Thursday, February 11, 2016

Red loves his new platform feeder!

Earlier this winter, the platform feeder my dad made me back in 1990 when Rick and I moved from our apartment into our first house died. I went out to stock it with seed, and it was shattered on the ground...raccoon, squirrel...Sasquatch? Who knows who dealt the final blow. All I knew was it broke my heart. That feeder was part of our backyard landscape for over 26 years, and because my dad made it, I loved it all the more. It was Red's favorite feeder as well, and I was surprised how hollow it made me feel to look out and not see Red and his buddies crowded around eating sunflower seeds from it. The thought of putting a new store-bought feeder in its place made me feel even worse, so I just threw seed on the ground and ignored the gaping hole until Rick stepped in to save the day by making a beautiful "Cedar Palace" for Red and me...

Northern Cardinals visit a cedar platform feeder covered in snow.
Red and his buddies took to Rick's cedar platform feeder right away. When the snow melts away,
I will take a few closeups of of it. The Cedar Palace is a work of nails, btw...all mortise and tenon.

Rick took the dimensions from my dad's feeder and got to work. He came up with his own design, and even made cedar shakes for the roof by hand. This thing is sturdy and will no doubt last as long as my dad's, which when added to my current age will make me 80...wait...80???? That can't be right, but after a quick re-add, it is. (I think I'm going to ignore that bit of info for now and just keep watching, painting, and photographing the birds.)

If you want to see my dad's old feeder, click here for the post from 2009, "This bird feeder has seen a lot of action..." It was only 20 years old back then!

(Thank you, Dad, for making the best bird feeder ever, and thank you, Rick, for carrying on the tradition. Lots of hearts, lots of smiley faces, lots of love.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to turn a coconut into a bird feeder...

If you have a drill, a vice, a coconut, and some chain, you can make a super cute coconut bird feeder! Back in November I posted a Blue Jay gobbling up sunflower seeds out of a coconut bird feeder (click here for the post). Rick had made the feeder for me earlier in the day, and while he was making it, I photographed him. I had a hunch someone would want to know where I got it, or how I made it, and several people did, so here it goes...

1. Pick up a coconut from your local grocery store.  
Our Kroger's store carries coconuts that have been scored about halfway through. Look for those, because it's a breeze to open them with just a tap from a hammer along the score line. After you crack it open it, clean it out, then get busy...

2. Mark three equidistant spots to drill holes.   
You can do math to create the three evenly spaced points, but it's much easier to just guesstimate or use "The Force" (like I do). Use painter's tape to mark them.

Painter's tape marks the spots for the three holes. 

3. Knock out two of the "eyes."   
Find the three holes at the bottom of a coconut. Two are soft and are easy to push through. These "eyes" make ideal drainage holes to keep water from building up in the shell.

Use a screwdriver or the end of a pencil to push through the eyes to create the drainage holes.

4. Place the coconut in a vice.
Use cardboard squares to cushion the coconut and help keep it from slipping.

It's much easier to drill the holes if you can anchor the coconut in a vice. Little squares of cardboard make nice cushions.

5. Drill baby, drill.
Make sure the drill bit is large enough to create a hole that will fit the chain you've chosen. Drill about 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge.

It's better to drill a larger hole than a smaller hole. The chain I use isn't that wide, so a medium-sized bit works for me.

6. Cut three even lengths of chain, and open the last link on each chain.   
Only open one link at the end of each chain. Use the vice to secure the last link and simply twist it open with a needle-nosed pliers (or any type of pliers that fits).

It's easiest to open the chain by securing half of it in the vice.
You can use any type of chain. I like this type because it's easy to open the links, and the metal is very durable. I usually choose black because it doesn't stand out, but you can use any color. I've made coconut bird feeders using twine, rope, and leather (which looks cool), but chains are the best and last the longest.

7. Thread the open link through the drilled hole.   
Use the needle-nosed pliers to help you thread the link through. After it's through, close it up using the pliers.

It's very easy to attach the chain. Feed the link through and clamp it shut!

8. Hang the three loose ends of the chain on an S hook, and close the hook.   
Be sure to use the pliers to clamp the S hook closed so the chains don't slip off.

Could it be any easier? Hang the feeder in a tree, fill it with seed, and watch and wait!  

A sweet Carolina Chickadee was the first bird to sample the goods. The Blue Jay came next. The birds that most love this feeder are Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Blue Jays. Strangely enough, the squirrels leave it alone! 

When did my love affair with coconut bird feeders start?
It goes all the way back to February 9, 1906. Yes, you read that right...1906! That's when Edith Holden wrote about a coconut bird feeder in her book, A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. At the end of her book, on page 176, she included an illustration of the feeder, and I fell in love with it.

