Words On Birds 04-12-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Three Special Spring Birds
April 12, 2024
by Steve Grinley
 
     As the early spring bird migrating moves into full swing, I thought I would share with you some wisdom which the late Doug Chickering shared with us seventeen years ago, when we also had a wet spring that year: 
 
     “This April nor’easter has come and gone and left retribution in its passing. Fields, streams and rivers are flooded, and everywhere there is the forest detritus as the fury of the storm separated the weak from the strong. The storm with its passing has also revealed the first breath of true spring. In our backyard, there is suddenly a wide wash of green in the grass and the lilac bush is showing its first nascent buds. Elsewhere, the crocuses have gone past peak and the forsythias are coming on. Although they are late, I fully expect that those first scouts of spring – pine warbler, palm warbler and Louisiana waterthrush – will soon appear at their appointed locations.
 
     “So now we can start to seriously think of the spring migration. It appears to me that the migration season can be divided into three parts; each with its distinguishing characteristics and mood. The height of the migration takes up nearly all of May, and the dominant tone is high excitement mixed with an slight aching sense of loss. No matter how successful and brilliant the days birding when you pull up Massbird in the evening and read of what others are seeing there is the unmistakable gnawing conviction that you are missing something. No matter that you realize that you can’t be everywhere at six o’clock in the morning, and no matter that you had killer looks at the Cape May and golden-winged warbler, you become haunted by the fact that out there some lucky birder had a white-eyed vireo in Westport or a hooded warbler in the Dell at Mount Auburn, or a blue grosbeak at the Beech Forest in Truro and you didn’t. Birding in May is paradise tainted by longing. So many birds so little time.
 
     “And when you slowly become aware that female redstarts are the dominant specie in Hellcat on Plum Island and the only likely target left is mourning warbler, you have entered into the third stage of the migration. It is inevitable that this stage will be accompanied by a slight feeling of melancholy. The peak is over, the birds are disappearing into their nesting routine and it’s going to be a long, long time before May rolls around again.
 
     “The opening stage of migration in its way can be the best. The early part of spring, still haunted by traces of winter is filled with a mood of great expectation and hope. For me, no birds are more emblematic of this part of the season that blue-gray gnatcatcher, solitary vireo and black-and-white warbler. These are the birds that I think of when this part of the season approaches. These are the birds that fill my heart with a particular delight. I make no claim of universality in these feelings. On the contrary, I am sure that there are other birds that fulfill this role in other birders’ hearts.
 
     “These days, in the middle of April when I am at work, standing by my machine and contemplating the days in the field that lie in the immediate future, I am able to place my imagination where I can nearly see and hear them. The gnatcatcher darting furtively from limb to limb, tail erect, whispering his steady staccato call. A call so quiet that there are times when it takes a few seconds for me to become aware that I am hearing it. The black-and-white warbler, wet forest, still nearly bare of foliage also quickly moving and occasionally calling. The warbler’s hoarse slightly wheezy call sounding like he is being squeezed.
 
     “And the solitary vireo, slow deliberate, almost sedentary in his habits. He hops to a branch to pause and tilt his head in contemplation before hopping again to a different branch. And all three crisp and clean in their new plumage stand out in the still dull background of early spring. I haven’t seen them yet, but soon I will and can hardly wait. There will be many moments to come where I will be enchanted by the brilliant events of a migration, but right now I am thinking mostly about my three spring birds.”
 
     Some palm warblers arrived this past week, but I haven’t heard reports of Doug’s three spring birds yet. Some southwest winds this coming week should bring them to us!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

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Words On Birds 04-05-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Storms Negative Effect on Birds
April 05, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     March was unusually wet this year and the rain continues into April with a nor’easter that came up the coast. This week’s storm with soaking rain, bouts of snow and ice, and high winds are having its effects on birds. Tom Wetmore was “stuck” on Plum Island during Thursday morning’s storm as he watched piping plovers wandering around the flooded parking lot #1 on the refuge. No beach for the plovers on this morning, and flooded roads prevented Tom from leaving the island.  
 
     (Please note: Tom reported that the Maintenance Area parking lot was flooded. The road past Lot 6, Stage Island and the road between the Pines Trail and the North Pool Overlook were all fine due to the impoundments holding back the storm surge as they were designed to do! What happens when the impoundments are destroyed by the Refuge??)
 
