For the Birds: Welcome mat for the typical birds

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers. Thanks for checking it out …

Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay grabs a peanut from a deck railing in New England, fall 2019.

The word typical often has a negative connotation.

It is usually used to describe something boring or mundane. “Just a typical day at the office.” Or worse, as a word of exasperation to draw attention to a recurring negative behavior: “He said what? Oh, that’s so typical of him.”

But I’m going to use typical in a positive way here. After all, Thanksgiving is a fresh memory, the holiday season is upon us, and 311 is my favorite band. The band encourages “positivity” and closes its concerts with “Stay positive. Love your life.” So I will do that here with the word typical.

The other day, all the “typical” birds showed up at my feeder. And that’s a good thing.

My typicals include black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays. You can throw juncos in there, too, during the winter — and late fall as they have already arrived.

Other birds visit from time to time, but those are the birds that are always here. Many people have written to me lately about a lack of chickadees at their feeders. It’s definitely a trend to keep an eye on, but thankfully, I still have plenty of chickadees visiting my feeders. I still haven’t solved the mystery as to why so many people are experiencing a scarcity of chickadees, but I can tell you that I see them often.

I’m not trying to be boastful about my feeders or the fact that I see a lot of chickadees. There are some obvious bird species that I hardly ever see in my backyard.

Cardinals, for whatever reason, are rare sightings at my feeders. I see them all the time in the bushes along the sides of the road when I am driving through the neighborhood, but they avoid my yard like the plague.

Although I get more than my share of juncos in the winter, I rarely see white-throated sparrows — a usual accompaniment of juncos. At my previous houses, white-throated sparrows were a common winter occurrence and easily outnumbered all other winter birds. Here, I barely see them. I’ve seen more fox sparrows here than white-throated sparrows and that’s just plain odd.

I do see a ton of chipping sparrows in the spring and summer, but not enough to add them to my typical list. I am lucky enough to get good numbers of rose-breasted grosbeaks each spring, but their length of stay is too short to make the list. I do enjoy that short window each year, though.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds miss the cut by the barb of a feather. I see them daily from late April until the end of September, but I couldn’t bring myself to include a bird that is not a year-round New Englander. The hummingbirds are off sunning themselves and gorging on insects in Costa Rica or thereabouts, not like the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches that visit me daily regardless of the temperature.

I don’t just give out the title of “typical” to anything, you know.

Just a typical day in the backyard

Photo by Chris Bosak
A white-breasted nuthatch perches on a pole as a downy woodpecker eats suet from a feeder, New England 2019.

The word typical can have a negative connotation. It is usually used to describe something boring or mundane. Or worse, as a word of exasperation to draw attention to a recurring negative behavior: “Oh, that’s so typical of him.”

But I’m going to use typical in a positive way here. Yesterday, all the typical birds showed up at my feeder. And that’s a good thing. My ‘typicals’ include chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and blue jays. You can throw juncos in there, too, in the winter. Other birds come from time to time, but those are the birds that are always there. Many people write to me about a lack of chickadees at their feeders lately. It’s definitely a trend to keep an eye on, but thankfully, I still have plenty of chickadees visiting my feeders.

Not that I’m boasting about my feeders. There are some obvious bird species that I hardly ever see. Cardinals, for whatever reason, are Continue reading

A nuthatch and a borrowed camera lens

Photo by Chris Bosak A white-breasted nuthatch perches on a branch in New England, fall 2019.

My friend Ellen was excited to show me her new Canan f2.8 lens with a range of 70 to 200mm. She asked if I wanted to borrow it for a week and I said yes (of course). With 200mm as the maximum zoom, its capability as a wildlife photography lens is limited, but still very useful for some circumstances. Many of the days were overcast and that made the 2.8 aperture very handy. It is also a high-quality lens so even subjects that are a bit distant will still be sharp.

I experimented with the lens mostly in the backyard where I know I have a steady supply of subjects near the birdfeeders. White-breasted nuthatches turned out to be the best subjects as they perched in a tree close to the feeders before coming to get a seed. Here are some of the results. Continue reading

Adult pileated woodpecker shows youngster the ropes

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pileated woodpecker knocks on a fallen tree trunk as it looks for insects, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

I heard a loud banging from my side yard the other day. I assumed a neighbor was doing some work involving a hammer as noises echo and carry far in the small lake community in which I live.

Like any good, nosy neighbor, I stepped onto the deck to see what was going on. The noise was coming from the edge of the woods and it wasn’t a neighbor with a hammer at all, it was four pileated woodpeckers looking for a meal. The main noisemaker was the adult male who was banging away on a tree trunk that had fallen to the ground many, many years ago. He was perched on top of the trunk and a young male was a few feet away on the ground watching his dad go to work. An adult female and another youngster (I couldn’t tell the gender) were working on the trunks of nearby standing trees.

