Worldwide, birds eat up to 500 million metric tons of insects

It is rather amazing how many insects’ birds eat a year. To give you an idea of how much they eat, one metric ton equals 2204 lbs.

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Most of the energy that birds get from eating insects (and seeds for seed eating birds) goes to maintaining their energy. Little goes to their body weight, according to a study led by Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

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This is one reason why it is important to offer a bird friendly habitat in your own backyard. Many birds eat both seeds and insects, depending on the time of the year and the weather. Woodpeckers that eat mostly insects will eat seeds in the winter when insects are scarce.

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A bird friendly habitat will offer shelter, food, water and nesting sites for all types of birds. Offering seeds and suet in the winter will keep insect eating birds in your area and that will benefit you and your garden in the warmer time of the year.

It is also interesting to note that spiders consume as much and more insect than birds. They eat between 400 and 800 insects a year.

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Winter Bird Watching

As summer ends and fall begins, it is not too soon to think of winter bird watching. Early fall is the best time to plan and prepare for winter bird watching. However, you can start anytime during the year.

When you mention bird watching, most people think of spring, summer and fall.  Spring and fall are good times to look for migratory birds that may not spend the summer where you live. Places such as Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania is one site where you can watch migratory birds. There are other sites throughout the world.

The summer of course is a great time to watch the resident birds raise their young and learn their survival skills. But the most overlooked time of the year to watch birds is the winter.

This is the time when bird feeders and heated birdbaths attract a wide variety of birds that are sometimes hard to spot during the other seasons. Without the leaves on trees and food harder to get, these birds are more likely to spend time around your feeder and bird bath. The more elusive and shy birds are easier to spot and the bold ones, such as the Chickadee’s, will land on your hand for some black oil sunflower seeds. Nothing is quite as thrilling to a bird watcher then having a sweet little Chickadee look you in the eye and snatch a seed right from the palm of your hand. Do note that it takes time and patience to get the birds to eat out of your hand.

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But a real treat is to get a glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker in the winter. Despite being large (15”) this is a very shy and hard to spot bird. Because of its loud pecking, and the large holes it makes in trees, you are more likely to see where it has been or hear it rather than actually see it. This bird is very difficult to sneak close enough to in order to get a good look. I find that it is even more difficult to photograph it because if the bird sees you it will fly away.

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If you want a real treat, put out a wildlife seed block and you will have just about everything that lives in your area paying a visit. Here in the Pocono’s I have a huge flock of turkeys that come for three square meals a day.

Winter bird watching can be very successful if you put up squirrel proof bird feeders (such the Brome standard pictured here) filled with sunflower seeds. A platform feeder for the ground feeders (such as Dark-eyed Junco’s and doves) as well as the larger birds can be filled with a wild bird seed mix. The Brome squirrel buster bird feeders are the only ones that I have used that really work, and the birds love them.

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Here a rare Red-headed woodpecker visits my platform feeder.

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On very cold harsh days I occasionally supplement the seeds with freeze dried meal worms. The worms also help the insect eating birds that may stay in the area, such as Bluebirds. They also help Robins who may come too early in the spring or get caught in a late snow storm.

If there are bears in your area, they are less of a problem in the winter and you can leave a bird feeder outside at night. But to be safe, take it in. Keep in mind that birds typically are most active at dawn and dusk. Although during harsh days they will feed throughout the day.

Do not take in your hummingbird feeders until there is a risk of the nectar freezing. While resident hummers may have migrated, some of the northern hummers will appreciate a chance to feed as they pass through.

The safest and best heated bird bath is the model pictured. You do not want to put a heating element in your regular bird bath because if the deer or other animals drink the birdbath dry the element will fail. This bird bath is safe if the water is drained out of it.

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You can also get a large branch or small tree trunk and make a wonderful woodpecker feeder by drilling two one inch holes through the trunk. An eye hook and a simple dog leash clasp that you can buy at a hardware store with some clothes line or wire to hang it, works well.

I put the clothes line over a branch of a tree to pull it high so the deer will not eat it and then tie it off so I can raise and lower it to fill it. You can find inexpensive suet cakes at outlets like Ollies and cut a one inch slab off of the cake and push it into the hole. You can also pack the holes with suet from a butcher or ask the butcher at the local supermarket to save you suet. The prepared suet cakes can be used year round since they are OK in the heat but the natural suet does not do well in the warm weather. You can also make your own suet which can go into a cage suet feeder or the log feeder. The log feeder pictured here is one I made.

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If possible, place your bird feeders where the birds have shelter. This will keep them safe from predators such as hawks. Hanging a bird feeder from a tree, or near bushes will help you attract a wide variety of birds. In the winter I also add a peanut feeder with split peanuts to my collection of feeders. I also use shepherd’s hooks to hang feeders near trees and bushes. This makes it easy to maintain your feeders.

It is important to wash your feeders at least once a week to help prevent the spread of disease and make the seeds visible. There is always dust and dirt that can collect in some tube feeders that will clog the drain holes in the bottom. So maintenance is important.

Watching the local birds from my office window during the winter is a real treat for me. I have found that by watching their habits, I can often tell what the weather is going to be the next day. It is amazing how the birds know when a storm is coming and will eat extra food. Many birds also hide food in trees and other areas to eat during bad weather.