     The flooding is the extreme case of the negative effects the weather has on our birds. Even our resident birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches and titmice struggle to survive these early spring storms. There are not a lot of insects out yet and much of the winter’s supply of natural seed and fruit has been depleted. It certainly is evident from the large numbers of goldfinches and other birds visiting the feeders during and after the storm.
 
     If you have feeders, now is a good time to keep them full. If the feeders were out in all that rain, it may be time to dump out the soggy seed, clean the feeder thoroughly, let it dry completely, and fill it with fresh seed. Spread some fresh seed on the ground for the sparrows and lingering juncos.
 
     It may be nicer this weekend, but more cold nights, and probably more storms, are surely ahead of us. Now is the time when birds can try to fatten up in preparation for what may lie ahead. New arrivals will need to replenish after their long journey north. Many resident birds are also preparing to breed, and ample body weight is necessary to improve successful nesting.
 
     Many birds take advantage of suet during spring for the same reason. The high fat content of suet gives their body the quick energy it needs to survive a long migration and the early spring weather changes in New England. Breeding birds will feed suet to their young as it is very palatable and quick fat. Though bluebirds prefer an offering of meal worms, even they will enjoy suet if insects are not available. 
 
     The other effect these wind storms have had, as a result of tumbling trees and breaking limbs, is the loss of nesting cavities for many birds. Now is the time to clean out, and repair if necessary, any bird houses that you have up. You might consider adding another one to help shelter the homeless birds. Birds will even use unoccupied houses as roosting sites to get out the nasty weather, especially at night.
 
     Most of our spring migrants seem to be arriving on time. A quick check of the ruby-throated hummingbird migration map reveals their progress to around Washington DC and Maryland.  It will likely be two to three more weeks before the first ones make it to our area. The majority will be here in May. 
 
     So you have time to dig out your hummingbird and oriole feeders in the weeks ahead. Often the hummingbirds will come to the spot where you usually hang your feeder, even if you haven’t put it out yet. Amazing that these little birds can find their way back to your feeder (actually they consider it THEIR feeder) in your backyard after traveling hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of miles! We have airline pilots, with all their sophisticated equipment, who sometimes land at the wrong airport a few hundred miles away!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

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Words On Birds 03-29-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Brings New Birds To Us
March 29, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     The cold, raw, rainy days of March have reminded us that winter hasn’t quite lost its grip on us.  Once in a while we were teased with a warmer day when temperatures “soared” into the fifties. But the worst of the cold days of winter are, hopefully, behind us. Pussy willows are budding and crocus are showing in warmer corners of yards. Hints of spring are around us, but reminders of winter linger as well.
 
     Late March to early April is an “in between time” in the bird world as well. Many wintering species are still lingering in the area, while some early spring migrants are just showing up. The eiders, scoters, long-tailed ducks and wintering loons are still feeding along the coast. Newburyport Harbor still contains long-tailed ducks, common goldeneye, red-breasted mergansers and bufflehead. Winter tree sparrows and juncos still feed with the arriving song sparrows along the roadside of Plum Island as well as under area bird feeders.
 
     These wintering birds are contrasted by the common egrets that have been arriving back into our marshes, seemingly more each day. Great blue herons are also arriving back, and many have arrived to their nesting sites where they can be seen perched atop last year’s nests, reclaiming their homes.
 
     A few osprey have returned, sometimes inspecting their nesting platforms in the marsh to see if they still measure up. Several piping plovers have arrived at Sandy Point and along the Plum Island beach.  A couple were seen feeding in the muddy flats of the Salt Pannes on the refuge this past week.
 
     Woodcock have been doing their spring display at dusk on Plum Island and in surrounding communities. Wilson’s snipe are just starting to arrive as a couple of dozen birds were counted in Wet Meadows along Scotland Road in Newbury this past week. Soon their numbers will climb into the hundreds but most of these snipe will eventually continue further north. 
 
     Killdeer are calling from the dry fields along Scotland Road and many of them will stay and nest in the area. We are still awaiting the arrival of blue-winged teal in the Scotland Road wet areas. Now, green-winged teal, pintail, mallards and a few wigeon are present there so far. Wood ducks are early spring migrants and they are they appearing in some of the fresh water marshes. 
 
