America’s #1 Spectator Sport – Bird Watching

What is the fastest growing outdoor family activity in the U.S.? It might just surprise you. Then again, maybe not. Not if your one of the more than 75 million Americans who already enjoys feeding and watching birds. CBS News recently dubbed bird watching as #1 spectator sport in America, attracting more people than NASCAR and all professional sports combined. Backyard bird feeding has always run a close race with gardening for the number one spot for family enjoyment, but both are at the top of the list. Birding in the 1990s experienced a growth rate of 150% followed by hiking at 84%. Other popular activities, such as golfing, grew by just 29%, where as fishing and hunting grew at a rate of less than 10%. And the interest in bird watching continues to grow. A 1997 article in Newsweek Magazine reported that bird watching would grow faster than the national population over the next 50 years.

But what is it that makes feeding birds and watching birds so popular? For one, they are the most visible of all our wildlife. Birds live among humans comfortably, singing, nesting, and fluttering past our windows and through our backyards. They provide a great natural insect control for our gardens. There is a huge diversity in the number of species and it changes with the seasons. In Nebraska alone roughly 450 species of birds have been identified. And birds are a source of great wonderment. From the intricacies of weaving a nest with only a beak as a tool, to locating enough food to feed a half dozen hungry mouths, birds are extremely resourceful. And as seasons change, their ability to migrate from less than a few hundred miles to thousands of miles and return to the same proximity boggles the mind. Biologists believe that birds use a variety of senses when migrating from their ability to detect magnetic fields, to using stars and terrestrial land marks to find their way. Consider the Arctic Tern whose annual migration covers roughly 25,000 miles. Adult birds then pass this information on to their young and it becomes a learned process.

However, for many people it is not so much about contemplating the complexity of the lives of birds that intrigues them. It is more simply about the beauty of their colorful displays, the relaxation of their serenades, and watching them rearing families right outside our windows. They become our backyard friends as we supply supplemental foods, and fresh water for them to drink and bathe in. We create backyard habitats, offering birds a place to nest and provide them with cover from inclement weather and hungry predators. Feeding birds and watching birds helps to create more awareness of the environment around us, and, not only how we can make that environment more sustainable for birds, but for ourselves as well. For information on backyard bird feeding and where to go to watch birds in Nebraska contact the Wild Bird Habitat Store, backyard birding headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska since 1993. Supporting Healthy Families Play Outside and the conservation of the rich birding heritage in Nebraska, working with the Nebraska Partnership For ALL Bird Conservation So feed the birds! It makes a world of difference.

Vampire Bat Feeding

Among all the mammals that wander the earth, save the few human cannibals, there is only one that feeds only on blood. No not vampires but the vampire bat. A mammal found in Southern Mexico and South America that has existed long before the myths of Dracula and vampires.

A special creature, they have their own unique hunting style that does not rely on echo location like most bats for their targets are not insects but rather full size livestock, mammals and birds. Even humans have had been victims of the vampire bat. Fortunately, these attacks are uncommon and only a result of people destroying and moving into the bat’s natural habitat.

To feed, the vampires leave their home at night and travel the skies looking for prey. Upon finding it they swoop down to the ground. Thermal sensors in their flat noses find the the juiciest blood vessels on their target victim. Razor like fangs lacking Enamel painlessly pierce the sleeping victim’s flesh and trigger the blood flow. Even humans bitten by a vampire while sleeping would not notice. The bat saliva used in the bite has enzymes that prevent blood from clotting and thus lets them drink their fill, which can be up to half their body weight. Yet contrary to vampire legend when the bats feed they actually lap up the blood using grooves in their tongue to steer the blood into their bodies. There is no blood sucking involved. After their 20 – 30 minute meal and drinking a couple teaspoons of blood, the bloated bats urinate to lighten their load. A bloated bat cannot fly.

Upon returning home to their roost, the vampires begin grooming each other, which also enables those who failed to feed to receive a regurgitated meal from their kin. Two or three days without food and the poor little bat will die, making this method of interaction vital to a colony’s survival.

All three species of vampire bats have their own unique method for approaching their prey, but they all feed the same way. So the next time you find yourself in South America, keep the windows shut and the mosquito net up lest you fall prey to a vampire bat’s hunger, unlikely though it may be.

Feeding Wild Birds Year Round – Is This a Good Idea?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approximately 54 million residents of the United States feed wild birds at backyard feeders. This is important due to the fact that our environment has changed drastically over the last fifty years. Not only do wild birds have to deal with loss of habitat, they must also compete with birds like starlings and house sparrows that are not native to North America.

Feeders provide a supplement to natural food supplies for wild birds. Rarely do they comprise the bulk of their diet. In general, wild birds depend on foods they find away from bird feeders and they find them with incredible efficiency. If all supplemental feeding stopped overnight, there would probably not even be a noticeable decline in bird populations and the joy of introducing children and adults to bird watching is reason enough to attract wild birds to backyard feeders. There are several good reasons to feed wild birds year round.

Early spring is an important season to feed wild birds because most of their preferred natural foods have been consumed during the winter. Backyard food supplies along with fresh water are especially attractive to migrating birds because of the incredible amount of energy needed for their migration. Your supplemental feeding station will provide useful refueling stations for these birds. If other requirements exist in your backyard, the availability of a constant supply of food and water may entice nesting birds to breed on your property. An ample food supply is necessary for birds to attain breeding condition.

Summer is the season of greatest natural food supply for wild birds but it is also the time of their greatest need. With a nest of rapidly growing young, the parent birds must feed themselves and their offspring. During this rapid growth phase of young birds they need high protein diets. This is why most birds feed their young a diet of mostly insects. A suet feeder containing a mixture of one part peanut butter, four parts corn meal, one part flour and one part vegetable shortening will help supply the parent birds and their young the protein they need. Mealworms are also an excellent source of protein during this time.

Summer feeding can also attract fruit eating birds as well as seed and insect eating species. Overripe fruits and bananas are favorites. You can cut fruit open showing the inside and put them on trays or feeding spikes. This is also the season for feeding nectar eating birds. According to the Audubon Society, at least 53 bird species in North America are known to visit sugar water feeders. They consume the same sugar solution as the hummingbirds do.

Even though natural foods such as fruits and insects are abundant in the fall, this is also a season of great food demand. Bird populations are at high levels due to their new crop of fledglings. A protein rich diet of insects is important as most birds replace all of their feathers before migrating. These migratory birds must also put on ample fat to power their long migrations. Sunflower seed and Nyjer seed are both oil-rich seeds that will help birds increase their body fat. Also by feeding birds in early fall you may have a better chance of seeing fall migrants.

Winter is the most difficult season for birds living in the north. The cold weather and short days mean they need more food and have less time to forage for it. At the same time natural food sources are scarce. During this time of year supplemental feeding is most useful to wild bird populations. Both seed and suet should be provided during the winter months along with fresh water.

My strong advice is to keep your bird feeders full all year. You will be helping many wild birds on their migratory flights and supporting the resident birds in your area as well.