Bluebird of Happiness

I am sure you remember, the legendary lyric “Somewhere over the rainbow, Bluebirds fly” made famous by Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz”. That one line went a long way in cementing the symbolism of the bluebird of happiness in American culture.

“The Blue Bird” a movie from 1940 starring Shirley Temple and based on a play of the same name written in 1908, tells the story of an unappreciative, ill-tempered little girl that is whisked away in a dream by a fairy on an adventure filled journey to find the bluebird of happiness. In the end she awakens a much happier more grateful young lady, a great old family film.

In the mid 1940’s Jan Peerce recorded his best selling record “Bluebird of Happiness” with Art Mooney and His Orchestra which at least at one time was among the all-time best selling records by opera singers.
References to the bluebird of happiness throughout American history are well documented.

But did you know that stories, songs, poems, folklore and myth about the bluebird of happiness have been recorded and passed down for many generations in almost every culture. For many Native American tribes the bluebird is sacred. In fact, the bluebird is globally accepted as a symbol of happiness, joy, good health and the renewal of spring.

Our love affair with the bluebird in America dates back to colonial times and stems in part, from the bluebirds willingness to nest in man made nest boxes and to feed in open areas where we may easily sit a spell and watch them flutter around and care for their young.

There are 3 species of bluebirds in the United States, the Mountain and Western Bluebirds found in the western third of America, and the most prevalent of the three and the one we will focus on, the Eastern Bluebird found east of the Rockies.

No matter which of these three bluebirds of happiness you are trying to attract to your feeders and nest boxes, one way sure to keep them nearby is by offering them a great, reliable source of healthy wild bird food such as Avian Cuisine Wild Bird Foods – Bluebird Delight.

Eastern Bluebird Nesting Habits

Our Eastern Bluebird nest monitoring takes place on our manufacturing facility property. As you will see by looking through the 9 years of nesting data we have collected, our average successful eastern bluebird nests per season are more than double the normal of 1.3 nests per year.

But before I get into what our bluebird nest observations reveal let’s talk about some bluebird basics.

Most Eastern Bluebirds will begin nesting sometime between February and April. The earliest recorded nest attempt date we have for the birds on our property is Feb. 9th 2001, with most years starting in first two weeks of March.

Adult male bluebirds select a suitable nesting cavity and will begin carrying in nesting materials consisting of straw, grass and pine needles. You will also see him dashing in and out the hole and perched above the nest cavity flapping his wings, all in an attempt to attract a female.

Once the female has arrived on the scene the two will bond and could stay together for several seasons. Only the female bluebird will build the nest. She begins by weaving the straw and pine needles into a typical bowl shaped nest up to 4 inches tall. She will then line it with fine grasses and occasionally a few feathers. Bluebirds tend to keep a very tidy nest so you will not see a lot of the junk and trash you might see in the nest of HOSP or other invasive species.
Eastern Bluebird nest with 6 eggs
Typically broods consist of 3 – 6 powder blue eggs, though there are rare instances of white eggs. The female bluebird incubates the eggs for 12 – 16 days before they hatch. After hatching, egg shells and fragments will be disposed of almost immediately, either by eating or carrying off to a distant area to be discarded. You will often see your adult bluebirds leaving the nest with a white “cotton ball” or something. That “something” is called a fecal sac and contains the waste of her newly hatched brood. Keeping a clean nest is a great way to eliminate odors that may attract predators.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Eastern Bluebirds nest an average of 1.3 times per breeding season in northern climates and 1.8 times per season in southern climates. Our bluebird nesting data shows that our bluebirds nested an average of 2.8 times per year over the last nine years. (We believe this would be at least 3.0 times per year but for the missing 2004 data). More than double the 1.3 average for our region.

How can you get these same results? Feeding a nutritionally complete diet is the secret and that is exactly what Avian Cuisine Wild Bird Foods are: 100% nutritionally complete wild bird foods.

Pileated Woodpecker

(Dryocopus Pileatus)
Pileated Woodpeckers are generally shy and elusive making them difficult to attract to feeders but not impossible. This post is intended to supply you with the information you need to improve your chances of attracting pileated woodpeckers to your feeders.

At 15 to 19 inches long with a wing span of over 2 feet the pileated is about the size of a crow and the largest woodpecker still living in North America. Unfortunately this distinction came with the probable loss of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker that has not been seen in the United States since 1987 at the latest due to indiscriminate logging.

