The Lake Hills City Birds

Chattanooga’s Charming Visitor: The Eastern Phoebe

Chattanooga’s Charming Visitor: The Eastern Phoebe

Welcome to the scenic city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where nature enthusiasts are treated to a year-round spectacle of avian wonders. In this week’s Lake Hills City Birds, we’ll shed light on a delightful feathered friend who frequents the area – the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). This unassuming yet fascinating bird is a year-round resident in this region. In this blog post, we’ll explore its unique characteristics, its role in the ecosystem, and an intriguing tidbit about how it became the first banded bird in North America.

The Eastern Phoebe: A Familiar Face

The Eastern Phoebe is a small, unassuming bird. Yet, its presence in Chattanooga’s backyards and natural areas is anything but ordinary. These songbirds are known for their charming and distinctive appearance, making them a popular subject for birdwatchers, photographers, and even casual observers.

Identification and Appearance

Measuring about 6-7 inches in length, Eastern Phoebes are primarily grayish-brown in color with a paler belly. They possess a characteristic dark, square-shaped head, which adds a little sophistication to their overall appearance. The white underbelly and tail edges offer a beautiful contrast, making them relatively easy to spot.

Habitat and Range

The Eastern Phoebe’s habitat ranges from woodlands to suburban areas. It is found throughout the eastern United States, including Chattanooga and the surrounding areas. These birds are adaptable and can be spotted near rivers and ponds. They make their nests from mud and grass. They can be found on bridges, barns, and houses.

Diet and Behavior

Eastern Phoebes are insectivores and predominantly eat flying insects. Their meals would involve catching flies, beetles, and mosquitoes. They are known for their distinctive hunting technique, which involves perching in a prominent spot and flying out to catch insects mid-air. You might often see them perched on a branch or wire, returning to the same spot after each foray, which is a standard behavior.

The First Banded Bird in North America

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Eastern Phoebe’s history is its association with the practice of bird banding. In the late 1800s, an American ornithologist named Wells Woodbridge Cooke banded an Eastern Phoebe, making it the first bird to receive a leg band in North America. Bird banding involves attaching a small, numbered metal band to a bird’s leg to track its movements, behavior, and longevity.

This groundbreaking act marked the beginning of bird banding as a valuable scientific tool in ornithology. Cooke’s work led to a better understanding of avian migration, distribution, and lifespan. While Eastern Phoebes may not undertake remarkable migrations, their role in kickstarting bird banding paved the way for countless scientific discoveries in the field of ornithology.

Eastern Phoebes in Your Backyard

To attract Eastern Phoebes to your backyard, consider creating an environment with suitable nesting sites and insect access. Here are some tips:

  1. Insect-Friendly Garden: Cultivate native plants and flowers that attract insects, as these will become a vital food source for Eastern Phoebes.
  2. Water Source: A small birdbath or water feature can be a draw for Eastern Phoebes and provide them with a source of hydration.
  3. Avoid Pesticides: Refrain from using pesticides in your garden, as they can harm the insects Eastern Phoebes rely on for food.
  4. Quiet Observation: Be patient and enjoy quiet moments observing these delightful birds from a comfortable vantage point.

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In Conclusion

The Eastern Phoebe is a captivating bird that graces Chattanooga’s landscapes year-round. Its charming presence, distinctive appearance, and historical significance as the first banded bird in North America are of particular interest to bird enthusiasts and nature lovers. As you set out to enjoy bird-watching in Chattanooga, remember to watch for the Eastern Phoebe – a true gem of the city’s avian population.

The Lake Hills City Birds

Tennessee Warbler: Tiny Wanderers in Your Backyard

Tennessee Warbler: Tiny Wanderers in Your Backyard

Welcome, fellow bird enthusiasts, to another exciting installment of Lake Hills City Birds! Today, we’ll dive into the beautiful world of the Tennessee Warbler, a migratory bird that might just be visiting your backyard this season. With their striking plumage and lively personalities, these tiny wanderers are a joy to observe. So, grab your binoculars, and let’s explore the fascinating life of the Tennessee Warbler.

