The Importance of Handouts
by Ro Wauer
Drought conditions significantly increase the importance of handouts and water for the wildlife that utilize our yards. Our yard in Mission Oaks has become a feeding and watering area for more wildlife than usual during the last few weeks. The birdseed in our feeders had been disappearing much quicker than usual, although the number of birds that were utilizing the feeders had not changed all that much. But then it all became clear when we discovered a white-tailed deer also taking advantage of the birdseed handouts, stretching for seed in the rather small feeders. This individual doe is probably the same mamma deer that had left her fawn in our yard a few weeks ago. But now she leaves her fawn hidden in a brushy area along the edge of the yard, not encouraging it to also take birdseed. We did get a distant sighting of the fawn a couple days ago, so we know it is still about. We wonder if it will join its mother at the feeders before long.
Another wild animal taking advantage of our bird feeders of late, besides the regular birds and squirrels, is a cottontail. This individual will sit underneath the feeders and feed on the various seeds that have been brushed off the feeders by the birds. It seems very content to take leftovers. Yet it also will eat grasses in other locations in the yard. Our cottontail seems to be a loner. We have not recently seen its mate that had been present a few weeks ago.
The birds currently utilizing the feeders include the ever present cardinals, chickadees, titmice, blue jays, as well as Inca, mourning, and white-winged doves. A male painted bunting has become a regular as well. During most summers the green female painted buntings will also take advantage of the birdseed handouts, but we haven’t seen the ladies yet this year. Maybe they are still nesting. But as dry as it is this year there is a good chance that they will not be able to produce young.
Drought conditions have also increased the use of our birdbaths. Water is always important for wildlife, but never as much as this summer. All of the mammals – the deer, squirrels, and cottontail - constantly drink from the birdbaths. And all the birds, not just those that utilize seed, spend an inordinate amount of time at the birdbaths. Mockingbirds, yellow-billed cuckoos, white-eyed vireos, eastern bluebirds, Carolina and house wrens, and blue-gray gnatcatchers also visit the birdbaths on occasion.
The two larger birds that seem to enjoy the birdbaths are the resident red-shouldered hawks and a barred owl. The hawks seem to think they own the yard, and they will settle down in one of the birdbaths for an extended stay; undoubtedly an extremely pleasurable experience on a hot day. But on a couple occasions in recent days, and for the first time in the years we have lived in our home, a barred owl has taken over the birdbath. It, too, like the hawk, will settle in to enjoy the cool bath. None of the smaller birds bother either the hawk or the owl during their afternoon baths. And their presence provides Betty and me a super opportunity to photographs these most welcome visitors.