are NOT good baby foods. As a result of feeders, breeding too early meant the birds' young did not have the foods they needed to survive. I am sure some people are ignoring the USFWS if they have not educated themselves on the science behind the decision to make it illegal (not sure how USFWS can enforce it either, which is sad for this nearly extinct bird). With only 5000 FL scrub jays left, this is a critical issue. Birds are complex, we cannot always know what our innocent and well-intentioned actions are really doing.
Here in Central Oregon, we should have the same concerns for our birds. Our feeders do not help parent birds with feeding babies - parents yes; babies eat bugs. What is more helpful for baby birds? NATIVE PLANTS. Those pesky sage, bitterbrush, and rabbitbrush shrubs, the 10+ species of grasses, our native flowers, serviceberry and other native berry trees (if we are near water). And Juniper!!! Even hummingbirds eat insects, and must feed babies insects.
TIP: Do not make your feeders that reliable. Pull them down in the spring, when warm weather starts. Give them a thorough cleaning and wait a week to put back up. Let them run out. Make the birds breed where they will find good habitat, not a McDonalds. Summer feeding should not be free every day buffet. Make your birds work. Some songbird predator bird populations are increasing greatly. Scrub and Steller jays for example. Raccoons now live under everyone's hot tubs and in places where they never have...becoming a new, very real threat. Raccoons small hands can reach into and grab almost any bird in any cavity. Our feeding birds has sent their numbers skyrocketing. All rodents, squirrels, and raccoons eat baby and fledgling birds. (For this reason, do not "check" on your nest boxes, or you will be making a little "here's dinner" path for your jays and raccoons who you can be sure are watching you. Let your birds be hidden. (No, citizen "science" does not make up for the death of those babies).
Is Feeding Bad - No, and sometimes.
NO, feeding is not always bad for birds. In fact, just the opposite during really cold stretches or suffocatingly hot times. Birds do need our help sometimes, and its wonderful that people care. We just need to make sure that what we are doing is not harming them. The Audubon article is a great example of good intentions gone bad.
As the article points out, how and what we feed and care of our feeders is paramount. Birds do not always naturally congregate at one food source, every single day. Yes, the robins and waxwings might launch a food attack at a Juniper or Mountain Ash in berry season. But they do not go there every day for weeks on end. Sanitation then becomes a real risk to our birds. And yes, birds carry parasites, mites, infections (like conjunctivitis - common in finches, now the goldfinch too), disease (salmonella - pine siskins in particular), coccidia (robins, jays), giardia (any and all), etc. They can share these with other birds. No reason to keep them out, but common sense and prevention are key. Cleanliness is the key actually.
Clean those feeders! Bleach kills a lot of bacteria, not much else. So use carefully, 10% solution rinse. Then you must wash it again with soap to remove bleach residue or you will harm the birds as bleach leaves a toxic scum. Rinse, rinse, rinse. No wood feeders! Use ultra hot water, that is more effective than bleach. At the rehab, our water heater is set at 168 degrees (yeah, don't put your hands in it when its full on hot water at the tap!). But that kills A LOT. I have a hot water faucet outside so that I can wash things outside with that hot water and sterilize. A great solution, kills weeds too, though that is not a water wise answer for that...pulling is.
Nest boxes? Another topic for another day, but we are taking on a huge responsibility when we invite birds to our yards either for food or to have babies. Example: I have a pair of white breasted nuthatch nesting in what I considered a 'decorative' next box on our porch. They are early in my opinion since it is 30 degrees at night. (I will likely put a hot pad under the box today). But they are here because they have easy and free food for the parents. I hope there is enough food for them right now. The cold spell could be killing a bunch of bugs right now. Freezing does kill larvae (which is why a warm winter leads to more ticks, as more bugs make it to breed; and then freezing kills larvae reducing the population). A bad tick year, is a good bug year for birds (except for their mites and nest parasites, which is why you want to clean out your bird boxes except for species that do not rebuild the nest).
My newsletter will have more bird feeding tips next go around, so if interested in that, sign up for my newsletter by emailing me your name and email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Suet: my newest pet peeve on feeding. Birds are getting oiled by suet and nut butters. I read article after article on all this "great" feeding ideas with fats...Um...NO let's not put FAT out where birds can get into it? Might as well just take a jug of engine oil and spread it into the trees - that is essentially what is happening. OIL is OIL...for a bird. Crude oil and peanut butter fat are NO DIFFERENT ON A BIRD'S FEATHERS. It takes the same solvents and surfactants (soaps, Dawn usually) to remove peanut butter oils or suet oils off the feathers as it does the Exxon or BP crude oil. An oiled bird is a dead bird.
See my next post on Suet feeding tips!
Native Bird Care's is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Our main focus is song, shore, and waterbirds. We offer specialized care and facilities for these extraordinary birds..