Basic Facts About the Tennessee Warbler

Before we get too carried away, let’s start with some basic facts about these delightful songbirds:

  • A Splash of Yellow: Tennessee Warblers are known for their vibrant yellow plumage, which can be pretty eye-catching when they flit about your garden.
  • Migratory Marvels: These birds are known for their remarkable long-distance migrations. They can be seen in Tennessee from April to May and again from August to September, and oftentimes, they signal the height of migration season for Tennesee. They breed in the boreal forests of Canada and spend their winters in Central and South America.
  • Tiny Treasures: Tennessee Warblers are relatively small, measuring 4.5 to 5 inches long. They have a wingspan of about 7.5 inches.
  • Diet and Feeding: These warblers primarily feed on insects during the breeding season. However, they have a penchant for seeds during migration, making flower beds with dead blossoms an attractive buffet.

Migration Season Delight

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s migration season, and our feathered friends are on the move. Tennessee Warblers, in particular, are fond of the seeds found in the dead flowers of your backyard flower beds. It’s quite a sight to see a flock of these little songbirds flitting around, searching for a snack. To make your backyard a welcoming stopover for them, here’s a tip: resist the urge to tidy up your garden too soon. Leaving the dead flowers in place provides an excellent food source for these travelers, and you might get a front-row seat to their antics.

The Beauty of Dead Flowers

Dead flowers often get a bad rap as eyesores in the garden, but they serve a vital purpose for migratory birds. During migration, Tennessee Warblers and other songbirds must refuel on their long journeys, and flower beds filled with seeds offer them a readily available and nutritious meal. The seeds provide a tasty treat and contribute to the warbler’s energy reserves, ensuring they have the stamina to continue their journey.

Before you embark on your fall garden cleanup, consider waiting a bit. Your decision to let nature take its course can provide a vital pit stop for these charming travelers and contribute to their overall well-being.

Welcoming Tennessee Warblers with Suet

In addition to leaving those dead flowers for the warblers, another way to attract these charming birds to your backyard during migration season is by putting out suet. Suet is a high-energy food source that many species of birds, including the Tennessee Warbler, relish.

With their voracious appetite for insects and seeds, Tennessee Warblers will undoubtedly appreciate your suet offering during their migration journey. You may also attract other avian visitors looking for an extra energy boost before continuing their long flights.

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As migration season unfolds, take a moment to enjoy the presence of Tennessee Warblers in your backyard. These tiny wanderers bring color and vitality to your outdoor space as they search for sustenance. Remember to leave those dead flowers for them to enjoy and consider putting out some suet to give them an extra treat.

Birdwatching during migration season is a true delight, and each encounter with these remarkable birds is an opportunity to learn more about their incredible journey. So, grab your binoculars, sit back, and savor the magic of the Tennessee Warbler’s visit to your garden. Happy birdwatching!

The Lake Hills City Birds

The Charming House Finch: A Guide to This Colorful Backyard Bird

The Charming House Finch: A Guide to This Colorful Backyard Bird

When it comes to the world of backyard birds, the House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is a true star. These charming little creatures are common in many parts of North America and have found a way to thrive in urban and suburban environments. Today, we’ll look closer at the House Finch, exploring its fascinating characteristics, behavior, and tips for attracting them to your backyard. So, let’s dive into the world of this delightful avian neighbor.

Understanding the House Finch

  1. Physical Appearance: House Finches are small birds measuring 5 to 6 inches long. Their plumage is a blend of brown streaks and vibrant colors, with males sporting a bright red crown and throat while females have a more subdued brown and streaked appearance. These differences in appearance make them easy to distinguish.
  2. Range and Habitat: House Finches are incredibly adaptable birds, and you can find them throughout North America. They are often seen in urban areas, parks, gardens, and farms. Their versatility in habitat choice has helped them thrive in various environments.
  3. Dietary Preferences: House Finches are primarily seed-eaters. They have a particular fondness for sunflower seeds, but they’ll also enjoy various other seeds, berries, and fruits. Providing these foods in your backyard can attract House Finches and provide them with a reliable food source.

