Returning birds make for a rainbow at the feeders
Surprise — the Notebook is making a slightly early appearance this week.
Advertising for Saturday’s paper left no space for an Outdoor page — trust me, being squeezed out by ads is a good thing in this business these days — so rather than skip a week, it’s running today.
As mentioned before, the main activity out there remains of the feathered kind. Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and ruby-throated hummingbirds all are back in force, creating a sizable dent in our orange supply and keeping us busy mixing up that nectar.
These are among the later migrants, as they travel far to the south for the winter, to Central and even northern South America. Rose-breasted grosbeaks journey even further, so it can take awhile to fly back in spring.
Images on weather radar Thursday showed a major pulse that indicated warblers, thrushes and such favorites as indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers could be making the last push north, said Ryan Brady, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources office in Ashland.
The birds that returned earlier, such as Canada geese and other waterfowl, probably already are on the nest and we can expect to see downy ducklings and goslings any day now. Facebook birding lists from downstate Michigan and Wisconsin show photos of goose, mallard and merganser hatchlings, along with the first robin and mourning dove chicks.
One bit of advice I forgot to pass along last week from Laura Erickson — of “For the Birds” podcast, blog and public radio program fame — was on leaving out twine, yarn or other material birds might use for nests.
First, go for dull. Some people like to set out bright-colored string so they can better spot where nests might be. Problem is, if you can see it, predators can as well. Blue jays and American crows, in particular, will plunder nests to gobble up eggs or chicks if given the opportunity.
Second, don’t make any pieces longer than 3 to 4 inches, Erickson said. While the orioles will definitely use whatever they’re given, anything too long might become a hazard to the nestlings if they become entangled or, worse, have the string become so constricting it cuts off blood flow to a limb or other body part.
Erickson did suggest packing shed dog or cat fur into a clean suet cage for birds to use, as long as the pet has not been treated with an insecticide for ticks, fleas or other pests.
But truth is, birds can find plenty of other natural materials to make their nests, so it might be best to just let them function for themselves.
Those looking for scarlet tanagers to arrive should also keep watch for western tanagers. The scarlet has males that are bright red with black wings; females are green. The western is a rare visitor to the region, with yellow body and orange-red head — one online guide described it as looking like a flame — along with black wings.
Last year, a western tanager turned up at an area home along the Menominee River. This year, Wisconsin has at least 10 reports of western tanagers, which normally doesn’t occur any further east than the western edge of the Great Plains.
Like orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks, tanagers can be drawn to feeders that have jelly, orange halves and nectar. The other variety that can turn up in the region is the all-red summer tanager, again not as common as the scarlet.
All are spectacular birds well worth seeing and reporting if they turn up in your yard.
While we’ve had no real rare species show up at our feeders at Six Mile Lake, we did have an unusual bird on Mother’s Day: a leucistic blue jay.
I’ve written before about leucistic animals, such as a leucistic turkey in the Niagara, Wis., area. They are distinguished by a degree of white spotting — some will be fully white — or paler color, such as cream-colored “blond” gray squirrels or gray or brown crows. Even the all-white ones can be told apart from albinos by having dark eyes or other pigment rather than red eyes and pink nose and other skin.
As someone else described it well, this jay looked like bleach had been spilled on blue jeans. Unfortunately, it hasn’t returned, but at least it gave me a chance for some decent photos.
Fear the deer.
This is not a reference to the Milwaukee Bucks’ success in the NBA playoffs — though that’s great to see — but to the time of year.
The annual wave of new fawns in the region is only a couple weeks away. But before that happens, the pregnant does will have to separate themselves from their 2018 offspring.
That means a lot of confused and lost yearling deer will be out there, trying to figure out how to function without their mom for the first time in their young lives.
It behooves drivers to be extra vigilant in watching for these none-too-savvy young deer as they attempt to navigate this new reality.
Also, see page A-4 for advice on how to handle — or not — this year’s coming crop of offspring that might appear at risk or in distress.
Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or firstname.lastname@example.org.