Into The Air

The Official Blog of Backyard Chirper

Category: How To (Page 1 of 2)

How to Winterize a Birdhouse

Now that nesting season is over and temperatures are dipping quite a bit, it’s time to put away those birdhouses, right? Not exactly.

Instead of putting away your birdhouses, convert them into winter roosting boxes.

Winter is a tough time for birds and finding shelter is a tall task for many species; however, with a few modifications, you can provide your local birds with a place to stay when the weather gets rough.

Clean it out and repair any damage

The first and most important thing you should do is clean it out. You’ll want to completely remove all the nesting material left in the house. This needs to be done to make room for visitors, but it also removes any mites or bacteria from previous occupants.

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Once it’s sanitized, you should repair any damage and unclog every drainage hole. By taking some time to get it back into tip-top shape, this will extend the life of the birdhouse and ensure your birds are safe and sound.

Make sure the birdhouse is dry before putting it back up.

Flip the front panel upside (if applicable)

Along with cleaning and general repair, you should make sure the birdhouse is optimized for roosting. Some birdhouses and nesting boxes have front panels that flip upside down, moving the entrance to the lower part.

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How to Stop Suet from Melting

It’s brutal out there. We’re in the dog days of summer and the heat is suffocating. I’ve been going anywhere I can that has air conditioning, so I can only imagine what the birds are going through.

The heat itself presents tons of problems for birds, including a lack of water, but one problem people with suet feeders will have is melting suet.

When temperatures exceed 90 degrees, suet quickly becomes a mess. Here’s how to stop that from happening.

Why melted suet is bad for birds

Many people stop putting out suet for birds once winter ends. This is perfectly fine. The high-calorie mixture of fat, seeds, fruits, and insects is important to birds during the winter—that’s when high-energy diets are essential for surviving the cold weather.

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However, birds also need more energy during spring and summer. In spring, birds expend energy while nesting. In summer, insects may be less abundant.

But when temperatures are soaring, suet becomes susceptible to melting. Why is that bad?

To start, the heat causes suet to spoil much quicker than it normally would. That results in bacteria growth, which could cause birds to get sick. Not only that but the stench of spoiled suet becomes overwhelming—upsetting neighbors and attracting pests.

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Ways to attract warblers to your backyard

Black-and-white Warbler

I couldn’t tell you the first warbler I’ve ever seen, but I always remember the first warbler of every spring. The first warbler I saw this spring was a frenetic Black-and-white Warbler passing through a park in Brooklyn.

Warblers are coveted by bird enthusiasts due to their activity and unique patterns. They’re sometimes referred to as the “butterflies of the bird world” because they are so small, active and colorful. Warblers are well-known insectivores with small beaks, so that means you usually can’t get them into your backyard by simply putting out a bird feeder.

However, if you’re truly interested in attracting them to your yard, it is possible to lure the brilliant yellows, greens and stripes of warblers with some work.

Make water a priority

Water is the best way to attract warblers to your yard because it’s easy to provide and a necessary resource. Warblers seem to have an affinity toward running water, so putting up a fountain bird bath is a good idea.

Provide shelter and cover with native plants

Warblers prefer wooded and bushy areas that provide cover. If your yard is currently bare, consider planting cypress, oak, pine and other types of trees to attract the birds. This is a long-term solution, but it’s worth it if you want warblers in your yard. Also, avoid cutting down poison ivy or poison oak because warblers love it.

Put out a suet feeder

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How to set up a nesting box in your yard

Spring is finally here. After a dreary, but unusually warm winter, spring has come to give us beautiful weather, colorful flowers and the return of our favorite backyard birds. If you’re thinking about trying to get birds to nest in your yard this spring, now is the time before it’s too late.

While birds are fully capable of finding their own natural nesting boxes, the spread of human development has made prime nesting spots increasingly difficult to locate. That’s why it’s not only fun to set up a nesting box in your yard, but it’s also helpful.

When you’re setting up a nesting box for the birds, here are some important things to keep in mind.

