Watching backyard wildlife yields amazing sights and education. We recently noticed two things at Winding Pathways that reminded us about how many animals are downright smart.
Both involved a manufactured trap that supposedly catches House Sparrows. We have more of this pesky bird than we’d like so we set the trap under a feeder and baited it with cracked corn. A few minutes later an intrepid chipmunk entered the trap’s funnel-like door, feasted on seeds, and couldn’t find his way out. We gently released him and set the trap back on the corn.
A few minutes later we were amazed to see the chipmunk back and watch it tunnel under the trap to reach the bait! He’d learned that entering the trap brought trouble and figured out how to safely reach lunch.
Our sparrows are even smarter than the chipmunk. Not a single one entered the trap. Instead they feasted on corn and millet on the ground around the feeder. After a few hours they had eaten all the safe seed but they still wouldn’t enter the trap.
We now have new respect for the intelligence of both chipmunks and House Sparrows.
The chipmunk figured out how to tunnel under the live trap to reach the corn.
Having excavated, the chipmunk now enters the tunnel to get the corn.
In and Under!
With pouches full, the chipmunk emerges.
The chipmunk figured how to tunnel under the live trap, gather up the corn and emerged with pouches full.
Strutting his stuff
As we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner we pay homage to the great gift the Americas gave the world.
Beef, pork, lamb, and chicken all come from animals with Old World origins. Shortly after Europeans discovered North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other new worlds they introduced these familiar and useful farm animals. Before Columbus made landfall, Native Americans knew nothing about these exotic animals. But, they knew turkeys.
Of all common meat animals eaten today only turkeys came from the New World. Before Columbus, wild turkeys abounded across much of North America. Their domestic cousins were tended by some tribes. Treated with great care, the domesticated turkeys were an important source of clothing, tools and food. Among some uses of the tribes of the Four Corners of the United States, turkeys provided feathers for coats, eggs for eating and reproduction, and bones for tools. Evidence exists that the Native Americans cross bred for certain valued characteristics. Europeans quickly developed a taste for turkey and brought them eastward across the Atlantic where they became a common European food.
Our Thanksgiving dinner consists of turkey, potatoes, and winter squash, all Native American foods. Sometimes we add acorn muffins and capstone the meal with a long time family recipe for pumpkin pie, made from a plant that also originated here.
Old railings on back deck limit view.
Early this spring we sat on our front porch staring at needed work and a home dilemma.
Our front porch and back deck were enclosed in traditional wood railings and balusters. About every other year the paint peeled. Scraping and repainting were tedious and time consuming chores that we didn’t want to do repeatedly. Also, each side of our home offers gorgeous views of oaks, maples, and a prairie plus the wildlife that visits our feeders and yard. From indoors, seeing through the heavy wood balusters and rails was hard.
Instead of scraping and repainting again, we paid a visit to Ogden and Adams, our neighborhood home store, and ordered an aluminum railing system for the front porch and a cable rail for the back deck. Then we ripped out the wood and installed the new porch railings ourselves. We’re not carpenters so we watched installation videos and read the instructions that came with the materials. It took time figuring, cutting and assembling, but we were able to successfully install the railings ourselves. And once in place we were delighted with their appearance and the amazing ability to see into the yard. These products are carried by most major lumberyards and home stores.
After installation. Easy to see through.
The white aluminum rails and balusters should eliminate all future need to scrape and paint, but even better is the increased visibility they offer. The old balusters were 1 ½ inches across, while the aluminum ones are but 3/4ths of an inch. That may not sound like much but the front porch has nearly 60 balusters, meaning that we now have about 40 more inches of clear unobstructed vision. Essentially the new ones offer only half the visual blockage of the old wood ones. This lets more light enter the house and more cool breeze to waft through on hot summer days. From the road the difference is indiscernible. The impact of the cable system on the back deck is even more dramatic. The tightly stretched stainless steel cables are nearly invisible and are remarkably easy to see through. When we peer at our bird feeder our eyes focus in the distance and the nearer cables become a mere shadow.
We’re delighted with our new railings. Safe, low maintenance, attractive, and easy to see through!
One late October afternoon we set up a few bird feeders in the back yard. Within minutes a procession of nuthatches and chickadees began feasting on sunflower seeds. It amazed us how quickly the birds were able to locate seeds. Gifted with amazing eyesight and intimate knowledge of their territory, birds watch every move humans make and seize any opportunity for free breakfast.
Setting up a backyard feeder brings colorful wildlife to brighten otherwise dreary winter days. Bird feeding is amazingly popular. Upwards of half of American households put out at least a few seeds. It is an outstanding activity to involve a child in.
Bird feeding can be amazingly simple and inexpensive or complex and costly. This blog covers just the very basics. Specific bird feeding tips and bird information will be posted often on the subscription part of the Winding Pathways Website.
Sometimes people wonder why few birds visit their feeders. Usually, it’s simply because their yard is devoid of diverse plants that support different bird species. An array of trees, shrubs and ground level plants provide birds with food and places to hide. Anyone wishing to attract a diversity of birds should landscape for them. That can be a multi-year project. In the short term putting some discarded Christmas trees or brush in monoculture yard will help attract them.
Offering several types of food in a variety of feeders also enhances success. One of the best feeders is a picnic table. Just scatter sunflower seeds on it. Cardinals, in particular, like to feed on a large flat surface and rarely visit silo type hanging feeders. We put out suet for woodpeckers, sunflower seed for a diversity of species, corn for squirrels, millet for doves, and corn for our squirrel friends. But, if we had to choose just one type of seed and feeder they would be black oil sunflower scattered on the picnic table!
Here are some bird feeding tips:
• Visit a specialty bird feeding store. These are becoming increasingly common and sell a diversity of seeds, feeders and accessories. But, more important, sales people will share comprehensive knowledge about local birds and how to best attract them. Big box stores sell seeds and feeders, but offer sparse education.
• Be wary of seed mixes, especially inexpensive ones. Often they are packed with milo, a seed few birds like to eat.
• Keep seed fresh and safe from rodents. Old stale seed won’t attract birds. Store it in a metal garbage can with tight lid to help keep the seed fresh and exclude mice.
• Keep feeders clean. Give them a good scrubbing every once in a while.
• Buy quality feeders. Quality brands, like Aspects and Droll Yankee, make high quality feeders that are easy to clean and resist breaking. If one does break the company will replace it.
• Feed up, down and around. Do some reading about birds and watch closely. You’ll notice that some birds, like mourning doves and juncos, prefer feeding on the ground and are rarely on feeders, while chickadees and nuthatches would rather visit an elevated feeder. Put the types of seed each species prefers where it likes to feed. For example, spread millet on the ground for doves and put sunflower seed in feeders.
• Don’t get too discouraged by squirrels. They are fascinating animals with amusing antics. Lots of websites and books give tips for excluding them from feeders, but we choose to toss some corn on the ground for them to enjoy.
• Read and Observe. Birds, even common species, are fascinating. They are often the first portal to nature that kids see. A pair of binoculars can help viewing, and many resources are available online and at the library.
• Connect with others who love birds. The local bird feeding store can help you find others who feed birds. Probably the best online source of bird information comes from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.
• Don’t worry if you take a winter vacation and have no one to stock the feeders. Birds move around through the day and feed at many places. If they find your feeder empty they’ll move on but will be back soon after you return home and fill up your feeders.
Check out the subscription area of the Winding Pathways Website for periodic updates on bird feeding.