As reported in The Nashua Telegraph
By Mike Morin
Coming face-to-face with a creature in the wild can be scary. Or even in your garage, especially when it weighs in at 10 grams. While many New Hampshire peeps are encountering 400-pound bears these days, I hosted a wayward hummingbird in my garage recently.
A scary hummingbird? Yes. I’ll tell you why in a moment. This chirping intruder flew in, I presume, thinking Barbara’s deep red car was a 3000-pound petunia. Disappointed that the metal hunk was not a smorgasbord of endless nectar, the little guy headed for an escape through the ceiling. Instead of exiting through the massive opening to freedom, Chirpie spent 40 minutes bouncing non-stop into the ceiling. I can only imagine what a headache the birdie must’ve had.
Lady Baba and I watched Chirpie dart non-stop from corner to corner of the garage. Every so often, it would rest for a few seconds on the automatic door opener, and then resume its panicky plan to return to the wild.
Here’s the scary part. We knew these things need constant food or they drop dead, especially flying non-stop. I was determined it was not going to perish on my watch. Barb and I needed a plan, as we’d heard these pigs with wings need to eat around seven times per hour. Chirpie could be toast in minutes without a drink of sweet nectar. What to do? Why couldn’t we have had a bear in the house like most people? Instead, we’re fighting to save something with barely 900 feathers, weighing the same as four pennies.
After about 15 minutes of unsuccessful attempts to coax Chirpie from our garage, I dashed to my computer and Googled the phrase, “How to get a hummingbird out of your garage.” Turns out I’m not the first person to experience this. Google showed 123,000 results related to that phrase. None were very helpful.
Forty minutes into the crisis, Chirpie is exhausted, flying more slowly and taking frequent breaks until finally pooping out and sliding down a wall in seemingly slow motion. After a soft landing, I gently cupped him into my hands and walked outside.
Did Chirpie have a heart attack? How could we save this brave creature? I watched as its eyes blinked slowly. I knew there was still hope. Lady Baba brought our hummingbird feeder from the back deck as our only chance to nurse Chirpie back to life. It was worth a shot. I figured we had a minute or less to save the lifeless figure.
I gently glided its needle-like beak through the opening of a faux flower as sugar water dripped over its mouth. Waiting. Waiting. Then I saw it. A microscopic forked tongue was lapping up the birdie IV, and its throat began pulsing as it swallowed the water of life. Blinking became faster. And just as quickly as he came, Chirpie flew away, looking no worse for the wear.
We were relieved with the outcome and decided that Barb’s next car would be black.
Hear Mike Morin weekdays from 5-10 a.m. on 95.7 WZID. Contact him at Heymikey@aol.com. His column runs the first, third and fifth Tuesdays of the month.
An extra note from Marsha:
Hummingbirds are often attracted to the red emergency handles on automatic garage doors, since they are painted red. Just a friendly reminder to keep an eye out for hummingbirds in your garage during the summer season – what happened to Mike could happen to you! Happy birding!
So, what are you feeding your Goldfinches? To be honest, it’s sort of a trick question. When we think of “thistle” as a flower, we usually picture the thistle which is considered the national flower of Scotland (Onopordum acanthium). This thistle has a pink to purple colored flower on a prickly head. If you garden, you may think of the noxious and common thistle weed (Sonchus oleraceus L.) which is also prickly, but invasive with a smallish yellow flower that isn’t all that attractive.
What adds to the confusion, is that Goldfinch actually will eat thistle seeds in the wild, if you have them growing nearby (see photo).
The truth is, though, when you feed your precious Goldfinches the seed you purchase at your independent wild bird retail store, you are not actually feeding them “thistle” as we know it at all. Though some may commonly call it “thistle”, it’s biological name is Guizotia abyssinica and it is not related to the two varieties mentioned above at all. In fact, this little black seed as developed some serious identity problems because of “name calling”.
The actually common name of Guizotia abyssinica is niger (pronounced ni-jer). Several years ago, due to confusion and offensive mispronunciation, the official name Nyjer® was developed and trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry. Nyjer® is primarily an oil seed crop that is grown in parts of India and Africa. It is also the only major wild bird feed ingredient that is imported from overseas. It is commonly irradiated prior to being allowed into the United States by law, but this does not effect its bird attractiveness, as anyone who feeds the birds will tell you. It also prevents most instances of reseeding in your garden, although I have had some tell me that they have had it grow.
