An Oriole Nest

oriole nestI’ve been watching an oriole flying around the last few days and have tried to discover his nest.

I found it accidentally when checking out the garden with my husband.

I looked up and there he was sitting on a branch of the maple tree right over my head. As I was excitedly studying him, my husband pointed further up the branch to the nest.

My son took this picture, but we didn’t get too close. I didn’t want the mama and babies to be disturbed.

It will be fun to keep our eyes on the nest and watch progress! Stay tuned!

A Trip to the Mississippi River

These “landlubbers” recently took a Sunday jaunt to the Quad Cities to attend a graduation party. We had packed a sack lunch to enjoy by the Mississippi River since it’s something we don’t see often.

It was fun to see the barges, the trains, the sailboats, and even the jet skies, but our highlight was seeing the birds, especially the pelicans.

We watched them swim, dive, take off and land. What a treat it was!

Red-Winged Blackbirds: Sounds of Summer

Male Red-Winged BlackbirdOne of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the call of the Red-Winged Blackbird. To me it says rural Iowa countryside. It says home, summer, hay fields, ponds, cat tails, raspberry patches and wild roses.

A very common bird, most people are familiar with the male of the species with it’s black plumage and bright red patch on his wing.

But few would easily recognize the female since she is neither black nor does she have a red stripe. She is very subdued and camouflaged in her basic brown attire. Some would say she looks more like a large sparrow.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds like to nest in Female Red-Winged Blackbird
marshy areas and near ponds.

Once the nesting has started, watch out! The male Red-Winged Blackbird are very territorial!

We’ve actually had them dive bomb our heads and fly in close circles around us trying to distract us from their mates and their nest sight.

The males are really quite fun to watch because they use many gestures that we can actually understand.

One of these is called the “songspread’ when the male arches forward, spreads his wings to the side and shows off his bright red patches on each wing. This is a sign of dominance and is usually directed at other males.

Another one to watch for is when two males are perched near each other with their bills tilted up in the air. This is called the “bill tilt’ and is basically a standoff that allows them to settle territorial disputes without fighting.

Enjoy those Red-Winged Blackbirds and their antics, listen for their call and know that warm weather has finally come!

Canadian Geese

We have just two Canadian Geese couples nesting this year, one couple on Finger Lake and one on Our Pond. (I know that’s not a very original name, but that’s what we called it until we came up with a better one, and I’m afraid it stuck.)

Usually by this time of the year we’ve had several run-ins with Daddy geese who tend to take over the property, but this year it’s been pretty quiet.

They can be very territorial when the Mamas are nesting and after being chased a few times, we have learned to give them a wide berth.

I did run into Papa Goose on the dam while taking a walk one evening, but he waddled out of the way quickly while loudly sounding the alarm.

A few days later I was able to sit on the dock at Finger Lake and watch one of the couples swimming around the pond for several minutes before the mama climbed back in the nest box. Beautiful!

Then just last night the boys ran into a Papa Goose right on the lawn by the house. It is rare to have them so close, and a little uncomfortable. They watched him graze for a few minutes and then carefully walked around him into the house.

It’s a blessing to be so close to a wild creature like this and be able to observe it’s habits, to hear the whooshing of its wings as they fly low over our head, and to watch it land gracefully on the pond.

Just one more thing to be thankful for here in the country.

Bird Watching with Grandma

rose-breasted grosbeakMy youngest son recently spent the night with Grandpa and Grandma. He loved all of the one on one attention he had, and the captive audience for his many stories and ideas!

One of the special things he does with Grandma is watch the birds that come to her many feeders.

Grandpa and Grandma’s house is situated in a very protected spot with lots of trees around. They keep several feeders out all year round and see quite a variety of birds.

During this visit he and Grandma kept a list of all the birds they saw. Grandma introduced him to the birds he didn’t know, and together they saw quite a collection!

Their list included:
2 Cardinals
3 Blue jays
2 Catbirds
2 Goldfinch
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Nuthatch
1 Rufous Towee
2 Mourning Dove
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
1 Cowbird
3 Robins
1 Chickadee

What a special memory! Grandma passing one her knowledge and love of birds to the next generation.

The Orioles are back!

Orchard orioleI’ve seen the flashes of orange fly by this week. The orioles are back for the season!

I talked to my mom over the week-end and learned that they were greatly enjoying the Woodlink oriole feeders we gave them last year.

She was especially excited to have identified an orchard oriole which is a smaller oriole, about the size of a bluebird.

The picture shows a juvenile male orchard oriole with a well-defined black bib at his throat. As he matures, his coat will turn a brick red. This is the only species east of the Mississippi River with a solid black tail.

Orchard orioles prefer orchards (hence the name) and shade trees in parks and gardens.

They enjoy the same delicacies that entice the other oriole varieties to the feeders, mainly grape jelly, nectar and orange halves.

My parents has their feeders in a perfect location for both attracting orioles and for watching them. The feeders are placed in a flower garden a few feet from their picture window for great viewing. There are also shrubs and trees nearby for cover and a convenient birdbath for water.

They keep fresh nectar in the feeder with a half of an orange on the top and all the feeding ports full of grape jelly.

Then they just sit back and enjoy the show!

