For the Birds: Complain and they will come

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers …

Apparently, all I had to do to get my hummingbirds back this summer was complain to my neighbor.

I had had frequent visits from both male and female hummingbirds early in the spring. The daily visits continued for a few weeks and then stopped abruptly. Last year, and the year before that, the visits never stopped and I saw them daily until the fall.

This year, June was largely a hummingbird-free month in my backyard. 

During a walk around the neighborhood last week, I noticed a neighbor had bird feeders on her deck so I stopped to chat about what birds she had been seeing. She had a few of the usual suspects but didn’t mention hummingbirds. 

I inquired about the tiny birds and she said: “Yes. I see them every day.”

“That’s great,” I replied. “I haven’t seen mine in a while.”

I went on to bore her with the details of my previous years’ good fortune. She feigned interest, we chatted a little more and then said goodbye. 

The birding gods must have heard me griping and took pity on me because, the very next day, a female hummingbird showed up at my feeder. She has been back every day since, too. It is very territorial as I have seen her chase away other hummingbirds. Another female and a male have started showing up now and then, too, when the queen is away.

In previous years, a female has dominated my feeders throughout the summer so I wonder if she is the same bird I have been seeing for years. At any rate, it is nice to see the hummingbirds back in the yard. It is also nice to know there are several of them, even if I get only brief glimpses of the other ones before they are chased away.

I have a few feeders and several flowers to lure the hummingbirds. She prefers the feeders, but on occasion will sip from the flowers. This year, most of my flowers are red salvia, an annual with tubular shaped blooms. In the past, I’ve seen hummingbirds visit my coneflower and even sunflowers.

Complaining usually doesn’t solve problems and often makes them worse, but in this case, things worked out pretty well. I plan to take a trip to northern New England in a few weeks in the hopes of finding some of New England’s disappearing moose. Maybe I should proactively start complaining now in the hopes of getting the same results for that trip?

For the Birds: Grosbeaks delay closing

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

So much for taking a break from feeding the birds. 

I mentioned in last week’s column that I had taken down my feeders for the summer as my visits had dwindled to a few species. I also mentioned that I continued to maintain a large platform feeder on my deck to keep those few birds happy. Well, that platform feeder is busier than ever. 

One day last week, while working from home and using the outdoor table on my deck as my office for the day, I watched as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, catbirds, cardinals, blue jays, house finches, downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers helped themselves to the offerings. 

The feeder, which is nothing more than a large, flat board I found in the basement, is big enough to hold a variety of foods: sunflower seeds, mealworms, suet nuggets and thistle seeds. I nailed a few small branches around the edge of the board to keep the seeds in place during windy days.

I was already pleasantly surprised by the variety of birds that were coming when a male rose-breasted grosbeak landed on the board. Thankfully, I had the foresight to bring the camera out to the table with me. I was quite sure the strikingly beautiful bird would take off as soon as I lifted my arms to grab the camera off the table as I was sitting only 9 or 10 feet away from the feeder. 

Slowly I moved my arms and watched as the black-and-white bird with a bright red triangular bib looked back at me. I was relieved when the bird looked away and started grabbing sunflower seeds. Still, I couldn’t risk double-checking my camera settings or autofocus point and I started photographing away. The settings were fine, luckily, and I got some nice, full-frame shots of the handsome songbird.

What also made the day special was that many of the birds that visited, especially the chickadees, titmice and downy woodpeckers, were first-year birds still gaining their adult plumage. The young woodpeckers usually arrived with a parent and watched and learned. It was amazing to think that some of these birds were born only a few weeks prior. I hope they visit for years to come and can avoid the many dangers birds face as they grow.

So I guess my summer feeding break isn’t going to pan out, which is fine with me. I’ll continue to enjoy the show as long as it lasts.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., on May 6, 2016.

More rose-breasted grosbeak close-ups

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I posted one close-up shot of a rose-breasted grosbeak last week, but of course, I have more shots. So here’s a couple more.

Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.
Photo by Chris Bosak A rose-breasted grosbeak perches on a branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

Crazy year of bird feeding with many firsts

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow-rumped warbler and pine warbler share a suet feeder in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

I cut back on my bird feeding last week as my visitors have dwindled to a handful of species.

I am still putting out enough to keep those birds coming back and happy, but I retired many of the feeders until the fall. A big, homemade platform feeder is still on the deck keeping the downy woodpeckers (family of four), cardinals, catbirds and house finches around.

