Turkey Vultures are large birds, with a wingspan of 63- 72 inches and weighing in at 1.5-5 pounds. The females are slightly larger than the males, but otherwise the sexes look alike. Both have the tell-tale featherless red head, dark body feathers, gray underside wing-tip feathers, and a vicious-looking hooked pale beak. Vultures have no septum separating their nostrils, so it’s possible to look in to one nostril and see straight through the beak. Generally considered one of the least charismatic avians, turkey vultures are actually very gentle and exceedingly non-aggressive. (Potentially this results from having few natural predators and not having to hunt and kill to eat.) In the air, you can spot a vulture by its flight pattern. Their upswept wings are held in a V-shape as they glide on thermal air currents. (This is unlike eagles and hawks, which tend to soar on flat wings, or crows, which flap their wings frequently.) Contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a dead animal. Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for long flights, searching for food, or playing. On or near the ground, you’ll often see vultures adopting the “horaltic pose” with wings spread wide, looking quite fierce. Research into this behavior suggests that vultures may be absorbing sunlight to return to full temperature after dropping a few energy-saving degrees overnight. Another theory suggests they are airing out their wings. Since vultures can’t sweat, they urinate on their legs when they need to cool off. Additionally, this washes any carrion-carried bacteria off their legs and feet. Turkey vultures also lack the vocal capability of other birds. They hiss when threatened and grunt when they’re courting, or when they’re immature and hungry. Turkey vultures get the bulk of their calories from carrion, using their superior sense of smell to detect the gases produced by the beginning stages of decay. Adaptively speaking, their bald head helps keep vultures clean while sticking their head inside carcasses. They feed their young (2 per year) by regurgitation. While the general belief that vultures “projectile vomit” is mistaken, they do also vomit as a stress response. One theory holds that their unreliable food source forces them to gorge, often to the point of rendering flight impossible. The ability to throw up a token amount not only renders them able to fly away but also frequently distracts the predator, which goes after the meat instead of the vulture. All this clean living puts a vulture’s estimated maximum lifespan at about 21 years, with the oldest on record being a ripe 37 years old!
Symbolic of “impossibility and love”, this month’s featured bird is a perfect February surprise! The Pale-Bellied Hippogriff is a livestock-sized allegedly mythological avian with the charming head and talons of an eagle, impressively large wings, and the torso and legs of a horse. The Pale-Bellied Hippogriff is often confused with the Griffin, another irruptive species you may see this winter due to a scarcity of chivalric knights in its usual Canadian roosting grounds. In fact, the Hippogriff subspecies arose from the mating of a Griffin and a mare. Don’t be fooled! If the eagle-headed Hippogriff at your feeder has the torso of a lion and seems to be ferociously guarding a pile of gold, then that’s a Griffin. Fortunately, both are omnivorous and will be more than glad to feast upon this month’s featured seed, Black Oil Sunflower Seed! (Unfortunately, if you’ve got a Griffin, they’ll eat it all, not let you near to refill the feeder, and then get cranky…we’ll cover that in another article.) An easy way to remember whether or not you need to move your entire family out of state: “Body of a Horse, Hippogriff of course! Body of a lion, somethin’s a dyin’.”
Now that you’ve positively identified the fantastically rare bird at your feeder as a Hippogriff, you can relax and enjoy the show. You’ll notice the Hippogriff is comfortable eating both directly from the feeder as well as scavenging on the ground for dropped seed. Since the Hippogriff has also been known to impatiently consume the entire feeder, you can use any available feeder you’d like to draw in these fascinating birds. Many of our readers have found significant success with feeders made of old bathtubs, hollowed out cars, rain barrels, and corn silos. But they also enjoy a simple platform feeder, such as our 3-in-1 Platform Feeder (featured below)! As the Hippogriff becomes more comfortable with consuming your entire stock of Black Oil it may use a subtle series of raspy and echoing midnight bellows (lasting typically 3 to 5 days) to communicate the exact location of your yard to its friends. No need to fret, Black Oil is 20% off all month! And Hippogriffs usually migrate to Narnia by April.
Coloring contest! Click here to download:(Entries must be received by February 28, 2013)
July’s featured bird has a gray head and back with a prominent crest on his head. The gray throat and bright yellow belly extends down to a reddish-brown tail. Eggs will appear to be white or buff with brown markings. A treetop hunter of deciduous forests and suburban areas, the Great Crested Flycatcher is easier to hear than to see. The call of the Great Crested Flycatcher is a a strong rising “wee-eep.” They also have a noisy grating call. To hear the calls press the play button below! This is a common bird of just about any wooded area, it lives high up in the trees rarely coming to the ground. The Flycatcher is aptly named because it feeds by “gleaning” insects from the leaves of trees, but will also eat fruit. Breeding throughout Ohio, this bird stuffs its nest with a collection of fur, feathers, string, snakeskin, small twigs and even trash! Who doesn’t love a bird that eats pesky bugs? See if you can spot one this summer.
The very best way to attract birds is to offer them the kinds of foods they would find and consume in nature, and that starts with offering bird-friendly plants.
TREES: Hackberry, White Spruce, White Pine, Red & Sugar Maples, River Birch, Hornbeam, Flowering Crabs, European Spindle Tree (Eastern Wahoo), Pagoda Dogwood, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Black Hills Spruce, White Spruce, Colorado Spruce, White Pine, English Oak, Regal Prince Oak, Bald Cypress, Ironwood Tree (Hop-Hornbeam), Norway Spruce, Flowering Dogwoods, Sweet Gum, Black Gum, Sassafras, Chokecherry, Japanese Tree Lilac
SHRUBS: Golden Elderberry, Black Lace Elderberry, Serviceberry, Beauty Berry, Western Arborvitae, Hemlock, Button Bush, Cotoneasters, Vernal & Common Witch-Hazel, Red & Yellow Winterberry, Arrow Wood Viburnum, Nanny Berry Viburnum, Black Haw Viburnum, American Cranberry Bush Viburnum, Red Chokeberry, Summer Sweet, Spice Bush, Bayberry, Barberry, Fragrant Sumac, Snowberry, Cardinal Candy Viburnum, Blue Muffin Viburnum, Witherod Viburnum, Black Haw Viburnum, Michael Dodge Linden Viburnum, Winterthur Viburnum, Molly Schroeder Viburnum, Tea Viburnum, Pink Beauty Viburnum, C.A. Hildebrandt’s Wrightii Viburnum, Blueberries, Junipers, Japanese Yew, Eastern Arborvitae, Gray Dogwood, Stag Horn Sumac, Rose of Sharon, Lead Plant (False Indigo), Hollies
GRASSES: Northern Sea Oats Grass, Dallas Blues Switch Grass, North Wind Switch Grass, Flame Grass, Little Zebra Grass, Little Bluestem Grass
The Rock Pile also carries countless PERENNIALS for attracting songbirds, hummingbirds and butterflies! Check them out for yourself!
A tropical-looking bird, they arrive late in spring and leave early in autumn. The name “tanager’ comes from a South American Tupi Indian word meaning any small, brightly colored bird. A striking black-winged red bird, the Scarlet Tanager is a common species of the eastern forest interior. Despite its brilliant coloring it is often overlooked because of its rather secretive behavior and its preference for the forest canopy. This beautiful bird will eat insects and spiders, some earthworms, and fruits. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of this amazing summer bird!
Click below to hear the Scarlet Tanager
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