For the Birds: An interesting time at the feeders

Photo by Chris Bosak – American goldfinch in late fall/winter plumage.

November is an interesting time to watch the feeders. The regular birds are still around, although some of them look a little different than they did in the summer.

A few new birds are also likely to show up. The trick is spotting them and seeing which ones actually do make an appearance. November is also a time when the weather can be unpredictable, and ahead of a good storm is always a terrific time to see the birds as they prepare for a rough day or days ahead.

My regular birds these days are chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, blue jays and cardinals. Over the years, for whatever reason, I’ve never had great luck attracting cardinals. But this fall is different with daily visits from several males and females. I also get house finches, house sparrows and starlings. 

One day last week, a flock of 50 to 60 grackles showed up in the evening, which was interesting to see. Carolina wrens show up on occasion as do mourning doves. 

As I mentioned in a previous column, I have also seen a few red-breasted nuthatches. I am looking forward to seeing what else shows up this fall and winter. 

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For the Birds: A different kind of ‘feeder’ bird

I walked across the living room toward the large window that offers a view of the bird-feeding station and birdbath. I stopped dead in my tracks as a bird much larger than I expected to see was perched on the side of the birdbath.

Wisely, all of the other birds were nowhere to be seen. 

It was a Copper’s hawk, one of the hawks in New England that commonly preys on small feeder birds. The large bird of prey had no interest in the birdbath’s water — either for drinking or cleaning. It was simply using the structure as a perch to get a better look at the feeders and nearby bushes. It hopped off the birdbath and onto a hemlock branch I had discarded to give the feeder birds a place to hide. After peering through the underbrush and finding nothing, the hawk flew off.

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For the Birds: Keep those feeders clean

I’ve been keeping an eye on the news regarding the mysterious disease that has been killing birds in some Midwest and mid-Atlantic states.

It appears that the disease has not reached New England, although nearby states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been impacted. Researchers still do not know what is causing the deaths, but they have ruled out several diseases that commonly afflict birds, such as West Nile, salmonella and avian conjunctivitis.

I did read a report that suggests the situation may be waning, which would be great news. I’d be more than happy if the disease never makes it to New England.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, my go-to source for information about birds, does not directly recommend taking down feeders, like so many other organizations do. Rather, it recommends following the guidelines put forth by an individual’s state fish and game commission.

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Siskin and others

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine siskin perches on a log in New England, November 2020.

I never did post this photo of a siskin that visited a few weeks ago. It showed up on the same day that the purple finch did. The finch stayed for only about an hour, while this siskin remained for a few days before disappearing. Here’s the story regarding those visits.

Here are a few more recent shots from this fall …

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log in New England, November 2020.

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Feeder birds with New England fall backdrop

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

There’s nothing like a New England fall, especially when it provides a colorful backdrop for bird photos. I found a rotted log in my backyard, positioned it on my deck railing in front of a small sassafras tree, sprinkled some sunflower seeds and peanuts on the log and enjoyed the show. It was nonstop action for hours. I hope to make a video soon as well.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds ride out the storm

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

Tropical Storm Isaias really put on a show as it blasted its way through New England. Wind, rain and tornado warnings ruled the day last Tuesday as the storm packed a bigger punch than expected.

My sons and I stood on the screened-in porch and watched as 50 mph winds roared through the woods in the backyard. We ignored the occasional rain that wind gusts blew through the screen. Small maples bent like those inflatable tubes you see outside some businesses. Dead or dying ash trees threatened to topple and, indeed, many did throughout the neighborhood. We were lucky. At one point we heard the alarming sound of a huge tree or branch cracking. I was ready to scramble into the house for protection, but Andrew pointed out that the fracture was occurring in the woods safely away from the house. He pointed out a massive branch high around the top of a gigantic oak tree that had peeled away from the trunk. It never did fall as it got stuck among the canopy branches of nearby trees.

We lost power before 2 p.m. Tuesday and, as I write three days later, it hasn’t been restored. It may take a few more days as trees and power lines are down all throughout the neighborhood. We are hardly alone. More than a million households lost power throughout New England, including more than 700,000 in Connecticut alone.

It’s safe to say Isaias was a major event. I won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of the beast roaring through the woods and leaving a wake of destruction as it headed north. Through it all, believe it or not, my hummingbirds visited the feeder as if nothing was happening. I have three hummingbirds that visit daily: two females and one male. One of the females rules the roost and is constantly chasing the others away. She sat contentedly on the feeder as those 50 mph winds violently swayed the clothesline on which it hangs. The boys Continue reading

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