Thursday, March 31, 2016

What are those large flocks of birds that eat the fruit on my trees?

These are Bohemian Waxwings, northern wanderers who are seen frequently in Central Alberta beginning in December into spring. They can be found west and north of the capital region year round. As with all birds, they move in order to find food. Waxwings are fruit eaters, which is why they are visiting your yard, usually to eat Mountain Ash berries. They typically descend on your fruit trees in the dozens and can be seen and heard flying overhead in the hundreds or thousands. Their flight behaviour as flocks is much like the movement of schools of fish. The name "Bohemian" refers to the nomadic movements of winter flocks. Because of their gypsy-like migrations they do not maintain breeding territories. A similar but much less frequently seen waxwing in our region, is the Cedar Waxwing. The Bohemian Waxwing has red undertail feathers and white edges to the wing feathers and a grey-brown body, while the Cedar Waxwing has yellow undertail and a yellowish belly. The colourful berries in their diet provides the pigment in the waxy yellow and red enlargements of the shafts of wing feathers. The oldest recorded Bohemian Waxwing was at least 5 years, 10 months old.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Q: If I put water out for the birds in winter won’t they freeze?

Birds need water year round and will drink and bath in open water in a heated bird bath during the winter. This serves several purposes. First, they benefit from a dependable source of water in your yard as it saves them time and energy not having to search for natural sources. If they can’t find open water they will eat snow, which requires energy to melt. Second, bathing helps keep their feathers clean and more effective in insulating them in our cold winters. On extremely cold winter nights, a bird can lose up to 10% of its body weight overnight to keep warm. In winter anything a bird can do to conserve energy helps them survive. It’s also very entertaining to watch birds in a bird bath!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What do Blue Jays do with peanuts in the shell they take from my feeder?

Right now Blue Jays are looking for seeds and nuts they can cache to help them survive over the winter. They store food in locations up to four kilometers away from their source. In one study Jays were seen making up to 1000 trips per day to gather food and hide it in a safe spot. They are in search of high energy, high protein foods that include peanuts in the shell, sunflower seeds, acorns, and other nuts. One Blue Jay was observed packing over 100 sunflower seeds into its gullet during just one visit to a feeder. Jays are known to shake peanuts in the shell at bird feeders to see if they are full or empty so they don't waste time and energy carrying an empty shell to store. For a bit of fun, here is a link to an online Blue Jay jigsaw puzzle -

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why am I seeing feathers in my yard?

While it's possible a bird has been a victim of a cat or a hawk, many birds molt during this time of year. Found a feather or two in your yard? It's most likely an old one being replaced. Feathers are responsible for more than just a bird’s ability to fly; they provide weather protection, making a bird virtually waterproof, as well as insulation for cold weather, especially during winter. However, feathers wear out and need to be replaced. This process is called molting. Typically, birds molt feathers in regular patterns or on specific parts of their bodies, and it may take weeks or months for birds to complete the molting cycle. They shed their flight feathers symmetrically, the first one or two on each wing at the same time, then the next one or two and so on, so they can molt wing feathers without affecting their ability to fly. Body feathers may be shed in tracts or sections. Sometimes Blue Jays will molt head feathers in groups and look “bald.” Most of our backyard bird visitors molt from July to September. They are looking for high-quality foods to help them grow their feathers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What sorts of birds can I attract if I live in a rural area?

If you are not currently feeding the birds and you have a rural property or a village or town place with lots of trees and natural area around you, you will be surprised at how many birds you can attract. Habitat is the key to why there are so many birds in the country. With trees, ponds, wetlands, and areas with natural vegetation, birds can find a haven for nesting, and sources of natural food. Because a rich environment can more easily host a larger variety of birds, you have an opportunity to attract that same variety of birds to your country yard. We regularly hear from customers, and see for ourselves, that you can attract grosbeaks, goldfinches, white and red-breasted nuthatches, blackbirds, robins, chickadees, Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, hummingbirds, flickers, White-crowned and White-throated sparrows, jays, grouse, Purple and House finches, and sometimes rarer birds like Baltimore Orioles. Without feeders, you may see these birds occasionally, but to get regular visitors, and to attract those rarer birds, putting out feeders will bring a variety of colour and winged pleasure to your yard.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Do we get Cardinals in Alberta?

These beautiful birds are originally natives of the American South but are now present in most areas of Eastern Canada with the occasional rare sighting in Alberta. The hotspot for Central Alberta is Sherwood Park where there have been at least one, and perhaps as many as three, breeding pairs of Northern Cardinals. A Sherwood Park couple who are long time bird feeders had a male show up at their feeder starting in 2006. He persisted until a female arrived in 2008. Magic happened and a chick from the union was feeding from their bird feeder in 2009. Since then the frequency of sightings has increased slowly. At the store, we've had reports of Cardinal sightings by customers in Redwater, Gibbons, Fort Saskatchewan, Strathcona County, and Sherwood Park confirming that area as the one to watch for growth in the breeding population. There have been occasional sightings in the City of Edmonton and just west of Devon. If you have seen a Northern Cardinal, we'd love to hear from you. Have a look at the Edmonton Journal YouTube video showing the establishment of a family of Cardinals in Sherwood Park.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Hummer in Every Yard

Not a Hum V but a Hum B, that is - Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in as many back yards as possible, to be more specific.

Attracting hummingbirds to your yard is the goal of a new initiative being taken by us at Wild Birds Unlimited this Spring and Summer. The project aims to encourage people with yards, gardens, flower boxes and hanging baskets to use their garden space to plant flowers, put out feeders, and decorations that will attract hummingbirds.

Anyone who has seen hummingbirds up close knows their unique and captivating magic. We are often asked the question, “Do we get hummingbirds in the Edmonton area?” The answer is “yes” and you may have seen some. But regrettably we don’t get as many as we could. Many people in rural areas have lots of hummingbirds and you can too. The Hummer Summer Project encourages people to do the things required to make your yard attractive to hummingbirds.

Edmonton’s Michael Wiens knows a lot about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the variety we see in Central and Northern Alberta. He published a book called Jewel of the North summarizing his techniques for attracting hummers and his careful observations of them in his yards in and outside of the city over seven years. You might call him a Hummingbird Whisperer as he has been able to attract large numbers to his yard year after year. In fact last summer saw an unprecedented number of hummers both in and outside of the city.

The first hummingbirds arrive in the Edmonton area every year between May 10 and May 20. Thousands fly over our yards as they either return to their old nesting areas, or the young, who don’t yet have a territory, search for their own space. It’s these young hummers we are aiming to attract by providing them with a territory that they and their future family members will return to year after year – in your garden.

“By planning your backyard garden in advance you can greatly increase the chances of attracting hummers to your yard,” according to Wiens. This involves using types of annuals and perennials that hummingbirds can get nectar from, knowing where to place plants in your yard, and the types of feeders to use and where to position them. At the store we will be offering advice on flower seeds so you can start your own flowers for attracting hummingbirds. Michael Wiens will be in the store in March on two Saturdays, the 14th and 28th from 1 to 3 pm, to answer your questions. L
ater in the Spring we will be emphasizing bedding plants and flowering baskets. We also will have a large selection of hummingbird feeders in a wide range of prices. No purchase necessary for our advice.

Come in to the store to find flower seeds for hummingbirds, information on hummingbird feeders, plus tips on gardening for hummers and hummingbird feeding. Let’s all have “a Hummer Summer!”