Tag Archives: Bird feeding

Gift suggestions for the bird-lovers on your Christmas shopping list

Although some people like to get an early start on holiday shopping, I’m certain some, like myself, are still in the process of checking those lists. If you’re looking for some ideas for bird and nature enthusiasts on your list, I’ll make a few modest suggestions that could result in making the season merry and bright.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Field guides are an essential tool for bird identification.

Field guides
If you’ve enjoyed watching the birds that congregate at your feeders or noticing the visitors to your yard and gardens, but you’ve also become curious about the identities of all your feathered visitors, it might be time for a helpful and informative field guide. I prefer field guides illustrated with paintings rather than photographs, but I have a varied collection of guides. I started a long time ago with the Golden Guide to Birds. It’s a classic and still a great guide to help interest children in the birds around them.
Some of the guides I recommend and use myself these days are National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, and Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Any of these field guides should be easily found online or in stores at a cost of under $20.
If you have already acquired a good basic field guide, perhaps you’re ready for more specialized field guides that focus on particular families of birds or on the behavior of backyard birds.
For the warblers, there are several field guides available, including the Stokes Field Guide to Warblers, A Field Guide to Warblers of North America (Peterson Field Guides), and the Warbler Guide.
For a handy guide to identify some of the birds seen on beach and coastal vacations, consider such titles as Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Shorebirds and Shorebirds: An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World, and National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Birds of Sea and Shore.
For fans of hawks and allied raptors, several guides exist including A Field Guide to Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guides), Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons, and Vultures of North America, and Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight.
In short, there’s a field guide for every family and grouping of birds. With expertly rendered illustrations or photographs, brief and concise text, and helpful range maps, nothing beats a good field guide forYea, improving one’s ability to identify birds. I recommend thumbing through the pages of a good guide over trying to randomly use Google to search online for a bird glimpsed for a brief time.


Photo by Pixabay.com • A well-stocked feeder is a first step toward attracting more birds to your yard.

Bird feeders come in an astounding variety of shapes and sizes. Nothing will do more to bring birds into our daily lives than maintaining a well-stocked feeder. Be certain to include a bag of sunflower seeds so that your gift will allow the recipient to immediately begin to enjoy the parade of birds sure to flock to the feeder.


Photo by Bryan Stevens • Birds, like this Eastern bluebird, appreciate nest boxes.

It’s never too early to start thinking about spring and the return of many of our favorite birds. To bring more birds into our lives, it doesn’t hurt to encourage them by providing man-made nesting and roosting boxes. Many of our favorite birds — Eastern bluebird, tree swallow, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch — are cavity-nesting species but will just as readily raise their young in nesting boxes as in a hole in a tree. With boxes customized to their own particular needs, other birds such as Eastern screech-owl, wood duck and great crested flycatcher will also make use of bird boxes. Many gardening centers, produce stands, feed stores and other shopping outlets sell bird boxes of various designs, shapes and sizes. If you’re shopping for a bluebird box, be certain that the recipient’s yard is a spacious one. Bluebirds feel more comfortable in open surroundings. If the yard is more overgrown and woodsy, consider a box tailored more for a woodland bird like a chickadee or a nuthatch.


Photo by Pixabay.com • A good pair of binoculars will bring birds much closer.

Unless requested, don’t buy binoculars for an adult. Most birders would prefer to pick out their own pair to use to make up-close and personal bird observations. An inexpensive pair, however, could be perfect for fostering in a child an interest in birds and nature. If you have grandchildren, children, or even nephews and nieces, a beginner’s pair of binoculars could make a life-altering gift that lets the recipient view the world in a whole new light.


Birds have always been a popular photography subject for calendars. There’s an almost endless variety of bird calendars, but I’m partial to one produced by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, of which I am a member. This annual fundraising endeavor features some exceptional bird photography from club members. This year’s calendar features full-color photographs of some of the region’s most colorful and engaging birds. The club sells the calendars for $15 each. For an additional $2 shipping fee, calendars can be sent to any address in the United States. All proceeds are used to support birding opportunities and bird-related causes.
The calendar also features an informative calendar grid with highlights for major holidays as well as important bird-related dates. The calendar’s pages feature more than 80 full-color photographs of area birds, including common favorites and some not-so-common visitors. The front cover features a dazzling photograph of a male rose-breasted grosbeak. If you’re interested in obtaining a calendar, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or look up Elizabethton Bird Club on Facebook.



