Take care of birds in winter, esp. finches


January 21, 1996|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

More than 20 species of birds call Maryland home each winter. This year my wife and I have enjoyed watching blue jays, cardinals, doves, chickadees, finches, titmice, sparrows, woodpeckers and even crows, as they have visited our feeders.

The supermarket where we shop includes inexpensive loose bulk bird feed choices, and we never leave that section without filling a 2-pound bag or more.

These inexpensive bird feed mixes are available throughout Anne Arundel County at grocery stores, garden shops and discount stores.

Popular mixes are millet, cracked corn, milo, cracked grain, sunflower seed and canary seed. Our offerings of suet seldom fail to attract woodpeckers.

A recent Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology report recorded nearly 500,000 bird visits to cardboard squares used as bird feeders for a survey. The feeding habits of more than 30 species of birds were documented.

The Cornell tests revealed that "birds that usually feed in trees, such as the various finches, seem to prefer sunflower seeds. Ground feeders, including juncos, doves and sparrows, prefer millet."

When you watch the birds feed in your backyard, be on the lookout for house finches with red, swollen, crusty eyes.

These birds have a respiratory disease caused by mycoplasma gallisepticum, a bacteria that usually infects poultry.

The disease, reported Margaret Barker of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, poses no known risk to humans, but can be fatal to the finches. Sometimes the birds' eyes swell so much that they can not see, so they have a difficult time finding food.

Last winter, diseased birds showed up at about 20 percent of the observation sites in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. So far, only house finches are known to be affected.

To keep the disease from spreading clean your bird feeders regularly with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water is recommended) and dry the feeder well before refilling.

You can prevent overcrowding of birds by adding extra feeders to your yard -- the disease spreads when the birds are in close contact. Report any sightings of sick birds to the Department of Natural Resources.

You may want to participate in the Cornell survey.

"We'd love to have more help," said Rick Bonney, director of education at the lab. "Being part of the project is easy. We'll send a survey kit with data forms and instructions. All you have to do is watch your backyard feeders as you usually do and record whether any house finches visit.

"If they do, you'll note whether they show any disease symptoms. Then, once a month, you'll send your data forms to us so we can add your observations to our data bank."

For more information or to sign up in the lab's Project Feeder Watch, write House Finch Survey, P.O. Box 11, Ithaca, N.Y. 14850 or call 1-800-843-BIRD.

CCA meetings scheduled

Anne Arundel County has three Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland chapters that meet regularly.

The Annapolis chapter, headed by Dr. Felix Heald, meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Tawes State Office Building, Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue, Conference Room C-1. At the Feb. 13 meeting, the chapter will hear from DNR Secretary John Griffin. For more information, call Heald at (410) 268-2925.

The Mid-Shore chapter meets on the second Thursday of the month. For the site of the February meeting and its featured speaker, contact Chapter President Bill Mann at (410) 822-7614.

George Bentz is president and Joe Spiegel is vice president of the North Arundel Chapter, which meets the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Lake Shore Volunteer Fire Department on Mountain Road.

The Feb. 22 meeting will include chapter formation, a tackle drawing and auction as well as guest speaker Al Goetze, the CCA Maryland legislative committee chairman. Call (410) 255-3678 or (410) 974-4628 for information.

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