Heated Hummingbird Feeder

hummingbird on feeder

To our surprise, there are a few solutions to provide heated hummingbird feeders out there, although they can be hard to find.  Our solution came in the way of a plastic cup with a lightbulb that was sold in a local wild bird store for $40.  Excessive?  Indeed.  However, it had the one bit that we couldn’t easily (or be bothered to deal with) replicate: A built-in fuse for the tiny 7-watt lightbulb to prevent any fire hazards.

hummingbird feeder flat circle

First, the feeder itself is the flat circle type.  The hummingbirds seem to prefer this, as it allows them to perch easily. It’s also easier to clean than the traditional bottle feeders.

heated hummingbird feeder

Once attached by way of some bungee / elastic cords and plastic hooks, it lights up when plugged in and is enough to prevent the food (liquid) from freezing.  And at night, it looks like a tiny red UFO in the backyard – bonus!

Indeed, our entertainment needs are simple.

The Case of the Shrinking Cat Tree

cat in cat tree

We have an aging cat.  He’s about 14 years old now, and he’s our last surviving cat.  Lazy Orange Fat Cat, bless her soul, has moved on to greener pastures (Where she can chew on more plastic unhindered by humans and watch the world go by, no doubt).

And we have a shrinking cat tree.

More specifically, as the cat gets older, there is an inverse proportional decrease in the size of the cat tree.  Courtesy of some fancy (not really) power tools.  Really, we just want him to be able to get up and enjoy his tree.  Were it not for the dog, we’d just put his food on the ground.  But you know Booper…

The cat used to need the chair (seen to the left) in order to get to the cat tree.  However, it’s been gradually getting lowered to the point that now, really, the chair is quite unnecessary.  He’s just grown accustomed to it.  Cats:  Nature’s measure of the need for consistency.  Except, that is, for cat trees.

An Aging Ferret

ferret in a box

It’s really hard to believe that our ferret is now almost six years old.  Apparently, this is almost elderly (depending on who you ask).  We’ve noticed his energy level starting to decline in the past few months.  Previously, he could be out for hours at a time; now, it’s only 15 minutes at most.

Several years ago, a vet wanted us to be proactive and help offset any ferret-related illnesses.  We were prescribed Prednisolone Syrup (3 msg/ml per ml; 0.33 mL per day) which we dutifully gave every day for a year.  Did it help? We’re not certain, but we discontinued it as he started to have hair loss at the base of the tail.  Apparently long-term Prednisolone use in ferrets can mimmic Cushing’s Disease.  About 45 days later, his hair started to grow back.

Another thing we tried was a Deslorelin (Suprelorin) implant to offset the effects of adrenal disease.  It seemed to help with his energy level and his ability to maintain his weight, although at the time we weren’t certain.  We’ll come back to this in a bit.

When his first period of exhaustion after 15 minutes began, we did the standard labwork panel which, surprise, is quite expensive in ferrets.  Nothing showed up; even the xrays were clean.

ferret x-ray

Finally, we did what we should have asked for in the first place:  Antibiotics.  The reason it wasn’t the course of first treatment is that there was nothing indicating a need for this.  However, the difference was profound!  His energy level returned after 10 days of treatment and he was up and about for hours at a time.

A few months ago, his energy level began to decline again.  We tried the antibiotic bit again, but there was no difference this time.  We started to assume it was his age, and then it hit us that his implant (see above) was likely out.  As it had been a little under a year, we hadn’t yet thought about this.  So, we’ll try this and see if it helps.  Some good reading on ferret implants is at the Ferret Association of Connecticut.  Anyhow, stay tuned!

Wild Bird Feeding in Winter

wild finch bird in tree

We’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Activities that we halfway took to in the past are suddenly paying off, perhaps due to consistency on our part.  This summer, we put out wild bird food (those square blocks) and also a small hummingbird feeder.  A few months ago we decided to put them back out despite the changes in the weather, and we continue to have a variety of visitors!

hummingbird on branch

Even the hummingbirds are starting to hang out.  The only bit that we’ve not been able to tackle successfully is providing a nest for the hummingbirds.  They’re too particular, and we lack the oomph to research the needed odds and ends; if it can’t easily be built or bought, we’ll choose the path of least resistance.

Bird Nest Adjustment

european starling bird in nest box

For the most part, the cedar shavings that we used to “winterize” the bird nest boxes have done their job:  They’ve helped to plug up any joints in the wood walls, have likely given the birds some needed insulation, and most importantly, gave them something to do.

Almost immediately, we noticed that the European Starlings started removing portions of the cedar shavings.  This behavior is similar to what we see during nesting season: The male puts nesting material in the box, and when he attracts a female, she promptly removes everything inside (to redecorate, we assume).

The shavings are also dropped around the outside of the nest, which helps us identify if a nest is actively being used or not.  While they tolerate flash photography while in their nest at night, it’s certainly not something without a degree of stress for them.

Also, you can see the indentation in the far back of where the bird(s) end up nesting, almost to the bare floor, yet surrounded by the cedar shavings in their nest.

empty bird nest box with cedar shavings for insulation

All in all, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how fast and how consistently the nests have been used this winter.  It’s new behavior, although to be fair, we’ve never had new nests up this late in the cold season before.

Winterizing a Bird Nest Box

european starlings in bird nest box

One of the things that we like to do every year is to prep a bird nest box for our feathery visitors to the yard. Specifically, European Starlings.  I know, not everyone loves these creatures. The rest of us? We build nests.

At one point, I had instructions for building a bird nest box. I’d reversed engineered a Starling Trap and built it, minus the trap (it’s on my to-do list to post a list of “how to” instructions later on). Over the years, it’s evolved into three strategically placed nests across our yard, which are adopted and baby birds are born in each year. This year we put them up early and, by accident, we noticed that they were being used last month by some European Starlings for shelter.

In doing some research, we decided to winterize the birdhouses.  First, we inverted the bird nest box so that the entrance holes were at the bottom of the nest.  We also inserted wood shims where the vents were. Both actions help to reduce heat loss during the winter.  Next, we purchased some pine shavings designed for pets, which (in theory) shouldn’t have any insects or bugs, and sprinkled it liberally along the inside of the nest for bedding.

The first night, the nests were abandoned. We were worried that we’d scared away the little critters. However, the next night they returned. They removed some of the nesting material, however most of it they kept. The nice bit is that even if they clear an empty space in the back of the box, the pine shavings should block any cracks where cold air might get in. Some people actually caulk the cracks, however in the summer we want to open up the vents we’ve built to help cooling.

So far, two of the three nests are inhabited.  The third might be, however we built it with the hole on one end of an elongated nest, so there’s no easy way to tell if they’re in there. And within a week, one of the nests became home to not one, but two European Starlings. They seem to not mind the nightly flash photographs being taken, however this could also be because they’re conserving body heat loss.

A friend of ours recently remarked that his city has seen a sharp decrease in European Starlings, likely due to many home owners covering up exposed holes where the birds are likely to nest. We like to think that we’re reversing that trend, at least in some small way.