     Another early spring migrant, the Eastern phoebe, has started to arrive. Margo spotted one on our deck railing this past week, perhaps “our” local phoebe checking out potential nest sites. More phoebes have been seen throughout Essex County so more flying insects are becoming available to feed them!
 
     Customers from West Newbury, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley have reported bluebirds back at their nest boxes. We have a pair coming regularly to our mealworms and we are hopeful that they may nest in our yard or close by. Though house wrens won’t arrive until May, the Carolina wrens are busy building their first nests already.
 
     The first warblers of the season are also being reported. The always early pine warblers are singing in the conifers and a few palm warblers have been reported as well. A few more species will trickle in during April but the majority will migrate through in May.
 
     Mixed flocks of red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and grackles pass overhead, heading for their evening roost. Those of you that have feeders may have started to experience these “harbingers of spring” as these blackbirds descend upon your yard and clean out your feeders in no time. A few of the redwings are trying to establish territories in the marsh, but most of these birds will continue their flights to other areas to breed.
 
     So Spring is trying to move its way into New England. Though high temperatures are supposed to only be in the forties and low fifties this coming week, it is warming to know that the arrival of the first hummingbirds and orioles can now be counted in weeks, rather than in months.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-22-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hope for a Noisy Spring
March 22, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     We are thankful for the warbling song of the bluebirds, now being heard in so many more yards than it was decades ago. The calls of the eagles along the Merrimack River are strong again, as will be the cries of the ospreys when they return in the coming weeks to their nesting platforms throughout Essex County. I remember the days when the future of these birds was in jeopardy due to our use of DDT and other harmful chemicals.
 
     Lisa Powis of Newbury also remembers, and I repeat the story that she shared with us some ten years ago that she titles “Noisy Spring:” 
 
     “I reluctantly drag myself out of bed to close the windows. “They are so loud! Why can’t they sleep in a little? I’ll feed them; they need not get the early worm!” I both marvel at and curse my waking at 4:30 because of the birds conversing in our back yard. I smile and say “thank you Rachael Carson” as I drift back to sleep.
 
     “Born in 1961, I distinctly remember robins and blue jays in the wooded back yard we moved to when I was two. I remember my legs covered in mosquito bites that I scratched until they bled, and scabs were as much a part of summer as popsicles. I can remember running into the house to watch out the living room bay window as the low flying crop dusters buzzed our neighborhood spraying a dense trail of white mist. We cheered as they dropped their cargo imagining all the mosquitos vanishing. 
 
     “I also remember a time when the robins and blue jays did not return and the neighborhood mornings were strangely quiet. I was around eight or nine when I remember adults talking about “Silent Spring.” Their talk seemed serious and I believed what I heard instantly. The mosquito spraying had made the bugs stronger, but killed all the birds. 
 
     “I knew Miss Carson’s book was way beyond me and I wished I was old enough to read and understand it. I love the saying, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” For Miss Carson it could have said, “It is better to fight the government and chemical companies than to curse the silence.” 
 
     “I think about this brilliant, bold scientist often as I enjoy the birds we take so for granted in our coastal community. Dying young of breast cancer, perhaps due to the very chemicals she sought to ban, I think of her as an environmental martyr. She’s such an amazing role model of how one person can change the world for generations yet to come. I love her quote:
 
     “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
 
     “I’m no longer the eight year old in Springfield. Forty three years later, I’m a mom in Newbury with a 12, 10, and 7 year old. Our wonder of the universe and appreciation for God’s creation begins in our back yard. 
 
     “It was the magenta rhododendrons in full bloom that blinded us to the many shortcomings of the house, but now I’m grateful we chose this spot. Its huge old trees that hold the nests of many birds and the peaceful back yard have soothed our souls and allowed us to witness nature’s wonders. Of course, hours of sweat labor have gone into our house and surroundings to make it the home it is, but we’re at a place where we’re really enjoying it. 
 
     “Our kids go to the back window to watch the flight pattern of the yellow swallowtail butterflies; they seem to always fly on a diagonal in the open yard. I sit in a lawn chair and patiently await the humming bird that feeds on the bergamot. I can only catch it if I sit quietly and wait. As evening falls we watch “batty” and his friends circle between the giant oak and maple trees feasting on our plentiful supply of mosquitoes. This is one time when the good old days weren’t better, and I’m grateful that the only planes my kids see are the sightseeing flights taking off from Plum Island.
 
