Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's That Time of Year

Credit Maslowski Wildlife

It's fall and the birds are migrating. As such, we've had geese overhead every morning and afternoon now for a week or so. We've also had new visitors, a pair of White Crowned Sparrows. Add another species to the list. Pretty neat.

Fall is the time when a lot of folks start thinking about feeding the birds over the winter. It's a nice thing and can provide a lot of pleasure and entertainment. There are a few caveats, however. One is, keep an eye out for diseased birds. If you see any birds with eye infections, don't fill your feeder for a couple days and before you refill it, wash it well with a mild bleach solution. You don't want to be spreading diseases to the birds you're attracting to your feeder.

The next thing you need to be aware of is invasive species. I know that house sparrows are cute, but they are non-native. In point of fact, they displace other cavity-nesters. If you want to know why you've not seen a blue bird in a while, European house sparrows are the reason. They will take over the nest of any other bird and if necessary, kill it or any young in the cavity. Normally, this would be one of those unpleasant, but natural realities. The problem is, it's NOT natural.

House sparrows are not natural in this habitat. The birds that live here can't compete with this aggressive bird. If we allow them or encourage them to spread, we'll stand the risk of entirely losing some of our native species.

So, what to do? First, don't put out cheap bird food or bread. Sparrows love the millet and other filler grains/seeds and the other birds don't. Don't attract and specifically feed the sparrows. Use thistle seed and black oil sunflower. The sparrows will eat it, but they'd rather eat bread, corn, or millet. Secondly, consider initiating an a sparrow eradication program, if you can stomach it.

There's ample information on sparrows here

One other thing. If you decide on the eradication route, make very, very sure you can identify a house sparrow from all the other "little brown birds". A house sparrow looks a lot like the native bird above, especially the female. Other look-alikes are house finches and in some cases native song sparrows.

The first place to start is here.

After that, Cornell has a fantastic birding site. Here's the White Crowned Sparrow link, but you can use them for almost any bird identification.

Anyway, thanks to my sharp eyes and the native sparrow visitor, we have three additions to our urban back yard critter list. One is a red-headed woodpecker. The other is the European wall lizard (more on him, here.)

Credit Ohio DNR.

The list so far:

Canadian Geese
Mallard Ducks
Turkey Vultures
Red Tailed Hawk
White-footed Mice
Grey Squirrels
Mourning Dove
Rock Dove
Downy Woodpecker
European Starlings (invasive)
English Sparrows (invasive)
Chimney Swifts
Blue Jay
Garter Snakes
Carolina Wren
Brown Thrasher
American Kestrel
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Mocking Bird
Tree Swallow
House Finch
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker
Ruby-throated Humming Bird
Sharp-shinned Hawk (or perhaps a Cooper's Hawk)
Red-headed Woodpecker
European Wall (Lazarus) Lizards
White Crowned Sparrow

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