Roberts: How to protect your yard birds from danger

Roberts: How to protect your yard birds from danger

June 26th, 2012 by Dalton Roberts in Life Entertainment

An unwelcome bird tried to enter a box containing a family of what I think are Tennessee warblers in my yard. It reminded me of all the dangers birds face every day in our backyards.

First, about the Tennessee warbler. Years ago, when I lived on Benton Drive, I kept a grid of peanut butter out, and each summer a Tennessee warbler would come through and dine with me. All I remember about him is that he had big eyes and loved peanut butter. When I left Benton Drive, I lost him.

This happens all the time. We move and lose some of our bird friends. I also lost the white-throated sparrows and indigo buntings at Benton, but the bird I really missed was that big-eyed Tennessee warbler.

I was reluctant to say I had a nest of Tennessee warblers because I was so embarrassingly wrong last year when I wrote that I had a family of black-throated blue warblers and later discovered it was just tree swallows. While I am not a professional ornithologist, anyone with Roger Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds" can identify almost all the birds that come to his yard. Sometimes it is a close call.

I have asked Harold Sharp of the Riverwalk Bird Watching Club to come by and give me a second opinion on my warblers.

When an alien bird tried to enter the alleged Tennessee warbler's home this morning, the tiny little bird reacted like all birds: He attacked the home invader.

The most common invaders are crows, bluejays, mockingbirds and cowbirds. Female cowbirds actually lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. When the hosts bring food to their young, the cowbird fledglings are bigger and more aggressive and can get so much of the food that the smaller birds starve to death. Get a book on bird eggs, and when you see cowbird eggs in any of your boxes, remove and destroy them.

By far, the greatest backyard danger to your birds are cats. Feral cats stay hungry and can kill several birds a day. But the most well-fed cat in the world will stalk and kill birds. Chattanooga naturalist Robert Sparks Walker said a cat will kill a bird within minutes of eating a full meal.

The majority of cat owners turn their cats loose on your birds without a thought. So buy a Havahart trap, capture them, and take them to an animal shelter. If you know the owner, tell them what you have done. It is more thoughtful than what they have done to you by allowing their cats to use your property to stalk and kill.

When you are setting up your bird-watching area, do not put feeders any place where cats have a place to hide. Make sure your birds have at least 12 to 15 feet of escape room from the time the cat becomes visible.

Hawks are a menace to the birds in your backyard. I had a Cooper hawk hang around and kill several of my birds. I finally stung him with a BB gun, and he found happier hunting grounds.

You cannot completely protect your birds, but do what you can to make it difficult for predators to kill them.

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