About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Do birds know winter is coming?

Two very good questions about birds and the changing seasons:
We went from air conditioner to heater in one day. Do birds know what's coming? ~ Ionia, Michigan
 
I'm watching a black and white bird jumping from the ground under the feeder to the tree trunk, ground to the tree trunk and running upside down. Is it playing some game? ~ Livonia, Michigan

To me, what makes days like these so beautiful is knowing that change is in the air. Every time I load seed into the car at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store I look up and soak up the sun. The crisp mornings, bright colored leaves, and excited bird activity all herald winter’s approach.

Birds know instinctively that winter is approaching too. Some bug, fruit, and nectar birds migrate south. Other birds that over-winter in Michigan may switch their diet to berries, nuts, crab-apples, and seeds.

The black and white nuthatch you saw bouncing from under the feeder to the trunk of a tree may be taking seeds and storing it under the tree bark to eat later.

Just like squirrels, some birds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, blue jays and woodpeckers will hide or cache their food to retrieve and eat at a later time. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to keep their stash a secret from competitors and help them survive during bad weather and when food sources are low.

Each seed is placed in a different location and to remember where each one is, neurobiologists have discovered that the part of the brain that processes spatial information increases in the birds’ that hoard food. They can find each hiding spot accurately even a month later.

By providing an easily accessible food source, you can help your birds with their caching needs in the fall. Below is a little more detail on some of your favorite birds' caching behaviors.

  • Cache seeds (in the shell and out), nuts, insects and other invertebrate prey
  • Food is typically cached about 100 feet from feeders
  • May carry off several seeds at a time, but each item is stored in a separate location
  • Store food in knotholes, bark, under shingles, in the ground and on the underside of small branches
  • Prefer to cache hulled sunflower seeds, because they are easier and faster to cache; occasionally mealworms
  • Food is typically cached about 45 feet from feeders
  • Store food in bark crevices on large tree trunks and on the underside of branches
  • Cache sunflower, peanuts and safflower one seed at a time
  • Food is typically cached about 130 feet from feeders
  • 80% of the time seeds are removed from their shell before hidden in tree trunks
  • Cache acorns, peanuts in the shell, and sunflower seeds
  • They can carry several nuts at one time in their esophagus.
  • A single blue jay can cache or hide as many as 5,000 acorns up to 2.5 miles from their original source and retrieve them when needed.
  • Jays cache nuts by burying them singly in the ground in their territory.
Related articles:

- Birds Move Trees http://bit.ly/oPqFgG
- Screech Owls cache uneaten prey items in cavities http://bit.ly/pJ7jCP
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker stores its food in the barks of trees http://bit.ly/nqYS7j
- Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard http://bit.ly/qFANnl  
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/qq5xu1 
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/ngkPX3

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