Category Archives: Bird Feeding and Watching

Avian Safety with Electrical Transformers

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The knock on the door caught me off guard, but I was delighted by the unexpected visit. Our electrical company (PNM) had sent pole climbers out to replace our transformer with a newer and avian-safe model.

Avian-safe?

The team lead explained that utility poles are a place birds naturally find to roost, nest, or seek protection from tumultuous weather.  While birds can sit on power lines and be safe, if they touch energized conductors and/or grounded equipment (like a transformer bank) they can be electrocuted. This seems to happen frequently when large birds stretch out their wings.

I shuddered at the thought and was grateful that the crew showed up to replace our transformer (unsafe version on the left, safe version on the right below).  We have large birds!  Large crows, ravens, and flickers. The team lead went on to explain that PNM was considered one of the leading utilities in the country for its efforts in avian protection. That caught my attention, so I went online to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found the information I was looking for and was thrilled to learn that PNM’s Avian Protection Program includes:

  1. Identifying high risk electric structures for bird deaths and proactively bird guarding these facilities through best practices ranging from covering exposed wires and equipment bushings to covering conductors where spacing is inadequate;
  2. Making bird guarding a part of routine electric facility maintenance;
  3. Designing and constructing all new lines and other facilities with avian protection in mind;
  4. Using a Geographical Information System reporting system to track bird mortalities on the PNM electric system and automatically generating bird guarding work orders;
  5. Implementing “Hot Wings” that focuses on the use of avian safe structures in the most sensitive avian areas such as along the Rio Grande and all rural areas;
  6. Implementing mandatory avian protection training every two years for PNM transmission and distribution employees.

I had not thought before about how electrical poles and transformers impact our backyard birds, but I was thrilled to learn that our electrical company is avian conscious. Is yours? One way to find out is to make a simple call to the customer service number for your utility company. Or check their website. You may find yourself as equally pleased as I am!

 

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Memories of This Birder’s Life in Texas

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I haven’t been on Facebook much lately as I’ve been preoccupied with selling our house in Texas and moving permanently to what has been our second home in New Mexico. We made our final trip to Houston last week to pack up our belongings and I was surprised at how much I have missed the birds in our backyard there… birds we don’t have in our backyard in New Mexico, including the beauties shown here (blue jay, black-capped chickadee, cardinal).

As my husband gingerly pulled down the vacated bird houses and uprooted the shepherd’s hooks and cement birdbath to take to our little slice of heaven in New Mexico, I started to cry. A rush of memories swept over me as I recalled every tender moment I had spent feeding, photographing, and talking to the birds in our backyard there.  I remembered:

  • The red shouldered hawk who took down a white-winged dove just 10 feet away from me, and how conflicted I felt at the sight
  • Watching a male cardinal court his mate by feeding her as part of their mating ritual
  • The sweet little wren tugging at pieces of straw from the weathered wicker basket, only to fly away with her just reward as she prepared a nest in the neighbor’s yard
  • The activity and chatter of the many families of blue jays over the years, and how they would chastise me when the feeders were empty
  • The hum of the hummingbirds at the feeders I’d put out in September and October so they could fill their bellies before moving on to their next stop on their path of migration
  • The many early mornings of sitting out back with my camera and cup of fresh hot coffee, listening to the symphony of birds before the rest of the neighborhood had cranked up their powered lawn mowers

Even now, as I reminisce over the birds in our backyard in Texas I am so very grateful for the many pictures I had taken over the years. By taking all these photographs, I have created and salvaged my own sweet memories.

 

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Birds and the Circle of Life

Wham!

I shuddered. I recognized that sound.

It was so loud it made me jump right up out of my chair and I went running to the back porch to see if the worst had indeed happened. And it had.  In spite of taking every precaution to avoid window collisions, underneath the window pane, on top of the chip bark below, lay the tragedy.  The robin was beautiful.  She took a few short and final breaths before flying off to bird heaven, and I shed a tear.

I always shed a tear when I lose one of the precious birds that comes to visit our sanctuary. After all, they are only responding to my beck and call.  They can’t refuse an invitation to dine at our feeders or drink from our watering holes.  And my husband has to remind me time and time again that with a habitat like ours, we’re likely to have some casualties.  Logically, yes I know that.  Emotionally, it still breaks my heart.  And so I ALWAYS shed a tear.

“I’ll remove it for you when I get back from town,” he said as he left for his appointment.

I wondered… maybe removing the bird wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I need to let the circle of life play out a little bit.  After all, our bird sanctuary is also a wildlife habitat, and I wondered what wildlife might benefit from our dearly departed.  So, I did some research and discovered that there are many species of wildlife that will consume a bird that has already, shall we say, expired including:

  • feral cats
  • rats
  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • some squirrels and chipmunks
  • carrion-eating bird species like crows, seagulls, vultures
  • hawks and owls

I also discovered that most rodents are really omnivores, and will eat insects or meat whenever they can get it.

