Friday, January 29, 2016

How to turn a coconut into a bird feeder...

If you have a drill, a vice, a coconut, and some chain, you can make a super cute coconut bird feeder! Back in November I posted a Blue Jay gobbling up sunflower seeds out of a coconut bird feeder (click here for the post). Rick had made the feeder for me earlier in the day, and while he was making it, I photographed him. I had a hunch someone would want to know where I got it, or how I made it, and several people did, so here it goes...

1. Pick up a coconut from your local grocery store.  
Our Kroger's store carries coconuts that have been scored about halfway through. Look for those, because it's a breeze to open them with just a tap from a hammer along the score line. After you crack it open it, clean it out, then get busy...

2. Mark three equidistant spots to drill holes.   
You can do math to create the three evenly spaced points, but it's much easier to just guesstimate or use "The Force" (like I do). Use painter's tape to mark them.

Painter's tape marks the spots for the three holes. 

3. Knock out two of the "eyes."   
Find the three holes at the bottom of a coconut. Two are soft and are easy to push through. These "eyes" make ideal drainage holes to keep water from building up in the shell.

Use a screwdriver or the end of a pencil to push through the eyes to create the drainage holes.

4. Place the coconut in a vice.
Use cardboard squares to cushion the coconut and help keep it from slipping.

It's much easier to drill the holes if you can anchor the coconut in a vice. Little squares of cardboard make nice cushions.

5. Drill baby, drill.
Make sure the drill bit is large enough to create a hole that will fit the chain you've chosen. Drill about 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge.

It's better to drill a larger hole than a smaller hole. The chain I use isn't that wide, so a medium-sized bit works for me.

6. Cut three even lengths of chain, and open the last link on each chain.   
Only open one link at the end of each chain. Use the vice to secure the last link and simply twist it open with a needle-nosed pliers (or any type of pliers that fits).

It's easiest to open the chain by securing half of it in the vice.
You can use any type of chain. I like this type because it's easy to open the links, and the metal is very durable. I usually choose black because it doesn't stand out, but you can use any color. I've made coconut bird feeders using twine, rope, and leather (which looks cool), but chains are the best and last the longest.

7. Thread the open link through the drilled hole.   
Use the needle-nosed pliers to help you thread the link through. After it's through, close it up using the pliers.

It's very easy to attach the chain. Feed the link through and clamp it shut!

8. Hang the three loose ends of the chain on an S hook, and close the hook.   
Be sure to use the pliers to clamp the S hook closed so the chains don't slip off.

Could it be any easier? Hang the feeder in a tree, fill it with seed, and watch and wait!  

A sweet Carolina Chickadee was the first bird to sample the goods. The Blue Jay came next. The birds that most love this feeder are Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Blue Jays. Strangely enough, the squirrels leave it alone! 

When did my love affair with coconut bird feeders start?
It goes all the way back to February 9, 1906. Yes, you read that right...1906! That's when Edith Holden wrote about a coconut bird feeder in her book, A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. At the end of her book, on page 176, she included an illustration of the feeder, and I fell in love with it.

Edith Holden's book is a hand-written record of her daily walks and observations of the countryside around the small village of Olton in Warwickshire, England. Edith is a talented artist and naturalist and fills the pages of her book with beautiful watercolor illustrations of the wildlife and scenery she encountered every day on her walks. Rendered with a naturalist’s eye for detail, her paintings are soft, colorful and engaging. Her love and deep understanding of nature is apparent in every painting. She also scatters her favorite poems in with the illustrations and includes historical information and even folk sayings.

Other Options
Sunflower seeds are not the only thing you can put in the coconut. You can also fill it with suet, or even leave the coconut meat in it. The birds will peck away at it (and if you look closely at Edith Holden's painting above, you'll see that's what she did. The little birds are grabbing pieces of coconut from the shell.).  I want to try making a few suet recipes and putting the suet in a coconut. When I find one that works really well, I'll let you know!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rock Pigeons at Rock House...

Back in October, we took a trip to Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio. The park is only two hours from Cincinnati and offers wonderful hiking and spectacular scenery. Rock House is one of the caves in the park. Located halfway up a 150-foot wall of blackhand sandstone, the true cave has a 25-foot high ceiling, is about 30 feet wide, and is 200 feet long...but even better, it is home to a beautiful flock of Rock Pigeons....

A Rock House Rock Pigeon!

Rock Pigeons are city birds, right? So the last thing I expected to see when I stepped into the long dark tunnel deep in the woods was pigeons...but I shouldn't have been surprised. Originally, before humans came along and built cities, Rock Pigeons lived in crevices and caves on coastal rock walls and cliffs in Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. European colonists brought them to North America in the 1600s. Their name reflects their native habitat, so it was especially fun to find them living in the wild!

