Monday, March 31, 2008

Salmonella Outbreaks Reported

Time to remind customers to clean their feeders! Below are a couple of news stories regarding salmonella outbreaks in birds. Anyone else getting reports of sick birds? Also, here is a link to a page on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on what to do when you see a diseased bird at your feeder.

- From the Baxter Bulletin:

An outbreak of avian salmonella has been confirmed in Camden. The outbreak was confirmed by the National Wildlife Health Center through bird specimens submitted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

There are other suspected outbreaks in the Little Rock area, as well. The disease outbreaks are not unusual, given the fluctuating weather conditions in Arkansas this late winter and early spring.

New York - From the Times Herald-Record:

A woman in New York reported dead redpolls under her feeder in New York. She was told that this had all the signs of the salmonella outbreak that has been killing off songbirds, especially redpolls, in the eastern states.

In New York, dead birds have been reported from the Capital region to the Pennsylvania border. The Department of Environmental Conservation has examined dozens. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County has had about a half dozen calls in two weeks.

Salmonella bacteria can also make a person sick with diarrhea and stomach-flu like symptoms. In this case, a person could become infected by handling a dead redpoll or a contaminated feeder without gloves, or being in contact with an infected cat that might have attacked a lethargic, sick bird. If you find a dead bird, pick it up with rubber gloves. Bury it, or put it in a bag before throwing it away.

The salmonella bacteria is shed in bird feces. The birds get infected through bird-to-bird contact, or eating infected food or water. Redpolls, normally a northern bird not seen around these parts except during harsh winters when they migrate farther south for food, are the most susceptible. Other bird species, such as goldfinches and pine siskins, also can get sick. This is a fast-acting bacteria. The birds die quickly.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Notes From The National Sunflower Association

National Sunflower Association on the current sunflower market. Below are a few excerpts including a link to current bids for sunflowers at crushing plants to give you an idea of what's going on in the market and what you can expect from your seed suppliers. You can read the full article here:

The domestic and international markets for U.S. confection in-shell sunflower seeds are growing each year. Though domestic demand has averaged about 10 percent growth annually, exports actually have enjoyed the most dynamic growth - especially in the Middle East and Turkey, where exports have more than doubled during the past two years.

One could summarize the overseas market for U.S. confection sunflower seed over the past two years in a single word: awesome. And it promises to remain that way well beyond 2008.

Confection in-shell exports were almost 94,000 metric tons in marketing year 2006/07 - an increase of 32 percent compared to 2005/06, reports Bob Majkrzak, president and CEO of Red River Commodities, Fargo, N.D. Exports to Spain, which is a premium market for quality, was up 16 percent. “But exports were up huge in Turkey and in Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Syria - by about 118 percent,” Majkrzak says.

Confection sunflower really means in-shell, and farmers should be selecting hybrids based on the percentage of large seed they will produce. Seed size and percentage nutmeat are two key variables to keep in mind when selecting confection hybrids. Seed size is generally evaluated as percentage over a ‘___/64th' round hole screen, comparing 16, 18, 20 and 22, the four most common sizes. Typically, the larger the percentage of seed over a 20/64 round hole screen, the better.

Seed under 16/64 is generally too small and may be hulled or used as birdseed. The 16 through 18/64 seed size is primarily used for hulling to produce kernel. The 20/64 size is commonly used in the domestic in-shell markets, while seed that is 22/64 and over is used primarily for the export in-shell market.

Demand is particularly high for large- size seeds. The percentage of confection seed size over a 20/64 screen is becoming increasingly important with processors. The export market prefers the longer seed, so processors are buying more on seed size - which is becoming more of a price factor.

In numerous foreign countries (e.g., Spain, China, Turkey) consumers eat sunflower one seed at a time - much the way Americans eat in-shell peanuts. That's why the larger seeds are desired. Large seed size is not as important in the domestic in-shell sunflower market, since Americans commonly consume sunflower seeds a mouthful at a time.

Within the United States, sunflower seeds have found their niche in the large market of people who enjoy outdoor activities; subsequently, sales peak in the summer months. Baseball players, truckers, outdoor enthusiasts and school kids are among the many groups of consumers who derive pleasure and nutrition from popping a handful of sunflower seeds into their mouths. As noted previously, this method of eating sunflower seeds makes American consumers unique in comparison to most other global consumers.