The reality of the freezing temperatures and scarce natural water sources swirled around in my mind. Winter can be harsh enough for the wildlife and so I decided to let come what may.  I’ll leave the sweet girl where she is and trust that God will use her to provide for some other creature in need… one with a hearty and grateful appetite.

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The Facts of Life – A Lesson in the Birds and the Butterflies

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Warning: You may get butterflies in your stomach while reading this!

On a flight from California to New Mexico last week I read an article in Southwest Magazine about the monarch butterflies. The article explained that last winter, monarch butterflies covered 9.9 acres of forest in central Mexico, more than three times the previous year.

This is great news for monarch conservation efforts. And, although the monarch population has declined significantly in recent years, efforts suggest the monarchs’ reign will stretch to 14.8 acres by 2020. And who doesn’t LOVE butterflies?

This is also great news for birds! Why? Because one food source for birds is… you guessed it, BUTTERFLIES!

Did you know? Many people believe birds won’t eat monarch butterflies. That’s because monarchs taste bad to many birds as a result of the caterpillars having eaten milkweed. Once a bird tastes a monarch, they don’t want to try another one. (Talk about a natural deterrent!) However, many birds will still eat them. In fact, according to the Monarch Program (California Monarch Studies, Inc.):

  • Birds not affected by the toxic cardiac glycosides in milkweed plants, like the California Towhee, will consume large amounts of monarch larvae.
  • Birds with digestive tracks tolerant of the high levels of the milkweed poisons, including the Cassin’s Kingbird, Rufous-Sided Towhee, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees and Scrub Jays, will consume healthy amounts of adult monarch butterflies.
  • Two bird species prey extensively on monarchs, the Black-Backed Oriole and Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a fascinating phenomenon because the monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, just like birds do. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter and may fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home! This is really remarkable.

Personally, I hope the monarch conservation efforts continue to be successful. Not just because monarchs are so important to our environment, but also because they help feed some of my favorite backyard birds!

I know.  Such is the circle of life.

 

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12 Ways to Support National Bird Feeding Month

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Did you know? The average wild bird weighs less than two nickels, and winter can be a very punishing time for our backyard friends.  This explains why in 1994, John Porter, Illinois’ 10th District Congressman read a resolution that February would become National Bird Feeding Month. His proclamation was designed to encourage people to feed wild birds throughout the entire month when food sources are most scarce.

In fact, millions of wild bird enthusiasts now traditionally make special efforts in February to feed, watch and protect wild birds. Over 50 million people regularly feed wild birds in the USA, long recognized as one of the most popular outdoor activities for adults and children too.

Want to show your support? Here are some ways you can get involved:

  1. Help spread the word by sharing this post with everyone you know.
  2. Comment about National Bird Feeding Month on your Social Media Platforms.
  3. Take pictures of birds at your feeder and post them on your Social Media Platforms using #natlbirdfeedingmonth.
  4. Familiarize yourself with our unsung heroes and share your knowledge with others.
  5. Stock up on bird seed and suet to keep your existing feeders full throughout the month.
  6. Make this easy DIY bird feeder to pass out to friends and colleagues on Valentine’s Day.
  7. Give an inexpensive feeder and wild bird seed to someone you love.
  8. Add something new to your backyard station (i.e. birdhouse, feeder, birdbath).
  9. Symbolically adopt a bird through the National Wildlife Federation adoption program.
  10. Purchase your “I Love My Backyard Birds” women’s Tee to show your love of birds.
  11. Host a bird-watching party in your own backyard.
  12. Sign up for the Great Backyard Bird Count which will be held between Feb 17 and Feb 20.

February is one of my favorite months of the year, and even more so because it’s National Bird Feeding Month. In fact, just last weekend I purchased another 80 lbs. of wild bird seed to stock up. Yep, we’re going through that much in about a month’s time, so if the birds aren’t in your backyard they’re probably in mine. Lol.

Anyway, I’m hoping you’ll jump on my bandwagon and do your part to feed the birds this month and promote backyard birding as and educational and environmental adventure. Because, February really is for the Birds! Literally.

 

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Birds: The Unsung Heroes

Have you ever noticed how connecting with Birds just makes you feel better? Emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually? When we take time to admire the birds, we admire their beauty, their song, and their ability to fly.  We also admire their importance to the ecosystem. That’s right. Birds provide many direct and indirect contributions to the environment.  But what exactly are those contributions?

I pondered this question myself and I have to confess my embarrassment about not having a more elegant or scientific response. Other than just thoroughly enjoying every chance I get to observe the birds in my backyard and experience a deeper connection to God through them, I am sometimes at a loss for words to explain to others why birds matter so much. (Tell me I’m not alone in that! Lol).