     “Look mom, Golfanina’s feathers have turned yellow again, it must be spring!” I love that our kids have names for many of the creatures they see in our back yard. We watched in amazement one night as a hawk swooped in to attack the finches at the feeder, and like fighter jets, three black crows chased the hawk out of the yard until the little ones could escape. We call them the hero birds and let them gobble up the bird food as their reward. I try to describe the silent springs to the kids and tell them that chemicals all but made the birds of my childhood extinct. Fortunately, given their own experience, they believe me, but cannot grasp it.”
 
     Rodentcides are the current threat to another “Silent Spring.” These are a serious threat to our raptors (hawks, owls, etc.) which consume rodents contaminated with these poisons. Please support banned use of rodentcides in your local town, city or state.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-15-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Ready Nest Boxes for Spring Birds
March 15, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that bluebirds were already checking out nesting boxes in our area. Putting up bluebird nesting boxes has enabled bluebird populations to rebound once again. A properly constructed bluebird box, erected on a pole near an open area, may encourage these beautiful birds to nest in your yard. Man-made houses also help other bird species such as tree swallows, great crested flycatchers and even wood ducks overcome the natural housing shortage. 
 
     Now is a good time to inspect, clean and repair any existing birdhouses that you have. Clean out any old nesting material and brush out the inside walls with a wire brush. If it is particularly messy, you may also wash out the box with a mild detergent solution, rinse thoroughly, and let it dry completely. If the entrance hole has been enlarged by squirrels or rodents, you can add a new wood predator guard over the hole to reduce the hole size again. Metal guards can be placed over holes to prevent future chewing. Metal guards may be a good idea on any new houses you put up if squirrels are a potential problem. 
 
     Spring robins have also started to arrive. Customers have reported pairs of robins in their yards instead of the larger winter flocks. Phoebes will soon be arriving and barn swallows return in early to mid-April. These three birds have adapted to man by often nesting on ledges of man-made structures. They won’t use a typical birdhouse, but they may use an open nesting shelf placed on a house, deck, garage or barn. 
 
     Where you live and the type of habitat that you have in your yard will be determining factors in which birds you may be able to attract. If you live in a densely populated area, house sparrows, house finches and starlings are likely nesting candidates but robins, chickadees or house wrens may also be possible. Bluebirds, tree swallows and purple martins prefer open areas though bluebirds are adapting to smaller open spaces of grass or lawn. House wrens like brushy edge areas, while chickadees, nuthatches and titmice prefer more wooded areas. 
 
     Also remember that not all birds will nest in a house. Only those birds that naturally nest in tree cavities will use a nesting box. Every year we are asked for houses for cardinals or goldfinches. These, like so many birds, build their nests on limbs of trees or in dense shrubs and will not nest in a house. 
 
     To attract the bird you want, it’s best to start with a birdhouse that is built to specification for that bird and place it in a suitable area. The entrance hole size is one critical dimension. House wrens, for instance, can squeeze into a 1” opening that will eliminate larger birds. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers will use a 1 1/8” or 1 ¼” inch opening while bluebirds, tree swallows and house sparrows need a 1 ½” inch opening. 
 
     Houses can be spaced 20-50 feet apart to attract different species. Houses for the same species, however, should be spaced at least 100-200 feet apart. This is because most birds are very territorial within their species and won’t allow another bird of the same species to nest nearby. For most backyard birds, the house can be placed 5-10 feet off the ground. Face the houses away from northerly directions as cold wind and rain can be detrimental to newly hatched, featherless young birds in early spring. 
 
     Purple martins nest in colonies and need an open area. Their apartment houses should be erected high, 12-15 feet or more. The house needs to be accessible though, to enable you to discourage house sparrows or starlings from nesting in the house before the martins arrive. Although martin “scouts” arrive in mid-April, it is the first year young arriving with females in early May that are usually looking for new housing. Attracting purple martins requires much more work initially than attracting some other birds, but once martins establish their colony, they will return faithfully each year. In fact, many birds such as bluebirds, tree swallows and nuthatches, return to the same nest site each year. 
 
     Encouraging birds to nest in your yard by providing nesting boxes is beneficial to you as well as the birds. Birds can help control the insect populations on your lawn, in your garden and on your shrubs without the use of harmful chemicals. Houses erected for purple martins, tree and barn swallows, crested flycatchers and phoebes help control flying insects, while many other species such as wrens, bluebirds and woodpeckers eat crawling insects. This natural insect control will be beneficial all summer long. 
 
