This is a wonderful time of year to get outdoors before the more frigid weather hits. Take a pair of binoculars and enjoy the birds that you can find. Watch for hawks sitting along the roadway. It’s great fun just to keep track of the number of birds you can see. Just a short drive down a county road or walk on a trail can produce an amazing variety of bird species.
The ducks and geese are really getting restless this month, and soon they will be heading toward their winter territories in the Southern States. Some will remain if they locate open water. Salt Creek, Haines Branch, Oak Creek and Little Salt Creek remain open in places during the winter due to the salinity of the water. Several small tributaries into Salt Creek remain open as well passing through the salt marshes. These saline waters only occur on the west side of Salt Creek. On the east side plenty of fresh water streams form a confluence with Salt Creek. These riparian areas provide an abundance of birds as well. Steven’s Creek, Antelope Creek, Dead Man’s Run, and Beale’s Slough. Several of these creeks have trails, primitive and improved, that run adjacent to them or cross them several times. The Salt Creek watershed of lakes, too many to mention, also support many birds until they freeze up for the winter. But when the ice “comes off” in late February and early March, these lakes attract a large number aquatic birds along with Bald Eagles collecting winter kill fish as the ice breaks up. Nebraska hosts one of the largest number of bird species in the United States, and may very possibly be one of the best birding regions on the North American Continent.
If you have a bird bath that you use a heater in during the winter months, you may want to think about getting it out. Get it cleaned up and make certain it is in working order. Do the freezer test. Place your heater in the freezer for twenty minutes. This will activate the thermostat. Remove it from the freezer and plug it in. It should begin to warm up. The bird bath heaters and de-icers we carry either work or not. If they only warm up a little, then chances are they may need a vinegar bath to remove scale from the previous seasons use. After that they should work fine.
Although many people reported a lack of birds over the past few weeks, they are now beginning to return to the feeders, and many more will join them. In September many natural foods become available, and the birds will take advantage of those foods, knowing it won’t last. They also know where the bird feeders are and will use them as a supplemental food source when colder nights require more energy. This is why we recommend keeping your feeders filled during this slow period. As northern birds return for the winter, and the temperatures continue to slide toward zero, I guarantee the activity at the bird feeders will return. We have been having numerous reports of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Goldfinch, Junco’s and native sparrows showing up at the bird feeders, along with our permanent resident birds. With the early winter storms to the north, it may drive many more northern finches into our area including the Pine Siskin that can be very abundant some years. Common Red Polls, Red and White–winged Crossbills, and Purple Finch may appear in your yard at any time. No one ever knows what bird may drop by their backyard, so be observant.
It seems as though it is the casual bird feeder who notices an unusual bird appear in their yard. The main thing is if you do see a bird show up that is not one of the common birds that visit your bird feeder, try to identify it. Keep a field guide and binoculars handy. If you can’t identify a specific bird contact the Wild Bird Habitat Store or someone who can help. Most of the really rare birds are found in this manner.
Become a citizen scientist for the 117th—2016/2017 Christmas Bird Count where tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas will take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations., counting birds for biologists. Watch for more details in Wild Bird Habitat’s December newsletter or visit http://www.audubon.org/join-christmas-bird-count
Will we have snow before Wild Bird Habitat’s December newsletter is on the shelf? Hard to say, but winter is fast approaching. Keep the suet out as it provides a good source of energy for woodpeckers and nuthatches. More and more Carolina Wrens are reported every year choosing to spend the winter in northern states. This is a wren that typically migrates to southeastern state. Although not very winter hardy we receive numerous reports of their presence during the winter months. They will occasionally call during the winter when most birds are silent. This bird has the typical turned up tail as do all wrens but sports a bright white eyebrow making identification fairly easy. But they two will find the suet feeder an attractive source of high energy animal protein along with shelled peanuts.
It is much easier getting your backyard bird feeders and water sources ready for winter now than it is when the temperatures drop below freezing and the snow starts blowing. Get your bird bath ready to go so birds have an available source of fresh water. Remember birds have numerous food sources they have identified and will rely on during the winter months. But water can be a resource which is difficult to locate outdoors in freezing temperatures. In fact in extremely frigid temperatures you can attract more birds with open water than just bird feeders alone. If you have not had water available for birds in the winter, maybe this would be a good year to add it to your bird feeding program.
Keep the feeders filled. Maybe add a new style of bird feeder this year to attract a larger variety of birds. Keep the binoculars handy and a good field guide close by. If you want to move your bird feeders so they are more visible from inside the house, now is a good time to do it. If you need any hardware, Wild Bird Habitat has a variety of hooks, poles, and hangers and plenty of good information on setting up or improving your backyard bird feeding program. We hope everyone has an enjoyable winter birding season.