Domestically, about 25 percent of U.S. confection sunflower seeds are consumed as in-shell. Most are roasted and salted in the shell and eaten as a snack. A few years ago, sunflower seeds became available in flavors such as barbeque, sour cream and onion, Cajun, ranch, and hot and spicy. More recently, seeds that provide an extra jolt of caffeine and energy became available.

Steve Arnhalt, general manager of SunOpta Sunflower, says the new trend for domestic products is roasters offering consumers what are termed “jumbo” seeds. To be considered a jumbo, seeds need to be a 22/64 size in some products. “As long as consumers stay focused on health issues and healthy products, this bodes well for sunflower products in general,” Arnhalt affirms.

Bohn says confection hybrid selection boils down to experience in knowing what performs best in your particular growing area. He also encourages growers to use good management practices when harvesting and storing the seeds to deliver the highest quality product possible.

Buyers prefer long-shape in-shells with a black center and pronounced outer white stripes. Quality factors are crucial to buyers, with the most important one being appearance. The second is good taste, with the third being acceptable insect damage levels. Bohn says buyers purchase with their eyes first and do not like off-color or highly scuffed seeds. Consistent shape and size is also very important. End-use buyers are pickier and very discriminating when it comes to buying in-shell.

Harvested confection sunflower acreage in 2007 was slightly less than 300,000. The confection industry is looking for a 20-25 percent increase in 2008 to reach a goal this year of 400,000 acres. Annual growth of 10-15 percent will be needed for the next two to three years to keep up with demand, as the industry focuses on reaching the 500,000-acre plateau.

The best online resource for tracking new-crop sunflower bids is the National Sunflower Association's Site.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Get Ready For A Year Of Peterson

Word on the street is that this August is Roger Tory Peterson's 100th birthday and the following month is Bird Watcher's Digest's 30th anniversary. Peterson not only wrote for BWD for 12 years but was a good friend of the Thompson family who own the publication. The Thompsons are planning a program in honor of his life and his contribution to birding that could last a full year.

Also in honor of Peterson, Houghton Mifflin, his publisher, will introduce a new field guide in large size, combining both eastern and western birds.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Hummer Helper

All right retailers, file this under "What won't they think of next?"

Don't panic, that's not a confused hummingbird trying to get nectar out of some fluff in the above photo. That is The Hummer Helper from Songbird Essentials that allows customers a chance to offer nesting material to hummingbirds.

It all started with the folks at The Hummer House, a cabin retreat many people visit in Christoval, TX in order to watch hundreds of hummingbirds. Hummer House brought the idea to Songbird Essentials and encouraged them to market the product in a manner that makes it easy for people to encourage hummingbirds to nest. As a matter of fact, all the photos in this entry were taken by Linda Gardner at The Hummer House.

Here is a photo of a hummingbird nest, the inside lined with the natural fibers of The Hummer Helper.

Part of what makes this packaging successful with hummingbirds is the red sandwich holder for the nesting material. Hummingbirds are attracted by the color red and the flat holder allows the nesting material to dry quickly after a heavy rain.

And don't worry, if you don't have a lot of hummingbirds, other species will use this as well including goldfinches, orioles, waxwings, and chickadees.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Current Sunflower Price Predictions

From the Farm and Ranch Guide:

Sunflower appears to be taking competition for acres very seriously this year as bids for new crop continue to climb.

“New crop bids for 2008 oil sunflowers continue to increase in response to the increasingly bullish prices for other commodities,” said Larry Kleingartner, executive director of the National Sunflower Association. “All three crushing plants are offering Act of God contracts and the Enderlin and Fargo plants are offering a 2008 cash contract without AOG.

“With the tremendous surge in all new crop prices, the confection processors have also responded and have increased their new crop prices as well and are now offering a contract of $30 per hundredweight for all size seed production at the Northern plants,” he added.

In fact, Dahlgren recently rolled out a new crop offer of $37.50 for confection sunflowers. New crop contracts for confections in the High Plains are reaching as high as $35-$37 for the large seeds and $22 for seeds falling through a 20/64 round hole screen.

This is in stark contrast to last year at this time when new crop values were in a range of $16.30-$17.35 for oil sunflowers and confections were $19.50-$20.

“It does not look like these prices will back off in the weeks ahead as the competition for acres will continue to be intense,” Kleingartner said.

While sunflower prices continued to climb, the wheat markets' meteoric rise slowed a bit last week with spring wheat prices falling about $10 in some locations.