     Now is the time to ready your nesting boxes or put up new ones before the birds, and the insects, arrive!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-08-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Refuge Releases Final Plan to Destroy Fresh Water Impoundments
March 08, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge released the final version of their Habitat Management Plan on Tuesday, Feb 20, on their website and as a press release.  That was a sad day for birds and birders. 
 
     “After reviewing comments received and further consultation with experts and partner organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a Finding of No Significant Impact in implementing the proposed alternative outlined in the draft Habitat Management Plan (HMP) and Fire Management Plan (FMP) for Parker River and Thatcher Island National Wildlife Refuges.” No impact? Really?
 
     Instead of maintaining the Refuge-built impoundment fresh water pools and replacing the aging water gates, they find it easier to breach the dikes.  The Refuge final plan starts with breaching the Stage Island dike which is the least like to be breached by Mother Nature. Breaching the Stage Island impoundment will only accelerate the chance that the water will cover the road, cut off Lot 7 and halt access to Sandy Point.  
 
     Instead of using tax-payer dollars to restore the hundreds of acres of salt marsh that still needs restoration for the beloved salt marsh sparrow, they want us to fund their experiment of restoring a fresh water pool, created by their predecessors, back to salt marsh.  Why?  Salt marsh sparrows are not nesting below the Maintenance area.  Fix the hundreds of acres of marsh between there and Cross Farm Hill instead of trying to create new marsh for one species ,and for maybe the black rail that has NEVER nested on the refuge and a bird that I have heard ONCE on the refuge in sixty years!
 
     Their first “public sessions” were poorly publicized and embarrassingly under-attended. They were followed up with a better publicized zoom meeting that had 140 attendees where no response to their pre-scripted answers to questions, could be expressed. 
 
     The refuge says there were 145 written comments received. Their planned, scripted responses to these concerns were again presented, resulting in their “No Significant Impact” decision. They claim that the detailed summary of comments and responses is included in Appendix A of the final Environmental Assessment. However, that is now well buried on their website if you go looking for it.  
 
     It’s abhorrent that the refuge wasn’t required to do an Environment Impact Study, especially by the Mass Fish & Wildlife, regarding its Plan’s impact on the state endangered Least Bittern and other birds whose habitat would be destroyed by this plan. If a developer proposed this destruction of this fresh water habitat, the state would be all over them!
 
     Needless to say, the decision sparked comments on the local birder’s social media:
 
     One birder stated: “As expected, the outcome to blithely and recklessly destroy the largest shorebird staging and foraging sites north of Cape Cod was completely predetermined and the public comment period was merely for show.“
 
     Another local birder stated: “I always felt the only reason they were asking people to send in their concerns and questions prior to any zoom meeting was to make sure they were able to have their stock answers ready.  There were never opportunities for rebuttal to any of their answers. They never had any intention of taking into consideration the research from any opposing viewpoint.“
 
     Still, another birder: “Nancy Pau and management are asserting that the impoundments are in such danger of being breached … that we must ourselves breach the dikes! How does this make any sense? Destroy the village to save the village?“
 
     The refuge announcement did make news in a number of local news outlets, but they just quoted the Refuge’s preplanned answers that the press release provided. It made front-page news in this newspaper but it was slanted to be about the Pink House. There seems to be more support and readership for a deteriorating pink house, though it is understandable for the icon that it is. Unfortunately, it is likely destined for the same pre-determined fate as the fresh water impoundments that our forefathers built for birds and for us.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-01-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

March is Bluebird Month
March 01, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     March is bluebird month! The start of meteorological spring is the beginning of the nesting season for some of our songbirds. One of the earliest nesters is the eastern bluebird. Several customers have already reported seeing male bluebirds sitting on top of nesting boxes. Others have watched male and female bluebirds visiting, inspecting, and (hopefully) approving the nest site.
 
     It excites me to hear that so many customers are seeing bluebirds in their yards. This wasn’t the case when I first opened shop twenty-nine years ago. Now bluebirds are once again more common due to the conservation efforts of many, and the efforts of individuals putting up nesting boxes for them.
 
