Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Habitat for Avianbirdity

It's wintertime...again

Well, did you get everything you wanted for Christmas this year? Has your life been thoroughly enriched by celebrating "quality time" with relatives and loved ones? (Note the careful separation of the two terms, just in case they are not necessarily synonymous in your life) and finally ask the BIG question; Am I ready for 6 more (months) of winter!?

Well, after you park that big ole' snow-eating machine in the garage for the third time today, stomp off your brown Sorrels on the back door rug, and grab a cup of hot sustenance, it may be time to look inward to your basement for a temporary solution to shack-happy a bird house. Why a bird house you ask? Well, firstly it's a "birding" blog you have stumbled across (hell-oooh). Secondly, you have always wanted to build one right? Thirdly, It can be very therapeutic and relaxing (if you have been "cleared" on the use of power tools) Fourthly, what were you going to do with all those scrap pieces of wood taking up space and gathering dust anyway? Fifthly (is that truly a word I ask you?) and finally, the birds will thank you so why not?

There are plenty of resources for this worthy endeavor in your local library, bookstore, nearby nature center or pet store. Here are a few links to on-line information you might try as well, but the Internet is FULL of places to surf towards. (Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3 - Link 4) The most inportant aspect of creating a suitable (ready to move in) dwelling would be the hole size of the entrance, and whether or not there is a perch just outside it. Different birds require different accomodations so begin with which species you wish to assist with house-hunting. Start by noticing which birds you see in your area and build-to-suit. No sense constructing a "spec-home" for upscale birds from uptown, when your neighborhood seems to attract only middle-class shoppers. That's not to say that there are "more desirable" birds that deserve a place to live, while others do not. It's just to state the obvious fact that if (just because) you build it, they might not come (anyway). So with that nugget in mind, here are a few specific homes for specific birds: Chickadee - Wren - Robin - Bluebird - Wood Duck. Know also that many birds will not utilize a bird house regardless of it's splendor and craftsmanship...they just don't do hard sides and a roof. Don't get discouraged if the birds don't find it immediately, or even in the first year it has been hung either. Give it time. Give them time.

There are as many schools of thought regarding which birds are "deserving" of houses as there are discussions and disagreement about even allowing certain birds to live at all. I'm not in those circles and probably would have my membership card (if I had one) retracted for not adhering to "the code" or something, so I just do my own thing. For instance, several years ago I built a house specifically for the many House Sparrows which my yard consistantly attracts. I wanted to build a piece of "functional art" more so than boring accomodation, so I began with the idea of an old western town. I used old barn wood over symetrically square cubicles to decorate the outer sides. I incorporated scenes from old photographs and details from movies I enjoy to create the motif I was hoping for. The result was a pleasing to the eye main street scene, all ready for occupancy, multi-level apartment for the lowly House (formerly English) Sparrow. I really prefer the older term for these hearty stallworts of the urban jungle. I sense another blog topic in here somewhere regarding these misunderstood survivors. The Blue Book of Birds of America (1931) says, "Imported into America and liberated at Brooklyn, N. Y. about 1850, the English sparrow, because of its bullying attitude toward other birds and its destructive habits, is looked upon as an undesirable should not be confused with our desirable native sparrows." Well la-dee-da I say...I still root for the Green Bay Packers even though Brett has been gone all season, their defense blows, and they missed this year's playoffs. I wish for all fat kids to make the swim team and for nice guys to finally get in the front of the buffet line. Furthermore I say, hurrah for the lowly undesirable English (House) sparrow...Welcome Home ya'll...Welcome!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Seven Swans a Swimming, Six Geese a Laying...

The Twelve Days of Christmas must have been written by a birder.

Who has not sung or is not familiar with all the counting that goes on in that most famous of Christmas Carols? Did you ever wonder why all the fuss about counting birds? Someone must have been fixated then and probably still is to this day, especially at this time of year. The Christmas Bird Count, or CBC has been going on since the year 1900 with (now) tens of thousands of participants. Granted the majority are not "egg"-headed scientist types, just ordinary citizens doing the counting, but the Audubon Society has been "counting" on them for over 100 years to "feather" their nest of information on birds. The Enderis Park Bird Watching Club (EPBWC) did their part once again this year for the cause. Although 14" of fresh snow had fallen the day before in the Milwaukee area, 6 intrepid "counters" took wing (first for a doughnut and cup of Joe) and then to their mini vans, Durango, and Prius. With maps of "area 16 and 20" in their midst, the group stepped out into the 27 degree air and looked skyward.

The wind brought the temps near zero degrees but that did not dissuade Tammy, Don, Jill, Julie, Nola (and the Birdstud here) from carefully scanning each tree, bush, and open area for their quarry and putting a dash mark aside each enumerated species. Why do this you may ask? My answer would be; Why Not?! The data is valuable, the camaraderie exceptional, plus it's fun to get your fanny outside in the elements from time to time for the sheer exercise. Area 20 was covered by the group in the AM and Area 16 by me in the PM.

The counts we submitted to the Schlitz Audubon Center on Saturday December 20th are as follows:

Area 20 (Final Count)
American Crow - 5
American Robin - 31
Goldfinch - 100
House Finch - 7
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 3
Dark-eyed Junco - 4
Northern Cardinal - 9
House Sparrow - 31
European Starling - 105
Northern Flicker - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 13
Cooper's Hawk - 2
Mourning Dove - 5
Pigeon - 27
Herring Gull - 5
Mallard - 10
Blue jay - 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk - 1
Red-tailed Hawk - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 3
Total Birds -

Area 16 (Final Count)
American Crow - 8
American Robin - 30
Goldfinch - 35
House Finch - 35
White-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Downy Woodpecker - 3
Dark-eyed Junco - 19
Northern Cardinal - 16
House Sparrow - 60
European Starling - 180
Black-capped Chickadee - 10
Mourning Dove - 13
Herring Gull - 3
Mallard - 10
Fox Sparrow - 1
Tree Sparrow - 1
Total Birds - 426