Photo by Bryan Stevens • A bird-related Christmas ornament makes a nice gift.


The branches of my Christmas tree are always weighted heavily with a variety of bird-related Christmas ornaments. Holiday tinsel and baubles make the season look a lot like Christmas if they feature some of our favorite birds such as cardinals, chickadees, hummingbirds, penguins, doves, geese, eagles or any of the other popular species of birds. Choose a fun and unique bird ornament for the enthusiast on your Christmas list.

animals avian beaks birdhouse

Photo by Kevin Blanzy on Pexels.com

Unlikely orange-crowned warbler becomes daily visitor this winter at woman’s feeders

After you have fed the birds long enough, you’re going to get visits from “mystery” birds. No matter how thoroughly you thumb through the pages of your field guides or how many online Google searches you conduct, it can be hard to pin down the identity of certain birds, especially when you encounter them for the first time.


Photo by Rebecca Boyd • This orange-crowned warbler has found a favorable winter residence at the home of Rebecca Boyd in Knoxville, Tennessee, making frequent visits to suet feeders to supplement its usual diet of insects and berries.

In the summer and fall, young birds recently out of the nest can cause some confusion when they show up in the company of their parents at feeders. In the winter, often a season characterized by subdued plumages and nomadic wanderers, the surprise visitors can be one of the many “little brown birds” in the sparrow clan or a summer bird like an oriole or thrush that has decided to take a shot at overwintering.

Or, with greater frequency each winter, it might be one of the warblers. That was the case when Rebecca Boyd, a resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, contacted me recently via Facebook asking for assistance with a bird identification.


Photo by Rebecca Boyd • This orange-crowned warbler is one of the more nondescript members of the warbler family.

Although most of the warblers beat a hasty retreat from North America every fall, a handful of species have increasingly begun to spend the winter months far north of their usual tropical haunts. Some of these species include yellow-rumped warbler, pine warbler and palm warbler, but the low-profile orange-crowned warbler is also becoming more common between November and March, especially in yards and gardens offering supplemental food such as suet cakes.

The small greenish-yellow bird that showed up at Rebecca’s home was easily identified, thanks to some great photographs that she took of her visitor. I communicated to her that I believed her bird to be an orange-crowned warbler. She had also conducted her own research, which had also led her to that conclusion.


Photo by Rebecca Boyd • This orange-crowned warbler has found a home at the residence of Rebecca Boyd in Knoxville, Tennessee, this winter.

Rebecca said she also shared some photos with birding groups on Facebook, which brought some helpful feedback. “I’ve gotten numerous responses that orange-crowned warblers are becoming a lot more common on the east side of the Mississippi, with quite a few people saying they are seeing them in their yards, too,” Rebecca wrote.

The orange-crowned warbler is one of the more undistinguished members of this New World family of birds that numbers about 115 species. The bird gains its common name from a physical feature that is rarely seen — an orange patch of feathers that, unless the bird is extremely excited or agitated, is usually concealed beneath its dull greenish-yellow feathers. It’s not a field mark that’s considered reliable for identifying the bird.

Rebecca got a lucky break and managed to photograph this elusive feature on her visiting bird. She said the feathers on the bird’s head appeared wet, which may have explained the appearance of the orange crown.

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Photo by Rebecca Boyd • Wet feathers made the rarely seen orange crown visible on this orange-crowned warbler that has taken up residence at the home of Rebecca Boyd in Knoxville, Tennessee, this winter.

So, what does signify an orange-crowned warbler? The lack of wing bars, as well as the absence of a strong facial pattern is a strong indicator. The bird in Rebecca’s photo is not nearly as drab as this warbler can appear. Some appear very gray with only a hint of yellow or green in their plumage. There is often faint gray streaking evident in their yellow-green breast feathers. This warbler always shows yellow beneath its tail, a feature that is often only glimpsed as an observed bird is diving into cover. These birds also have sharp, thin bills. It’s usually a process of eliminating other suspects that brings birders to identify one of these warblers.

