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Spring Cleaning is for the Birds

March 22nd, 2010

We do all we can for our little feathered friends, trying to make them at home here at Chiot’s Run and that includes feeding them all winter long and putting up birdhouses all over the garden. This is the time of year when you need to clean out all those little birdhouses, and get them ready for the new chicks.

Mr Chiots is also going to be fixing up the little condemned birdhouse that the wrens just loved last summer. It needs a new floor, good thing we have a bunch of scrap wood in the garage, perhaps a nice new cedar floor.

I took all the wren houses down and cleaned them out. We also have a bluebird box in a side garden, it didn’t get used last year, but I still checked it to make sure it didn’t need cleaned. The bird houses we have attached to the back of the garage also got a good cleaning, we had some black capped chickadees nest in them last summer.

Cleaning out the birdhouses is an educational experience. You can see how different kinds of birds build different nests. The wrens build tiny little nests out of lots of twigs. They filled up the houses with extra twigs to make their nests a specific size. The chickadees used lots of moss and other soft items from around the garden, even a bunch of dryer lint and wool rug fuzz from the vaccuum cleaner that I put in the compost pile.

Look how cute this little nest is. This is just about actual size. This past summer I could hear the little wrens chirping away in this box.

Do you put up birdhouses to attract birds to your gardens?

Feed the Birds

January 31st, 2010

We have a bird oasis in our side yard. We love feeding the birds because it gives us something interesting to look at all winter long. We have 3 bird feeders and a heated birdbath.

I buy big 50 lb bags of birdseed and black oil sunflower seeds at the local farm store to keep our feathered friends fed all winter long. We also put out suet for all the woodpeckers and clinging birds.

We enjoy seeing all the different kinds of birds that come to our feeders. We have a bird identification book that we use to identify any new birds we see. Here are a few of them.

We also have blue jays, mourning doves, black-capped chickadees, house wrens, house sparrows, rufous-sided towhees, goldfinches, purple finches, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, and the occasional pileated woodpecker. And of course we have tons of the Ohio State bird, the cardinal.

Feeding the birds not only gives us something interesting to do during the winter, but it helps the birds stay strong and healthy through the cold winter months. We’ve noticed that since we started feeding them, we have more birds in the gardens in the summer. I had more wrens last year than any previous year and they keep all the cabbage worms off of my brassicas. I’ll keep feeding my little feathered friends and providing them with nice homes to keep them happy.

Do you feed the birds during the winter?

Wrens, the Tiny Workhorse in the Garden

June 13th, 2009

I’ve read about how great of an asset wrens are in the garden. I hear that they were especially good at catching cabbage worms. So how do you go about attracting these tiny birds to your gardens? It’s as simple as putting up a wren house or two. In fact these little birds prefer man-made nesting boxes to their natural habitat. They also seem to be fairly “tame” not minding human presence, which makes them perfect garden birds.
Wren House
Wrens are small cavity nesting birds, so they like small houses with a certain size entrance hole (1 1/8 inch). We have a few “wren” houses that have larger holes so other birds nest in them, like chickadees. In April you’ll start to hear the male wrens singing their beautiful songs as they look for a place to build a nest. He actually builds several nests, up to 12, and the female selects the one she likes and then finishes it. They lay 4-6 eggs, incubation time last 12-15 days and the young will leave the nest in 16-17 days.
Baby Wren in House
There’s a funny story about this condemned house. While working at the edge of the woods one day we found this tiny house. It was so small and in such bad shape we figured it was once a decorative birdhouse, too small for anything to actually use. We kind of the liked the “rustic-ness” of it so we hung it up in a dogwood tree. Not too long later the wrens moved in. I kind of feel bad for them, having to live in a condemned house. When the little birds leave we’ll be taking it down and reattaching the bottom for them. I keep hoping it won’t fall out when the little ones were in there.
Wren with insect by wren house
Wrens are really wonderful little birds to have around the gardens. They have beautiful songs and they’re constantly flitting and hopping about. They spend a lot of their time on the ground searching under plants for worms and other insects. They have kept my garden cabbage worm free, I occasionally see evidence of cabbage worms or maybe a worm or two, but then I’ll notice the wrens under the plant and the worms are gone.
Wren Feeding Baby
I’ve really enjoyed watching the wrens this year. I’ve been watching the nest and listening to the babies. I waited a long time to get this shot of the mom feeding her babies. They’ll be leaving the nest soon, in fact one of the nests we have they’ve already left. Then they’ll start all over again since wrens will often attempt to raise another brood when the first one fledges.

