The Nature of My Backyard

I love wild birds, flowers, herbs, trees, butterflies, bugs and anything else Mother Nature places in my backyard for me to enjoy! I gladly share them with you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tufted Titmice

Sweet Little Titmouse Looking Right At Me!
by Grandma Pearl

Tufted Titmice are feisty, territorial, energetic little birds that love to squawk at the top of their lungs when they perceive a possible threat.  At only 6.25 inches, their gray bodies sport a beautiful light orange patch on their underbellies.  Their crests belie their disposition, but are most often pointed straight upwards.
Titmice are very fond of peanuts and peanut butter!
from Grandma Pearl
Small apple chunks, raisins, and grapes are also favorite foods of the tufted titmouse.  If you have a grape arbor, you will attract not only titmice, but many other fruit-loving birds like orioles and grosbeaks.
Tufted Titmouse overseeing its territory from an Aspen tree
from Grandma Pearl
Listen for its distinctive call, which sounds like:  peter, peter, peter, or cheer, cheer, cheer.  It's a clear whistle that resounds through the forest around here, year 'round.  Titmice have pals, and they consist of chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and juncos that share the black oil sunflower feeders.  They also don't mind foraging along the ground for fallen seeds.

Titmice look for spiders and insects on and under the bark of trees, leaves and twigs, and they will even hang upside down to pluck a tasty treat!

Last spring I heard some skittery scratching noises against one of my back windows.  When I investigated, I found a tufted titmouse attacking its reflection repeatedly!  My solution was to cover the window with the top of a sapling that had lots of smaller branches.  This broke up the reflection, and my titmouse was spared an exhaustive defense against an imaginary rival.

Spotted in the northeast all the way to Texas, tufted titmice have several cousins:  Bridled Titmouse lives in the extreme southwest of North America, Oak Titmouse is found only west of the Sierra Nevada, and its call is a rather raucous sissi-chee.
Juniper Titmouse is a kin to the Plain Titmouse and lives in the western desert states of North America; Black-Crested Titmouse  can be found in Texas southward.  

All are small gray birds with crests.  The bridled titmouse was so named for the appearance of a black 'bridle' on its face and neck.
Most of these birds are fairly common, with the exception of the Juniper Titmouse, because of its very narrow southwestern habitat range.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Make a Nesting Ball for the Birds

Birds Will Soon Be Building Nests!

I made this nesting ball using cotton batting, shredded cotton stuffing, jute, cotton yarn, clean animal fur and a few feathers.  Easy Instructions Below!
Black Capped Chickadees often move into man-made bird houses.  Make sure they have lots of nesting supplies nearby, (see list below) and they will likely make your bird house their home!  Birds here in the Northeast typically begin building nests in March and go all the way through June.  Some birds even start nesting as early as February.

Here's a List of Nesting Materials commonly used by backyard birds:

  • Clean Animal fur and hair
  • Cotton yarn 4" to 6” long
  • Frayed rope that is no more than 6” long
  • Old cotton mop heads (clean)
  • New cotton balls
  • Small tufts of cotton batting and/or cotton stuffing
  • Wool
  • Feathers
  • Fine rootlets
  • Dry grass
  • Thistle down, colt's foot or dandelion fluff
  • Dry leaves
  • Plant fibers
  • Moss
  • Lichens
  • Flowers
  • Twigs
  • Straw
How to Offer Nesting Materials for Birds:

  • In clean suet cage
  • In clean open mesh produce bag
  • In open grapevine shape
  • Woven through grapevine wreath
This is a fun project for kids and adults of all ages.
Nesting Ball for Wild Birds:

I used a pumpkin grapevine shape that I found at the local hobby supply store.  It had lots of spaces for poking in the nesting materials; and it was easy to hang by looping a piece of wire through one of the openings in the top.

After making the hanger loop, I gathered all the materials I decided to stuff the pumpkin with.
I started with the shredded cotton batting and small tufts of cotton stuffing, filling the inside of the pumpkin loosely.  You could also use new cotton balls.  It's okay to leave a few ends hanging outside the shape so the birds can pull on them.

Next I added some lengths of unbleached cotton yarn, which I also found at the hobby shop.  Again, I made sure that the ends were outside the shape,  making it easy for little bird beaks to grab onto them. 

Then I placed 6 inch pieces of jute in several spots.

After that, I poked in some feathers from an old feather pillow.  Birds sometimes use them to line the inside of their nests.   My masterpiece was done! 

I hung it in a spice bush that lots of birds visit often.  The birds have already plucked the jute and yarn pieces!  Before long I expect that my nesting ball will become a little sparse as birds pick out their nesting stuff.  Not to worry, I  saved some materials to replenish what disappears!

There was quite a bit of stuff left, so I used a clean suet cage and filled it with shredded cotton, cotton balls and clean fur.  That one was hung in another shrub that the birds like to perch in.  It's fun to see what materials the birds like the best.

If the material gets wet with snow or rain, the birds won't use it until it has dried out.  If you have a sheltered porch or overhang, or even a dense evergreen shrub or tree, that will help keep things nice and dry.
Have fun!

Learn more about: The Architecture of the Birds

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Flocks of Finches!

Finches Are Everywhere I Look!

American Gold Finches in their Winter Plumage
by Grandma Pearl

When it is finally spring, these friendly and chatty little finches will undergo quite a change.  The males will put on their brightest sunshine yellow coats and black hats.  Uttering a familiar call--'potato chip, potato chip', they will approach the feeders with an undulating flight pattern.  

Male and Female American Gold Finches in their spring/summer plumage.
by Grandma Pearl
The goldfinches here are accompanied by some mourning doves.  
 House Finches and Gold Finches love both sunflower seeds and thistle (nyjer) seeds
by Grandma Pearl

Pretty House Finches will brighten up once spring and summer roll around.  They happily share the feeders will the little goldies.

So many finches waiting their turns at the feeders!

American Gold Finches, males and females like to cling to vertical surfaces.  I love the intricate patterns of their wing feathers!