Ask SIB: What is this Bird and How Can I Prevent Birds from Flying into Windows?

QUESTION: Hi! This beautiful bird has been visiting at regular times every day for a month. He keeps flying into the same two windows – we’ve tried using reflectors, etc., but he’s undeterred. He usually hangs out with the Northern Cardinals, but oddly, he never joins them at our nearby feeders!

Thanks for any info!

Jenni Hesterman, SIB Member

ANSWER: Hi Jenni – This beautiful bird is a Great-crested Flycatcher. They are not known as a feeder eating bird. See the description below from the app iBirdPro for their feeding and foraging habits.

“Great Crested Flycatcher: Eats variety of large insects, including beetles, crickets, katydids, caterpillars, moths, and butterflies; also eats fruits and berries; forages by flying from a perch to snatch insects from foliage, mid-air, or on the ground.”

Learn more about the Great-crested Flycatcher here: 
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Crested_Flycatcher/overview#

There are many suggestions on how to prevent birds from flying into your windows. Understandably, many of us do not want to give up our views by installing heavy draperies or applying sticky notes every two inches. If you are serious about finding alternatives, there are some less obtrusive solutions. Check out the link below for some ideas and also read the comments from other bird enthusiasts. Some people have had success by simply moving the location of their feeder or not cleaning their windows. Now, that’s a win-win! 

Nancy Brown & Joleen Ardaiolo, SIB Board Members

Ask SIB – More Birds Mobbing

Question:

Hi, Today I was walking not far from a pond with high reeds.  A big heron was standing on the ground minding his own business when suddenly a red wing blackbird exploded out of the reeds and attacked the heron.  The big guy took off  and the red wing kept after him for twenty or thirty yards.  I assume the red wing was protecting a nest but do heron eat bird chicks?

Andy Allen, SIB Member
Red-winged Blackbird mobbing Great Blue Heron, by Larry deWitt;

Answer:

This interesting observation contains two parts based on the behavior of each bird. The Great Blue Heron is an opportunistic feeder and will eat anything it can get down its throat. This would presumably include Red-winged Blackbirds. Red-winged Blackbirds tend to be an aggressive species defending a territory against other Red-winged Blackbird and occasionally against predators. A male Red-winged Blackbird defends a territory as opposed to a mate. It is not uncommon for a strong male to hold a highly desirable territory which attracts numerous females. Therefore, the bird you saw chasing the heron was not defending a particular nest, but driving the bird from his territory and presumably his harem of females.

Mobbing, the behavior of chasing away a potential predator is a common behavior among many bird species. Is it innate or learned? I don’t believe anyone has studied the Red-winged Blackbird’s interactions. A surreptitious study by Konrad Lorenz and detailed in his book King Solomon’s Ring details how Rooks, a European species of crow, which he fed by hand, instinctively attacked his hand when he was holding a limp black object (similar to a dead Rook).

He tested this behavior on captive birds and learned that after the bird instinctively attached something holding a limp black object on three occasions did it learn to always attack that object. The final piece of the puzzle is once a bird learned to attack an object, it taught its progeny to attack that object even if they never saw the object holding something limp and black. For the Rooks, the behavior is both instinctive and learned. Maybe it is similar with the Red-winged Blackbird as they have been documented attacking tractors, cows, and horses, all things that might intrude into the birds habitat.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Ask SIB: Do Birds Cooperate to Chase off Predatory Birds?

Question: I saw something that that I thought interesting . We have a blue bird box and a Carolina Wren nest around 50 feet apart. A large Crow landed on the Bluebird box. Both the males attacked the crow to drive it off. Were they working together or as individuals? The Bluebird stood on the top of the box, the Wren on top of its nest. Chipped to each other and entered their nest. Were they communicating with each other?

Anonymous SIB Member
Crow mobbed by Baltimore Oriole in White Clay Creek State Park, Delaware.
Photo from Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Answer: What a cool observation! Normally, it is a House Wren that occupies a bluebird box. House wren are very aggressive and will even destroy a bluebirds eggs if it can. 

So normally, bluebirds do not tolerate having a wren nest nearby, unless the nest opening is too small for the bluebird. This leads me to believe the birds were not cooperating. Normally, both birds work to drive away predators. Nest predation is a major challenge for birds and crows are notorious for feeding on baby birds. Both the bluebird and the wren don’t want a crow nearby. So both would be inclined to attack the crow regardless of what their neighbor does.
This brings us to the second part of your question. Since the bluebird naturally competes with a wren, I suspect that the “communication” you saw was neighbors grousing at each other as opposed to bragging about their ability to chase a crow.

Recognizing that crows are highly intelligent birds, I bet this will not be the last time they visit. I suspect the crow will work hard to access the known food source-baby bluebirds and wren-either directly from the nest or waiting until the babies fledge. This is one reason why, as soon as babies come off the nest, the parents try to get them as far away from the nest and as SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”quickly as they can. 