     I always take pause when a handsome bluebird graces my presence and now that happens more frequently. The sheer beauty of the male reflecting in the sunlight is a joy to behold. The females have a graceful look of their own, with just enough blue to accent their elegant gray attire. Their soft, warbling song adds to the viewing experience.
 
     Now is the time of year when the males take the females around saying “How about you and me here – this year” as they scout out potential nesting boxes. Soon a territory is established and then nest building will begin.
 
     The female will construct the nest in four to five days with only minimal help from her mate. She also does the incubating, as the male does not have a brood patch. However, a male will sometimes spend nights in the nest along with his mate.
 
     The female will lay four to five light blue eggs that will take thirteen to fifteen days to hatch. The male brings food to his mate and the young during the critical first few days of feeding. Bluebirds feed on crawling insects. Like small hawks in their perched hunting position, bluebirds wait patiently for a crawling insect or beetle to show itself. They then pounce on it and bring the food back to the nest.
 
     The young will fledge in fifteen to twenty days. Even though the parents will keep feeding them, the fledglings can find their own food in about two weeks.
 
     Bluebirds have two broods, and occasionally three. Some of the youngsters from the first brood are often seen helping with other nest building duties or in bringing food to their new siblings. They teach us much about the bond of family. This often continues into the fall and they may even stay together as a “family group” until the following spring.
 
     The key to attracting bluebirds to nest in your yard is having proper nesting boxes, food and water. Bluebirds do prefer more open areas, so if your yard is heavily wooded you’ll enjoy many other nesting birds, but less likely bluebirds.
 
     Nest boxes should be placed at the edge of an open area, facing a southerly direction to avoid cold winds and rains early in spring. Since bluebirds are territorial, boxes should be placed about 300 feet apart. To be successful, aggressive house sparrows must be kept at bay by removing their nest material and even trapping and removing the sparrows. House sparrows are so mean that they will kill the adult bluebird right in the box.
 
     Tree swallows arrive in late March and early April, and they also compete for bluebird houses – but they are good competition. Swallows, like purple martins, eat many flying insects so they are desirable birds to have around. If they are present, you might consider pairing houses close to each other, allowing bluebirds in one and the tree swallows in the other.
 
     If you want to provide food to help and attract bluebirds, the best thing you can offer is mealworms. Bluebirds enjoy live and/or dried mealworm. Providing mealworms during nesting reduces the stress to the bluebirds of having to “find” all their food and can improve success rates. Bluebirds also eat bluebird nuggets or suet. Providing crushed suet in a tray provides easy access for the bluebirds.
 
     Water for drinking and bathing is also a great way to attract and keep bluebirds. Having a supply of water year ‘round encourages bluebirds to hang out and, eventually, nest in your yard. Planting berry bushes, like American Bittersweet, this spring provides food sources for Bluebirds next winter.
 
     So put up your bluebird houses, set out mealworms, suet and water, and sit back and watch these beautiful blue gems light up your yard!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-23-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Migrants Urge Spring’s Arrival
February 23, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year. The longer days and warmer than normal February that we have been experiencing is likely bringing Spring a bit earlier this year. And the birds seem to agree.

     A number of folks have had pine warblers visiting suet in their yards. One birding friend has up to 6 or 7 pine warblers on any given day. Most of these are probably winter holdovers but pine warblers are one of the first warblers to arrive in spring, so if any of these are early migrants, they didn’t migrate far! A couple of yellow-rumped warblers were in Salisbury this week as well.

     A couple of weeks ago, the New Hampshire Birds list serve was buzzing about the first red-winged blackbirds that were arriving in people’s yards. A few oof our customers have mentioned the “early” arrival of redwings. We had two males visiting our feeders this past week and a male/female pair the week before.

     This seems to happen every year about this time. And we almost always have a little snow and colder temperatures thereafter. The first red-wings blackbirds, along with a few cowbirds and grackles arrive in the early to mid -February followed by reminders that winter isn’t quite over yet.

     Though many folks think it is early, the return of the blackbirds is pretty much on schedule. Soon grackles will be overtaking some feeders, so you may want to dig out your grackle-resistant feeders or adjust your current weight-sensitive feeders now before the larger numbers arrive.

     We were entertaining one or two starlings on any given day this year, but seven to ten were taking over our suet and peanut feeders the past weeks. They were also devouring the bluebird’s mealworms that we were putting out and dominated tray and hopper feeders with the seed mixes that were in them.