Behavior and Interesting Facts

  1. Singing Talent: These little birds are known for their cheerful and melodic songs. The males often sing to attract females or defend their territory. Their musical notes can add a delightful touch to your backyard.
  2. Social Creatures: House Finches are social birds, often found in small flocks. Watching their interactions can be entertaining as they engage in playful antics and vocalizations. There is a belief in popular culture that the House Finch mates for life; this assertion isn’t true. They are monogamous for the duration of the mating season and may produce up to three clutches of younglings in a single season, but the bond does not carry on throughout their lifespans.
  3. Nesting Habits: House Finches are known for their adaptable nesting habits. They readily take advantage of man-made structures, such as hanging planters, eaves, and even outdoor light fixtures. Nesting materials like twigs, grass, and boxes can encourage them to make your backyard home. 

Attracting House Finches to Your Backyard

  1. Provide Food and Water: Offering a variety of bird feeders stocked with seeds and a clean birdbath for drinking and bathing can make your backyard a House Finch hotspot.
  2. Plant Bird-Friendly Plants: Planting native shrubs and flowers that produce seeds or berries can create a natural food source for House Finches. Consider options like sunflowers, coneflowers, and berry-bearing bushes.
  3. Nesting Boxes: Installing nesting boxes or providing nesting materials can make your backyard attractive for House Finches. Just be sure to place them in safe, secure locations.

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The House Finch, with its vibrant colors, sweet songs, and adaptable nature, is a delightful addition to any backyard. By creating a welcoming environment with food, water, and suitable nesting spots, you can enjoy the company of these charming birds year-round. So, turn your backyard into a haven for House Finches, and you’ll be treated to a colorful avian display that will brighten your days. Happy birdwatching!

The Lake Hills City Birds

Mourning Dove

I know most people do not want to hear this on a bird BLOG but Mourning Doves are the most frequently hunted species in North America. I enjoy watching these beautiful birds in my backyard. There is no hunting going on in my backyard. I also understand that these and many other species of birds have found their way to dinner tables around the world. It seems in today’s society the thought of an animal being used to feed a family is offensive. Yet, they are okay stopping by KFC and getting a bucket of chicken.

These beautiful birds are a buffy tan – brown with some pinkish tones on some. They have black spots on their back feathers. They are 9.1 – 13.4 inches long. They weigh between 3.4 – 6.0 oz. And have a wingspan of 17.7 inches.

This one has pink talons wrapped around the shepherd’s hook. They perch anywhere. I often seen them up on the power lines. They perch up there in a line.

Seeds make up 99% of the Mourning Doves diet. They can be seen sitting in my bird feeders for hours gobbling down the seed. Mourning Doves eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day. A lot of people mistake these birds for pigeons.

In the video below you can see them enjoying the bird bath.

The Lake Hills City Birds

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This is my first time seeing this bird in my backyard. There was a large flock of them in the trees. They move quickly and are difficult to video and photo. This bird is also called a Myrtle Warbler, Butterbutt, or Yump. Females are more dull, with brown streaking on the front and back. They still have a yellow rump.

In the winter, Yellow-rumped Warblers find open areas with fruiting shrubs and scattered trees. Our backyard borders a large city park with plenty of open areas, there is a stream when it rains, and plenty of old trees.

This bird is 4.5 – 6 inches with a wingspan of 7-9 inches. They weigh between 12 – 13g and have a life span of approximately 6 years. They eat fruit, sunflower seeds, mealworms, peanuts, suet, and sugar water. It was a pleasure getting to see them as they visited my backyard.

The Lake Hills City Birds

Pine Warblers

Pine Warblers are colorful little birds. I almost confused them with the Tennessee Warbler. Pine Warblers are larger than Tennessee Warblers. These cute birds live high up in the pine trees. We have 3 very old and tall pine trees in our backyard that they enjoy.

This bird’s length is 5.1 – 5.5 inches, weight is 0.3 oz – 0.5oz, and wingspan is 7.5 – 9.1 inches. They have white bellies, two white wing bars, dark legs, and thin, relatively long bills. Adult males have olive upperparts and bright yellow throats and breasts. Females are olive-brown and throats and breasts are a paler yellow. The young birds are yellowish to gray but very pale.

Insects make up most of their diet, but these are the only warblers that eat large quantities of seeds. They enjoy seeds of pines. They can also be seen at feeders eating seeds and suet cakes. In my YouTube video this bird is seen enjoying suet cakes.

Most warblers leave the United States for winter. The Pine Warbler does not. It stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return north in the spring. That explains why I usually only see these beautiful little birds in the winter.