It is a seed that spoils easily, however. It’s usually recommended that you purchase only the amount of seed that you can use in about a month or two. You may not recognize the smell of fresh seed. However, if it is rancid, you can smell it. It has the same stale smell as any other nuts might have if left too long in your cupboard.
Yes, they are picky. If the seed isn’t fresh, they won’t come around. If it’s on the ground, and not in a feeder, they aren’t attracted to it. If the feeder is dirty, they won’t come to it. If the feeder isn’t the right kind, they might not be able to get the seed out easily. If the seed gets wet… well, you get the picture!
Since we love having these little sparks of yellow, we put up with it though, don’t we?
Since Nyjer® is so small, it is prone to caking when it gets wet. Even the smallest amount of dampness can cause it to cake up. This causes clumping in the feeder, and the birds may find it difficult to get the seed out.
We recommend a good Nyjer® feeder that is made especially for this seed. If you are using a regular feeder desinged for larger seeds, fine Nyjer® seed may blow out on windy days. I like a mesh feeder. Yes, more rain will get on the seed if it is rainy. The other argument, however, is that moisture can more easily wick away from the seed because of all the holes, and you might get more birds because they can easily cling to the entire surface, not just on pre-positioned perches. The diamond mesh of the model pictured here is perfect for serving up Nyjer® to your friends.
The feeder has to be kept clean as well. If you have one with ports, be sure that the seed moves easily in the tube and that the ports aren’t clogged with dampened and caked seed. If it needs cleaning, I recommend cleaning it at the end of the day. Use soapy water and rinse it well. Leave it to dry thoroughly overnight.
The best thing about Nyjer®: squirrels don’t usually go for it! So you don’t have to have special squirrel-proof gadgets and slinky contraptions to keep the varmints at bay.
As usual, however, I recommend you get a good sturdy feeder at your independent wild bird retail store. They’ll help you pick one out that won’t need to be replaced every year. Several manufacturers make models that have a lifetime guarantee. This is a case in which money spent for a good feeder from a reliable retailer makes sense. Your independent retailer is your friend and will be there if you have additional questions or problems.
Claire Horvath from Mother Nature’s Store in Columbia MD offers up her simple “research” project results. Here’s Claire’s most recent email update:
Just learned something new…
The catbirds seem to really prefer apples to oranges! The oranges we hang to try to attract the orioles (not yet, but we keep at it!), the catbirds leave. But they can go through more than 2 apples a day!
Just wanted you to know! Oh and this is one of the best videos I have ever seen about the catbird and how he mimics. Really, really worth a minute!
Here’s a brief Q&A from a recent email listserve that I belong to:
Question from someone in the central valley area of California:
This last Thursday I opened a brand new bag of wild bird seed and filled all 5 of our feeders. The bath has water and there are two suet feeders+finch socks full of Niger seed. There haven’t been any finches yet and I know they are migratory so that explains that. But… since I filled the feeders we have had no birds, none at all, except a couple scrub jays that pick out the sunflower seeds. We can’t figure it out. The lilacs are in full bloom, maybe the scent? I did use bug spray on the Clematis last weekend but it‚s right by the front door and no where near the feeders. You’ve seen that normally there are titmice, sparrows, red breasted something’s, yellow warblers, orioles. Now there are none – any ideas? That can’t all be nesting with eggs right now at the same time. What do you think?
Answer, courtesy of Joshua Rose, Naturalist:
Birds usually prefer natural foods to feeders, especially during the breeding season. The season may have made some abundant food source available, maybe a hatch of some sort of caterpillar or other insect, a seed or fruit ripened, etc. and the birds are eating that preferentially.
It is also possible that some predator has taken to loitering in the area, and the birds have noticed but your friend has not. Accipiters are notorious for such behavior, as are house cats and other eaters of small birds.
Another possibility, if your friend does not choose their seed carefully, the store-mixed bags of “wild bird” feed vary greatly in quality. Certain brands carefully use seeds that attract the most birds: sunflower, white millet, peanuts a few others. But discount seed mixes often use whatever seed is cheapest, including many that birds rarely eat, like sorghum, rapeseed, oats, red millet, etc. If her new bag was different than her old one, and included more of the unpopular seeds, the birds may have lost interest in her feeders. Offering one seed type per feeder – black oil sunflower in a squirrel-proof hopper or tube, thistle/niger in tubes or socks, millet scattered on the ground or an open platform, peanuts and tree nuts in a suet cage or metal basket – will probably get her better results than buying pre-mixed seeds.