Twice, the adult male found an insect or worm and stretched its neck toward the youngster to offer the morsel. The youngster, of course, accepted. The daddy pileated woodpecker worked its way along the fallen trunk and eventually flew to the nearby trunk where the mother was busy looking for meals. The young male took his father’s place atop the fallen trunk and started pounding some holes of his own. I couldn’t tell if he was successful or not, but he certainly learned a thing or two by watching his parents at work.

Male and female pileated woodpeckers have red heads. Only males have the red “mustache” extending from the bill.

Here’s one of the adult feeding the youngster. I was a fair distance away and didn’t want to get closer and risk breaking up the family group, hence the poor quality of the photo.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pileated woodpecker feeds a youngster, Danbury, Conn., summer 2019.

For the Birds: Unexpected, welcome discovery

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird with food perches on a branch in New England, summer 2019.

I heard what I was pretty sure was a scarlet tanager high in one of my oak trees. The thick foliage makes it nearly impossible to find anything up there. Even a brilliantly bright red bird like a scarlet tanager could easily be hidden from view.

I looked with my naked eye for several minutes, hoping to spot some motion to give away the bird’s location and identity. To my frustration, I couldn’t find a thing, even though I knew right where the song was coming from.

So, I figured I’d try scanning the area with my binoculars with the hopes of catching a glimpse of some bright red among the dark green leaves. Picking out a bird among thickly leafed-out treetops is usually a lesson in futility and humility.

But not this time.

No, I didn’t find a scarlet tanager. I did, however, find the active nest of an eastern wood-pewee. Somehow, my binoculars trained themselves right on the spot. The small, cupped nest is built in the Y of a dead branch sticking out among the impenetrable foliage, about 40 feet high.

I watched the mother pewee for a few minutes before she flew off into the woods. I noticed a bright orange object in the nest. I assumed it was a mushroom of some sort because the dead branch is covered in a white fungus. With my binoculars, however, I discovered it was the mouth of a baby bird waiting to be fed.

Sure enough, about two minutes later the mother bird returned and a few other orange “mushrooms” appeared.

It was the first time I had ever found an active eastern wood-pewee nest Continue reading

‘Volunteer’ sunflowers brighten up flower box

Toward the end of last summer, I purchased a few coneflower plants at a greatly reduced price from a hardware store. I planted them in a large flower box on my deck and the plants flourished into late fall.

While in bloom, the plants made for a photogenic setting as birds perched on them before heading to a nearby feeder. Once the flowers died and went to seed, the plants were visited frequently by goldfinches, chickadees, titmice and other small birds. I certainly got my money’s worth from the plants. Here are some photos I took of the plants in action.

https://birdsofnewengland.com/tag/coneflower/

https://birdsofnewengland.com/2018/11/13/goldfinch-on-coneflower/

Here’s an icy shot of the tough plants.

https://birdsofnewengland.com/tag/birdsofnewengland-christmas-card/

Since coneflower is a perennial, I was looking forward to many years of similar success from these $2 plants. Unfortunately, the plants did not come back this spring. I never transported them out of the flower box and the winter’s hard freeze killed the roots.

But something else popped up this year — at an even better price. You can’t beat free. Remember I had mentioned the nearby feeders? Well, a few of the sunflower seeds that got knocked or carried into the box sprouted. I noticed them in the spring and recognized the tiny stems as sunflowers. Wouldn’t it be cool if they grew to become full plants, I thought at the time. Fast forward a few months and I have three healthy, flowering sunflowers in that flower box. They are not towering plants by any means, but that’s probably a good thing considering their location.

The birds are already using them as perches. I just saw a chipping sparrow on one a few hours ago. Now I can’t wait until later this summer and fall when birds start picking seeds out of the flowers. You know I’ll be posting plenty of photos when that starts to happen. Talk about getting your money’s worth out of a bag of sunflower seeds.

Has this or something similar happened in your garden? Drop me a line and let me know. You can comment on this site, Facebook (Birds of New England), or email me at chrisbosak26@gmail.com.

Eastern wood-pewee nest

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern wood-pewee sits on a nest in New England, summer 2019. The small orange thing at the edge of the nest is a newborn pewee.

I was happy to find an eastern wood-pewee nest the other day. I found it quite by accident (full story coming next week in For the Birds column.) It’s about 40 feet high and in the Y of a dead branch in an oak tree. Finding a nest is always a thrill and this is the first eastern wood-pewee nest I’ve ever found, making it even more special.

Again, the nest is high up in a shaded area, hence the poor quality of the photos.

What nests do you have in your yard? Drop me a line and let me know.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee tends to a nest in New England, summer 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern wood-pewee sits on a nest in New England, summer 2019.