Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Painting Bird Houses

I often get the question, "Should I paint my bird houses?"

I have nothing against painted bird houses. If you use pine you almost have to paint if you want your masterpiece to last any length of time. I never paint mine. I always build with cedar. Cedar will gray up like a barn and last many years. Many bird houses I see on store shelves are decorative creations that may not ever see the back yard. Many will not attract a cavity nesting bird anyway.

In this age of planned unit developments most cavity nesting birds are not too picky. They are just happy to find a hole to live in. If you study bird house plans and then study birds you will discover that birds have never read the books and have no idea how to act. They will often not nest in the box that is custom designed just for them. On the other hand they may nest in the box that is not at all suited for them.
I find that several species of cavity nesters will move into my bluebird houses. It really depends more on where I place the box than cavity or hole size.
All paint contains chemicals. If you must paint, only paint the exterior. Never paint the interior. Do not use pressure treated wood to build nesting boxes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bird Feeding--Fun&Easy

By Jill Gleeson - For the CDT
If a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, a yard full of winged creatures is priceless.
The melody of birdsong in the morning, the sight of brightly hued, feathered friends in flight for many is supremely satisfying.
They should help ensure "a wonderful time in your backyard every day," said Joe Kosack, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation education specialist.
But while it may seem an easy proposition attracting birds to your property (if you feed them, they will come), there are some simple guidelines to follow.
What to feed
While some people are happy to feed any bird on their property, many prefer to feed only colorful songbirds.
If you've found to your displeasure you've attracted starlings and blackbirds with millet and corn, stop using this feed, and try black-oil sunflower seed, which Kosack calls "the all-time, No. 1 bird seed. It probably appeals to 75 percent of the birds that'll come through your yard," including chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice and cardinals.
Cardinals eat raisins, too, as do robins and bluebirds. Bluebirds also may be attracted to a shallow tin filled with a combination of sawdust and mealworms.
Millet attracts the mourning dove, though it also is a magnet for house sparrows, blackbirds and grackles.
Interested in attracting woodpeckers to your property?
Try using suet, or smearing peanut butter into tree crevices. In general, however, says Kosack, "You can just about always pull in birds with a combination of suet, black-oil sunflower and thistle. Those three seeds work wonders."
How to feed
Most of the bird feeders available at home-supply stores work quite well.
Still, "a bird doesn't care if it's eating out of a cardboard box or a fancy, miniature house," Kosack said. "If you want to make a designer statement with something like that, it's fine -- but the birds really don't care."
Black-oil sunflower, thistle, suet and white millet can all be thrown on the ground as scratch; black-oil sunflower and thistle also work well in tray or cylindrical feeders. Raisin and nuts can be used in bin feeders; corn-spike feeders may be used for fruit, which can pull in northern orioles, catbirds and woodpeckers. Hummingbird feeders are "not hard to maintain," Kosack said.
Mix four parts water to one part sugar, boil it, let it cool, and then pour it into the feeder.
"But you should change it at least once a week," Kosack cautions, "especially as it get warmer, because it can ferment. And honey will ferment, so you should never use it."
Where to feed
While there are few hard and fast rules to bird feeding, Kosack advises keeping feeders away from windows.
"Birds cannot see glass," he said. "They see reflections of the horizon and other birds and will often fly toward them. Birds always lose when they collide with glass."
Try to place your feeders where there aren't a lot of disturbances, and where there is some cover to give birds a safe place to wait their turn to feed. Avoid placing the feeder near ground cover, which could conceal cats on the prowl. If the feeder doesn't draw birds, relocate it.
"Sometimes just moving it 20 feet can make all the difference in the world," Kosack said.
What else
While feeding is a great way to coax birds onto your property, there are other methods as well. Water from ponds, birdbaths, even creeks and streams all attract birds. When using a man-made source, such as a birdbath, be sure there is cover nearby.
"After birds get themselves wet they'll need to fly someplace close by to preen," Kosack said. "And although my biologist swears it doesn't matter whether the water is clean or not, I'm here to tell you, when I change the water in my birdbath, birds flock to it immediately."
Plantings also can attract birds; Kosack likes fruit trees, such as the Japanese flowering crabapple.
"It's a wonderful tree for your yard," he said. "It has an incredible blossom display in the spring and provides wildlife, like robins and cedar waxwings, with a great source of food in the winter. And the fruit could also attract insects, which will attract birds."
Holly bushes are magnets for robins; bee balm and trumpet vine attract hummingbirds.
"And sometimes just a dead tree can be one of the best things you can have in your yard," Kosack said. "Woodpeckers will really work it over for the insects, and other birds will make cavities in it for nesting."
While early spring is the best time to attract migrating neotropical birds, such as warblers, there are still plenty of pleasures to be had feeding birds this time of year.
"Get your feeders set up now, keep them going over the winter -- when birds need the most help -- and feed all year round. In another couple of weeks, you'll start seeing things like a whole family of cardinals coming in to eat, or young woodpeckers coming with mom to the suet. Things like that are just priceless."

Bird Feeding--Caution

Recent reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders has prompted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to recommend that people temporarily discontinue bird feeding, or take extra steps to maintain feeders.Laboratory analysis of bird carcasses has confirmed salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria, said WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield."Salmonellosis is probably the most common avian disease at feeders in Washington," Mansfield said in a news release. "The disease afflicts species such as finches, grosbeaks and pine siskins that flock together in large numbers at feeders and transmit the disease through droppings."The first indication of the disease is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder, Mansfield said.

"The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach," she said, "but there is very little people can do to treat them."About four dozen reports of dead birds have been received over the past several weeks involving pine siskins, goldfinches and purple finches in both eastern and western Washington. Carcasses of purple finches and pine siskins were sent to a Washington State University laboratory for testing that confirmed the disease.It's possible, although uncommon, for people to be become sick from the salmonella bacteria through direct contact with infected birds, bird droppings, or through pet cats that catch sick birds. People who handle birds, bird feeders or bird baths should wear gloves and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards, Mansfield said.She advised stopping backyard bird feeding for at least a few weeks, if not for the remainder of the summer, to encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally."Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while using bird feeding stations," she said.