In an article posted by the Audubon, I learned some interesting facts.  Did you know…

  • Birds contribute to the diversity of plant life through seed dispersal (most song birds) and pollination (900+ bird species worldwide).
  • Birds control insect outbreaks by consuming large quantities of mosquitoes, caterpillars, beetles, and moths, and are known to have saved many potato fields, fruit orchards, organic wineries, and cranberry bogs from insect devastation.
  • Birds help rid the world of disease through scavenger “clean-up” services, including roadkill produced on our roads and highways.
  • Birds stimulate economies and tourism in many parts of the world, spending some $41 billion annually on birding activities (including travel, technology, and education) in the U.S. alone.
  • Birds serve as indicators of environmental health and change to climate, habitat, and weather.
  • Bird as a hobby, including watching and learning their names and how to identify them, improves both cognition and mental health.
  • Birds serve as a subject of poetic meditation and focal point for various art forms, including water colored paintings, cross-stitched linens, antiqued brooches, and porcelain china.

The last ten years has seen an explosion of research on this subject, resulting in a strong body of evidence to support bird protection. “For better or worse, economic arguments tend to get more attention in political debates,” says Geoffrey Heal, a microeconomist at Columbia University Business School. The new research, he says, strengthens the case that “most environmental conservation, if well structured, actually does pay off directly.”

It turns out birds aren’t just luxuries for hobbyists or environmental fanatics. They’re actually unsung heroes.

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What Exactly is Backyard Birding Anyway?

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Good question!  Backyard birding is defined by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as “watching birds around the home,” and it’s considered the most common form of bird-watching.  It’s also a very lucrative industry.

Did you know?

  • To be counted as a birder, an individual must have either taken a trip one mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home.
  • At last count (2011), there were 47 million birders in the US, about 20% of the population.
  • 88% of birders are backyard birders, watching birds from the comfort of their homes.
  • Backyard Birders spent nine times as many days watching birds as did people who traveled more than a mile from home to bird watch.

So, if you’re a backyard birder like me, take comfort in knowing that you’re part of a growing movement! One that spends some $41 billion annually on birding activities, including travel, technology, and education.

Want to know what a birder looks like? Lol. According to Market Analysis of Bird-Based Tourism: A Focus on the U.S. Market to Latin America and the Caribbean Including Fact Sheets on The Bahamas, Belize, Guatemala, Paraguay, the profile of a US birder is:

  • Highly educated
  • Higher annual income
  • Middle-aged and elderly (okay, that one hurts)
  • Slightly more female than male
  • Usually travel solo or with a partner, rather than in large groups
  • Members of local bird clubs
  • Spend 13-14 days birding away from home

BTW, I’m considered an “Enthusiastic Birder.” Which one are you?

Either way, I’d say you’re in great company.

National Bird Holidays

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As we enter the New Year, now is a great time to get out our calendars and mark down those important dates we want to remember, honor, and celebrate.  Here are a few national bird holidays to jot down as well!  Note: These dates are specific to holidays in the United States.

And feel free to download the Bird Holiday Infographic below in PDF version for referencing again later.

 

When Dehydration is a Greater Threat for Birds Than Starvation

Dehydration is a greater threat for birds than starvation during the winter months, when fresh water sources are scarce.  And that’s when we can help!  Watch this short video to better understand how we can help birds by providing fresh water when temperatures drop below freezing.

 

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My Life List: A Work in Progress

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I finally had the chance to watch The Big Year.  Have you seen it?  Starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin?  Yep, I’m a little behind on my movie watching, but I LOVED it!  It was absolutely terrific and a wonderful tribute to the informal competition among birders to see who can identify – by sight or sound – the largest number of bird species within a single calendar year.

After watching the movie, I was inspired to learn more about this year long obsession and I discovered that The American Birding Association big year record of 770 bird species is currently held by John Weigel of Australia.

Yes, that’s correct, 770!  Unbelievable, right?

One idea that really caught my attention is this idea of a life list. In the movie, the character Bostick starts his Big Year in Phoebe’s Diner, a scene that pays tribute to Phoebe Snetsinger, who died in 1999 with more than 8,000 birds on her life list.  And I wondered how many species were on mine.  Off I went trying to itemize my life list.

I started an Excel spreadsheet (just because that’s what I do) and went through all of my digital photographs, which of course I have filed by species. That was a great start.  Then I filled in the blanks by going through my field guides, one page at a time.  Finally, I racked my brain one last time by going through my digital pictures of family vacations.  It was a great exercise until, with less than 100 birds on my list, I realized how many trips and outings are in desperate need of planning.

Yoo hoo, oh, Darling Husband!  Can we go to Rhode Island in February?  I want to add a few birds to my list, like the Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, and Mallard Duck!  Sorry dear, was that a yes?

How many birds are on YOUR life list?