Bird watching is also an educational experience for children. They can use a bird book and try to identify the various birds that come to your feeders.

Happy bird watching!

Goats can read human faces and prefer people who smile!

Although Dr Alan McElligott is currently based at the University of Roehampton, he led the study at Queen Mary University of London to determine if goats react to human facial expressions. He found that goats would rather interact with people who smile and are happy. The study further showed that goats use the left hemisphere of their brain to react to positive facial expressions.

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Anyone who works with goats recognizes that they are very attuned to human body language, but this study shows that goats recognize facial expressions and the emotions that they represent. Past studies have shown that dogs, birds and horses also have this ability.

Goats, horses, birds  and dogs  represent a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom. It stands to reason that many other animals, both domestic and wild have the same abilities to some degree. The challenge is to devise a way to test a wider range of animals and birds. It is exciting to be able to understand more about the animals that we love and anticipate what future studies will teach us.

New discovery about how birds migrate

Many birds migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall. Often these birds return to the same area and even the same bird houses or nesting sites. When you consider that being off even a half of a degree could cause birds to be hundreds of miles away from their destination, it is an amazing feat of navigation.

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Researchers have long believed that birds follow the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate but were not sure how they accomplished this with such accuracy. Recently Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe they have discovered the secret. It is a unique protein found in bird’s eyes.

Atticus Pinzón-Rodríguez, one of the researchers involved in the study explained that the cryptochromes protein, Cry4, is the only one that remains constant both day and night. According to the study all birds have this protein which is sensitive to the magnetic fields of the Earth. They found that even birds that do not migrate have the Cry4 protein.

The researchers feel that more studies are needed to fully understand how Cry4 works, but that it is a step in the right direction. Eventually they feel it may help develop new navigation systems for people.

New research shows how birds learn new songs

Richard Hahnloser a researcher from the Institute of Neuroinformatics run by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich has made an interesting discovery. He found that Zebra finches divide the complex task of learning a new song into manageable parts. When the song was changed, the birds adapted the syllables or notes of the song that they knew to the new song. After a short period of time they were able to master the new song.

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The researchers found that the method that the birds used is similar to the method that computer linguists use to compare documents. It is also the same method that children use to learn a primary and secondary language.

The real implication of the study is not only the technique that the birds use, but the intelligence and thought process that they  have to use this technique. It requires awareness and the ability to analyze. The more we learn about animals, the more we realize they are much more intelligent than previously thought. How exciting it is to think of what discoveries await us.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171101092010.htm

A new species of parrot discovered in Mexico

Dr. Miguel A. Gómez Garza found a new species of parrot in 2014. This parrot has a distinctive shape, color, call and behavior. Dr. Garza found the parrot in a remote part of Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It is referred to as the “blue winged” parrot.

Its call is a loud, sharp, short, repetitive and monotonous one. It lives in small flocks of a dozen or less and the offspring tend to stay together in groups.

Like other parrots, its diet consists of fruits, flowers, seeds and leaves, the same as other parrots. It is exciting to find a new species and that there are new species of animals and plants that we have yet to discover.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170627073607.htm

Play laugh in Kea’s, a New Zealand parrot

Dogs do it, rats do it and chimps do it, why not birds? A new study has determined that the Kea, a New Zealand parrot has a “play laugh” that will get other Kea’s to play with them.

Researchers felt that the play laugh was infectious making other birds play with each other. If a bird heard the play laugh and had no one to play with, they would play by themselves. The researchers plan to study more about this aspect of the Kea’s behavior. What is interesting is that this is the first time a researcher has discovered play laughter in a bird. All other research showed it in mammals.

However, this should not be surprising, anyone who has owned multiple birds has seen them play together or at the same time but this is the first time a call or sound has been connected with the behavior

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170320122838.htm

Birds nest near friends that they made during the winter- new study shows

Birds in general are much smarter than previously thought. They form friendships, work together and protect each other.

Most people have seen flocks of geese grazing in a field or by the water. If you look closely you will see one or two geese standing with their heads held high scanning the area for danger. They are the geese on guard.

Crows will have meetings to learn who had the best success in finding food that day. The next day some of the members of the flock will follow the successful crows.

Certain types of birds, such as Chickadees, Titmouse, and others will let birds in the area know that they have found a well-stocked bird feeder, especially in the winter. The other birds learn to listen for the announcement.

New research shows that some birds will establish their spring nesting sites near the birds they made friends with during the winter. They seem to share boundaries with the birds that they are closest too. What is interesting is that the birds will form friendships. This indicates that the birds have social interactions with each other, perhaps more than we humans suspected.

Even birds that typically live a solitary life, such as Robins, will join together and flock to migrate. Sometimes a person is able to predict the weather by the behavior of the wild birds. The birds seem to  know when a storm is coming, sometimes a day before.

How fascinating it is to learn about wild animals. Birds are easy to watch if you put up a few bird feeders. It is wonderful that scientists are learning how smart animals really are.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160914143538.htm

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/backyard-food-scouts-titmice-chickadees-sherry-thornburg

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