“It appears that a good portion of the investment money is now going into the oilseed sector, particularly the Chicago soybean oil futures market,” Kleingartner said. “That market has increased by 15 percent in the last two weeks. Sunflower prices have responded as well with most locations at or above .30 cents per hundredweight with confections at a premium to oils.”

Not all aspects of the sunflower market are surging, however, as the sunflower bird seed market is reported to be slowing down.

“Estimates are that demand will decrease from 10 to 20 percent as consumers shy away from the substantial price increase at the retail level,” Kleingartner said.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bird Feeders Are Like Relationships?

Well, now I've heard everything. This article by Benna Sherman of The Capitol Gazette could make for an interesting conversation piece with customers as she compares finding a bird feeder to finding a mate...I would refrain from referring to your spouse as a suet feeder:

When I first wanted to feed the birds in my yard, I asked a more bird-experienced associate for guidance on what bird feeder to buy. When she met me at the store, she started to ask me questions about what I wanted in a bird feeder. I started to enumerate what I wanted, based on the preparatory reading I'd been doing.

I told her that I wanted it to have perches for the perching birds, as well as a platform for the birds that preferred to stand on a solid base. I wanted it to attract the big birds and the small birds, those that fed standing upright and those that fed hanging upside down. I wanted it to serve sunflower seeds, thistle and suet to cover different birds and different nourishment needs. I wanted it to swing free for those birds that liked movement, and be stationary for those who needed the security of something immovable.

At first she'd listened carefully, working to imagine a bird feeder that would meet my requirements. After awhile I noticed a sort of open-mouthed disbelief, which was followed by outright laughter. I stopped and asked her what was so funny.

"You're crazy. There is no single bird feeder in the world that could do everything that you want this one to do. Some of your requirements are mutually exclusive. If you want to do all these things, you need several different feeders. Some of these features could be combined in one feeder, but not all. If you're going to have only one feeder, pick the features that are most important to you and not mutually incompatible with each other. If you need other features, add additional feeders."

I'd been really excited to buy the feeder. But as I wandered the aisles of the store, I saw that there were different kinds of feeders for different purposes; some combined features that I'd been looking for, but none tried to be a feeder for all birds and all birds' needs. How could I possibly choose the right feeder?!

I thought back to what she'd said - "add additional feeders." I finally got it - one feeder couldn't and, more importantly, didn't have to do it all.

In a marriage, we often think of our partners as the one person who is going to meet all of our needs. It's really no more realistic for partners than for bird feeders. No, this isn't a call for polygamy or infidelity. It is, in fact, a call for the idea that you shouldn't be expecting any one person to be every person you need in your life.

You might want to marry the person you feel is the best partner for getting things done; or the person you feel the safest with; or the person you feel is the most fun or the most socially adept; or the person who is most like the people in your family or who most shares the values with which you were raised. All of these criteria are legitimate, but they may not all be found in the same person. This is especially true when we expand the criteria to include the person who shares your taste in books or movies, who enjoys the same museums or mud wrestling that you do, who likes the Dolphins but boos the Patriots. The more criteria you add, the tougher it is to find it all in one person.

So maybe you choose to marry the person who's the best working-together partner. Does that mean that you have to give up the mud wrestling or the Patriots just because that partner is an art museum and Dolphins fan? An alternative is to find other same-sex, nonromantic relationships to meet those needs. If you want to read and discuss historical fiction and your partner thinks books are mostly to be used as paperweights, find or create a book club. If you want to watch chick flicks and your partner thinks that "Fight Club" is romantic, find a friend with whom to watch chick flicks. If you prefer shoot'em-ups and your partner likes Swedish-with-subtitles, encourage your partner, too, to develop connections with people who share those tastes - a colleague from work, a neighbor down the street, a cousin, whatever.

The point is that no one person can do and be everything for and to you.

I ended up with three bird feeders and two suet cages in my back yard. I also have a husband and a collection of women friends with whom I share additional and diverse interests. Although these people all tend to have some qualities in common, they all also have their divergent interests and personalities.

My husband is unquestionably my main partner, a role he fulfills remarkably well. And he's grateful that I don't require that he also be my shoe-shopping, jewelry-lusting, beach-going buddy. My life is enriched by having more than one person to connect with and to be supported by. That's what friends are for.

Dr. Benna Sherman is a licensed psychologist in private practice and her Web site can be found at