ANTICS AT THE NECTAR FEEDER

I have mentioned before that the nectar feeder (that I usually refer to as ‘the pub’) is not frequently used when there are plenty of natural nectar sources available – the aloes and Cape Honeysuckle are very popular during winter.

aloe

The other day, however, I came across a query about the possibility of weavers and white-eyes hogging the feeder to the exclusion of other birds. This led me to pay special attention to the use of ‘the pub’ during the last week of August. Birds which frequented it during this time include: Forktailed Drongo, Cape Weaver, Village Weaver, Black Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Greater Double-Collared Sunbird, and Blackheaded Oriole.

Collectively the weavers are a scrappy lot at the best of times, so it is not uncommon to see one chasing another off ‘the pub’, especially when a lot of them are at the feeding station at once. I was interested to note that the female Cape Weavers appeared to be more aggressive about chasing each other of the perch than the males were.

Black Sunbirds tend to make a noise as they announce their approach to the feeder; sometimes waiting their turn perched on a nearby branch and at other times darting in as soon as another bird has left the feeder. They are sometimes chased off by weavers – as are the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. Male Black Sunbirds tend to perch, look around and then draw from the nectar feeder with intent. Females, on the other hand, make a noise, sip, and look around – repeating these actions until they have had their fill.

Cape White-eyes generally approach the feeder either mid-morning or during the latter part of the afternoon when other birds have left to find food elsewhere. I have not observed them chasing another species of bird away – their own kind, yes.

Cape White-eye

While the Forktailed Drongos do not use the feeder all that often, they do drive other birds away. Sometimes they emit what appears to be an alarm call that causes all birds, from a tiny Bronze Manikin to the much large Rock Pigeon, to flurry off to the safety of branches in nearby trees. On other occasions the drongos literally bump other birds off the perch – especially weavers. I watched three drongos chasing each other off in rapid succession the other day in order to have their turn at ‘the pub’ – none were content to wait.

forktailed drongo

I include a few pictures to show the structure of the feeder: a wooden frame with a hole in it large enough to fit a Mrs Balls Chutney bottle; a hole in the lid of the bottle has a copper u-bend soldered into it.

nectar feeder

feederlid

Depending on the weather and the availability of natural sources of nectar, we refill the bottle from once or twice a week to every ten days or so.

FEEDING GARDEN BIRDS

Years ago I read that providing seed and / or fruit to attract birds to one’s garden does not necessarily make them dependent on it for survival. Having been away for three weeks, I can attest that birds clearly seek their nourishment elsewhere when none is provided on a daily basis for I have not noticed a decrease in them since our return.

We have truly gardened for birds, transforming our garden from a cactus haven to one with a wild forested area, indigenous fruiting trees, aloes and other indigenous flowers as well as providing an area with natural grass that is allowed to seed at will. There is actually plenty of shade, water, fruit, worms, grains, nectar and insects for the local birds to live on without them depending on me to augment their intake.

I do though – for my own enjoyment when I have tea outdoors and wish to enjoy observing the presence of the birds in my garden. Otherwise the birds feast on whatever bounty they can find. The yellow carpet of canary creeper blossoms and the orange Cape Honeysuckle flowers currently attract Cape White-eyes and Village Weavers; the fig tree hosts African Green Pigeons, Redwinged Starlings and Blackeyed Bulbuls; while the Olive Thrushes appear to be finding all sorts of interesting things to eat after the recent rain – all without any help from me.

Two articles appeared in my inbox this week that set me thinking. One suggests that providing food attracts aggressive birds, such as doves and sparrows, to the detriment of indigenous species. Can one get a bird more aggressive than a Fork-tailed Drongo on a mission? I have often mentioned the way it whips food out of the beaks of weavers on the wing – yet they happily share the ‘pub’ with the weavers, white-eyes, Black-headed Oriole and sunbirds. The other really aggressive bird is the Pin-tailed Whydah – we had a resident one in our garden for years that actively chased away anything from a canary to a Rock Pigeon – yet even he had to retire from time to time to chase his wives or to gather strength for the next onslaught!

It is true that the number of Laughing Doves feeding on the seed I scatter on the lawn have increased – I counted seventeen of them perched on the Acacia tree today and often there are many more – but they move off when the seed is done to seek food elsewhere in the garden and wider afield. They jostle for the food along with weavers, bulbuls, thrushes, Bronze Manikins among others – each intent on getting what they can while it is still there and sometimes returning later in the day to glean what had been missed. They certainly do not hang around waiting for the next feeding session.

I mix the finer wild bird seed with crushed poultry grain for the hanging feeder as this gives the smaller birds, such as the Bronze Manikins and various canaries a better chance of getting something more suited to them.

Granted, the findings described in the article refer to gardens in New Zealand. In South Africa we are fortunate to have a wide variety of bird species that have adapted to urban living and which enjoy the natural food in addition to whatever I might provide.

Of greater concern is a warning against using artificial sweeteners in bird feeders. The article specifically mentions Xylitol, an alcohol sugar used in many brands of sweeteners. It refers to such concoctions having caused the death of up to 30 Cape Sugarbirds in one area.