Select the right nesting box

The type of nesting box you buy or make depends on the type of bird you’re trying to attract. A barn owl nesting box is obviously going to be different from a bluebird nesting box, so you have to do research to make sure your nesting box is the right one for the bird you’re trying to attract. The nesting box should match the characteristics that your targeted bird enjoys, such as having an appropriate entrance hole size.

Make sure it’s well-made

Although there are different types of nesting boxes for different species, they’re not all well-made. The nesting box should be made out of untreated wood like pine or fir, keep rain out, have drainage holes just in case water gets in, provide ventilation and have grooved walls. You should also make sure that the hole, especially if the nesting box is for smaller birds, is able to keep out invasive birds like starlings.

Be strategic with where you place the nesting box

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How to protect your feeders from hungry hawks

Cooper's Hawk

Courtesy of H. Gilbert Miller

If you’ve ever owned a bird feeder, you’ve probably seen this sad and alarming scene. Near one of your bird feeders is a bunch of feathers strewn all over the place as if there was a major kerfuffle. Even though you might hope that it’s simply the result of birds molting their feathers, you know that one of your precious backyard birds was plucked from the sky by a bigger bird of prey.

While you likely put out feeders to provide food for birds, you probably didn’t mean that way. Sure it’s a part of nature, but it’s not something you necessarily want to happen on your watch. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to discourage birds of prey from using your bird feeder as a place for easy pickings.

Gimme shelter

Just like The Rolling Stones, all the birds want when they’re being targeted by hawks is some shelter. There are a few ways you accomplish this. You can put your feeders near shrubbery and bushes to give birds a quick place to hide in the event of an attack. You can put a cover over the top of the feeder. Here’s what Jim Wright at NorthJersey.com recommends as another option:

Similarly, I have placed an old owl nesting box near the base of the feeders to provide an air-raid shelter when hawks are hunting.

Be mindful of where you place the feeder

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Tips for attracting Northern Cardinals

Male Northern Cardinal in Prospect Park

Male Northern Cardinal in Prospect Park

It’s not controversial to say Northern Cardinals are among the most desired backyard birds. With their vibrant red coloration, frequent trips to bird feeders and recognizable song, cardinals usually top the list of people’s favorite birds.

While birdwatching in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park the other day, I must have spotted a dozen Northern Cardinals fluttering about, particularly in a portion of the park called the Vale of Cashmere. The Vale, which is a prime birding spot, has thick woods surrounding the bowl-like area, ample water and places to find food. All of these resources are easy to mimic and provide in your backyard.

If you’re interested in attracting Northern Cardinals to your yard, here’s how.

Get a platform feeder

Unlike many other songbirds, cardinals do not like eating from small hanging feeders because they have trouble perching and they feel uncomfortable when something is unbalanced. That’s why it’s important to get a large, heavy feeder that won’t sway in the wind of move too much. Ideally, it’s best to get a large hopper feeder that is securely mounted to a pole and has a roof protecting the seed. Platform feeders are another options for cardinals.

Cardinals love seeds

The diet of cardinals actually consists of a wide variety of items, including corn, insects, tree sap and more. But, when trying to attract cardinals to your bird feeder, the best food is easily husked seeds, namely black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. However, in winter months when food is harder to find, they will more readily eat things like peanuts, pieces of suet and cracked corn.

Water is key

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Tips for learning how to identify a bird by its song

We’ve all been there. While standing in the backyard or walking through the park, you hear this mellifluously beautiful chirping and are desperate to identify the bird, but then you can’t pinpoint it. Even though its possible to go birdwatching with only your eyes, any experienced birder can tell you that a lot of birding is listening. So, whether you’re new to birding or simply never picked up how to identify a bird by its song, here are some tips to help you pick up this valuable birding skill.

What’s the point in learning bird songs?

That’s a great question with a few answers. Honing in on a bird’s sound will make it significantly easier to spot a bird with your eyes because you’ll be given a point of reference to look rather than birdwatching blindly. It’s also a good skill to pick up because it let’s you more accurately ID birds when it’s darker or you can’t recognize it by its physical attributes.

1. Go birding with your eyes and ears

When you’re first trying to learn bird sounds, the best way to start out is to go birding. Watching birds while carefully listening to their songs as they’re singing helps internalize the song better. You might already be familiar with the sounds, but have never put it with a species. Make it a goal to really watch and listen at the same time.

2. Listen to recordings

The Internet is a great thing. I say this only because there are so many fantastic resources to help you learn absolutely anything. Through the tireless efforts of ornithologists and birders, there are huge databases and recordings of nearly every bird you can imagine at your fingertips. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide has 600 common bird songs and sounds, there are regional bird song guides for sale and most birding apps for your smartphone include an extensive collection of audio.

By picking out some of the common birds in your area and listening to their songs frequently, you’ll slowly start learning their sounds.

3. Don’t do it alone

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How to make your yard a paradise for birds

Today is the last day to enter to win a hummingbird feeder. All you have to do is post a picture of a bird you took to our Facebook page and you’ll automatically be entered. You can also get one additional entry by Liking this post or commenting on it!

There are three major elements that will attract birds to your yard: food, water and shelter. So, if you’re a beginner who’s looking to attract birds to your yard, it’s a good idea to start with a bird feeder, bird bath and bird house. Creating a bird friendly landscape in your yard involves much more than that though. There are a number of natural things you can do to really get birds flocking to your yard.

Create a pile of leaves

If you raked your yard to clear the pathways of leaves, don’t throw them away. Piling the leaves somewhere off the side of your yard will create a homemade bird house with endless possibilities. They will frolic in the pile and search for insects around it. It may not be the prettiest thing, but birds absolutely love it. It’s also a good way to reuse material in a productive way.

Put native plants in your yard

I’ve talked about this already quite a bit in the context of feeding birds on a budget, but native plants do more than offer food. Any type of plant native to the area is one that birds are most comfortable with.

Make a mess

Not a literal mess of trash, but a mess of plants, leaves and other natural litter. The best ecosystem for birds is a natural one and the more rugged an area is, the more likely birds will come. Having a messy yard will increase the insect and plant diversity in a way that brings a wide variety of birds. The key is to balance the mess. You don’t want to let your yard become completely unruly with fallen seed and stuff everywhere or you could end up with rats!

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Humane ways to keep pigeons away from your yard and bird feeders

In light of news that disgruntled New Yorkers have resorted to poisoning pigeons in makeshift feeders to scare them away, I thought it’d be a good idea to post on some humane ways to get deter pigeons from invading your yard and feeder.

Although pigeons are obviously birds too, they aren’t always desirable and are seen as pests. If your yard, more specifically your feeder, is being targeted and tormented by flocks of hungry pigeons, here are some humane things you can do to keep them away.

1. Keep your yard clean

Pigeons are attracted to messy areas where food is plentiful. If you have a feeder, other birds tend to knock seed onto the floor and if you don’t pick it up, it could be a hotspot for pigeons.

2. Make food difficult for them to get

Pigeons love to forage on the ground, so in certain areas with high populations of pigeons, ground feeders are essentially pigeon feeders. Consider doing away with the ground feeder and getting a hanging feeder with small perches and access points. This keeps larger birds out, but allows smaller songbirds to eat.

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How to make a pine cone bird feeder with your kids

If you have children, a great educational project is making an old-fashioned pine cone feeder. This helps push kids into the foray of building things, understanding birds and getting closer to nature. To get started on this fun project with your kids, follow these few simple steps.

1. Get the materials together

The simplest method for making a pine cone bird feeder only requires a few materials: a pine cone, a jar of peanut butter, string, bird seed and a knife. Hopefully, pine cones are readily available somewhere near your house, but if not, you can order pine cones here. Any type of bird seed works well with this project.

2. Tie a string around the pine cone

After you’ve gathered all the material and made a nice area for your child to work in, begin by having them tie a fairly long string around the body of the pine cone. Make sure it’s securely tightened around the pine cone with extra string coming from the top. It’s better to have more slack than too little because you can always cut some off.

3. Roll the pine cone in peanut butter

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