Fantastic Facts About the Hummingbird

male ruby-throated hummingbird
The tiny hummingbird is an amazing creature to watch and study. It’s unique characteristics set it apart from the other birds that frequent my feeders.

Just study it’s appearance! The hummer has an iridescence on its feathers that make them sparkle like jewels. Light is reflected and intensified when it hits these feathers, making the colors change when viewed at different angles.

For example, a male ruby-throated hummingbird has a throat patch that looks brilliant red if the sun is shining on it. But when viewed from different angles, it will look deep orange, green or violet and if there is no light it will appear black.

Then there’s the hummingbird’s amazing flying abilities! They can actually fly in every direction; up, down, sideways, even upside down. (Although I’ve never seen it myself!)

When they are hovering, their wings rotate at the shoulder while the wing tips trace a horizontal figure eight, allowing them to move backward and forward.

Each species of hummingbirds has unique flight patterns they use to defend their territory, attract a mate or intimidate other hummingbirds (or humans) at the feeder. These visual displays are amazing to watch as the hummers fly, dive, swoop, and arc with precision and grace.

Hummingbirds can reach speeds of 60 miles an hour in flight and fly long distances, including 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.

All that beauty and flying ability is packed into a tiny package! A ruby-throated hummingbird weighs just 1/10 of an ounce and is just 3 3/4 inches long.

What an amazing creature!

Attracting Hummingbirds: Feeders

Woodlink Classic Hummingbird Feeder
Another great way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to use a hummingbird feeder. Put your feeders up in the early spring when the first hummers are arriving and take them down after the last of the hummingbirds have migrated through in the fall.

It’s very easy to make a sweet syrup for the hummers to enjoy. Just mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts of water and boil for 1-2 minutes. (The boiling helps to retard fermentation.) Then cool the mixture and place it in the feeders, storing any unused portion in the refrigerator.

You should never substitute honey for the sugar because it will rapidly ferment in the sun and will grow a mold that can be fatal to hummingbirds.

There is no need to add red dye to the syrup mixture. Some people add it because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. But it is easier and safer for the hummers to just use a red colored feeder to attract them and not use any artificial coloring in the syrup.

You will need to clean the feeders and replace the syrup every three to four days. This helps to prevent the build-up of fungi or bacteria in the feeders which causes the solution to ferment or go sour.

Just scrub the feeder with hot water and vinegar and rinse well. Then refill with syrup and place outside.

We prefer using the Woodlink Classic Hummingbird feeder because of it’s ease of use. It is dishwasher safe, so it can be be quickly taken down, put through a cycle in the dish washer, then refilled and put back out. It also has a bright red base that attracts the hummers, holds 12 oz. of nectar and has six feeding stations. (

Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little time to attract hummingbirds to your yard, sometimes they arrive right away, other times it takes longer. Just keep trying other positions for your feeders and keep watching!

Setting Up a Bluebird Trail Part 3: The Perfect Nestbox

Woodlink Bluebird House
Finding the perfect home for a nesting bluebird couple isn’t as hard as some might think. In my honest opinion, location is lot more important than a specific kind of bluebird house. If you think about it, bluebirds in the wild would naturally nest in whatever was available in the location they liked.

Actually, I don’t think we have two bluebird houses that are the same on the entire trail! We have several different houses from Woodlink and a few homemade ones. Over the years we’ve discovered a few things that are important to a good bluebird house.

  • Either top or side opening houses so cleaning out old nests is easy and you can quickly monitor to see who has moved in. (Personally I prefer top opening)
  • Small front opening. This opening should be no bigger than 1.5 inches for Eastern bluebirds to keep other birds out.
  • NO perch! Perches aren’t needed on the house by bluebird and they attract sparrows and house wrens.
  • A slanting, overhanging roof. This will keep the nest drier during rainy times and will make it harder for a predator to reach in from the top. (Cats and coons can’t sit on the slant as well!)
  • NO dark paint! The boxes will heat up way too fast and cook the nestlings. A natural wood color or light paint is always better.

There are many places on line to find plans to build your bluebird houses, and many more places to purchase them. Just keep these ideas in mind and you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect house to attract a bluebird couple to your home!

Setting Up a Bluebird Trail Part 2: Location

eastern bluebird The location of a bluebird box is critical if you wish to attract bluebirds. The three things to remember are short grass, not to shady and a place to perch.

Bluebirds love to eat grasshoppers, crickets, flies, spiders and many other pesky insects. (One more reason to attract them to your yard!) They perch until they locate a tasty tidbit and then they dive down, pine the bug to the ground and eat it. Bluebirds will nest in an area that has available perches and short grass with minimal shade so it can easily see it’s prey.

Meadows, pastures, cemeteries, golf courses and yes, even yards will work as long as they have the key elements, short grass, not to shady and somewhere to perch. Fence lines, electric lines, branches, even a clothesline will work for a perch.

Locations that don’t work well would be forests, cultivated fields, areas that are too stony or have only long grass, and yards that are too shaded.

Bluebirds are very territorial so if you plan to locate more than box make sure they are at least 300 feet apart. It might be possible to place them closer together if the boxes are not in sight of each other.

A bluebird trail is simply several bluebird boxes along a trail. If you would like to make a trail, as we have, start with putting up one or two boxes the first year and every year add one or two more. It’s well worth the effort to attract these beautiful and beneficial birds!