For the Birds: Where are the birds?

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

It started with one, like nearly all things do. Then another came in, and they kept coming.
“Where are the birds?” was the similar question in the emails and phone calls.
Here are few examples:
“Why am I not seeing as many birds at my feeders for the last two to three weeks?”
“I’ve probably seen a woodpecker or two since the beginning of September! What is going on? Why don’t the birds find us again?”
“The birds I feed here in Richmond have disappeared. Myself and my neighbors haven’t seen them for several weeks.”
Becky of New Hampshire offered some hope, however. She said crows were more numerous than in past years and that the smaller birds stopped coming.
“They are just lately slowly reappearing,” she wrote.
So they are coming back. My guess is that all of the writers asking where the birds have gone will soon get their birds back.
Why do yards with bird feeders go through slow Continue reading

Advertisements

For the Birds: Goldfinches brighten the landscape

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

N othing cheers up a day like a goldfinch. Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder, bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden.

I especially appreciate goldfinches in the dead of summer. I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.

Suddenly, I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top of a thistle flower. The pink-and-purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went about its business of picking at the flower.

I watched the scene briefly, and continued my walk. About five minutes later, I heard the bird again. I looked up to see it fly over my head and disappear into the distance. Despite its tiny size — about 5 inches — the goldfinch is an easy bird to identify in flight. It flies quickly in an undulating fashion — like a roller coaster with small rises and falls — usually uttering its potato-chip, potato-chip song as it bounces up and down.

I didn’t see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on the flower made it all worthwhile.

Goldfinches also score points with me as they are frequently seen in my garden. I’ve seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I’ve also seen them on sunflowers.

Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder occupied by the bright yellow birds.

Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches is to offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes.

“Sock” feeders stuffed with thistle seeds are a good alternative.

Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It’s interesting to note that goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.

Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish.

It’s fun to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow. Females are a duller yellow.

They also have black caps and black wings with white stripes. My brother Ed and his wife, Debbie, are big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so the goldfinch is a favorite in that household.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Steelers fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you’ve got real proof that Mother Nature likes her colors.

Continue reading

What’s an eastern wood-pewee look like anyway?

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

I stepped out onto the back deck this morning, coffee in one hand and a freshly cleaned and filled hummingbird feeder in the other. The din of a distant interstate highway and the song of an eastern wood-pewee were the only sounds I heard. The high-pitched “pe-weee” is ubiquitous in the summer in my woods. On mid-summer afternoon walks, sometimes that song is the only sign of birdlife to be experienced.

But while the eastern wood-pewee is often heard in New England woods, it isn’t seen as often. The woods are thick with vegetation and leaves in the summer, providing cover for the birds. Lighting is poor in the woods as those same leaves block the sun from illuminating the scene. Finally, eastern wood-pewees are small, nondescript birds. They don’t exactly stand out in a crowd.

So for the casual birder, and even some more experienced ones, eastern wood-pewees are often heard and rarely seen. Earlier this year, I found a stunned pewee on my front porch. It had hit my storm door and fell to the ground. Luckily it was only stunned and I picked it up, held it in my hand for a few minutes and watched it fly off to a nearby perch. As it collected its wits on the branch for a few moments, I had the opportunity to grab a few photos of it before it flew off to parts unknown.

I posted a few months ago a few photos of the bird while it was in my hand. Click here for that posting. Here are a few photos of an eastern wood-pewee in a more natural setting. Now you can see why they are so tough to find in the shaded woods.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee perches on a branch in Danbury, Conn., summer 2017.

Busy summer for hummingbirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

I’ve complained often over the years about the lack of hummingbirds I attract to my yard. Well, this is year is finally different. I’ve got males, females and first-year birds (both male and female presumably) and they visit frequently. I have a feeder in the backyard with the rest of the feeding station, and a suction cup feeder stuck to my office window. Both are busy all day, every day. It’s been a lot of fun watching them. Here are some shots of my visitors. (Females and first-year ruby-throated hummingbirds look very similar. I’m guessing this is an adult female because it is very territorial.)

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

For the Birds: Growing up quickly in the bird world

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak Young Blue Jay at birdbath

Photo by Chris Bosak
Young Blue Jay at birdbath

They grow up fast, don’t they?

I’m not even talking about my own boys, who are eating me out of house and home with their darn growth spurts. I’m talking about the other youngsters growing up on my property — the birds, or course.

Watching the activity at the birdbath recently has been an education in just how quickly birds grow. I was watching a blue jay the other day and it took me a while to realize the bird looked a little different from the blue jays I was used to seeing. Mostly around the face, the bird just didn’t look right.

It was a youngster, or a fledgling to be more scientific. It doesn’t take long before young blue jays look just like their parents. It takes even less time before they are the size of their parents. This bird was in that short in-between phase when it was the size of an adult, but didn’t quite obtain the adult plumage.

The juvenile plumage disappears quickly in most songbirds, unlike some other types of birds when it can take years. A bald eagle, for instance, doesn’t obtain its white head for four or five years. But in songbirds, it’s a matter of a few short weeks.