Side note, Yellow Warblers are not seed-eaters. They also leave the US for the winter and are just starting to get back now. Your friend is probably confusing some other yellow bird species with that one.
Answer, courtesy Kay Charter, Executive Director, Saving Birds Through Habitat:
Please purchase and read Doug Tallamy’s fine book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded, in which the author informs us that 97% of all terrestrial birds must have insects at some time in their lives. That is especially true (as Josh indicated) during the nesting season. Doug further tells us that the insects required by our birds are hosted virtually entirely by native plants. Want more birds, plant native plants.
We have seen great results here on Charter Sanctuary, where our 47 acres has hosted more than 60 nesting species. While we do put out seed, nectar and fruit (oranges and grapes), we see far more birds gleaning insects from plants than those visiting feeders — especially (as Josh again said) during this time of year.
Two years ago there was a significant outbreak of tent worms; during that time, very few birds came to feeders (so much for the old canard that nothing eats tent worms).
Joshua and Kay make wonderful points. There are many factors that go into what makes birds come to the feeders in your yard. A common mistake among people who like to feed the birds is the idea that “all seed is the same”. Although guidelines for seed and seed mixes are in the works so that the variance in quality will someday change, we recommend purchasing seed only from a reputable store that specializes in bird feeding. They will have the freshest product and the best knowledge and resources available.
One other observation on my part has to do with insecticides. Please use these products sparingly, painting onto affected plants, if possible. Birds love bugs and will travel all around your yard to find them. Ingesting bugs that have consumed poison is, obviously, not good for our feathered friends. Besides causing premature death, poisons can also cause egg shells to be too thin, which affects future generations of bird species.
By Claire Horvath
Well, April 15th has come and gone. Taxes have been paid (or deferred!) and our thoughts turn to the hummingbirds. Yes, that’s how we do things around here. April 15th is the reminder date for getting our feeders out for these tiny guys.
So, in anticipation of our hummers we wanted to share this tip. GET THE RED OUT! Get it out of your hummingbird solution (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) and instead make sure it is on the feeder! If you are worried that your feeder isn’t colorful enough to get their attention… consider a red Christmas bow! Dangle red beads from the feeder! Paint it red with finger nail polish! Anything but putting the red in the liquid.
We have had only a few reports of hummers so far this season and they have been the males heading north! Keep your eyes peeled though… the rest should be coming up as the azaleas bloom!
Claire is owner of Mother Nature’s Store in Columbia, MD. This was her tip of the week for this week in April. We love Claire’s witty style. She sends out one email tip every week, simple and even without pictures (gasp!). Claire has really mastered the art of including small bits of social media into each day. She keeps in touch with her customers, not by drowning them in gallons of information, but rather by giving just a taste of what’s important now – namely, taxes and hummingbirds. Who would have ever thought those two things would go together? Thanks, Claire!
By Marsha Pearson
If I’d had my druthers, our “house blend” would have contained only hulled sunflower and peanut halves, because those are my two favorite ingredients and they have, the most bird attractiveness. at least in the area where I live, and don’t leave a mess on the ground. What could be more perfect?
Of course, it’s not a perfect world and, as any store owner knows, that won’t work for lots of reasons. Despite my favor for the simple mix, I had, of course, customers who swore by some of the other mixes we had in the store. What’s more important is the fact that I sold them the correct mixes that worked for THEM, not only what worked for me. So, How do you decide what should go into your “house” blends, and where do you draw the line on price vs. quality?
Anyone of you, my loyal readers, who might think of using fillers, think again. There is no better way to lose a customer quickly than to do that. I don’t want to dwell on the subject, but even big box stores are beginning to sell mixes with better quality ingredients, so competition is certainly beginning to tighten. Milo doesn’t belong in your mixes unless birds in your area will eat it. For most of us that means “Just say NO to MILO.”
I’ve always considered cracked corn to be a filler as well. It looks interesting to the consumer, and that makes the mix look interesting. The difference, though, between corn and milo is that birds will at least eat the corn.
Who are we, when we sell seed?