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Ask SIB – Size of Opening for a Carolina Wren Nest Box

QUESTION: Every year Carolina Wrens nest in my front and backyard, either in the hanging plants, generic birdhouses I’ve received as gifts, etc. This year I bought some wren houses from Woodlink but the opening is only 1″ round. In googling it, I see “expert” sites contradicting themselves – recommending 1 1/8 or 1 1/2 or larger, depending on whether attracting House Wren, Carolina Wren, etc.) Anyone know what size I should enlarge it to?

Anonymous

ANSWER: Good question, which is my statement any time I do not know an unequivocal answer.

I do know that Carolina Wrens are opportunists nesting in cavities or any tight area like a planter as Mary has experienced, crotch of a tree, old pair of pants hanging in a garage (personal experience), or vine tangles. They can nest in a box with a 1 inch hole or a box up to a 1.5 inch hole, the recommended size for the Eastern Bluebird or larger. Most places recommend a 1 1/8 inch hole for Carolina Wren and 1 inch for House Wren. One of the primary reason for having a small hole is to prevent House Sparrows and European Starlings from using the nest. Neither of these species are an issue on Seabrook Island.

Choosing a larger hole opens up the potential for a variety of species to use your box.

Regardless of the size hole chosen, one may find that the House Wren will eventually usurp the box, most often filling it to the brim with sticks so the box cannot be used by other birds. Unlike the Carolina Wren, the House Wrens have a strong preference for nest boxes and more open, less shrubby areas.

One of the way to manage and encourage Carolina Wrens is to be ready early in the season. They should be laying eggs by mid-March. The House Wren will not be laying eggs until the first of May. This behavior allows the Carolina Wren to have its first brood prior to the House Wren even starting. The Eastern Bluebird starts in Mid-February.

Hope this helps.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Ask SIB: What Species are “Henry & Henrietta?”

Lake House resident Red-shouldered Hawks, Henry & Henrietta

Question: Does anyone know definitively what type of hawks are pretty much living behind the Lake House? I’m thinking red shouldered, since tail has black and white bands when flying. I call them Henry and Henrietta.

They can often be seen sitting on the bird house next to the lake, or on the roof, or the slats outside the exercise room. Today one of them perched there and then bent down and peeked inside at Melissa teaching.

Diane Allen, SIB member

The answer is a Red-Shouldered Hawk. You can learn more about this beautiful bird of prey by visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website. On Seabrook Island, they are often seen year-round near the Lake House, at the Equestrian Center and near the Recycling and Garden area.

Ask SIB if you have a bird related question.

Ask SIB: Where Have All the Pelicans Gone?

Sofia, 13-month old granddaughter of Dick & Marg Wildermann

SIB Received this email on Sunday 8/16/20:

Dear SIB

Our daughter has been renting a villa on Rolling Dunes, next to boardwalk #1, for two weeks.  We spend part of most days there, especially in the evening.  For two weeks, our 13-month old granddaughter, Sofia, loved being out on the porch or deck in the evening to watch the pelicans fly directly overhead.

The pelicans came over constantly, in groups of several or even 20 or more. We’ve noticed when walking the beach as well that there are many pelicans this year.

Well, Saturday evening there were very few pelicans flying over their villa in the evening.  On Sunday there were none.

Where have the pelicans gone? 

Sofia will be here for another week.  I promised her that SIB would bring the pelicans back.  So you now bear a heavy burden.  

Thank you,

Dick Wildermann

And then we received this follow-up note on Monday 8/17/20:

SIB friends:

We took Sofia to the property owner’s pool at North Beach today and there were lots of pelicans.  Thank you so much for taking care of our problem so quickly.  Sofia would point at them flying overhead and screech.  She loves pelicans.

I told her the SIB experts said we saw no pelicans yesterday because it was Sunday and they had taken the weekend off.  I hope that was the right answer.

Keep safe, Thank you, with love, Sofia

Dick Wildermann

Her mom, Jodi added,

Thanks! She’s a real birder already. She loves nothing more than the birds, especially the pelicans. She hasn’t learned yet that screaming at them chases them away rather than attracting them though.

Jodi Simopoulos

Besides having the weekend off, the only other explanation we at Seabrook Island Birders came up with is that the weather had changed and the Brown Pelicans had different flight patterns as directed by the Pelican Air Control (PAC). But in all seriousness, as this is a question many of our island residents and guests have asked, there probably is no logical reason we mortal humans could discern. Weather, tide, winds, fish schools, … all would have a bearing the pelicans would understand.

Ask SIB: Why is this Northern Cardinal Doing This?

This is a common question we receive from Seabrook Island Birder (SIB) members! Have you ever seen this behavior at your home?

We have a female cardinal that continues to try and get into the house. Generally 3-4 times a day she flies up the window sometimes she perched on the sill looking in. This has been going on for over four months.