The trail leading to the Rock House is beautiful. 

Inside Rock House looking out. The pigeons would fly in and out through this opening in the cave. Birds roosted in the many crevices and cracks on the wall outside the cave as well as those inside. 

The birds would fly in and out of the cave, and I loved listening to their cooing and the constant flutter of their wings as they flew from roosting spot to roosting spot.

This fellow is above me on a ledge inside the cave. If I would look to my right, I would see out of the opening in the photo above. Eventually this pigeon flew outside while another flew back in.

Love those pink feet!

This small rectangular reservoir was carved into the sandstone by Native Americans. They would use it to collect water. Now the pigeons used it for drinking and bathing (see the video at the end of the post). 

A view out of the opening opposite the back cave wall where the birds were. This opening looks a little like a bird... 

Rock House video
Click here to watch the "Naturally Ohio: Rock House" video. It was made by the Ohio Public Broadcasting Station, and Pat Quackenbush, an ODNR Naturalist, is the narrator. Pat takes you on a tour of the trail and explains the flora, fauna and history of the Rock House. It's only 20 minutes, and it's really good!

Can pigeons diagnose cancer?
Click here for the article "Can Pigeons Really Diagnose Cancer? A new study says yes, but you're not likely to see them in lab coats anytime soon," written by Hannah Waters on the Audubon web site to learn about pigeons' ability to identify and sort visual patterns, including cancer cell patterns and healthy cell patterns. It can recognize all 26 letters in the alphabet, as well as different faces in photos.

The domestication of the Rock Pigeon
Click here to read about the earliest encounters of man with the Rock Pigeon. The first art appears in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets dating back over 5000 years ago, but it's more likely the pigeon was domesticated by Neolithic man over 10,0000 years ago in the area near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when humans started cultivating grains. In prehistoric times, Rock Pigeons probably lived with man in caves and in the crevices on the surrounding rock walls and cliffs.

A unique way of drinking water
Pigeons and doves drink water by using their bills like a straw, sucking water in while their bill is still immersed in the water. Most birds take a sip and toss their head back so the water flows down their throat. The following video is dark and poor quality (taken in a cave with my cell phone), but you can see the pigeon sucking up the water through its bill...

A Rock Pigeon drinking water at the Rock House from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fly Red, fly!!!

Mrs. Red-shouldered Hawk is watching you...

A Red-shouldered Hawk in the mulberry tree in our backyard. 
She perched there for about 30 minutes before flying off empty-taloned. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker...

...has taken up residence in our backyard! Wait, what? A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker? We've lived in our home for almost 17 years, and we've never had one visit our yard ever, but this fella has been here at least a week. I hope he sticks around for the rest of the winter. The most common time to see Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in our area is during spring and fall when they are migrating through. Sapsuckers nest much farther north, and they usually winter farther south, but we have one that appears to be wintering in our backyard...

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perches on our deck railing amid snowflakes and a small accumulation of snow.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on our deck. 

It's the third week of January, and if you look up the bird list on the Cincinnati Audubon's website (click here), you'll find Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are given a "D," which means they are hard to find in our area this time of the year. So yahoo for our new little visitor!

...and what a sweet yellow belly you have!

A wintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker eating suet while snowflakes are falling all around him.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers like sap, but there is no sap flowing around our house, so suet is the next best thing.
Our sapsucker has visited all of our suet feeders but has ignored the sunflower seed and peanut feeders.

This suet feeder is right outside our living room window, making it easy to get a good look at him. 

A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker climbs a mulberry tree. Snow is falling making this a lovely winter scene.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker clings to a mulberry tree in our backyard while snowflakes fall gently all around.

Another view of the sapsucker through our living room window. The mulberry tree he is on is further away than the suet feeder, but still close enough to see him fairly well.

Our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is not trying to drill any sapwells on the tree. He doesn't drill if sap is not flowing.

Sapsuckers start drilling sapwells when the sap starts flowing in early spring. They don't drill if there is no sap to be had. On Cornell's "All About Birds" website (click here), I read hummingbirds love hanging around sap wells and drink the sap readily. In some parts of Canada, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds time their spring migration so they arrive with the sapsuckers. Bats and porcupines visit sapsucker sapwells too, so these little birds help feed a lot of other animals! Here is another cool fact: sapsuckers will roll ants and other small insects in sap to create a "sugar-coated bolus" to feed to their young (click here for the source on the Penn State Extension site).

I hope our new Yellow-bellied Sapsucker sticks around all winter. It's been fun watching him. 

We have had a very warm winter so far. Tonight, however, the temps are dropping to the single digits and wind chills will be fierce. I hope the cold does not drive this little cutie south. I'll keep you posted!