Edith Holden's book is a hand-written record of her daily walks and observations of the countryside around the small village of Olton in Warwickshire, England. Edith is a talented artist and naturalist and fills the pages of her book with beautiful watercolor illustrations of the wildlife and scenery she encountered every day on her walks. Rendered with a naturalist’s eye for detail, her paintings are soft, colorful and engaging. Her love and deep understanding of nature is apparent in every painting. She also scatters her favorite poems in with the illustrations and includes historical information and even folk sayings.

Other Options
Sunflower seeds are not the only thing you can put in the coconut. You can also fill it with suet, or even leave the coconut meat in it. The birds will peck away at it (and if you look closely at Edith Holden's painting above, you'll see that's what she did. The little birds are grabbing pieces of coconut from the shell.).  I want to try making a few suet recipes and putting the suet in a coconut. When I find one that works really well, I'll let you know!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rock Pigeons at Rock House...

Back in October, we took a trip to Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio. The park is only two hours from Cincinnati and offers wonderful hiking and spectacular scenery. Rock House is one of the caves in the park. Located halfway up a 150-foot wall of blackhand sandstone, the true cave has a 25-foot high ceiling, is about 30 feet wide, and is 200 feet long...but even better, it is home to a beautiful flock of Rock Pigeons....

A Rock House Rock Pigeon!

Rock Pigeons are city birds, right? So the last thing I expected to see when I stepped into the long dark tunnel deep in the woods was pigeons...but I shouldn't have been surprised. Originally, before humans came along and built cities, Rock Pigeons lived in crevices and caves on coastal rock walls and cliffs in Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. European colonists brought them to North America in the 1600s. Their name reflects their native habitat, so it was especially fun to find them living in the wild!

The trail leading to the Rock House is beautiful. 

Inside Rock House looking out. The pigeons would fly in and out through this opening in the cave. Birds roosted in the many crevices and cracks on the wall outside the cave as well as those inside. 

The birds would fly in and out of the cave, and I loved listening to their cooing and the constant flutter of their wings as they flew from roosting spot to roosting spot.

This fellow is above me on a ledge inside the cave. If I would look to my right, I would see out of the opening in the photo above. Eventually this pigeon flew outside while another flew back in.

Love those pink feet!

This small rectangular reservoir was carved into the sandstone by Native Americans. They would use it to collect water. Now the pigeons used it for drinking and bathing (see the video at the end of the post). 

A view out of the opening opposite the back cave wall where the birds were. This opening looks a little like a bird... 

Rock House video
Click here to watch the "Naturally Ohio: Rock House" video. It was made by the Ohio Public Broadcasting Station, and Pat Quackenbush, an ODNR Naturalist, is the narrator. Pat takes you on a tour of the trail and explains the flora, fauna and history of the Rock House. It's only 20 minutes, and it's really good!

Can pigeons diagnose cancer?
Click here for the article "Can Pigeons Really Diagnose Cancer? A new study says yes, but you're not likely to see them in lab coats anytime soon," written by Hannah Waters on the Audubon web site to learn about pigeons' ability to identify and sort visual patterns, including cancer cell patterns and healthy cell patterns. It can recognize all 26 letters in the alphabet, as well as different faces in photos.

The domestication of the Rock Pigeon
Click here to read about the earliest encounters of man with the Rock Pigeon. The first art appears in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets dating back over 5000 years ago, but it's more likely the pigeon was domesticated by Neolithic man over 10,0000 years ago in the area near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when humans started cultivating grains. In prehistoric times, Rock Pigeons probably lived with man in caves and in the crevices on the surrounding rock walls and cliffs.

A unique way of drinking water
Pigeons and doves drink water by using their bills like a straw, sucking water in while their bill is still immersed in the water. Most birds take a sip and toss their head back so the water flows down their throat. The following video is dark and poor quality (taken in a cave with my cell phone), but you can see the pigeon sucking up the water through its bill...

A Rock Pigeon drinking water at the Rock House from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fly Red, fly!!!

Mrs. Red-shouldered Hawk is watching you...

A Red-shouldered Hawk in the mulberry tree in our backyard. 
She perched there for about 30 minutes before flying off empty-taloned. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker...

...has taken up residence in our backyard! Wait, what? A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker? We've lived in our home for almost 17 years, and we've never had one visit our yard ever, but this fella has been here at least a week. I hope he sticks around for the rest of the winter. The most common time to see Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in our area is during spring and fall when they are migrating through. Sapsuckers nest much farther north, and they usually winter farther south, but we have one that appears to be wintering in our backyard...

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perches on our deck railing amid snowflakes and a small accumulation of snow.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on our deck. 

It's the third week of January, and if you look up the bird list on the Cincinnati Audubon's website (click here), you'll find Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are given a "D," which means they are hard to find in our area this time of the year. So yahoo for our new little visitor!

...and what a sweet yellow belly you have!

A wintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker eating suet while snowflakes are falling all around him.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers like sap, but there is no sap flowing around our house, so suet is the next best thing.
Our sapsucker has visited all of our suet feeders but has ignored the sunflower seed and peanut feeders.

