Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pine Siskins, Salmonella, and Suet Recall

Bird watchers in this area reported that Pine Siskins as well as a few finches were dying a couple of weeks ago. Several people reported that they found 4 or 5 dead pine siskins in their yard or under their feeders. One person said that he saw a pine sisken that was just sitting on the ground, all fluffed out, before it died.

One bird watcher researched online and reported that the cause was probably salmonella because the symptoms match. Pine siskins are especially susceptible because they are small, tend to feed a lot on the ground, and in large numbers.

The cause of the salmonella could be either suet cakes containing contaminated peanuts or from contaminated feeders or perhaps the ground below.

Recall of Suet Cakes

Scott is recalling some suet cakes that contain peanuts obtained from the Peanut Corporation, the source of the recent human salmonella outbreak. Most of these cakes are under the Morning Song or Royal Wing brand name. The pdf file link has images of the recalled items. I think I've seen them at Target.

Care of Feeders

Dr. Ellen Reynolds wrote about this problem and recommended increased attention to bird feeder maintenance:
"You can help prevent a build-up of potentially lethal bacteria at your feeding stations through weekly cleaning and routine disinfection of bird tables, feeders and drinkers. The areas beneath the feeders can also quickly become contaminated and should be kept as clean as possible, with any uneaten food removed on a routine basis."
In her post, you will find photos of sick pine siskins and much more detailed information on taking care of wild birds in the wintertime. She also has some good images of recommended bird feeders (Thanks to Clyde, local naturalist for the tip).

At Our Feeders

I have only noticed one dead pine siskin and I suspect it flew into a window. My dog was carrying it around the yard (that pesky Kookie). I will observe the birds to see if they exhibit any of those symptoms but so far, so good.

This afternoon, I raked and disposed of the sunflower seed hulls on the ground as Dr. Reynolds recommends. I do this more often the rest of the year but the critical time for this type of maintenance is winter. I try to clean the feeders once a week.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sugar Maple and Sapsucker: Be My Valentine!

This post really does have something to do with Valentine's Day--just keep reading.

Tuesday was a warm day, in the 60s, and sunny--perfect for working in the yard. My dog, Kookie, was busy chasing after chipmunks who were out that day. She chases them into their hole and then digs them out (why don't they just go up a tree?). Anyway, I just couldn't stand listening to her barking and digging, knowing that some poor little chipmunk was scared to death so I went after her.

Kookie was down in a hollow. I eased down the steep bank, using the trunk of a Sugar Maple to brace myself. That's when I realized it was completely wet. Examining the trunk, I found several holes, freshly drilled no doubt by the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. I tasted the water and it was faintly sweet--sap!

Later that afternoon, I went back to photograph the tree trunk but it was mostly dry. Before I approached the tree, I saw the sapsucker on a nearby hickory tree, drilling holes and somewhat annoyed at my presence.

This photo shows one hole on the sugar maple tree, about 1/4" in diameter with some sap still there. The hole is no deeper than about 1/2."

The crease on the right side of the trunk was caused by a series of holes done by the sapsucker in previous years. Most of the hickory trees (except shagbark) have these creases on them.

In the past, I wondered why the trunk of the Sugar Maple tree was black. Had it burned once? That's unlikely since the other trees were not black but most of the sugar maples were. I was thinking how the whole trunk was wet from the holes so this moisture probably fosters the growth of black mildew, something like you get in a shower.

The last two photos were taken this morning and the trunk was dry again. Was it because it was a little cooler (50s) and the sap wasn't running? Or, does the sapsucker have to drill new holes to get sap every time? I bet Nina can tell me since she taps sugar maples every year.

When I got back to the house, I made a Valentine wreath for the birds (similar to my holiday wreath--the post has the recipe for the suet cake). I hung the wreath on a small oak tree. By the time I got back inside, a downy woodpecker had already started eating.

Here is the wreath just a few minutes later with a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on it. He's been there for most of the afternoon, feasting on the peanut butter suet cake in the heart shaped cookie cutters and the little mesh bags full of peanut butter suet.

This White-Breasted Nuthatch has been sharing the wreath with the sapsucker.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone and please don't forget the birds.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Garlic Mustard

I just came across this video about eradicating Garlic Mustard. I learned some new things about getting rid of it--like don't just pull up the plant when it's blooming and toss it on the ground. It still will go to seed. Although I can't say I have as much of a problem with it as portrayed in the video, I definitely would like to get rid of this invasive weed. So, I put the labels here in case I need to look it up again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hooded Warbler Nest?

My husband found this nest on his walk down the driveway to get the morning paper the other day:

The measurements are:
  • 1-1/2 to 1-3/4" inside diameter
  • 2-1/2 to 3" outside diameter
  • 1-1/2" height

He found the nest where our driveway goes over a culvert over a cove area. It appeared to have fallen out of a lower branch of a yellow poplar tree. This is the same area and perhaps the same tree I saw a pair of hooded warblers last summer. Maybe they were protecting their nest.

The measurements correspond with those of the Hooded Warbler's nest in the Peterson field guide Eastern Birds' Nests. In addition, the outside of the nest is covered with a white substance that secures the nest. The book states that the nest is "Neat, compact; built of dead leaves. . . , grasses and lined with soft grasses . . . often fastened with spider silk." Sounds pretty close to the description of this nest--the white stuff could be spider silk. Also, the photograph in the book looked very similar.

I also saw a Red-Eyed Vireo in that area but its nest is decorated on the outside with lichens. I did not see any lichens on this nest. Of course, the nest is not fresh and may have had lichens at one time.

So, what do you think? Have you ever seen a Hooded Warbler's nest?