We, as store owners, are the experts. We know what birds in our area like to eat; we can offer advice no matter what the situation. We can explain our pre-determined seed blends, offering added value in terms of our expertise on varying bird feeding habits. The reasoning behind the blends becomes clear in terms of actual birdfeeding, not just in terms of one’s pocket book.
I’ve been to a lot of wild bird feeding stores and seen lots of seed blends. Of course, there is a certain “customer psyche” that comes into play. If one purchases a blend called “Cardinal Yummies”, one can certainly expect more Cardinals, right? Well, we’re smarter than that and know that it may or may not be true. Some stores have lots of mixes with bird-specific names. Other than using it to sort of “play” with customer emotions, I’m not sure it’s really necessary. So, I gave it some thought and would like to present to you four blend possibilities, primarily meeting four price points (from high to low) but, if presented correctly, also offering a variation with regard to how birds eat.
The best of the best: This is a no mess mix containing seeds that birds will eat. My favorites, as I have already said, are hulled sunflower and peanut halves. You can also add hulled millet if it is available to you. Why peanut halves and not hearts or pieces? Many birds, not just blue jays, can tell the difference between the smaller seeds and the peanut halves. The larger pieces provide a greater attractiveness for chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers, to name a few. Great for just about all feeders and trays, although millet may pool in tube feeders, if it’s included.
Stepping down a rung: How about a nice blend that’s primarily black oil, mixed with hulled sunflower, peanuts and a smattering of striped sunflower? This is a great “no millet” mix. Great for feeders because there’s no pooling of millet at the holes of tube feeders.
One more step down: A nice “house” mix: How about the mix above, but now add a bit of millet to the mix? Attracts a wide variety of birds and if you go easy on the percentage of millet, won’t pool too much.
Low end mix: Try a mix that has more millet, but still a fair amount of black oil, a few hulled sunflower, and cracked corn. This is a mix that’s really ideal for tray and ground feeding.
The reasoning for a no mess mix is clear, with the two middle mixes offering alternatives with regard to millet or no, but a cost effective choice from the “no mess” mix.
As a store owner, I used to shy away from the “low end” mix. “Not in my store!” I now think differently. By asking the right questions, there may be, in some cases, good reason to actually recommend the lower priced mix because it will get the customer the results he/she is looking for.
Do you go through what I call “twenty questions” with new customers? It’s a really good idea and will give tremendous insight into the correct seed blend to recommend. I used to tell customers that it was a “little like going to the doctor, but it won’t hurt a bit”. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
What kind of bird do you want to attract or do you see birds in your yard and do you know what kind they are?
Do you have a feeder? What kind is it or what does it look like?
Where is it hanging or where do you plan to hang it?
Do you have squirrels? (This always gets a laugh! I’m serious though, a newbie won’t have squirrels yet because they are not feeding the birds yet.)
Is there also a bird bath nearby?
When you begin to ask the right questions, you get a better understanding of, not only what kind of seed will work best, but also on the customer’s knowledge of birds in general. Do they also need more than seed, like a feeder or baffle? Do they need a book or field guide to help them out? Should they also provide a source for water?
Pooling of millet in tube feeders is caused by two factors:
1. Smaller seeds like millet just seem to sink to the bottom. Since most feeders are gravity fed, it is likely that millet will fall to the bottom first no matter how well mixed the blend.
2. Birds that frequent tube feeders (or any feeder, for the most part) usually have a preference for seeds other than millet. These birds will pick out what they want, leaving millet to “pool” around the opening. The result is too much millet around openings.
Therefore, if you have a mix with too much millet in a tube feeder, you may not get as many of the birds that absolutely won’t eat it. However, if you have a fair number of birds that “bill sweep”, knocking the millet out of the way, some millet may not be as much of a deterrent. Alternatively, maybe they have a lot of sparrows, and they want a special feeder that will especially attract them to, hopefully, leave the other feeder for various other species.
Dried fruit is not as attractive to birds as we think it should be. I’ve seen dried papaya and heard that starlings like it best. We know that starlings don’t really need encouragement, do they?
Raisins, dried cranberries and other dried fruits sell when they get moist and clog up feeders. My recommendation? If you want to carry them, sell them separately for tray feeding.
It’s our job to help consumers make smart choices that give them the results they want, and that will meet their expectations with regard to bird visitations to their feeders, not just price expectations.
Need more help with seed mixes? Just give me a call at 215-392-4850 or email email@example.com.