At my previous houses, by this time of year only house finches would be coming around so I would stop feeding altogether in the summer. With the nice variety of birds still coming around, I will continue to throw out a little seed and suet.

Taking down some of the feeders made me think about what a strange year it has been for feeding birds, at least in my yard. I have been feeding birds for decades now and this year marked several firsts. It started in February with the eastern bluebirds. I have never had bluebirds at my feeding station before this year, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see them arrive. They showed up every day from February until the end of May and even brought their youngsters around for most of May. I still don’t know exactly where they nested, but it must have been somewhere fairly close. It was surprising because there isn’t what I would consider typical bluebird nesting habitat anywhere in my neighborhood.

I have seen catbirds at my feeders before, but only on rare occasions and it has been years since the last time. This spring and summer, however, I am getting at least two different catbirds visiting every day eating suet. They are bold and noisy, belting out their cat-like mew from mere feet away from me. Speaking of suet, it was the attraction that lured my first Baltimore orioles. I have tried for years to attract orioles with all of the things that are supposed to attract them, such as grape jelly, orange halves and nectar (similar to hummingbird food but less sugar). No luck. This year, they visited for several days in late April and early May and always went right for the suet. I hear them calling from high in the treetops on occasion still, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders since early May.

I’ve also never had robins at my feeder before. This year, they visit daily to grab a few mealworms. Mealworms were the main food source that kept the bluebirds coming back as well.

Earlier in the spring, I had daily and frequent visits from pine warblers and yellow-rumped warblers. I have had pine warblers in the past, but that was about three years ago. I had never had yellow-rumped warblers before this year and several showed up daily for weeks on end.

After all these years of feeding birds, it seems strange to get so many first-timers and ones I hadn’t seen in so long all in the same year. Could it be that they have been coming all these years and I just never noticed because I’ve been going off to work every day? Has the opportunity to work from home allowed me to see things that I’ve been missing previously? I don’t think that is the case as even in years when I am going to work daily, I still have mornings, evenings and weekends to stare at my feeders.

There must be another explanation. But what is it?

I don’t know the answer, but I will think of some theories as the summer wears on and the birding continues to be relatively slow. At any rate, I am not complaining, of course, it has been great to see all these new birds in the yard.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks in love

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak feeds a female rose-breasted grosbeak in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I’ve already posted photos of eastern bluebirds and northern cardinals feeding each other. Now, it’s the rose-breasted grosbeak’s turn. I took these photos a few weeks ago, but just now getting around to posting them. Click here to read I column I wrote about the behavior.

Eastern bluebird: Coming in for a landing

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird comes in for a landing on a branch in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I posted more than my share of eastern bluebird photos in April and May, but somehow this one slipped through the cracks. Here’s a shot of one coming in for a landing on a birch branch.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird comes in for a landing on a branch in Danbury, CT, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

Sapsucker drumming

Photo by Chris Bosak A male yellow-bellied sapsucker perches on a dead tree branch in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

Woodpeckers bang their bills on objects for a variety of reasons, such as looking for food, hollowing out a hole for nesting, and proclaiming their territory. To proclaim their territory, they find an object that is particularly loud, such as a hollow branch, side of a house or chimney flashing. This guy (you can tell it’s a guy from the red throat) found a hollow branch in my side yard for that purpose. I posted a photo of a female sapsucker (sans red throat) not too long ago and included a classic bit from The Honeymooners. Click here for that post.

Feeding time for robins

Photo by Chris Bosak An American robin family visits a feeder in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

The bluebirds have stopped visiting, unfortunately, but a family of robins is still coming around daily. Here they are eating mealworms.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American robin family visits a feeder in New England, June 2020. Merganser Lake.

Ballerina catbird

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

This gray catbird struck a rather interesting pose the other day. Catbirds are one of the great characters of the bird world.

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

Birds to brighten your day: May 16

Photo by Chris Bosak A Baltimore oriole perches on a wire in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake

I’m getting a lot of reports about Baltimore orioles this spring. It’s great that so many people are seeing them and getting them to their feeders. I’m hearing that some orioles are going to orange halves, some to nectar feeders and some to suet. I also know that orioles like grape jelly. “My” oriole goes to the suet cake and ignores the oranges, grape jelly and nectar feeder right next to it. His visits are also very short and infrequent. Striking bird, for sure.

(Repeat text for context:  I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)