Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
This rotten weather, bad as you might think it is, is worse for some of the migrant bird species now here, early migrants like Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. Both eat insects, although bluebirds can supplement their diet with berries. The swallows rely completely on flying insects. This rain is making it almost impossible to find insects. I asked Carrol Henderson about this. Carrol is supervisor of the non-game wildlife department of the Minnesota DNR. This is his reply:
“Yes, I think our "insectivores" are In for a difficult couple weeks ahead! If someone has easy access to nest boxes in their yard or property, they could order mealworms from companies like Grubco or Rainbow mealworms, and place them in "feeders" like tuna cans or old breakfast food bowls (these keep the mealworms from escaping) on elevated sites like on top of a fencepost or fastened on a tray on top of a post near the nest box. The mealworms can be kept sealed in their containers in the garage as long as it is so cool. Otherwise, they may need to be stashed in an obscure spot in the refrigerator!
“This cool weather is also a good reminder for people to plant fruit-bearing shrubs with shrubs like American highbush cranberry and bittersweet as an early-spring emergency food source for returning bluebirds.”
Many wild-bird supply stores also carry meal worms. This White-breasted Nuthatch is taking a meal worm.
Birds might be better equipped than we are to survive this cold weather, but feeder food will help. Keep your feeders full. Offer suet; it's energy food. Water also is important. You can buy watering trays that contain heating coils. Below, two Downy Woodpeckers debating dibs on a suet feeder.
A Red-throated Loon, most unusual bird for Minnesota in winter, is being cared for at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville. The grounded bird was brought to the center undernourished and with damaged primary feathers.
These birds often winter on the Great Lakes. This year's extensive ice cover has forced birds to seek open water elsewhere. The loon arrived here, disappointed no doubt with our lack of open water. It needed help because its legs are made for swimming, not walking. With legs set far back on its body, as you can see in a rehab center video, loons are almost helpless on land. They must run on water to attain speed needed for liftoff, a run impossible for them on land.
The bird has its own pool at the rehab center, and is eating minnows. If anyone is yet ice fishing, small sunfish would be accepted as food for the bird. Take a look at the wonderful video of this lively bird at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQV31p05UWE&feature=youtu.be
The Red-throated Loons, below, are the smallest of the five loon species. It nests in the Arctic. It is seen in Minnesota during migration, most often in the fall.
You can follow the loon's progress on the rehab center's Facebook page.
Monday, noon: busy morning at feeders and water pan. When not flying, most of the birds were puffed up, feathers fluffed to conserve body heat. Suet feeders popular today. Also some romancing by a pair of Gray Squirrels that have unfortunately taken up residence in a cavity they dug in the remains of an old willow tree in our yard. When we noticed the hole we thought perhaps it was Pileated Woodpeckers. How nice that would be. How not nice to have prospect of more squirrels. It's interesting, however, to watch their interplay. Lots of touching going on. Photo quality not the best as photos were taken through two panes of window glass. White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Gray Squirrels below.
This cardinal was coming to one of the feeders on our deck yesterday (Monday). Cardinals often prefer picking fallen seeds from the snow to taking seeds while perched. Sprinkle some seed beneath the feeders when you fill them. As always, black oil sunflower is your best seed buy. The mixes often available for more money are not necessarily more attractive to the birds. Food will be more important than ever during this cold spell. Drinking water also will be helpful. This bird pulled one foot into its feathers for a moment of warmth
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