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.
Commmon Grackles, uncommon most of the year in our yard, thank goodness, are far too common on some early fall days. I remove feeder trays to reduce the amount of seed they eat, but the birds work hard to grip anything that gives them seed access, often sparring for position. Last week, as this acrobat and its companions raided us, I simply let the feeders go empty. We'll fill them today, with crossed fingers. Grackles are beautiful birds, very photogenic, all angles and iridescence, one of my favorites. Some days, actually, the seed is worth the photos. The bird in the second photo, being confronted (not fed!), is a juvenile, as shown by its red eyes.
The 6th annual Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah takes place in Henderson, Minnesota, Saturday, Aug. 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The location is Bender Park, 200 North Third Street. This free birding festival offers gardens attractive to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, August migrants.
Hummingbirds will be banded on site that morning, allowing you to see them up close. The Hummingbird Hurrah includes a garden tour, speakers, book-signing sessions, children’s activities, and a hummingbird mall with food, art, craft, specialty, and information vendors.
Donald Mitchell, the hummingbird bander, will give an afternoon presentation on what specific plants you may use to attract hummers to your garden. Authors and radio personalities Laura Erickson and Jim Gilbert will speak.
Erickson will share how Ruby-throated Hummingbirds stack up to America’s various owls, and why, in a battle, you’d be better off having the hummingbird on your side. Gilbert will do a video presentation on the natural wonders one can observe during a Minnesota August.
In addition, Dane Elmquist will use live specimens as he speaks on the monarch life cycle and migration. Alex Stork will give tip on photographing hummingbirds, and Sally Reinitz invites you on a tour of the garden to learn about the plants and animals that call the Hummingbird Garden home.
Hummingbird Hurrah is produced by Henderson Feathers and sponsored by the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter. The festival promotes understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of hummingbirds.
For more information go to www.hendersonhummingbirdhurrah.com or call 612-229-5210.
We’ve had two encounters with meal moths. One was seriously bad, the other educational.
Meals moths can arrive with the bird seed you buy. Suppliers are careful to exclude the pests, but once in a while they are part of the package. This is why seed should be kept in a covered metal container, preferably in your garage. Unprotected seed should never be kept in your house. You have been warned.
Time one: we discover the infestation when we open the pantry to find small green worms on everything containing flour, outside boxes and in. The moths like grain. They — or it — laid eggs there. The eggs hatched. We wondered how many unhatched eggs we had eaten, then laid bare the pantry.
That was long ago. More recently, we saw moths flying about the house. In the darkened living room they were flitting shadows against the television screen. I bought sticky traps baited with tiny wafers soaked in meal moth sex hormone. I tore open the package containing the wafer, and before I could arm the trap the air in the kitchen came alive with fliers. Moths were everywhere. They covered the sticky part of the trap before the day was over. I had to buy more traps.
Today, the sex trap is for Japanese beetles. (Why don’t birds eat them? They seem not to, for we have many of the large, shiny, very visible bugs on our mountain ash tree and wild grape vines.) I have used a Spectracide spray in the past, plastic container screwed to the garden hose. This produces more poison than I like, keeping one eye on the tree, the other on the drifting spray. I wanted to mix a bit of the chemical with water for use in a hand sprayer, but the container carried a no-no from the EPA.
Aside: I had close encounter recently with a man who probably would have mixed to his own formula, government be damned. He told me, in response to a question I had not thoroughly thought through, that climate change, if any, was the will of God. Later he told me that seat belts, which he did not use, were a government infringement on his freedom. His pest decisions are probably more direct than mine.
I thought of him as I drove to Home Depot to buy traps. The Spectracide web site offered customer endorsements for the traps. One satisfied customer reported trapping an estimated 4,000 beetles in just a few days. Wow. She warned about touching the hormone wafer, for you then would be besieged by crazed beetles. That didn’t happen here. Six hours into the effort we have about half a dozen pissed-off bugs buzzing in the bottom of the collection bag. We’re hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day. Four-thousand is overdoing it, but six isn’t enough.
Hopefully, removal of the beetles will ensure grapes ripening, which will please the birds here. We’ve made wine before with wild grapes, but never mastered Pinot Noir.
Buckthorn berries, by the way, also should be visible now, preparing to ripen. It is the female trees that bear fruit. Get rid of them. If you lack inclination to remove all of the buckthorn, at least cut down or poison the trees with fruit. Buy a brush-killer liquid. With a knife, scrape some bark from the buckthorn trunk, then paint the wound with the herbicide. It works well.
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.
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