Unlike some warblers restricted to either the eastern or western United States, the orange-crowned warbler migrates and winters throughout the nation, east and west, although it primarily only nests within the western United States, as well as Alaska and Canada.

Although Rebecca said she has only been bird-watching and taking pictures for a little over a year, she has been a general point-and-shoot photography hobbyist for years. “My backyard is a bird paradise that attracts numerous and varied species,” Rebecca noted. “My favorites are bluebirds and hummingbirds, but the little warblers are also very special.”


Photo by Rebecca Boyd • Besides orange-crowned warbler, like this individual, other warblers on occasion winter in the United States. Species most often attempting to spend the winter months in the United States include palm warbler, pine warbler, and yellow-rumped warbler.

Most of the warblers are currently residing on the island of the the Caribbean, or far south in Central and South America. A few others spend the winter in Florida or other southern states. The 50 or so species that nest in the United States and Canada will begin arriving as early as next month, although the majority of these summer residents will arrive or pass through the region in late April and May.

So, while it has a colorful name, the orange-crowned warbler is one of the more drab and nondescript members of its family. Other warblers living throughout the Americas include flame-throated warbler, crescent-chested warbler, citrine warbler and arrowhead warbler.

I’ll just keep daydreaming on the occasional snowy day of the approach of spring, which signals that the kin of the orange-crowned warbler will be winging their way north again in only a couple more months. I, for one, can’t wait.


If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.


Photo by Rebecca Boyd • This orange-crowned warbler grabs a bit of suet from a feeder at the home of Rebecca Boyd in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Feeding birds occasionally brings uninvited guests to the table

I received a recent email from Flag Pond reader Amanda Austwick with the header, “Bird Feeders Damaged.” I get calls and emails about lots of unusual feeder visitors, but this one sort of stood out from the rest.

In the email, I was asked if I had any idea what would attack a bird feeder in late afternoon in June?

“I’ve heard of bears attacking a feeder in winter,” she wrote. “We do have bears up here, but I haven’t seen any in years.”

The damage to the feeders wasn’t minimal.

“One feeder was completely bent over on the ground,” she wrote.

At the time of the incident, there hadn’t been any rain. As a result, the animal that attacked the feeders left no prints.

I responded to the email with the belief that the animal responsible for the damage was likely a Black Bear.

“It sounds exactly like a bear,” I informed Amanda. “Actually, most of the reports of bears damaging feeders I have heard about have taken place in spring and summer. I suppose if a bear finds your feeder, however, it may be inclined to damage them at any time of the year.”

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Austwick This bear caused considerable damage to the Austwick feeders.

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Austwick                       This bear caused considerable damage to the Austwick feeders.

I also pointed out that the bear is actually just feeding on the seed. The damage is a by-product caused by the fact they probably don’t know their own strength.

“I know you will miss your birds, but it would probably be best to stop feeding for a couple of weeks,” I informed Amanda.

I suggested that after the two-week hiatus on feeding the birds that she put the feeders back outdoors but arrange to take them inside during the night.

“I know this first incident took place during the day, but bears are still most often going to visit during the night,” I wrote to her.

Unfortunately, the bear returned before she received my email response. The animal caused even more damage to the feeders, which she was able to document with photographs. A photo that she also emailed to The Erwin Record was even featured on the newspaper’s front page a couple of weeks ago.


Photo Courtesy of Amanda Austwick                                          This Black Bear became a daytime visitor at the Austwick home. There are ways to discourage such visits.

By making the feeders absent for a time and then limiting the availability of the bird seed to daylight hours, perhaps this bear will lose interest and move on. Unfortunately, the attempt to deal with the problem came too late to prevent the bear from causing some property damage.

Residents in Flag Pond and other locations in Unicoi County are certainly not the only people that have to contend with bears.

Every year the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency receives hundreds of calls and complaints concerning black bears. According to TWRA’s website, most of the complaints involve bears raiding garbage containers and bird feeders, as well as feeding on pet food left outdoors.

The website also makes clear it is not TWRA policy to routinely trap and move bears causing these types of problems.