Christine Dennis

For starters, rest assured the bird is not trying to get into the house. During the breeding season, birds aggressively attempt to drive off intruders of the same species. This is an instinctive behavior and not something the bird can control. What you are experiencing is a bird that sees its reflection in your window and instinctively attempting to drive the intruder away. The process follows a pattern. First the bird sees its reflection. Thinking it is an intruder, it displays a warning posture. Needless to say, the reflection responds with the same threat. This quickly accelerates to a full out attack. This is not something the bird can understand or learn not to do. 

The solution is to change the reflectivity of the surface the bird is attacking. This is easier said than done! There are several things you can try, none of them visually appealing. Some people have had success with strips if different color paper taped on the inside of the window  to break up the image. Completely covering the reflective surface on the outside works, but it also blocks the window. Installing screens will break up the reflection and soften the blow if the bird does hit the window. Finally, some people tie moving objects, pie tins, ribbons, etc., around the area to create movement that scares the bird away.

All that said, the bird will not hurt itself, will not break or damage the window, and will stop eventually when the breeding season ends.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Thanks to dlinnehan, we found this video on YouTube which provides great footage of both male and female North Cardinals attacking their own reflection.

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Ask SIB: How to Keep Ants off the Hummingbird Feeder

Is there any way to keep ants out of my Hummingbird feeders? There is a little cup in the middle that is supposed to keep them out but nonetheless they crawl in through the ports, then get trapped and most of them drown.

Melodie Murphy

To keep ants off of a hummingbird feeder, you need to create a water baffle. If your feeder is a hanging feeder, they sell them wherever you get your feeder supplies. Essentially,  you are placing a small reservoir of water between the hook and the feeder. The ants cannot get passed the water. This needs to be kept full.

Bob Mercer

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Ask SIB: How Do I Keep Squirrels Out of My Feeders?

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

I’m having a problem with pesky bossy squirrels that are cleaning out my bird feeders taking the great majority of the seed. I read that one can add cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper into the seed before putting it into the feeders and that this will deter the squirrels but not the birds (as they do not have taste receptors for capsaicin). As the bird expert, do you know whether or not that adding the pepper to the feeders will not hurt the birds and if not, approximately how much one needs to add?

Leslie Baylis

Quick response : Hi there!  You are correct – In fact you can buy suet with red pepper at Wild Birds and I can attest it works that squirrels don’t like and birds don’t mind. But let’s ask our “resident naturalist,” Bob Mercer, to see if he has any more details.

Nancy Brown

Nancy, you are right. Mammals do not like red pepper and birds don’t react to it. Some people think it is cruel for the squirrel, especially if they rub their eyes. I think a little shock therapy goes a long way. As to the amount, that is another question. The common wisdom is birds can tolerate 20,000 parts per million (PPM) while mammals can tolerate more like 20 PPM. So, you do not need a lot. One source, which is totally anecdotal suggested a ¾ cup for a 40 lb. bag of seed. Squirrels are quick learners, so if you do not get it strong enough the first time, who knows how they will behave. One word of caution! Red Pepper is a problem for us also. It can be a skin irritant and if you get it in your eyes, it will most likely involve a trip to the hospital, especially if you are working with large quantities. Do not shake the pepper flakes into your bird feeder on a windy day! Mix it inside.

My suggestion if you want to go this route is to try a ½ tsp of either Cayenne pepper or Red Pepper flakes in each feeder and see if it works. If it does, you should be able to reduce to ¼ tsp or even eliminate adding the pepper flakes once the squirrels are trained to stay away, repeating the process only when they catch on that you are no longer using the flakes.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Thanks, both Nancy and Bob. I put some cayenne pepper in the feeder on Wednesday afternoon and saw the squirrels yesterday (Thursday) but not up on the feeders- they were nosing around on the ground. However, today they’re not even under the feeders so I think this approach worked. Thank you both for your help. Now, maybe you have some wise advice about the deer eating the plants…

Leslie Baylis

Ask SIB: Nesting Anhingas

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Breeding Anhinga pair vs Great Egrets – photo by Valerie Doane

I’ve seen a male and female Anhinga, I assume a mating pair, on Jenkins Point Road in the lagoon rookery on the right.  You know better than I that there are only a few Egret nests in that rookery.  I noticed on several different visits over the last 10 days or so that the Anhinga pair was sometimes sitting on a nest and sometimes they were not and sometimes they were in a big time squabble with a pair of Great Egrets over the nest!  I have photos of the squabble on June 1st.  I swear the Egrets and Anhinga pair were fighting over the nest!

I was wondering about a few things and thought perhaps you might have some insight on the following:

1.     Do these two species often steal each other’s nest? 

2.     Do Anhinga’s typically nest in the same rookery as Egrets?

3.     Isn’t it late in the season for chicks to hatch? 

Valerie Doane

So for some quick answers, Nancy Brown responded as follows (be sure to “Read More” to see the answers and more photos!):

Continue reading “Ask SIB: Nesting Anhingas”