Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Activity Picking Up at Feeders
December 01, 2023
By Steve Grinley
I have talked about the lack of birds at bird feeders over the past couple months. The ample rain, mild weather and the abundance of natural fruit, seed, and nuts have kept birds foraging for food elsewhere. But that seems to have all changed with the plummeting temperatures this past week. Birds were flocking at our feeders just after the cold snap and they have continued to visit. Goldfinches and house finches were particularly plentiful and the hope for pine siskins and redpolls this winter prompted us to add more thistle feeders to accommodate the finches.
Our reliable downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers continued to visit our suet log more often and we added a second suet feeder to accommodate the traffic. We have had as many as three yellow-bellied sapsuckers move through the yard, but none have come down to the feeders. I guess the sap in the trees is flowing well enough for them.
Juncos and white-throated sparrows were back so we spread more white millet for them. We usually see tree sparrows when they are around, and we always hope for a white-crowned or fox sparrow or something rarer. Of course, the millet attracts the mourning doves. Margo counted twenty-seven one day! At least they mostly stay on the ground or sun themselves in the trees.
Cardinals are again visiting our tray feeders early in the morning and, again, just before dusk. As it gets colder, they frequent the feeders midday to partake of sunflower, safflower and peanuts. The trays are popular with many birds as we fill them with sunflower, peanuts and dried mealworms. In addition to the cardinals, the blue jays, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees and finches visit. The Carolina wrens and bluebirds enjoy the mealworms.
As the days grow colder and the possibility, be sure to keep your bird feeders full. Birds especially need food late in the day as they prepare to roost for the cold nights before them. At first light, they will return to the feeders to replenish their protein and body fat lost during the frigid nights.
Suet is another good source of fat that many birds will seek during the frigid weather. Suet provides quick fat and protein to help sustain them when the weather is colder and insects and other natural sources diminish. We like the log feeders as they keep off the troublesome birds when they are around, such as grackles and starlings. During the winter, when they are not around to take over, we add other suet feeders which the nuthatches, titmice and even the Carolina wrens enjoy.
The dropping night temperature prompted us to connect our heated bath to be sure fresh water would always be available. Even up on the deck, it has visits from titmice, house finches and our Carolina wrens. We haven’t started putting out peanuts on the deck railings for the blue jays, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers, or mealworms for the bluebirds. When we do, the birdbath gets more use.
It also gets more regular visits from the squirrels.
Elsewhere, a ruby-throated hummingbird visited a feeder in Rockport into this past week. A rufous hummingbird was at a feeder on the south shore and a painted bunting is visiting a yard on Cape Cod. A number of late warblers are still around and we always watch the suet and hulled sunflower feeders for them.
There have been only scattered reports of winter finches, specifically pine siskins, red crossbills and evening grosbeaks, but mostly elsewhere in the state. No reports yet of redpolls or pine grosbeaks, though our friends in New Hampshire are seeing more of the northern birds trickling down already. We are hopeful that siskins, redpolls and small numbers of grosbeaks may visit us. Or it may be one of those winters that is not blessed with more visitors from the north. The approaching winter keeps us in suspense, and time will tell.