Combine its size with the distinctive pointed red crest, black body and broad white stripe that starts on the face and extends down the neck and the pileated woodpecker is one of the easiest birds to identify. The underside of the wing is white. Males have a red mustache and forehead while the females are black.
Pileateds live in pairs year round throughout the eastern United States and western reaches of Washington and California along the Pacific coast as well as parts of Idaho and North Dakota. They use their long chisel shaped bill and sticky tongue to dig out carpenter ants and beetle larvae from trees. The large 3 to 6 inch rectangular holes are unmistakable and once abandoned are used by many other birds and small mammals. The excavations can be so large that they weaken smaller trees.

The hammering sound made by a pileated while foraging, seeking a mate or carving out a home is quite loud and can be heard over long distances. Pileated woodpeckers are cavity nesters that create their own cavities in large dead trees that already have hollow centers. Nests can be anywhere from 15 feet high to well over 50 feet. The females will usually lay about 4 eggs and take turns with the male incubating the eggs during the day but at night incubation is solely the responsibility of the male.

Although pileateds generally live in mature, old growth forests filled with large trees they appear to be adapting to civilization and it is becoming more common to see them in new growth forests, parks and the outer limits of large cities as long as there are large trees available for nesting.

To attract pileated woodpeckers to your property leave dead trees standing, unless unsafe, then cut down but leave the logs lay to decay naturally. If possible leave an area of your property ungroomed or natural, don’t mow the grass or remove stumps, fallen branches or logs these are all major sources of food. You may be able to entice a pair of pileateds to take up residence on your property by placing a nesting box in an older tree. Make sure you put the nest box at least 16 feet up the chosen tree. The box should have a floor that is at least 8 by 8 inches and an internal height of at least 20 inches. The entrance hole needs to be 3 to 4 inches and at least 12 inches up from the floor.

Another way to attract pileated woodpeckers to your backyard is to offer Avian Cuisine Wild Bird Foods. Although beetle larvae and ants are their favorite’s pileateds will also dine on fruit and nuts. Avian Cuisine offers several varieties of food to help lure these beautiful birds to your feeders such as Nutri-Cakes Bug Buffet, Fruit Feast and the always popular Broad Spectrum. One your local pileated has discovered this energy and nutrient rich source of food they are sure to return again and again.

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Suet and Wild Birds

What exactly are you feeding to your wild birds when you offer them suet cakes, plugs, balls, bells or blocks?

Well, in the simplest of terms you’re feeding them FAT. Wild bird suet is nothing more than a big glob of nasty animal fat. Sure suet contains a lot of the energy rich calories required by birds, but they‘re empty calories, containing absolutely zero nutritional value.  Imagine sitting down at the dinner table and being served a nice block of beef fat for dinner.  Maybe the chef has added some peanut pieces, sunflower seeds or raisins to make it look more attractive to you but in the end, no matter how you dress it up, it’s still just fat. Not a very appetizing thought is it? Doesn’t sound very healthy either.

Most commercial bird suet products are designed with humans in mind to help you attract wild birds to your feeders for your viewing pleasure with little to no thought given to the question of whether or not it is actually good for wild birds. Why is that? Simple, it’s cheap to produce, easy to market and it will without question attract birds to your feeders, which is usually enough to make the casual backyard bird feeder happy. It’s also a great benefit to the beef industry since they don’t have the cost of disposing of this processing by-product. Instead they make money from it by selling it to wild bird food manufacturers. The problem is that nutritionally speaking; in the long term suet does nothing for wild birds. In the short term it may increase survivor rates marginally but that’s not even a consideration in the formulation and manufacturing process of most suet products. The one true purpose of suet cakes and the like is to attract birds to our feeders for our entertainment with no consideration given to whether or not it is of any real benefit to wild birds.

Suet product recipes are formulated around the melting point of the fat being used. The lower the melting point, the softer the suet cake, the higher the melting point the harder the end product will be.  The so called “no-melt” suet products intended to be offered in warmer summer months are usually made of tallow. What is tallow? As defined by meriam-webster, tallow is the white, nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants. SOAP and CANDLE WAX?  Would you eat that? Better yet, would you feed that to your child? Of course not, so why would you feed it to the wild birds that bring you so much joy?

