Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birds Seek Food After Storms
January, 26, 2019
By Steve Grinley
If you haven’t had much activity at your bird feeders this winter, last week’s storm should have changed all that. Though we have been fortunate to enjoy a good number of regular feeder visitors in our yard, their numbers definitely swelled in the days following. Snow and ice cover often forces birds to look for other sources and our handouts are certainly welcome.
The morning after the storm, before the sun was even up, I counted eighteen juncos feeding on the millet spread out on our deck. There were at least four more juncos, as well as seven white-throated sparrows and two song sparrows, on the ground below the feeders in the back yard. Some mornings we can also have up to twenty mourning doves feeding on the ground.
On this morning, a male cardinal was the first bird to the sunflower in our tray feeder. Goldfinches soon arrived in the yard and eventually they occupied every perch on our several thistle feeders in our front and back yards. More goldfinches would come in and fight to displace the occupants. The larger house finches would easily take over a perch position when they arrive.
We have counted as many as eleven purple finches at our sunflower feeders. They feed on our sunflower-filled Squirrel Buster feeder off our deck, our sunflower tray in the front yard, and at the two large tube feeders in the backyard filled with our sunflower-rich Cardinal-Finch Mix. There are only two or three bright raspberry males. The other eight or nine as brown striped young males or females, with dark, bold facial markings.
Also enjoying the sunflower and our Cardinal-Finch Mix are our white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, chickadees, and occasionally a woodpecker. But the woodpeckers prefer the suet in the suet feeders and the suet logs. We have up to six downy, a hairy, and a male and female red-bellied woodpecker that are regulars. Of course the nuthatches and titmice frequent the suet as well and only recently a starling or two have found it.
Barrett has a yellow-bellied sapsucker visiting his suet in Rowley. A customer just told me that she has had a sapsucker for more than a week at her suet in Newbury. We have had an occasional sapsucker pass through our wooded backyard, but we have yet to see it visit the suet.
Margo also puts shelled peanuts on the deck that the titmice particularly enjoy. We have a half-dozen titmice that take turns coming to the deck to choose the right piece to take to a nearby tree to eat. A nuthatch or chickadee sometimes join the rotation. We also have blue jays visit the dack and scatter the smaller birds. One jay will gulp down several peanuts at a time.
The birds we most enjoy are the pair of Carolina wrens that come to demand that live mealworms be put regularly in “their” feeder. One of the wrens will sometimes chirp from atop its feeder, to alert us of his or her presence, and the lack of mealworms in the feeder that we have positioned on the floor of the deck. Once we fill the dish, we watch until one of them comes back and slides across the deck like a performer across a stage.
We have also had a number of interesting birds that have come through the yard, but have not visited the feeders. In addition to the aforementioned sapsucker, we have a pair of pileated woodpeckers that sometimes visit and pound away at the trees. We also have seen brown creepers circling up those trees, searching for food in and under the bark.. Neither the pileated nor the creepers have come to the feeders, but I am thinking of making the suet more available to them by putting some on a tree trunk or two. I am also considering smearing “tree butter” or peanut butter on a tree trunk. My biggest concern will be squirrels getting to it, but I may try it anyway.
Some area feeders are attracting other birds. There is still a large flock of evening grosbeaks that have regularly visited feeders on Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Dozens of pine siskins have been visiting a friend’s thistle feeders in Boxford. He also has an occasional red-breasted nuthatch. Another friend in Georgetown has had a dickcissel visit her backyard since December 10.
We have had a few non-avian visitors in our backyard recently. A couple of weeks ago we had a fisher walking along the stream in the back woods, climbing a few trees, and leaving without incident. Just this past week, a very scrawny coyote trotted though the back woods. Later the same day, Margo saw a very healthy red fox with a shiny coat walk through.
No telling what a little snow cover will bring to our yards!