The juvenile blue jay I watched tried a defense mechanism Continue reading

Extra rose-breasted grosbeak shot

Photo by Chris Bosak  A rose-breasted grosbeak perches in a tree at Merganser Lake in Connecticut, spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A rose-breasted grosbeak perches in a tree at Merganser Lake in Connecticut, spring 2017.

Here’s an extra shot of the male rose-breasted grosbeak I saw at the feeder last month. This was the perch he took before flying over to the feeder to join a female rose-breasted grosbeak that was already on the feeder.

I’ve been meaning to get this photo up on this site for a few weeks. Who’s going to complain about extra rose-breasted grosbeak photos?

For the Birds: Odd call, brilliant color

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

A male scarlet tanager perches in a maple tree during spring migration 2017, in Danbury, Conn.

I heard the uniquely odd call from the nearby woods.

“Chick burr. Chick burr.” The “chick” is higher and louder than the “burr.”

I rushed for my stepladder, set it up on my back deck and climbed onto the roof — camera in hand. It was something I did on a few occasions last year, which is how I learned that call so well. 

It is one call of a scarlet tanager. It has a longer, more melodic song, but this particular call is a quick and unmistakable “chick burr.” It is distinctive; I know of no other bird noise like it.

As I walked along the roof, I was eye level with the tops of the smaller trees and about the middle of the giant oaks that tower over my house. Yes, those same oaks that have literally covered my deck and clogged my gutters with their catkins and pollen this spring. Yes, those same oaks that form a multi-layer ground covering with their leaves in late fall.

But also those oaks that are so good at attracting birds with the plentiful worms and other insects among their leaves and branches. The larger dead branches also serve as homes for cavity-nesting birds. So, I will take the pollen and leaves in exchange for their bird friendliness. It’s a fair trade as far as I’m concerned.

The oaks seem to be a favorite of the scarlet tanagers that pass through in the spring and early summer. It is always a thrill when I hear that strange call because I know one of New England’s most brilliantly plumaged bird is nearby.

Continue reading

The noisy, but welcomed, great-crested flycatcher

Photo by Chris Bosak  A great-crested flycatcher perches on a branch at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great-crested flycatcher perches on a branch at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., spring 2017.

At times, nature’s noises are dominated by this average-sized bird: the great-crested flycatcher. While it is easy to hear this bird and its “CREEEEP” call, it is not always easy to spot it. It is larger than sparrows and warblers, but still tough to find as it tends to hang out high in trees among the leaves. It is a beautiful bird, but doesn’t have flashy colors like the red of a scarlet tanager that makes it pop. But when you do find it, preferably through binoculars for a good look, you see it’s a handsome bird with soft browns and yellows.

Their habit of hanging out among the leaves makes them difficult to photograph as well. I was lucky in that two were flying back and forth, perhaps building a nest, and using this one dead branch as a lookout area before continuing on. So, of course, I climbed onto the roof to get a little closer to the branch and waited. It didn’t take long before one landed there, let out a big “CREEEEP” and took off. They have other songs and calls, but that’s the one I typically hear. I grabbed a few shots of that bird and when it took off, I left the roof, too. If they were indeed building a nest, I certainly didn’t want to stand in their way.

Good spring for rose-breasted grosbeaks

Photo by Chris Bosak A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

I didn’t see my first one until May 17, but since then I’ve seen a good number of rose-breasted grosbeaks — always a welcomed sighting in the spring. The male is the flashy bird with black-and-white plumage and signature upside-down bright red triangle on his chest. The female is more muted in color, but still a handsome bird to see at the feeder. They both have large bills (they aren’t called grosbeaks for nothing) and easily crack the sunflower seeds offered at feeders.

I’ve also seen them at suet feeders, so those of us who feed birds into the summer (or year-round) can attract them with a variety of foods. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring. I don’t blame those who have bears to worry about, but those who stop feeding birds once the winter ends miss out on birds such as rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Above is a shot of the female at the feeder. Check out the sizable bill on her. Below is the male and female. Not a great shot, I know, but interesting to see them together. Another female was at the feeder seconds before this shot, but the female shown chased her away.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male and female rose-breasted grosbeak eat seeds at a platform feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in spring 2017.

Chickadee checks out birdhouse

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee checks out a birdhouse in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee checks out a birdhouse in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

One of the biggest thrills in spring is seeing what birds are choosing your yard to raise a family. I have mourning dove and robin nests this spring, and this chickadee is checking out one of my four birdhouses. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it since, so it likely found another home.

I did notice great-crested flycatchers flying into a large oak tree with nesting material in its bill. Hopefully that’s a good sign. I’ll certainly keep an eye out to see how that develops. I also have male and female hummingbirds coming to the feeders, so if hummingbirds nested in the yard somewhere, that would be cool.

As spring progresses, I’ll keep an eye out for what else might be nesting nearby. Drop me a line and let me know what’s nesting in your yard.