For the Birds: DIY birding projects

Photo by Chris Bosak
A downy woodpecker eats a homemade Christmas-themed suet cake, December 2018.

Most birdwatchers I know have a self-reliant, practical side. They don’t necessarily long to live off the grid in a small cabin in the wilderness, hunting for their food and cutting down trees to stay warm, but there is a hint of that spirit in a lot of us.

Luckily, there are many do-it-yourself projects for birdwatchers that may be done in the comfort of our heated, electrified, and well-stocked homes. The projects will save a few bucks (no pun intended) and result in that satisfaction only a good DIY activity can deliver.

The easiest project is making your own hummingbird food. It is inexpensive and requires almost no skill. In other words, perfect for someone like me.

Simply mix four parts water with one part sugar and you’ve got hummingbird food. I usually double the recipe to eight cups of water and two cups of sugar so it lasts longer. I like to bring the water to the point at which it is about to boil then turn off the heat and add the sugar. Most of the sugar will dissolve itself in the hot water, but a minute or two of light stirring will complete the recipe.

Let it cool, fill the feeders and save the rest in a container in the refrigerator. Give the container a quick shake before refilling the feeders.

Red food coloring is not necessary to attract hummingbirds. In fact, some experts say it is harmful to the birds, so why take the chance? Some red on the feeder itself — either on the base or feeding ports — could be helpful, however.

The cost of mixing one part sugar to four parts water is a substantial savings over the hummingbird food found in stores.

Speaking of feeding the birds … homemade suet requires a bit more expense and effort, but is still well worth it. An ambitious do-it-yourselfer can buy or obtain beef fat from the local butcher (not many of them around anymore), render the fat to liquid, and pour into molds. If that’s your method, my hat’s off to you. I tried it once and found it messy and time-consuming.

Another method is melting equal parts lard (or vegetable shortening, if you prefer) and peanut butter for the base and later adding ingredients such as sunflower and other seeds, dried mealworms, oatmeal, cornmeal, and even raisins or dried cranberries.

The suet will take the shape of the container it is stored in, so you can save the plastic cartons from the store-bought suet cakes and reuse them for your own concoction. That way they fit nice and neatly into the suet cages.

Or you can get creative with your suet. Prior to Christmas, a friend and I molded the suet into cookie cutters to offer the birds a little holiday cheer. I don’t think the birds really cared what shape the food was in, but it was fun to watch the woodpeckers and nuthatches nibbling away on a stocking.

I’m sure there are plenty of other DIY bird food recipes. Send me your favorite and fool-proof recipes at the email below.

The projects do not stop there, of course. With my very limited knowledge and skill with tools, I converted a fallen branch into a neat suet holder. I simply used my largest spade drill bit and made holes in the branch. The aforementioned homemade suet can be spooned into the holes. It makes for a more natural-looking feeder than a dark green cage that typically holds suet.

Those with more advanced woodworking skills can make hopper or platform feeders. Bird houses, of course, are a long-time project of the do-it-yourselfer.

I’m missing many bird-related DIY projects, I’m sure. Don’t forget to send me your ideas and plans.

Photo by Chris Bosak A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.
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A nice first bird of the year

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker searches for food in a dead tree on New Year's Day 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pileated woodpecker searches for food in a dead tree on New Year’s Day 2018.

The weather app on the phone said the temperature was 0 degrees (yes, as in zero). It was New Year’s Day, though, so no excuses: I had to take that walk I promised myself I’d take.

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker searches for food in a dead tree on New Year's Day 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pileated woodpecker searches for food in a dead tree on New Year’s Day 2018.

As soon as I walked out the door I heard a loud knocking that I strongly suspected was a pileated woodpecker. A quick glance in the direction of the knocking and my suspicion was confirmed. A female pileated woodpecker banged away at a dead tree in the backyard (well, technically not my backyard, but open space that abuts my backyard.)

First bird of 2018 is a pileated woodpecker. Not bad at all.

I watched the crow-sized woodpecker for several minutes and snapped photos until my “shooting” hand froze. That didn’t take long.

I moved on to give the woodpecker some peace and quiet on this frigid day.

The rest of the walk was rather uneventful, but I did see three other types of Continue reading

Another shot of the ‘pileated’ woodpecker

Photo by Chris Bosak  A pileated woodpecker looks for insects at the base of a tree at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pileated woodpecker looks for insects at the base of a tree at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., April 2017.

Here’s another photo of the pileated woodpecker I saw the other day.

Hearing the name of this remarkable bird begs the question: What does pileated mean? According to dictionary.com, it simply means “crested,” an apt name for this woodpecker. There’s also this, more descriptive, definition from thefreedictionary.com: “Etymologically means “capped,” like a mushroom, but now refers to a bird with a crest on the top of the head from the bill to the nape.”

So there you have it …

 

Pileated Woodpecker — finally

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker looks for insects at the base of a tree at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A pileated woodpecker looks for insects at the base of a tree at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., April 2017.

It took going on two years, but I finally got a shot of one of the pileated woodpeckers that I hear frequently in the woods behind my house. I’ve seen them before, but only at a distance and only fleeting looks.

I wondered when I’d see one working away at the multitude of dead pines in the woods. There are dozens upon dozens of these snags and they all have big holes chiseled out of them — a telltale sign of pileated woodpeckers. Yesterday was my day. The impressive bird was noisy in its calling and noisy in its banging away at the tree. It’s amazing the force at which they hammer at trees.

This guy (it is a male as females lack the red “mustache”) remained only about five minutes before heading deeper into the woods, calling as it flew.

Another New England woodpecker in the snow; keep sending me your photos!

https://birdsofnewengland.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/rdwood1c.jpg

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-bellied Woodpecker eyes a peanut a few days following a snowstorm in Danbury, Conn., February, 2017.

Yesterday I posted photos hairy and downy woodpeckers. Today it’s the red-bellied woodpecker’s turn. They love peanuts at my house (as you can tell from the amount of photos I post of them grabbing peanuts off my deck railing.)

Not too long ago, the red-bellied woodpecker wasn’t a New England woodpecker. The species is gradually expanding its range northward and is now very common in southern New England and becoming more and more common in the middle of New England.

Now that’s it’s snowing again (it’s the morning of Sunday, Feb. 12 as I write) feel free to keep sending me your snow bird photos. I got some great shots on Thursday from readers, how about some more? To see the Thursday entries, click here.

The difference between Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker, snow style

I’ve done similar posts before comparing the larger Hairy Woodpecker with the smaller Downy Woodpecker. But I’ll repeat the lesson as I captured them both on a homemade birdfeeder during Thursday’s snowstorm.

The hairy is larger overall, but without a reference it’s tough to tell strictly by size. To really determine the species, check out the bill. The hairy has a much more substantial bill. Females of each species are shown.

Photo by Chris Bosak A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A hairy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.


Photo by Chris Bosak A downy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A downy woodpecker eats bark butter out of a homemade feeder in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 9, 2017.

More photos leftover from 2016: Male and female downies

Photo by Chris Bosak A male Downy Woodpecker eats from a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male Downy Woodpecker eats from a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2016.

Here are a few more photos that I took in 2016 that never saw the light of day. These photos are good for showing the difference between male and female Downy Woodpeckers. With many woodpeckers, the male shows more red than the female. In the case of the downy (and hairy), the female lack red altogether.

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Downy Woodpecker eats from a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Downy Woodpecker eats from a homemade platform feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2016.