Caring for your Backyard Birds

by Amy Stafford on February 21, 2013

Backyard Birds

As I thought about writing this post Caring for your Backyard Birds, I got to thinking about how long I have loved birds.  A few of my favorite stories growing up were The Ugly Duckling, and Are you My Mother.  I always loved the crows that gave Dumbo his feather and I loved the bird from the story Ricki-Tiki-Tavi and of course who could forget Big Bird, Foghorn Leghorn (a personal favorite) and Road Runner.

With all those iconic birds that surrounded me as I grew up it’s not wonder that I have always loved having bird feeders and bird bath’s so that I can watch the birds in my backyard.  Not to mention my mini obsession with my chickens.

I have a lot of information in my head about backyard birds, their identity, if they migrate, if they feed from feeders or the ground, what type of feed certain types of birds will eat and won’t.  For instance I was busy reading something with my nose buried in a book and my husband who was across the room looked out the window and asked why there were so many cardinals on the ground outside.  I knew there was no way cardinals were in a flock or that they were just hanging out on the lawn.  I guessed without looking up from my book that the birds were most likely Robins that were looking for worms after the heavy rain and that he had misspoke.  Now I will admit the information can be spotty and sometimes I can stand there and look at a bird and search my brain for the name but it just won’t come.  I think because most of what I have learned over the years has come out of my curiosity so I will look something up quickly or read a quick article here or there or someone will part a piece of information in passing.  I know I most likely store the information in the dusty parts of my brain, which is why sometimes I can recall information and sometimes I am at a loss.  That is why they have bird books.  One that I have on my desk that I love is the National Audubon Society Field Guid to North American Birds (Eastern Region) the other is Birds of Ohio Field guide.  The reason I love both books is that birds can be found by color and there are pictures.  Because really if you’re looking at a bird from across the yard can you really say if it has spots on its wings, the top of its head or belly.  No you just know that its grey with a black head.

Awhile back I was standing in the kitchen cooking and I heard a something slam into the window above my sink, I just knew it was a bird.  It was snowing and the temperature was well below freezing.  I popped open the door and looked out to find a Red-Bellied Woodpecker lying on the ground.  I was dismayed because these guys are one of my favorite, always visiting the feeder with their flashy red heads and their zebra back feathers. I knew best case scenario that he may be just knocked out, but with the freezing temperatures he wouldn’t be able to fluff his feathers to trap his body heat and that he would quickly freeze if he was still alive.  So I scooped him up and brought him in.  He started to come around in about five minutes but I was still worried that he would be damaged from his collision.  I was holding him against my stomach and when I went to pull him away I noticed what looked like a worm coming out of his mouth, but it was his tongue which had little spurs on the end that had gotten caught in my sweater.  Woodpecker’s have long tongues with these barbs on the end so that when they stick their tongues in a hole in a tree they can snag the bugs with the barbs.  After disengaging his tongue (which was pretty cool to see) he started to come around and I headed outside.  When I thought he could balance himself, I put him in an Arborvitae and waited in the garage to see if he would make a full recovery.  After a few wobbles back and forth he seemed to get his baring and then flew away.  I was so relieved and thankful that the information stored somewhere in the dusty recesses of my brain.

Red Bellied Woodpecker at the feeder in my backyard Cincinnati Ohio

I snapped this picture last week of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker visiting the feeder, and I like to think that it is the little guy that I got to hold and warm up until he was ready to head back out to find his next morsel.

With the cold weather still lingering around the country, remember that if you feed you must keep consistent because the birds will become dependent on the source of food you supply.  Also, try to keep water from freezing with a heater.  Many bird die during the cold winter months not from the cold but from the lack of water.

Thinking towards the spring I am planning on cleaning out the bird houses that I have up around our yard.  I am always fighting with the sparrows that nest in my boxes that are set up for the beautiful blue birds.  If you have boxes, keep an eye on them to see who is building nests and as soon as you see a sparrow building, open your box and tear out their nesting.  If you are like me I don’t have the heart to tear it out if there are eggs or babies, so I try to catch them before they get to the laying stage.

Lastly I wanted to share a video with you that is on the Humane Society Page that I thought was a great overall “how to” with your backyard birds.

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You can usually find me in my garden, the kitchen, at the gym or spending time with my family. I love sharing recipes, gardening and exercise tips and stories of my backyard chickens and beekeeping.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa November 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Hi Amy,

I share your deep love of birds. Very sweet story with the woodpecker and its interesting tongue. While we obviously don’t want them injured, what a treat to have it up close like that. I had a tame hummingbird around all summer who wanted nothing more than to sit on my hand. There’s nothing quite like it. Very special indeed. :)

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Amy Stafford November 13, 2013 at 8:13 am

Melissa,
Yes, it was cool to hold such a beautiful bird, but I was pretty worried the little guy wouldn’t come around. I was thrilled when I saw him fly off. How cool is that you had a hummingbird sit on your hand. When we get the chance to touch nature, its a wonderful thing.
xo Amy

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