There is still time to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. In fact, in recent years the Count has been extended through Monday — so no excuses. It’s a beautiful day in New England (at least where I am) and I’m eager to head out right after making this post. I’ll let you know what I find later today or tomorrow. As always, feel free to send me your highlights.
After a three-hour drive to visit my brother Gregg in upstate New York, it was nice to relax and watch the black-capped chickadees forage in theblue spruce trees outside his kitchen window.
A flock of dark-eyed juncos darted past the window and settled at the base of his house where a bare patch of ground offered the only hope for these ground-feeding birds. The rest of the yard was buried under snow and ice.
A glance back at the spruce trees proved what I had thought all along: The chickadees were not alone. It was a mixed flock of chickadees and tufted titmice poking at the cones and sorting through the needles for any scraps that may have fallen.
A bright red male cardinal, hidden from view up until this point, zipped past the window and disappeared into the nearby woods. The female followed a few seconds later. Even though I was cozy indoors, I could hear the blue jays screeching from outside. It sounded as if the house were surrounded by the noisy, but beautiful, birds.
It was a nice peaceful few moments of bird-watching … just what I needed after a long drive in the snow.
Then I realized something: I was seeing the same birds here that I see at my feeders at home. The funny thing is, though, Gregg doesn’t have feeders in his yard.
I’ve known for a while that birds get only a small percentage of their diets from feeders, but the visit to my brother’s drove home that point. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the best way to learn about nature is to witness it firsthand.
Some people express concerns about bird-feeding. They think the birds become dependent upon our handouts and worry that if they stop feeding the birds, the birds will not be able to find food.
Research by ornithologists shows that birds get only about 20 percent of their diet from bird feeders. (This, of course, applies only to the species that actually visit feeders.) This percentage may increase a bit in the winter when natural sources are scarce, but the majority of their diets still come from nature itself. There are berries and seeds to be found in the winter and, for a diligent bird, grubs and insects behind the bark.
Activity at my feeder runs hot and cold. I could watch for several minutes and not see a single bird. Then I’ll look out the window five minutes later and see a flurry of activity. Many birds follow a feeding circuit each day, combining natural sources and feeders. It’s a burst of excitement when the group finally shows up at the feeder.
Birds often travel together looking for food, especially in the winter. Chickadees and titmice usually show up at the feeder together and it’s not rare for a nuthatch or two to be in the mix. The flocks travel together and search for sources of food.
Much of the natural food available during the winter gets buried when it snows. That’s why activity at feeders seems to spike during and after snowstorms. Watching my feeders during a snowstorm is one of my favorite times to enjoy the hobby.
Feeders are, however, a nice supplement to a birds’ diet, especially in the winter. Feeders are also important in early spring when nesting and raising young consumes a fair amount of energy.
But don’t worry if you go away for a vacation and the feeders run dry; the birds will be just fine when you get back.
Here is a short series of photos showing a tufted titmouse contemplating and ultimately deciding to make off with a peanut, which looks comically large in the bird’s tiny bill. Good thing titmice don’t swallow their food whole.
My attempt to go live from my feeders today was, well, a learning experience. The video quality looked much better on my iPhone screen than how it translated onto the big screen next to me. Also, Facebook live makes you shoot vertically (not how you’re supposed to do it!) so the first several minutes appeared sideways. Who knew?
The birds were fairly cooperative during the 15-minute live shoot. A group of pine siskins covered the tube feeder while mourning doves, titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, juncos, downy woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatches visited the various other feeders. A song sparrow, an irregular visitor at my feeders anyway, also showed up and took seeds from the platform feeder.
What was somewhat expected but didn’t show up were blue jays, cardinals, and red-bellied woodpeckers.
I guess it’s time to look into a new camera capable of streaming live video. The iPhone just didn’t cut it – at least for this experiment. Thanks to those who did tune in. Next time will be better.
In the meantime, here are some more photos from the action during today’s snowfall.
It’s a beautiful, snowy day in southern New England. The feeders are active — as they typically are during snowy times — so why not go live?? I’ll go live from noon until about 12:30 p.m. It’s a gamble as all the birds may disappear by then and return at 12:31, but it’ll be fun nonetheless. There will be limited narration, but feel free to send in questions via this site or Facebook and I’ll try to answer as quickly as possible. Tell your bird-loving friends, too.
Here are a few more photos of the male belted kingfisher on the “No Fishing” sign I spotted the other day. Remember, in a somewhat rare occurrence in the bird world, belted kingfisher females are more colorful with the rusty band on the belly. An old photo of a female is included on the bottom of this post as a reference. Continue reading →
Sometimes you spend hours in the woods looking for birds and find nothing. Sometimes you drive along the access road at the local shopping mall and a belted kingfisher is perched on a “No Fishing” sign. Now, if only the bird had a fish in his mouth … Happy Friday everyone!