What do you do to attract beneficial birds to your gardens?

Garden Decor

March 28th, 2009

While cleaning up earlier this week I found an empty bird nest that had blown into one of the flower beds. Bird’s nest are so amazing, they’re so intricately made; I’m always in awe of them. I could never build something like this and I have finger and thumbs, I don’t know how they do it with their beaks.
I thought it was to pretty too throw into the compost pile so I put it at the base of my oakleaf hydrangea and put a few smooth stones in it; free garden art.
We do have a few other bird nests around the property, there’s the one in the spruce tree that the robin’s used last year. The finches build one up in a sappling as well. Usually I leave them in place for natural decor. We also have a pileated woodpecker that has a nest in an empty tree in the woods beside our house, now that’s an interesting bird!
I’m always eager to have birds in my gardens, they’re very beneficial to have around. We put up bird feeders and bird houses to encourage them to take up residence here at Chiot’s Run.

Do you have all kinds of birds nesting in your gardens? What do you do to encourage them to come to your gardens?

For our Fine Feathered Friends

January 27th, 2009

We feed the birds in the winter here at Chiot’s Run. In the summer only the hummingbirds get free food, but we have plenty to eat around here with all the plants and bugs in the summer for the other birds. In the fall I made sure I leave the seed heads on all of my flowers because the birds eat those. But in the winter, we make sure that we feed our little feathered friends.
We feed them because we enjoy watching them (as do the cats). With so little else going on in the garden during the winter, it’s nice to be able to look outside and see signs of life.
We also feed them to keep them healthy. As they lose their habitat due to logging and urban sprawl they are often lacking food sources; so they are in need of a little help, especially in the cold winter months. Birds are great pest control in the gardens, so we want them here at Chiot’s Run. They naturally prey on insects like mosquitoes, cabbage worms, and other pests.

During cold snaps, you will almost certainly notice more birds coming into your garden to seek sanctuary from the harsher environment in the countryside – particularly if you provide food on a regular basis. The variety of species may increase too and you may be lucky enough to attract unusual visitors.

Finding a regular source of high-energy food such as a garden feeding station is the equivalent of winning the lottery for wild birds and a well-stocked garden is a real lifesaver.

Birds will become dependent on the food you supply, so it is important to make sure your feeders are kept topped up to prevent them from having a wasted visit. Providing a fresh, ice-free supply of water is another cold weather essential – drinking and bathing is a vital part of the daily routine of birds.

You may well witness a flurry of bird activity first thing in the morning – as they replenish energy lost overnight – and last thing in the afternoon – to prepare for the long night ahead.

The smallest birds, like blue tits and goldcrests, have to effectively feed throughout the hours of daylight in winter and consume a vast quantity of food – as much as 30% of their body weight – to make sure they build the necessary fat reserves to get them through the long, cold nights.

We provide a few different kinds of food for various birds in our area. We have a finch feeder full of nyjer seed, 1 feeder with a bird seed mix, 1 feeder full of black sunflower seeds, and a suet cake feeder for the woodpeckers. We also provide fresh water for our feathered friends with a heated bird bath.
Our bird feeders not only attract birds but also other animals like rabbits, opossums, and the cunning squirrel. We actually have 3 different kinds of squirrels that attempt to get into our bird feeders.
We don’t mind the rabbits and the opossums because they just eat off of the ground underneath the feeders. But the squirrels get in the feeder and empty it rather quickly. So we try to keep them away.
So how do we keep these little furry thieves out of our bird feeders? With hot peppers, I mix hot sauce with some oil and coat my bird seed with it. Works like a charm!

So do you feed your fine feathered friends?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.