Behaviors of Your Backyard Birds

May 7, 2013

The bird aficionados out there will know that birds do not simply fly around, eat, and sleep. What the casual birder may not know, however, is that the beautiful birds in your backyard are much busier, more aware of how to take care of themselves, and more sociable than many people realize. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, what follows are some of what we think are the neatest and most interesting things that birds do when they’re not flying around, eating or sleeping – in other words, what they do when they’re not doing stereotypical bird things.

Anting
Bluebird - worms - flowers SBMore than 200 birds engage in this curious practice, which involves picking up ants and placing them in their feathers. The reason for this? It’s not that the birds wanted to give the ants a free ride somewhere – this process actually assists in getting rid of pesky external parasites. Not only that, but it can also help soothe irritated skin.

Bathing in Dust
You might be thrown for a loop when one of the birds in your backyard opts to roll around in dust rather than the bath you’ve provided for them. Don’t worry, however – this is not the bird indicating that it’s ungrateful for the inclusion of the bath in your backyard. In fact, they’ll probably soon be right back to bathing in their usual water. But why the dust? Incredibly, there’s a reason for birds to “bathe” in dust. The dust, after all, helps them to reduce moisture, align their feather barbs, and/or get rid of external parasites. So the next time you see a bird rolling in dust, don’t assume it’s mistaken dirt for water – know that the bird has a very good reason for what it’s doing.

Courtship
Come spring time, if you have a lot of beautiful birds that frequent your feeders and baths in your yard, you’ll probably a good deal of energetic activity by the birds. This is not simply because they are excited to feed from the seed or suet you’ve provided – in all likelihood, many of them are engaging in courtship. Whether it’s by seeing who can sing (or peck, in the case of woodpeckers) the loudest, dance the best (such as morning doves), share the most seed (such as cardinals), or build the best nest (such as house wrens), birds of all kinds court in different ways. It’s a joy to watch whichever way, especially when you know why they’re doing it.

Seed Analysis2973sum
That bird – likely a chickadee or red-breasted nuthatch – who’s staring at and inspecting your seeds as though trying to determine if they’re actually seeds? It’s not crazy. It’s simply weighing different seeds to determine which ones are the heaviest, and thus the ones most worth eating. In the birds’ minds, they expend so much energy in simply finding the feeder that they want to get the most bang for their buck, so to speak. So make sure you’ve always got your highest-quality seed out for these birds.
So the next time you see a bird doing something questionable, curious, or just seemingly silly, know that it likely has a very good and very healthy reason for doing so. Backyard birds are fascinating to watch, but even more so when you know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

By Sean Peick (Guest Writer)

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