Melting points of fat are determined by saturation. The higher the saturation levels the higher the melting point. Besides determining the temperature at which fat will melt, saturation also determines digestibility, with lower saturation levels equating to easier digestion. Higher melting points mean that your suet cakes will not turn into a big sloppy mess lying on the ground but it also means that they are far harder for birds to digest.

Wild birds require high calorie foods because of their high metabolic rate. Flying and foraging take an incredible amount of energy and stamina. The question is… is there a better way to provide this energy than offering beef fat as a dietary supplement?  The answer is yes. Vegetable shortening is much easier to digest and provides the same get-up-and-go as animal fat. If you consider the amount of energy it takes to digest the food you supply then vegetable shortening would be the optimal choice since it requires less energy to digest than suet.  This benefit is especially important in the winter months when food supplies are at their lowest. In the winter a wild bird’s nutritional health levels and immune system will already be compromised, so the less energy it takes to digest the food the greater the benefit of eating that food. If you throw in all the required vitamins and minerals into the recipe you will be providing the best of both worlds, lot’s of energy and nutrition all in one nice package.

So the next time you’re considering which suet product to purchase to attract wild birds to your backyard ask yourself one more question. Which product offers the greater health benefit to the birds you love so much?

Feeding Wild Birds

On March 19, 2009, the US Department of the Interior released a new report on the national “State of the Birds”. It’s notlooking good for wild birds. They need our help.  Basically it says that wild bird populations are declining in many habitats and that this could be an indicator of future trends.

According to the Report, 75 million Americans, or 1 in every 4, consider themselves birdwatchers. 50 million of us feed wild birds. Despite this fact, we continue to destroy the habitats that wild birds need to forage, nest and raise their young at an alarming rate. The destruction of natural habitat areas, no matter how small, is at least in part responsible for declining populations.

People are feeding wild birds for a variety of reasons, including entertainment, relaxation, and observing nature. Most importantly though, many of us feed wild birds to provide meaningful support to local populations by feeding a supplemental seed mix or suet product.  Wild birds have a relatively high metabolic rate that requires them to feed on a regular and consistent basis. Many birds die during the winter, during droughts, cold spells, prolonged rains, and any other conditions that reduce the availability of food, leading to stress, weakness, reduced resistance to disease and parasites, and starvation. Feeding wild birds can help sustain populations when natural food supplies are hard to find.

Whether your goal is just to attract wild birds to a feeding station for your personal enjoyment or to provide your local birds with a supplemental food source that aids in maintaining nutritional health and reproduction, feeding preferences of birds are very important in determining what type of food products will best meet your needs.

In general, wild birds can be grouped together by the types of feed they eat. This does not necessarily mean that seed-eaters, for example, eat only seed. It just means they prefer seed to other foods and specific types of seed to others.

It is important to remember that most birds select food in order of their preferences. While there are a number of types of feed, feeding wild birds usually involves only four:
A. Seed or grain feeders like finches and sparrows.
B. Fruit feeders like tanagers and cat birds.
C. Insect feeders like blue birds and woodpeckers.
D. Nectar feeders like hummingbirds and orioles.

Another important fact to consider, especially when selecting which type of feeder to use, is your specific wild bird species feeding habits. Some wild birds including robins and doves forage on the ground. Others like woodpeckers and nuthatches forage on the bark of trees. Goldfinches and other seed eaters forage on the seed heads of grasses.

The majority of people that are feeding wild birds are casual bird feeders. They feed birds on a part time basis and mainly for the personal pleasure of viewing wild bird behavior. Casual bird feeders do not consider whether or not they are doing anything to actually help support their local wild bird populations by providing a nutritionally balanced, dependable source of food.

Most wild bird foods on the market are formulated for their ability to attract birds. Nutritional value is not a consideration. Seed mixes and suet are JUNK FOOD for birds; they contain a lot of energy but little nutritional value.

Feeding wild birds responsibly is very easy to do. Simply provide your local wild birds with a regular, dependable source of food that is nutritionally complete. By doing so you will improve the nutritional health of the wild birds in your area leading to earlier nestings, more nestings per season and an increase in populations.

Considering that we are at least partially responsible for declining populations and that many of us take great pleasure in watching wild birds should we not do our best to provide a reliable, healthy source of food? By feeding wild birds responsibly you can improve the overall nutritional health of your local populations and increase survival rates.

Given all the enjoyment wild birds provide us with don’t we owe it to them to give something back?