“Due to the relatively large home ranges and mobility of bears, there is no place remote enough in Tennessee to relocate bears where they will not have contact with humans,” the website states. “Secondly, by moving bears often all that is accomplished is just the problem has been moved and not solved.”

According to experts with TWRA, the long-term solution to bears raiding garbage containers, bird feeders and pet food left outdoors is to simply remove the food source and bears most often will go elsewhere.

The website even notes that some people even intentionally feed bears. As often happens, even the best of intentions can go awry.

As a result of the improper storage of garbage, easy availability of bird seed and the direct feeding of bears, animals often become habituated to humans and become a nuisance and a threat to human safety.

Sadly, according to TWRA officials, there are no other alternatives but to destroy bears that become a threat to human safety. The agency spent hundreds of man-hours last year addressing bear-human conflicts and some bears had to be destroyed as a result of irresponsible behavior of people directly and indirectly feeding bears.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter A Black Bear cub photographed at Cades Cove.

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter
A Black Bear cub photographed at Cades Cove.

TWRA notes that the fact “Garbage Kills Bears” is irrefutable and urges people to remember that a fed bear is a dead bear. TWRA encourages residents to educate themselves by being “bear aware.” The agency asks all Tennesseans to help keep communities safe by preserving the “wild” nature of bears by following these few simple tips:

• Do not feed bears

• Store garbage in bear-proof containers or in a manner that is inaccessible to bears

• Keep pet food indoors and feed pets in the house or garage

• Do not add food to your compost piles

• Keep cooking grills clean and stored indoors when not in use.

• Do not feed birds between April and January when bears are most active.

I don’t agree, however, with this moratorium. Feeders can be bear-proofed, although it requires effort and expense. I also think that feeders can be taken indoors at night to reduce the chance of attracting bears. I will concede that a determined bear willing to visit feeders during the daylight hours may require that all feeding of birds be curtailed, at least until the animal decides to move to greener pastures.

Black Bears (Ursus americanus) are one of Tennessee’s states treasures. Bears mostly inhabit Blount, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Jefferson, Johnson, Monroe, Polk, Sevier, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties along the eastern border of the state. The highest densities of bears reside in the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smokey National Park.

Since the 1970s, the number of bears has significantly increased in Tennessee, according to TWRA. For example, prior to 1980, the annual harvest in the state was usually less than 20 bears. Today the picture could not be more astounding. Since 2004, Tennessee’s annual bear harvest has exceeded 300 animals! In 2009, a harvest of 571 bears in Tennessee set a new state record.

Photo by Waverley Traylor/ U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service American black bear at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

Photo by Waverley Traylor/ U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
American black bear at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

A key first step to rebuilding Tennessee’s bear population was the establishment of national forests and parks that shelter and protect Tennessee’s sparse bear population.

With careful management and enforcement by TWRA and ecological conditions in their favor, bear populations have responded dramatically. Tennessee’s bear population thrives today largely due to the dedication of the TWRA, CNF, GSMNP, the bear research program at University of Tennessee and the support of Tennessee sportsman license dollars.

Today Tennessee’s wildlife, forest and park service agencies confront new and difficult challenges in managing bear-human conflicts. As human and bear populations increase, and more people move near public lands, bear-human interactions have undoubtedly increased creating potentially dangerous situations for the public and for bears.

TWRA maintains that the primary corrective action to this management dilemma is to simply restrict the access bears have to human foods. Tennessee residents and visitors can support bears by taking steps to ensure that wild bears remain “wild,” by carefully managing sources of human food or garbage that might attract bears.

I’ve had neighbors, too, who have observed bears on their property recently. A few of them have even gotten photographs of the bears. I haven’t seen a bear on my property, but many years ago a bear left prints (and damaged some plants) in my grandfather’s tobacco plot. More recently, I’ve found droppings that I am fairly confident were left by a bear.

The bears aren’t going anywhere, so we will probably be encountering them more often.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young Eastern Towhee visits a feeder in July. The chance to see young birds is a great reason to offer food during the summer, but some precautions should be taken to minimize uninvited guests.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young Eastern Towhee visits a feeder in July. The chance to see young birds is a great reason to offer food during the summer, but some precautions should be taken to minimize uninvited guests.