For the Birds: More of what readers are seeing

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay stands on a fence post during a snowstorm in New England, Jan. 2022.

The reports keep coming in, so why not dedicate another column to what our neighbors are seeing in their yards?

Eric from Surry wrote to say he can’t keep up with the goldfinches and pine siskins and their appetites for thistle (Nyjer) seed. He said it’s been a while since goldfinches have visited his yard in large numbers, but this winter has been different.

Eric also has a few Carolina wrens that have been around all winter, while juncos have been around in large numbers. The juncos, as well as a handful of cardinals visit early, so Eric has to make sure the feeders are filled before dawn. Now that’s dedication to the birds and this great hobby. He also gets the usual woodpeckers in addition to red-bellied woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Eric shared that he had noticed a lower overall volume of birds as of late. Then, he realized several more people within a relatively small radius of his home are feeding birds. “I drive by and see busy feeders at different times of day,” he wrote. “I have more competition than I’ve ever had in 30 years here.”

The pandemic and associated quarantines and isolation have indeed led to a surge in birdwatching. That includes enjoying them “in the wild” and in yards.

Eric noted an odd behavior among his regular feeder birds. He will look out at his feeding station and the birds will not be around, even though there is plenty of seed in the feeders. When he goes out to “shake the feeders and add to the hoppers, suddenly a bunch of chickadees, titmice and nuthatches appear and crowd around me, flitting around my head.” He wondered if I knew why that might happen.

The only plausible answer I could come up with is that perhaps these birds have learned to trust the stranger filling the feeders and they feel safer once the stranger has made an appearance. They know predators such as hawks, foxes or cats will scatter once a person walks out of the house, so his presence brings a measure of safety. It’s just a theory. Any other ideas?

Jon from Keene has also seen more goldfinches at his feeders than in past winters. He noticed they looked fatter than usual and recalled that birds often puff up their feathers to trap warm air near their bodies as a defense against the cold. “Then I observed one right outside the window puffing himself up and then dropping back to normal a couple of times,” he wrote.

“Pretty damn cool to watch,” he added.

I can’t argue with that.

William from Somersworth gets daily visits from eastern bluebirds to his “mealworm boutique.” In addition to a variety of other birds, including turkeys, William also sees deer, and hears coyotes and a family of bobcats.

My friend Andree from Quebec reports that her front and back yard are full of American goldfinches and pine siskins. She estimated more than 200 at a time, based on photos she took. True to their reputations, the siskins went through copious amounts of seeds during their short stay.

George from Keene sent in a few photos of a handful of mallards visiting his feeder. It was a first for his yard. The next day, nine mallards came to enjoy the offerings.

How did you do during the Great Backyard Bird Count? Drop me a line and let me know.

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