This suet feeder is right outside our living room window, making it easy to get a good look at him. 

A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker climbs a mulberry tree. Snow is falling making this a lovely winter scene.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker clings to a mulberry tree in our backyard while snowflakes fall gently all around.

Another view of the sapsucker through our living room window. The mulberry tree he is on is further away than the suet feeder, but still close enough to see him fairly well.

Our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is not trying to drill any sapwells on the tree. He doesn't drill if sap is not flowing.

Sapsuckers start drilling sapwells when the sap starts flowing in early spring. They don't drill if there is no sap to be had. On Cornell's "All About Birds" website (click here), I read hummingbirds love hanging around sap wells and drink the sap readily. In some parts of Canada, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds time their spring migration so they arrive with the sapsuckers. Bats and porcupines visit sapsucker sapwells too, so these little birds help feed a lot of other animals! Here is another cool fact: sapsuckers will roll ants and other small insects in sap to create a "sugar-coated bolus" to feed to their young (click here for the source on the Penn State Extension site).

I hope our new Yellow-bellied Sapsucker sticks around all winter. It's been fun watching him. 

We have had a very warm winter so far. Tonight, however, the temps are dropping to the single digits and wind chills will be fierce. I hope the cold does not drive this little cutie south. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trumpeter Swans at Maumee Bay State Park

There is nothing more noble on a lake than a Trumpeter Swan gliding through the water, and it's a sight uncommon down in Cincinnati (meaning I've never seen a pair of Trumpeters on any lakes, ponds or wetlands near us...with the exception of Swan Lake at the Cincinnati Zoo), but up in northern Ohio, Trumpeter Swans are almost a common sight. At least they were for us when we were at Maumee Bay earlier in November...

A Trumpeter Swan on the inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo, Ohio.
(Photo courtesy of my cousin, Curg. I didn't have my camera with me, so Curg stepped in and captured this fellow!)

In Cincinnati we have Mute Swans on some of our ponds and lakes, which are also beautiful, but not native, so I was really excited to see these huge native swans in the wild! Trumpeter Swans are the largest waterfowl in North America and create quite an impressive sight. In the early 1900s Trumpeters were almost hunted to extinction. Their feathers, skins, meat and eggs were in demand, and hunting coupled with habitat destruction nearly wiped them out. Through habitat restoration, protection and reintroduction, Trumpeter Swans have survived and are now making a comeback!

Two Trumpeter Swans were inseparable on the inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park. I assume they are a mated pair because Trumpeter Swans are monogamous and mate for life. (Photo credit to my cousin, Curg.)

How to tell the difference between a Trumpeter Swan, a Tundra Swan, and a Mute Swan...
Three species of swans live in North America: the Trumpeter Swan (the largest swan), the Tundra Swan (the smallest of the three), and the Mute Swan. The Trumpeter Swan and the Tundra Swan are native. The Mute Swan is an exotic, invasive Eurasian species introduced in the late 1800s as a decorative pond species. Originally, owners kept their wings clipped to keep them on their ponds, but over time, several escaped and now breed in feral populations. Mute Swans are easy to identify. They have large orange bills with a black knob. It's a little harder to tell Trumpeter and Tundra Swans apart since they both have black bills, but there are specific field marks that help you ID the birds. Here are a few sites to help you learn the differences:

Click here for a guide from the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary that explains how to tell the swans apart. It even has a little interactive test to help you learn the differences.
Click here for swan identification tips from the Trumpeter Swan Society.
Click here for a 6-page printable pdf that explains how to spot the field marks that differentiate swans and geese.

If you read any of the ID tips on the links above, you learned Trumpeter Swans are often described as wearing "lipstick." If you look closely, you can see that field mark in this photo. ( credit to my cousin, Curg.)

The field ID marks of a Mute Swan are easy to orange bill with a black knob.
(I photographed this fellow back in 2009 on a pond near my house.)

Trumpeter Swans are making a comeback in Ohio, but they are not safe yet...
The exotic Eurasian Mute Swans populating many of the lakes and ponds in Ohio are very aggressive and can outcompete Trumpeter Swans trying to establish a territory. They also are voracious eaters and can deplete aquatic vegetation for native waterfowl and even destroy entire wetland ecosystems, further squeezing out Trumpeter Swans.

Click here for a post titled "Swan Song," by John Windau on the Wild Ohio Education blog that explains in more detail the Trumpeter's plight and the steps taken to reintroduce them to Ohio.
Click here for details from the ODNR Division of Wildlife.
Click here for two previous posts with photos of Mute Swans and their cygnets on a pond near my house.

Migrating Tundra Swans at Maumee Bay...
We also saw a small flock of migrating Tundra Swans on the inland lake as well. They were off in the distance and didn't stay long. It was an impressive sight to watch them take off together to move on to another lake.

This post is part of our recent Big Water trip to Maumee Bay, click here for more posts in the series.