For the Birds: Readers take over

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log.

You’ve heard from me; now find out what others are seeing out there.

Red-bellied woodpeckers continue to proliferate in southern New Hampshire. It wasn’t too many years ago that these large, handsome and sometimes aggressive birds were extremely rare sightings in the Granite State. Their northern expansion has been impressive and now they are seen with much greater frequency throughout the southern part of the state.

I wouldn’t say they are common sightings here yet, but they are getting there. They are now very common in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, so it stands to reason New Hampshire and Vermont are next.

In the last few weeks, I have heard from Monadnock Region residents Cindy and Richard who have each hosted red-bellied woodpeckers at their feeders recently. Cindy from Keene wrote that her bird visits every day. She wrote that the bird’s red head is “almost neon” when the sun hits it just right.

Richard had stopped feeding the birds in the summer due to the mysterious illness that had killed so many birds in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. He started again in the fall and a red-bellied woodpecker was one of his first customers when the feeders went back up.

Richard had also asked whether last year’s birdseed was still good to offer. As long as the seed was stored properly and looks and feels OK, it should be fine to feed the birds. Like anything, birdseed has a shelf life, though. Try offering a small amount and if the birds eat it and come back, it’s fine. If it’s not good, the birds won’t come back to that feeder. Just make sure you replace it with fresh seed before the next time they visit.

Sticking with the woodpecker theme, Dan and Nancy from Keene had an unusual sighting of about 15 northern flickers foraging in their yard recently. When the birds got startled, they retreated to nearby trees, flashing their white rump patches.

Not everyone has been so lucky as of late. Two separate readers from Connecticut wrote to ask why no birds have been visiting their feeders. I get that question fairly often and I always say to just be patient. The birds are likely finding food from natural sources and will return soon. In fact, one of the readers responded a week or so later to say that the birds were slowly returning with sightings of a hairy woodpecker, two blue jays and two mourning doves. My guess is that action will continue to accelerate as we head into winter.

Lenny from Greenfield sent in a photo of a red-tailed hawk he saw from his tractor while raking hay to bale. Later, he saw two more red-taileds. Lenny said he has seen more red-tailed hawks this year in the hayfields than in years past.

Paul from Swanzey was enjoying his morning coffee when he heard a knocking at his downstairs slider door. He investigated and found two turkeys making the racket.

I also got an email from Roxanne, also of Swanzey, who recommended an article from the Wall Street Journal on the abundance of birds near urban centers during the pandemic. She added that she has a family of turkeys that routinely come to her feeders to eat the seed that has fallen to the ground. They also like the cracked corn she throws out for them. She also cautioned that drivers should be careful as wild turkeys, despite their large size, can be difficult to spot along the sides of the road. She even put up some “Wild Turkey Crossing” signs to warn drivers.

Finally, Patti wrote in with a good question about efts. I had written about the young newts a few weeks ago and mentioned they are toxic to predators. She was concerned because she often picks them up to move out of harm’s way. Efts are only toxic if ingested and many predators know that from the amphibian’s bright colors. Touching an eft is not harmful to humans so, by all means, keep helping the little critters.

The temperatures are getting cooler, but there is still plenty of bird activity in New England. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re seeing out there.

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