For the Birds: Spring feeding and purple martins

Purple martins with dragonflies.

I don’t see a lot of press releases now that journalism is no longer my full-time profession, but I did receive a few last week that caught my eye.

One was from Cole’s Wild Bird Products and the other from the Purple Martin Conservation Association. The topics were very different but did have one important commonality: spring.

Cole’s, which makes a red-hot blend that I’ve used and the birds loved, sent some spring bird-feeding tips. Many people stop feeding birds in the spring for a variety of reasons, including bears and not wanting birds to become dependent upon feeders, but I’m a big fan of spring bird feeding. It’s a great way to get close, long looks at birds such as grosbeaks, orioles, buntings and even a few warbler species if you’re lucky.

Cole’s sent along tips such as using a variety of feeder types at different heights and using a variety of foods. The food suggestions included dried mealworms, which I used extensively last spring to feed eastern bluebirds and pine warblers. More common feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice and nuthatches love them too.

Suet is another can’t-miss offering to entice birds. Use care with suet in the spring and summer as it spoils quickly in the heat. Some companies, Cole’s included, make no-melt suet products.

Fresh fruit was another suggestion. I’ve had very limited success using fresh fruit to attract birds, but I’ve seen enough photos and heard enough testimonials to know that it can work. A catbird eating from an orange half is the extent of my success using fresh fruit. And that happened about 20 years ago. I did get orioles at my feeding station last spring, but they ate suet instead of the orange slices I had offered.

Let me know if you’ve had better success with fresh fruit.

News came from the Purple Martin Conservation Association that a purple martin had been spotted in Rindge as early as April 4. “The Purple martins arrival in New Hampshire show the birds are making steady progress northward since they first made landfall in Florida two days before Christmas,” Joe Siegrist, president of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, said in the release. “Tracking the migration is not only fun, but it also provides us with valuable information that helps inform our research and strengthen our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything possible to sustain the population of these amazing birds.”

Purple Martins are North America’s largest species of swallow. They winter in the rainforests of Brazil before migrating up to 7,000 miles north into the eastern United States and Canada. I was in Florida visiting my brother last week following a few college visits with my son, and the purple martin colonies were fully active in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, purple martins are in decline and have lost up to a third of their population over the last 50 years, according to a study released in 2019. Of course, human-provided “condos” have helped the species as natural nesting habitat has disappeared.

In fact: “Human-provided nest boxes are the only thing keeping the species alive east of the Rocky Mountains,” Siegrist said in the release.

Visit www.purplemartin.org for more information about the bird’s migration or how to set up housing for a colony. To receive a free booklet on how to attract and care for purple martins from the nonprofit Purple Martin Conservation Association, email info@purplemartin.org or call 814-833-7656.

As an aside, the Purple Martin Conservation Association is based in Erie, Pa., my hometown growing up. I wasn’t aware of this until I saw the release. Keep up the good work, Erie.

A few more warblers

Photo by Chris Bosak A pine warbler visits a backyard in New England, April 2020, Merganser Lake.

Because why not? It’s warbler season, after all.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-and-White Warbler looks throughout an evergreen for food at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-and-White Warbler looks throughout an evergreen for food at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Prairie Warbler perches in a tree at Selleck's/Dunlap Woods on May 5, 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Prairie Warbler perches in a tree at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on May 5, 2014.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-throated Green Warbler perches in a tree at Selleck’s/Dunlap Woods on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

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.

Splendidly iridescent grackle

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common grackle visits a feeder in New England, October 2020.

I know some people get overrun by grackles, but I hardly ever see them at my feeders. When two showed up on a recent sunny day, I was able to capture the brilliant colors of their iridescent plumage. Grackles are blackbirds, but when the sun hits them just right, they are also green, blue and purple.

Ballerina catbird

Photo by Chris Bosak
A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

This gray catbird struck a rather interesting pose the other day. Catbirds are one of the great characters of the bird world.

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

Birds to brighten your day: Bird Quiz III

Relatively easy one today. Here’s a big hint too … what is showing in the photo is not often seen but is part of the bird’s name. Thanks for playing along.

Here’s yesterday’s answer, and yes, someone got it right, so you’re 2-for-2 so far.

Here’s yesterday’s photo:

Here’s a few frames prior …

Those who guessed black-capped chickadee were right!

Here’s today’s photo again …

Birds to brighten your day: Bird Quiz 1

I’m going to shift themes again. I’ve already covered social distancing and cleanliness, now I will tackle the uncertainty aspect of coronavirus. I am not using coronavirus as an overarching theme to make light of this crisis, but rather to highlight the indomitable human spirit and bring a bit of levity to these trying days.

Therefore, with this post I kick off a run of Birding Quiz posts. I’ll reveal the answers in the next day’s post. Thanks for playing along and for supporting BirdsofNewEngland.com.

The first question is: What is in the above photo?

Hummingbirds return to New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A male ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

I saw my first hummingbird of the year about 10 days ago. It paid my feeder a quick visit in the morning and I never saw it again. He must have been on his way northward and stopped for a quick pitstop. But now, the hummingbirds are back for real. A male has been visiting my feeder about every 20 minutes for the last three days. A few times it had to fight off a few rivals to keep its territory. Hummingbirds are small and cute, but fiercely territorial.

Here’s a shot a took over weekend. Welcome back.

Celebrating Vulture Week, part 5

Photo by Chris Bosak Black vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Black vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Here is the final photo in my celebration of Vulture Week, a week I totally made up because I had some vulture photos to share. This is a pair of black vultures, which are becoming more common in New England.

Final vulture fun fact: Vultures do not circle their prey, a misconception reinforced by so many Western movies. They do circle, but they do that whether there is prey below or not. If they find prey, they get to it quickly.

As a bonus, check out the Reader Submitted Photos page for a new photo of a soaring turkey vulture.

Celebrating Vulture Week, part IV

Photo by Chris Bosak  Vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Vultures sit on a hill in Danbury, Conn., fall 2017.

Here’s a young turkey vulture with a wood chip in its mouth (for whatever reason) as a bunch of black vultures gather behind.

Fun vulture fact of the day: A “bunch” is not really what a group of vultures is called. Here are the real terms: “A group of vultures is called a kettle, committee or wake. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee refers to vultures resting on the ground or in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.”

Taken from Wikipedia, so it can’t be wrong. Right?