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.

Birds to brighten your day: April 29

Photo by Chris Bosak A male northern cardinal feeds its mate in a backyard in New England, April 2020. Merganser Lake.

A Day on Merganser Lake XX

I like this shot because it reminds me of shy teenagers kissing behind the bushes. I remember those days, even though they were many moons ago. Last week, you may recall, I posted a photo of bluebirds feeding each other. Now, it’s the cardinals’ turn. My latest For the Birds column looks at this behavior. I’ll post the column on this site on Sunday, as usual.

(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.)

Bluebirds take a drink

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern bluebird gets a drink from a birdbath in New England, February 2020.

There will be more on this coming next week when the next For the Birds column is posted here, but here’s a teaser photo to get you through a weekend of isolation. Moral of the story in short: offer water to the birds too.

Back to back For the Birds columns

Here are the last two For the Birds columns, mostly focused on what readers have been seeing this spring.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A male indigo bunting eats seeds from a platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., in May 2018.

If the past season was the Winter of the barred owl, this is the spring of the indigo bunting.

I’ve heard from numerous readers and friends throughout New England and even Canada about this bright blue bird visiting their backyards. The cause for excitement is obvious as it is one of our more colorful birds, flashing a brilliant blue plumage. The brilliance of the blue plumage is dependent upon the light.

It is also nice to hear that so many of these birds are around and delighting backyard birders in large numbers. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are another popular bird this spring. I’ve had limited luck with indigo buntings this spring, but for me, it’s been a banner year for rose-breasted grosbeaks. I’ve seen as many as three males in a tree overhanging my feeders. A female visits the feeders often as well.

It’s also been a good spring for warblers and nearly every walk last week yielded yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, black-and-white warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, American redstarts and yellow-rumped warblers.

I’m not the only birdwatcher enjoying a productive spring. Here’s what Continue reading

For the Birds: The siskins come at last

Photo by Chris Bosak Pine siskins visit a feeder in Danbury, Connecticut, fall 2018.

A wise man once said: “The nature of a winter finch irruption, however, could mean a sizable flock of pine siskins can show up and empty out my Nyjer seed feeder at any moment.”

Just kidding. That was me writing two weeks ago about the hot start to the winter finch season. The wise man part is up for debate.

At the time of that writing, a female purple finch had been my only out-of-the-ordinary sighting at my feeding station. A week later a few fox sparrows showed up. I know fox sparrows are not finches, but they can fit loosely into the category of winter finches because of their sporadic visits to New England backyards.

Then last week, true to the sentence at the top of this column, the pine siskins showed up. It started out with two siskins sharing the tube feeder with a group of goldfinches. The next day, I counted three siskins. The third day, about 20 siskins showed up and occupied every perch on the tube feeder and a nearby hopper feeder. The spillover Continue reading

For the Birds: High stakes garden perches

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

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a stick being used as a garden stake in New England, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a stick being used as a garden stake in New England, summer 2018.

One of the nice things about living in the woods is that you are never at a loss for garden stakes.

Does that tomato plant need support? Take a little walk in the backyard, find a thin but sturdy stick on the ground, and you’ve got yourself a garden stake. Sure, it’s not apt to be perfectly straight, and it might not sport a perfectly pointed end for jabbing into the soil, but that’s nothing a whittle or two with a jackknife can’t fix.

A bonus to using these natural garden stakes, I’ve noticed, is that if they are placed near a birdfeeder, they make for good perches, too. This is especially true if the sticks have smaller branches at the top.

My property is predominantly shaded, but there is a sunny enough area on the deck and a small portion of the yard near the deck. I do a lot of container planting on the deck, so these garden stake/bird perches are high off the ground. Continue reading

Latest For the Birds column: Another backyard first

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

Photo by Chris Bosak An indigo bunting visits a feeder in New England, spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An indigo bunting visits a feeder in New England, spring 2018.

No matter how long you’ve been at it, birdwatching always presents firsts.

Wait, I used that sentence to start my column a few weeks ago. Oh well, another birding first happened this week, so I’m going with it again.

This time, it was a new bird to my feeding station. I’ve been feeding birds for a long time, and I’ve seen some great birds eating seeds or suet in my backyard.

Every year I’m thrilled when the rose-breasted grosbeaks show up. This year, a male and female have paid periodic visits for the last couple days.

It took years for me to attract hummingbirds, but now — knock on wood — it seems they are annual visitors.

A few Octobers ago, a small group of pine warblers discovered my suet feeder and stuck around the yard for about three days.

The other day, a new arrival. Settling into my lounge chair on the deck, I noticed a bright blue blotch among the leaves on the branch used by “my” Continue reading

Good backyard visitors so far this spring

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

We still have a few weeks left of peak spring migration, so this list is not inclusive (I hope not anyway), but the feeder has been active recently with the following birds: rose-breasted grosbeak (male and female); chipping sparrow; goldfinch; gray catbird; blue jay; cardinal (male and female); indigo bunting (first spring male); red-bellied woodpecker; white-breasted nuthatch; tufted titmouse; black-capped chickadee; downy woodpecker; hairy woodpecker; mourning dove; house finch; ruby-throated hummingbird (male and female); wild turkey; and probably one or two more that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. I bought a new oriole feeder, but no luck yet with that one. What’s been visiting your feeders? Feel free to comment with your list.

Photo by Chris Bosak  A female rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female rose-breasted grosbeak visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the spring of 2018.

Latest For the Birds column: Little birds make up “The Big Three”

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

A White-breasted Nuthatch perches near a birdfeeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 2016.

A White-breasted Nuthatch perches near a birdfeeding station in Danbury, Conn., Oct. 2016.

I call them the Big Three.

In order to make it easier to keep track of the number of bird species I see in my backyard, I lump together black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and tufted titmice. They count, of course, as three different species, but it’s just easier to group them.

On any given day I can count on seeing those three birds. Cardinals, downy woodpeckers, juncos, white-throated sparrows and mourning doves are nearly as reliable in the winter, but The Big Three just seem to logically belong together.

Continue reading