‘They ate the whole bag:’ A variety of birds came calling when I put out oranges

“I need to pick up some more oranges today,” I informed my wife last Friday.

“You mean, the birds have eaten $8 of oranges in just five days?”

“Yup, with over 20 Western tanagers, about 10 Bullock’s orioles and a few others helping themselves, they ate the whole bag.”

We bought another bag of oranges, put two halves out for them and they were gone in less than an hour. With most of the sweetness gone, fights broke out between the male tanagers as they chased away the orioles and the female tanagers before fighting between themselves.

I had not planned on feeding the tanagers during their migration as they usually migrate through southeastern Idaho during mid-May. But they were about 10 days late and their migration coincided with the Memorial weekend storms. I had put out the oranges to attract the orioles and a few early hummingbirds, both usually stay and nest in my backyard, but the more aggressive male tanagers forced them to feed at the hummingbird feeders.

“Normal” is not the normal for this year. I rarely have more than a couple of tanagers show up at my home west of Rexburg and I usually must travel to the Kilgore area, north of St. Anthony, to watch their migration. The feeding habits of some birds are also strange this spring. I have never had Black-headed grosbeaks and House finches eat oranges. They usually feed on seeds, but this year I have pictures of both species feeding on the sweet offerings.

Two male tanagers decide that they will debate who gets first dibbs on a newly hung orange. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

The Western tanagers will migrate into the nearby mountains and high deserts to nest for the summer while the Bullocks orioles are more of a lowland type of nester. The orioles weave hanging basket nests in trees with thick foliage, which is only visible after the leaves have dropped. But they will visit your hummingbird feeders often as they raise their young near my backyard.

By the middle of June, I will stop putting out the oranges to encourage the birds to move on to natural sweet foods and insects. Orioles will feed on the blossoms of flowering trees like flowering crabapples and will also feed on the ants that are attracted to sweet things.

I received several comments and pictures of birds showing signs of eye infections and other illnesses and were asked if it was the bird flu. It probably is not bird flu. There are several diseases that are associated with bird feeders because of the concentration of the birds.

About every two or three weeks, bird feeders should be washed with soap and water and then dipped in water with a 10% solution of household bleach. One part Clorox mixed with nine parts water will help protect the birds from most of the common diseases that are found in the area birds.

Part of the problem may come from the excess or unwanted feed spilled on the ground while the birds are feeding. Bargain bird feed that contains a lot of red millet usually ends on the ground, gets moist and molds, which causes diseases to flourish. Songbirds should not be fed on platforms because birds will mix it with their droppings, which usually carry all kinds of bad diseases. It is also recommended that all feed should be stored out of the rain to keep it fresh and clean.

Enjoy the beautiful colors of the fruit-eating birds while they are still here and let me know if you see any odd birds in your travels. Now is the time that many strange birds show up as they get caught in these wild storms that come every spring.

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