I’m happy they decided to take up residence in my pine trees.

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Tufted Titmouse

This little songbird is in my backyard year-round. It is the size of a sparrow or a little smaller.  Their Length is 5.5 – 6.3 in, weight is 0.6 – 0.9 oz, and wingspan: 7.9 – 10.2 inches. It is a beautiful little bird that is sort of a silvery gray color on top. It has white feathers underneath with a rust-colored patch under its wings. There is also a black patch above the beak and on the edges of the feathers.

When they fly, they remind me of a cartoon character. They seem to flutter about from place to place. They love peanuts. Anytime I put peanuts in the feeders they are the first to show up. They get one peanut at a time and quickly fly back to the nest. I jokingly called them hoarders. An article I read about them confirmed that they are indeed hoarders. They hoard food in the fall and winter. Their storage sites are usually within 130 feet of the feeder. In the summer they eat mainly insects. I’ve seen them eating plenty of seeds and peanuts in the fall and winter.

Another interesting fact about Tufted Titmice is they do not gather into larger flocks outside of the breeding season. The pair will remain on the territory. Oftentimes, one of their young from that year remains with them. I always see two or three here in my backyard over the winter. In the spring I see a lot more.

I have dog hair hanging in the backyard for the birds to use in their nests. I’ve seen this bird get plenty of hair for its nest. They nest in tree holes and nest boxes. They use holes that the woodpeckers made as nests. I have several large dead limbs that I’ve seen them going to. I’m assuming that’s where their nests are located. I don’t trim back dead tree limbs unless they are near the house. Otherwise, I leave them for the birds. These little birds are so much fun to watch in my backyard. I hope you get the pleasure of having some visit your yard as well.

The Lake Hills City Birds

Tennessee Sandhill Cranes

Between mid-October and February sandhill cranes migrate to Tennessee for the winter. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, “Tennessee has wintered an average of over 29,000 cranes over the last five years. There are an estimated minimum 89,000 Sandhill Cranes in the eastern population that passes through and winters in Tennessee. There are two primary areas in Tennessee for migrating cranes.” The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Birchwood, TN and the Hop-in Refuge in Western Tennessee. Both of these locations have thousands of cranes that can be seen. The cranes have been known to stop off in fields and backyards of Tennessee residents as they travel to their wintering location.

These birds are magnificent. They are between 4 – 5 feet tall, have a wingspan of 5 – 6 feet and weigh between 10- 14 lbs. My grandma Tommie loved these huge birds. We would visit the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge yearly when she was alive. We usually visited in November and early December though. This was my first time visiting in late December. This was also my first time visiting since she passed away last year.

The birds put on quite a show for me. There were thousands of birds here. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than 29,000. I have never seen this many at one time. They were very loud. I probably should have worn ear plugs it was that loud. It was an amazing site to see.

January 14- 15th will be the 32nd annual Sandhill Crane Festival. For details about the festival, you can visit this site .

I will not be going to the festival. There are too many illnesses going around and I have some immune system issues. I do not need to be around large crowds. When we visited the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge I was the only person out there. I am probably the only one crazy enough to stand out there in 17 degree temperatures to get photos of birds.

If you live in the area and have never checked it out, I strongly suggest you do. I’ve been several times in November and have seen a few hundred cranes. I do think late December and January is the time to visit if you want to see thousands of cranes. There are also a lot of other birds to photo there too. I will be posting a video on Monday, January 2nd for all to see. I will link it here at that time.


How to make Bird Suet Cakes

Our backyard birds have been enjoying the seed and suet cakes. We have been getting plenty of birds on video for our weekly episodes of The Lake Hills City Birds. Below is the recipe for the Bird Suet Cakes.


1 cup of Lard or Suet
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups ground corn meal
2 cups quick or rolled oats
1/3 – 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup bird seed
1 cup dried fruit


1. In a large pot over medium low heat melt the lard and peanut butter.
2. Once melted turn off heat. Then mix in the remaining ingredients.
3. Pour into a mold or a pan.
4. Refrigerate or freeze until hardened.
5. If you used a pan, cut suet into sizes to fit in suet cages and let your birds enjoy.

Below is a video.