     We rearranged some of our feeders, removing the cage suet and left just the perch-less log suet feeders. We also lightened the tension on the Squirrel Buster Peanut Feeders. But we continue to monitor those so as not to discourage the red-bellied woodpecker. We put heavier-shelled striped sunflower in the tray which starling’s long, pointed bills aren’t equipped to handle. We are now back down to one or two starlings, which is manageable.

     There have been reports of the season’s first woodcock at Rough Meadows in Rowley and in a few other locations. These are another sign of spring. Even a few male goldfinches are starting to show some yellow in the face and throat. These are signs of spring and, despite the chance for late season snow, it will be here soon.

     The birds don’t listen to the groundhog, or the weather experts, but Punxsutawny Phil may have it right this year. These early spring birds do give us hope that winter is waning and that warmer days, and spring, are ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-16-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Memories of “Store Birds” Past
February 16, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     I haven’t had much chance to get out birding. I read reports of a black-headed gull in Salisbury, an eared grebe in Marblehead, and a rough-legged hawk on Plum Island. But I have spent the past couple of months looking for new store space, finding and executing the move of our store to Port Plaza here in Newburyport.

     We were lucky to find such good space, and to be able to stay in Newburyport. We didn’t move far, just seven minutes from our previous locations at the Traffic Circle, and we were able to open our doors again this past Thursday. It was a lot of work, and long hours.

     Previously, whenever I was missing getting out into the field, I could see the birds coming to the feeders outside our old locations. No outside feeder opportunities at this location, but we do have ring-billed gulls constantly circling and alighting on the parking lots. We heard our first fish crow of the year among the crows that fly over and around the Plaza.

     Our last location had a couple of small, high windows in back where we hung feeders, and we had finches, cardinals, catbirds, and downy woodpeckers. Once we saw a snowy owl sitting on a storage trailer behind the store and we could show it to customer through a scope!

     I still think about the feeder opportunity that we enjoyed for eighteen years in our original store. I miss seeing those birds, as there was some comfort in glancing out the window to see “my” goldfinches on the thistle, “my” downy woodpecker and nuthatch on the suet, and those wintering tree sparrows that brightened the darkest winter day.

     As I think back over our first eighteen years that we were there, I also can recall all those special unexpected avian visitors that we enjoyed over that time. We had occasional visits from such birds as redpolls and pine siskins in the winter, but only one evening grosbeak ever stopped to partake of our sunflower. During warmer months, we had an occasional visit from indigo buntings, but we never saw a rose-breasted grosbeak at our feeders. Downy and hairy woodpeckers were regulars, and we would have flickers in the trees out back, but never a red-bellied woodpecker which so many of my customers now have.

     We have had dickcissels five or six times over the years, and a clay-colored sparrow at least four times. The more common fox sparrow only made an appearance three times in all those years. White-throated and white-crowned sparrows came through during migration, but we seldom saw a junco under our feeders!

     In the earlier years, ring-necked pheasants were regular visitors, at least until the railroad came back to Newburyport, separating us from Common Pastures and the Crane and Martin Burns Wildlife Management Areas. Turkeys only made an appearance once. I can also remember the day, it was my first day back from a vacation, when I heard a bobwhite calling from behind the store. At first I thought it was someone playing a trick on me, whistling like a bobwhite, until I went back there to take a look.

     I have seen many raptors flying over the store, mainly when I was carrying seed out for a customer. Red-tailed, broad-winged, and one rough-legged hawk, along with ospreys, turkey vultures and an occasional bald eagle. Then there was the night I was called to the store at 3 am by the fire department due to smoke in the chimney. As I was standing in the parking lot, talking with one of the firefighters, we both watched a mid-sized owl fly over the building. It was very pale underneath, very ghost-like in appearance. I was 90% sure that it was a barn owl.

     I will always have affection for the tree swallows that brought nesting material to one of my display houses in front of the store. I mounted the house in the corner of the lot and the pair nested that year.

     Then there was the drama of watching a northern shrike take a house finch from one of my tray feeders and wrestle it to the ground as the other birds scolded the shrike’s actions. And the day of a David Sibley book signing when the Cooper’s hawk followed one of my female employees into the storage trailer. Actually, it followed her head of hair to be more exact, and it realized the hair was attached to a much larger prey in time to fly out without incident.

