Saturday, December 31, 2011

#83 Field Tip: Gumballs and Goldfinches

Walking a stretch of road through my local patch, I came across an expansive stand of Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua. This common, deciduous tree of the east-southeast grows straight and tall, reaching 100 feet in height, thriving in moist areas. 

Their picturesque, star-shaped leaves have long dropped by this time of year, exposing numerous spiky "gumballs" that attract birds, particularly finches in winter.

Gumballs are the fruit of the Sweetgum tree, and each one holds up to 50 small black seeds, a favorite of American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, and Pine Siskins.  Their small fine bills adeptly pry open the prickly gumball to get to the food inside.  

I marveled at the amazing acrobatics of birds hungrily searching for seeds, often hanging upside and jumping quickly from gumball to gumball.  Look for them this winter at your local park or woods - they are great fun to watch! 
 photo © adrian binns

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#82 Backyard Tip: Introducing Suet

Most birds have a high metabolic rate, and suet (or fat) plays an important part in their diet. Suet produces enough energy to help birds sustain higher activity levels, for longer periods between meals, during the longer, colder winter months.

While suet can be offered in a cage feeder or mesh bag, I prefer to rub the suet directly into crevices and holes on a snag (as in the photo) that I have placed near my feeding station.

Many birds enjoy suet, but I find that it is those that tend to cling to tree trunks - woodpeckers, creepers, nuthatches, wrens, titmice and chickadees - that are readily attracted to my suet, and it is not long before I have to gladly replenish the supply.
photo © adrian binns

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#81 Old Names, New Names

I have been looking through records dating back to the 1950's of bird species seen on my "local patch" - John Heinz NWR at Tinicum, in Philadelphia. Of interest were the names that some of these birds were known as, only 50 years ago.

Whistling SwanPigeon HawkSparrow HawkUpland PloverLong-billed Marsh Wren and Short-billed Marsh Wren were what Tundra Swan, Merlin, American Kestrel, Upland Sandpiper, Marsh Wren and Sedge Wren, respectively, were called in those days.

Myrtle Warbler was, and still is, an abundant migrant here in the east, but that was the old name given to Yellow-rumped Warbler, which was once 'split' into two species, the other being Audubon's (in the west). There is talk that they may once again be 'split' in which case it would go back to being known as Myrtle Warbler.

One bird that did regain its old name (from the 1950's) is Common Gallinule (above). Until recently this was known as the Common Moorhen. The naming committees are in the process of straightening out all the common names of birds around the world, so that no two species have the same name, as was the case with this bird.  So the North American bird gets its old name back, Common Gallinule, and its European counterpart (a seperate species) now goes by the name of Common (or Eurasian) Moorhen.
photo © adrian binns