Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nest Building & Mohair

Nesting material dispenser filled and ready for action.

One of the many blessings of being the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest is that I sometimes get sent products to try out and provide feedback on to the manufacturer. Many of these products are great ideas that never make it in the marketplace for one reason or another. Others do make it and become part of the vast landscape of bird-watching and nature products.

I do my best to look all of them over and offer my opinion. But I don't always "get" what the products are about, so some of them inevitably get sent back, or donated to bird clubs or school nature groups. And some of them find a spot in our very messy garage.

I have no idea when BWD received the BirdNEST FEEDERS of Loretta's Blue Star. I happened to find the package while working on my tractor a few weeks ago, and saw that this product was a way to offer nesting material to birds. Since spring was about to be sprung, I took the dusty package outside for a better look. Inside was a foot-long piece of tree branch with quarter-inch holes drilled through it; a package of white animal fur, and an eight-inch piece of copper wire with one hooked end. The white fur was all-natural mohair fiber from Angora goats, which the packaging told me lived on the manufacturer's family farm in Bonner's Ferry, Idaho.

The instructions were easy enough: poke some mohair into a hole and pull it through using the copper hook, so it hangs loosely out of both sides of the log. Place dowels in some of the adjacent holes for birds to use as perches, slip the chain through the screw-eye and hang it near your bird feeders. In three minutes I had all of these things done and decided to hang the new attractant on the deck, near the suet-dough feeding station used by titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches.
Tufted titmouse gathering mohair from the dispenser.

Just hours later, I had my first customer. A tufted titmouse. Its mate watched excitedly from nearby as the titmouse tugged and pulled a huge bill-full of material out of the hole. I got a few images and tried to get some video—so far no luck due more to my schedule than the birds' interest. When I got back from a week away, most of the mohair was gone.



I like to think that some tufted titmouse eggs are nice and toasty, nestled in mohair inside a tree cavity on our farm. It's been a cold spring and I could use a little mohair myself.

Seeing how effective this homemade product was, I got online and looked for birdNEST FEEDERS of Loretta's Blue Star, Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, to see if the product was still being made. No accurate results were found, unfortunately, and the packaging has no contact information, so I can't point you in the direction of the manufacturer. But I can encourage you to make your own nesting material dispenser. You can re-create this idea, or simply offer a basket or mesh bag of hair clippings for the birds to work into their nest building. A few years ago we put out a small wicker basket of Phoebe's red hair trimmings and watched the front yard chipping sparrows gather it up. That fall we found their nest in the Japanese maple tree, completely lined with red hair.



Just remember that pieces of string or fiber longer than 2 inches are a potential tangling hazard for nestlings, and things like dryer lint and felt retain water rather than shed it. For this reason I think the fine strands of mohair, with their water-shedding and heat insulating properties, might be a good compromise. Our titmice surely seem to love it!

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Osprey Fly-by

Merritt Island NWR near Titusville, Florida is a world-famous birding hotspot. But it's perhaps even more popular among bird and nature photographers for the opportunity to burn up film—or electrons—on glamorous creatures such as wood storks, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, American alligators, plus large numbers of herons, egrets, shorebirds, and waterfowl.

Early and late in the day, Black Point Wildlife Drive is busy with vehicles full of folks seeking that perfect nature image. The cars, trucks, and vans drive along very slowly, with all manner of optical and photographic gear poking out of the open windows.

I was standing next to my rental car on Merritt's Black Point Drive one fine morning in late January, when a male osprey came up off a nearby impoundment. He was not carrying a fish. He was carrying nesting material. It was a part of a palm frond, soaked and heavy from the water. The osprey labored low across the water, then along the shore next to me, passing so close that I could hear the air in his wings. At his nearest point, he was too close for me to get a photo with my 300mm lens.

We eyed each other and I gave him the thumbs up for his obvious industriousness. It made me wonder if ospreys pairs understand the concept of the "honey-do list"?

Here's the series of images that I did manage to get.








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Monday, September 22, 2008

Bluebird Party


There were nine eastern bluebirds perched on the tower the other morning. These birds are forming loose family flocks for the fall and winter. We've rarely seen them in the past few weeks. After the last brood of summer fledges, our bluebirds disperse to forage away from the over-hunted area near the nest site.

I think they were coming by to see if the suet dough or mealworms were out yet (no, not yet). It's nice to have them back (lazy freeloaders that they are!).

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