WILD ABOUT BIRDS: Birds cash in on caches to survive winter
It is caching (hiding seed for later consumption) season and many birds are cashing in on the abundance of natural food sources for a better chance at surviving the coming harsh weather. And birds remember, very accurately, where they stash each morsel.
Chickadees prefer to cache black oil sunflower seeds, often eating a small portion before hiding it in and under bark, dead leaves, knotholes, clusters of pine needles, gutters, shingles or in the ground. They like to cache seeds within 130 feet of bird feeders, regardless of whether the cache is within your yard or a neighbor’s yard. Chickadees cache more in the middle of the day when visiting feeders.
Nuthatches prefer heavier sunflower seeds over the lighter ones. Be sure to have some sunflower chips in your blend as they like these 25% more often than seeds in the shell. They cache more in the morning and prefer to hide foods on deeply furrowed tree trunks and the underside of branches. Nuthatches are also known to hide seeds under a shingle or behind wooden siding.
Jays love to cache peanuts and they are especially fond of peanuts in the shell. They bury them in the ground and are known to cache about 100 in a day, emptying a feeder in no time. Watch them make repeated trips to your feeders (or an oak tree) and fly off. Try counting how many small seeds they can stuff into their crop before flying off to cache them. Some have stuffed up to 100 sunflower seeds in one sitting. They can travel up to a few miles away to bury their nutritious treasure.
At this time of year, blackbirds (starlings, grackles, cowbirds, and redwings) are flocking together and their flocks can number in the thousands. If they are taking over your feeders, you can blacklist those blackbirds. Blackbirds are natural perchers, and will sit on the ground or a branch when foraging. A feeder that doesn’t have perches so birds have to cling to it to feed helps solve the problem. Perching to eat is easy enough for many different backyard songbirds while blackbirds are kept from the food. Also, feeders with a small perching area that keeps the larger birds from landing can also help.
Starlings’ bills are made to gape open. You can see this while they forage on the ground gaping at leaf litter or soft dirt to expose seeds, insects, etc. So they have a tough time cracking open safflower’s hard shell making it a great problem solver food. Other blackbird species tend not to eat safflower also adding to the great solver solution.
There are cages to go around various tube-style feeders to deny larger birds access to bird foods. You can also purchase a combination cage with a built-in tube feeder that will perform the same large bird-limiting function.
We talked about molting in a previous article. You now may be able to see that the American Goldfinches are molting into a dull, nondescript color, even changing the color of their beak and legs from orange to black.
Many birds are finishing up their molting this month. Evidence of this can be seen in their wings. Look for a short or missing feather on each wing while birds soar overhead.
Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.
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