     Our rarest feeder visitor came on a day that I glanced out the back window as I was turning on the lights to open the store. I saw the usual mourning doves under the feeders, but I did a double-take on one dove that was different. It was a bit larger, and had a blue ring around a red eye. It squared off tail and white-edged wing told me that it was a white-winged dove. It stayed only one day, but many birders came by to view this bird of the south and southwest.

     Yes, thinking back on all those fond memories, I may miss those feeders and those birds. But we are busy in our new space. We are content with our ring-billed gulls and our fish crows, and will look for other passing birds as we step outside to show customers new binoculars and scopes!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-09-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fewer Birds Visiting Feeders
February 09, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     The temperature is moderating a bit this week and Puxatawny Phil did not see his shadow this week, predicting that spring is just around the corner! Well, maybe, but we New Englanders know that the weather can, and probably will, change again as February progresses.

     We have had a number of inquiries from people asking where all their birds have gone. Usually, we get these questions in the fall, but not throughout the winter. Where are the birds? Our feeders aren’t being used, is something wrong with the birds? In the last weeks these questions kept popping up. No there is nothing wrong with the birds, they haven’t disappeared, they are just doing what nature intended. They are foraging in the wild. I explained in a previous column that this year is turning out to be a pretty big mast year in New England.

     Since trees need to use a significant amount of their energy to create seeds (aka mast), they don’t produce heavy crops every year. When they do, it happens with amazing synchronicity among tree species, which means the forest canopy can be affected region-wide. Beech, maple, and hickory are all having big seed crops; even some oaks are putting out a lot of acorns, depending on the species. The theory is that the trees produce enough seed to overwhelm the birds and animals eating it so that some seed remains and will grow, reseeding the forests. Pine cones, acorns, hickory nuts, maple seeds, they are everywhere and the birds and mammals are loving it. There even seems to be fewer squirrels in yards. They are foraging in the wild as well.

     We have noticed this at our home feeders as well. We have fewer goldfinches this week, whose numbers swell to fifty or sixty just before a cold snap. We have a small numbers of tree sparrows and an occasional song sparrow, a few white-throated sparrows and half a dozen juncos. A few woodpeckers visit our suet and peanut feeder and a titmouse or nuthatch come by to politely take a peanut or sunflower. The bluebirds are making fewer visits to our mealworms. The cardinals are here early in the day and again near dusk, but otherwise we are lacking the numbers and variety of birds that we usually enjoy in the dead of winter. The seed crop is also plentiful further north which is why we haven’t seen the winter finches such as redpolls, siskins, evening grosbeaks and crossbills.

     So, the answer is that the weather has just been too nice and the supply of natural food has been more than ample. The mild weather permits birds to take in less food as they don’t need as many calories to stay warm. Birds just supplement their natural food by visiting our feeders. Normally in the fall, when the supply of natural seeds is at its peak, birds “disappear” from feeders to take advantage of this natural supply. By mid-winter, it gets so cold, and we often have snow, that the natural food supply freezes or is covered in snow. That’s why birds flock to feeders in greater numbers in the winter months. Just not as much this winter.

     Since activity at the feeders has been so slow and the feeders remain relatively full, we tend to pay less attention to maintaining them. Not keeping the feeder clean and filled with fresh seed will not improve our chances for attracting birds. This usually isn’t a problem during “normal” winter when the temperature stays at or near freezing and precipitation falls in the form of snow. This year, the milder temperatures and precipitation in the form of rain provide the ingredients for mold to form in the bottom of the feeder. This is especially true for Nyger (thistle), sunflower hearts and shelled peanuts that tend to absorb moisture more quickly than some other seeds.

     Merely “topping off” a feeder with fresh seed will not solve the problem. Feeders should be emptied, and thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. A solution of one part bleach to ten parts water can be used to kill any mold and bacteria. Thoroughly rinse the feeder, let it dry completely, and then add fresh seed. Fill the feeder only half way until activity returns to minimize waste. You can even spread a little seed underneath the feeder to help attract some birds.

     We may not have as many birds to enjoy at our feeders this winter, but we should take some comfort in knowing that the birds are doing reasonably well during this abnormally milder season. Of course, we should keep our feeders clean with fresh seed just in case. The birds are scouting their food sources (your feeders) even though they may not need to feed from them right now. They know where the food is when they need it. After all, this is New England and mother nature could turn on us at any time.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply