Red-breasted Nuthatch -  Creative Commons

GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT - Feb 15th thru Feb 18th

Please visit the official website at for more information.

The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

International Owl Festival in Houston, MN March 1-3, 2019
Houston, MN in Southeast Minnesota is only 2.5 hours away from the Cedar Valley, and the first weekend of March, this little town is all about celebrating OWLS!

Live owl programs, sessions on owl and avian conservation and lots of vendors and activities will keep you entertained and learning about the important role owls play in our world. See the festival website for more details.

Iowa’s Nesting Owls & Barn Owl Restoration in Iowa
We are pleased that the Ehresmans can join us in March since we had to cancel our February program due to snow. 
by Bruce and Marlene Ehresman – Tuesday, March 12, 7:00 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church, 9th and Main Streets, Cedar Falls
In 1981, planning began for Iowa Barn Owl restoration, the first big project of the newly created Iowa Living Resources Program/Nongame Program/Wildlife Diversity Program. This evening’s presentation will briefly cover the current status of Iowa’s seven nesting owl species, and then information will be provided about the life history of the Barn Owl, the different phases of Barn Owl restoration that have occurred during the last few decades, how this program was implemented, and how each person can do her or his part to help this species recover and be removed from Iowa’s Endangered Species list.

Bruce Ehresman grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa at a time when Spotted Skunks and Barn Owls were still common. After 41 years, he retired from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources where he served as the Wildlife Diversity Program’s Avian Ecologist. He feels fortunate that his career allowed him to be involved with many efforts toward landscape habitat restoration and numerous species’ recoveries and reintroductions, including: Wild Turkey, Barn Owl, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, River Otter, Trumpeter Swan, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, and Greater Prairie Chicken.

Marlene Ehresman is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Iowa Wildlife Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in 2010. IWC’s mission is to rehabilitate native wildlife, provide wildlife assistance skills training, and provide public education about wildlife and habitat stewardship. She has dual degrees in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology and Environmental Studies from Iowa State University.    

We are delighted to welcome back the Ehresmans as return speakers to PRAS. While they have both presented individually, this is their first joint appearance to our group. Check out a delightful article on Bruce and Marlene, appropriately and charmingly titled Mr. and Mrs. Iowa Wildlife". 

If you find a bird or mammal injured or in distress, call:
318-277-6911. Download the app Animal Help Now to locate rehabilitation organizations outside of the Cedar Valley.

Update Feb 8th: This Snowy Owl is improving!

Thank you rehabbers and Dr. Lori Cherney at Den Herder Veterinary Hospital for the expert care you providing this gorgeous bird. 

Check out Facebook for more details and some great photos.

Nebraska Road Trip! 
Sandhill Cranes & Greater Prairie Chickens
Buchanan & Linn County Conservation Boards invite you to join them for a road trip to Nebraska on March 24-26 to see the legendary Sandhill Crane migration and to experience seeing Greater Prairie Chickens booming on their leks. Check out this trip brochure for more details. Deadline to register for this trip is February 22nd; there are 12 spaces remaining for the trip.

UNI's Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series
Tues, Feb. 26th  7 p.m. in Bengston Auditorium in Russell Hall @ the University of Northern Iowa (Free admission)
"Discussing Controversial Topics in a Polarized Political Climate"

The speaker will be Bob Inglis, a former U.S. Congressman from South Carolina who now works full-time to promote free enterprise action on climate change. Inglis serves as Executive Director of republicEn, an educational initiative based at George Mason University.

Remember Chickadee Check-Off Supports Wildlife Conservation
Add a few dollars to your Iowa tax return to help support wildlife conservation. See more details here.

Observe Weird Beaks on Birds? Report it to scientists...
At our January 2019 PRAS program, Ken Heiar presented a fascinating program about the different shaped beaks that birds have. During his program Ken also showed us photos of birds with odd looking beaks...there is a condition called avian keratin disorder (AKD). AKD is characterized by debilitating beak overgrowth and other abnormalities of keratinized tissues. Affected birds have difficulty feeding and preening, and may suffer high rates of mortality.
If you see a bird that has an oddly formed beak, please report it to help advance scientific knowledge. Here is the link to report your observations to the research team on the Beak Deformities in Landbirds website

Tips for Feeding Birds in the Winter
  • Keep feeders clean to reduce the spread of disease.
  • Provide good cover for birds--position feeders near bushes, trees or a brush pile that birds may use to find protection from predators and/or perch on as they queue up for the feeders.
  • If possible, provide a source of fresh water for birds. A heated birdbath is ideal and uses only a small amount of energy. If a heated bird bath is not an option, place a pan of fresh water out near your feeders every day. You may also improvise a heated water source by using a heated water dog dish on the ground or placed on top of a regular cement birdbath. Place a clay flowerpot or a large rock in the center of the birdbath for birds to stand on while they drink. 
  • Provide the right kind of food/seeds for the species you want to attract. See the top ten suggestions below from Bird Watcher's

10. Black-oil sunflower seed. Almost any bird that will visit a bird feeder will eat black-oil sunflower. Birds that can’t crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces. The outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed is thinner and easier to crack than that of striped sunflower. Black-oil sunflower kernels have a higher fat content than striped sunflower seeds, and so make a great winter diet staple. Striped sunflower is still fine, and evening grosbeaks, cardinals, jays, and other big-billed birds may even prefer it slightly, but black-oil sunflower seed is better at attracting a wide variety of birds to your winter feeder. Hulled sunflower seeds, aka sunflower hearts, provide a no-mess option.