Some people are opposed to the provision of providing sugar ‘nectar’ while others actively encourage the practice – especially in times of drought. My experience is that when there are many other natural sources available, our ‘pub’ is hardly visited at all.

What are your thoughts on providing some food for the wild birds that visit your garden?

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

We woke to the soft sound of light rain early this morning and watched as silvery curtains of raindrops swept past the window in the breeze. Laughing Doves darted out from the shelter of the fig tree to find seeds on the sodden lawn and a queue of birds including sunbirds, Cape White-eyes and Blackeyed Bulbuls, made a beeline for the nectar feeder (‘the pub’) before retreating to some secret place behind the leaves.

I listened to the swishing sound of tyres on the wet street and welcomed the dampness of this grey day. We seldom turn our noses up at rain in the Eastern Cape for we so often had to endure long periods without.

Water droplets sparkle so beautifully in the sunlight, such as these on a nasturtium leaf in our garden.

SONY DSCI have already shown the mystery of a zebra appearing in the mist in the Addo Elephant National Park. Usually when we wake to our town shrouded in thick mist during the summer months we know that we are in for a stinker of a hot day. On a rainy day like today though, the heavily laden clouds gently caress the top of the surrounding hills or retreat to form an even greyness that casts an eerie light on the ground.

While on the subject of the Addo Elephant National Park, I loved watching this particular herd bathing in a waterhole: they tramped around the edges, squishing up the mud, and squirted muddy water over their bodies until they glistened elephant in mud bathin the sunlight and changed the colour of these wonderful creatures as the mud dried.

Along with the pattering of raindrops against the window panes and the wonderful excuse to stay indoors on such a rainy day comes the joy of seeing a rainbow – or part of one – peeping through the clouds.

SONY DSC

FEBRUARY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

FEBRUARY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

Not only is February a short month, it was a busy one too with little time for bird watching. I have recorded 43 species with the ubiquitous Village Weaver being the first and the Southern Masked Weaver the last entry on the list. The easiest way to distinguish between these two weavers in a hurry is to note the heavily blotched back of the former – no wonder it used to be called the Spotted-backed Weaver!

A pair of Knysna Louries has flitted in and out of the fig tree – I cannot yet bring myself to call them Knysna Turacos. Some Streakyheaded Canaries have called at the bird feeder and I have seen some Sombre Bulbuls (now called Sombre Greenbuls) darting through the dense cover of bushes on the fringes of the lawn. The Speckled Mousebird is still sitting on its nest perched at the top of the fig tree.

I have experimented with different colours of sugar water in the ‘pub’ and find that red is the most popular, although the sunbirds and other visitors do not seem to mind blue or purple. The yellow mixture (granted it was pale in hue) was ignored until I added some red food colouring to brighten it up a bit. Just for fun, I swapped the ‘pub’ and the bird feeder around one morning. In due course the female Black Sunbird made her way to where she assumed the ‘pub’ was and perched on the feeder – pecked at the seed container, flew off, returned seconds later and tried again before disappearing. I changed them back to their original positions, but it took a while before the sunbird returned – probably wondering if she had had a bad dream.

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pintailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Canary
Yellow Weaver
 

 

JANUARY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

JANUARY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

I recorded a very pleasing 47 species of birds in my garden during January, the first being a Fork-tailed Drongo. These beautiful black birds swoop down from The Pubnowhere to catch insects on the wing, are not averse to drinking from the nectar ‘pub’ and often peck at other food put out for general avian consumption. The last on my list is a male Pin-tailed Whydah. For several years in a row we had a resident one which guarded its territory jealously against birds bigger than itself. It was entertaining to watch its energetic courtship ‘dances’ and the way it chased after the females, hardly giving them a moment to peck a single seed! For the last two years, however, the Pin-tailed Whydah has been a visitor only – and a fleeting one at that. The ‘pub’ referred to earlier was a Christmas gift that has given me endless joy. It is visited regularly by Cape White-eyes, a variety of weavers, the Fork-tailed Drongos and the local sunbirds – the Black (Amethyst) Sunbird, Olive Sunbird and the Greater Double-Collared Sunbird. It has also been satisfying watching a Speckled Mousebird build its nest high up in the enormous Natal Fig that dominates the ‘wild’ part of the garden.

My January list is:

African Green Pigeon

Barthroated Apalis

Black Crow

Black Cuckoo

Black Harrier

Black Sunbird (Amethyst)

Blackcollared Barbet

Blackeyed Bulbul

Blackheaded Oriole

BokmakierieSONY DSC

Boubou Shrike

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Cape Robin

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Weaver

Cape White-eye

Cardinal Woodpecker

Cattle Egret

Common Starling

Crowned Plover

Darter

Fiscal Shrike

Forktailed Drongo

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Grey Heron

Greyheaded Sparrow

Hadeda Ibis

Hoopoe

Klaas’ Cuckoo

Laughing Dove

Lesserstriped Swallow

Olive Sunbird

Olive Thrush

Pale Chanting Goshawk

Paradise Flycatcher

Pintailed Whydah

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Redeyed Dove

Redwinged Starling

Rock Pigeon

Southern Masked Weaver

Speckled Mousebird

Steppe Buzzard

Village Weaver

Whiterumped Swift

Yellow Canary

Yellow Weaver