9. Peanuts. Shelled (which means without a shell), dry-roasted, and unsalted peanuts provide protein and fat, so they’re a great fuel for birds in winter. Several major feeder manufacturers produce sturdy, efficient, tube-shaped feeders intended to serve peanuts. Woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-energy food. Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts. Whole peanuts—in the shell—attract jays and woodpeckers, but not smaller birds. Birds love peanut butter, too—just avoid brands that contain partially hydrogenated oil, aka trans fat. Be warned, though, that squirrels love peanuts in any form.

8. Suet. For birds in winter, fat is an excellent source of energy. Commercial suet blocks are available wherever birdseed is sold. Or look for raw suet in the meat isle of your grocery store. Ask for it at the butcher counter if you don’t see packages of it on display. It is fine to feed small chunks of raw suet to wild birds, but it does become rancid faster than commercial blocks, especially during warm weather. No suet feeder? No problem—just use an old mesh onion bag. For the adventurous, you can render raw suet to make your own longer-lasting blocks: Melt it down to liquid in a microwave or on the stovetop, monitoring it carefully. Remove and dispose of the unmeltable bits, and allow it to harden.

7. Good mixed seed. Is there such a thing as BAD seed mix? You bet! Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in it—junk ingredients that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed intended for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat. Good mixed seed has a large amount of black-oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, white proso millet, and perhaps some peanut chips, sunflower hearts, and dried fruit. You get what you pay for when it comes to seed mixes. Read the ingredients on the bag, or make your own seed blend from the seeds mentioned above.

6. Nyjer/thistle seed. Although it can be expensive, Nyjer (aka thistle) seed is eagerly consumed by all the small finches—goldfinches, house, purple, and Cassin’s finches, pine siskins, and redpolls. You need to offer this tiny seed in a specialized feeder of some kind. The two most commonly used types of thistle feeder are a tube feeder with small, thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock. A thistle sock is a fine-mesh, synthetic bag that is filled with Nyjer seed. Small finches can cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the mesh. Note: Nyjer can go rancid or moldy quickly in wet weather. A sure sign that it has gone off is when the birds stop visiting the feeder. Time to throw away what you’ve got and buy a fresh bag.

5. Safflower. This white, thin-shelled, conical seed is eaten by many birds and has the reputation for being the favorite food of the northern cardinal. Some feeder operators claim that safflower seed is not as readily eaten by squirrels and blackbirds. (Caveat: Your results may vary.) Feed safflower in any feeder that can accommodate sunflower seed. Avoid offering safflower on the ground in wet weather: It can quickly become soggy and inedible. You can buy safflower in bulk at seed and feed stores.

4. Cracked corn. Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves, quail, and squirrels are just a few of the creatures attracted to cracked corn. Depending on where you live you may also get turkeys or deer. Fed in moderation, cracked corn will attract almost any feeder species. Some feeder operators use this food to lure the squirrels away from the bird feeders. Squirrels love corn—cracked or otherwise—best of all. Whole corn still on the cob is fine for squirrels, but not a good bird food because the kernels are too big and hard for most small birds to digest. Cracked corn is broken into smaller, more manageable bits that many birds will gobble up.

3. Mealworms. Most feeder birds, except goldfinches, will eat mealworms if you offer them. Live mealworms are available in bait stores or by mail order. Don’t worry, mealworms aren’t slimy and gross. In fact, they aren’t even worms; they are larval stage of a beetle (Tenebrio molitor), if that makes you feel better. We grow our own mealworms in a tub of old-fashioned rolled oats, and feed them to the birds in a shallow ceramic dish. The dish has slippery sides so the worms can’t crawl out. Bluebirds, in particular, go crazy for mealworms and will eat as many as you provide. That can result in an unbalanced diet, so we recommend no more than twenty mealworms per bluebird per day. Bags of freeze-dried mealworms are usually available in wild bird feeding stores and big-box hardware stores.

2. Fruit. Humans are supposed to eat at least three servings of fruit every day. Fruit is also an important dietary element for birds, but it can be hard to find in many areas in midwinter. Set out grapes, slices of citrus fruits, apple or banana slices, and even melon rinds, and watch the birds chow down. If you want to feed raisins, chop them up and soak them in warm water first to soften them up a bit. Offering fruit to tanagers and orioles is a traditional spring and summer feeding strategy, but many winter feeder birds will eat fruit, too.

1. Homemade bird treats. You can come up with your own recipes for winter bird treats. Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke some peanut bits into it. Melt suet in your microwave, and pour it into an ice-cube tray to harden. Before it solidifies, add peanut bits, raisins, apple bits, or other bird foods. Put the tray in your freezer to harden. Once it does, you’ve got cubed bird treats—easy to make and easy to use!

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