Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Birds Appearing at Area Feeders
February 13, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     This milder-than-normal weather has brought some surprises to backyard feeders this winter. There have been several reports of Baltimore Orioles visiting feeders in the area. One oriole was frequenting a suet feeder on Orchard Street in Byfield. Another was visiting feeders on Hanover Street in Newbury. Another report of an oriole coming to suet on Hay Street might be close enough to be the Hanover street bird, or it could be a third bird. 

     The Hay Street bird was publicized to the birding community just before Mass Audubon’s Superbowl of Birding competition. The feeder was visible from the road and the homeowner invited participants to drive by to try to see the bird. The Superbowl of Birding is an annual event hosted by Mass Audubon Joppa Flats in which teams of birders spend 12 hours trying to see as many species of birds as possible. The teams earn one to five points per bird depending on the relative rarity of the bird. At least two of the teams did manage to see the Baltimore oriole, which gave them at least five points for this rare wintering bird.

     A customer came into the store two weeks ago with pictures of a bird that had been feeding on sunflower hearts at one of her feeders that she hung outside her kitchen window. The yellow bird with dark wings, wing bars, and orange-pink bill was a Western Tanager! She told me that the bird was visiting regularly, usually early in the morning shortly after she put the feeder out. The bird will chow down for some time until it is driven away by the finches. It then visits infrequently during the balance of the day. 

     The home is set on a hill well off the road and the feeder is not visible from the road. Thus, publicizing this bird to the birding community was not advised in this quiet Rowley neighborhood. Photos were taken to document this rare visitor.

     I received an email this past week about another unusual bird visiting an area feeder. Apparently this bird is a yellow-throated warbler, a southern warbler that seldom makes it this far north, even in the warmer weather. We are hoping that this bird can be photographed to document this occurrence. 

     Many customers continue to complain about the number of house sparrows at their feeders, but sometimes an unusual bird appears at the feeders in the company of the sparrows. A dickcissel is among the tens of house sparrows that frequent feeders near Loblolly Cove in Rockport. We have seen dickcissels in past years at feeders in Salisbury and Essex and at our store feeders several times. We have also enjoyed having a clay-colored sparrow accompany the house sparrows at our feeders more than once and other local feeders have hosted a Harris’ sparrow mixed in with their house sparrows in the past. So do check those sparrows for something different!

     Of course many of us are happy to watch and enjoy our “regular” visitors to the feeders. Cardinals, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches are perennial favorites. Many enjoy the woodpeckers coming to their suet and are delighted if a Carolina wren shows up in the dead of winter.

     While checking some area feeders over the past several weeks, we have noticed some diseased finches. There appears to be another outbreak of conjunctivitis amongst the finches, particularly the house finches. Infected birds show an abnormal growth over one eye, or in worse cases both eyes. It is believed that unclean feeders and spoiled seed may contribute to this problem. 

     So now is a good time to remind you to clean your feeders as often as possible. If you see the seed going bad or suspect mold on seed that has been sitting a while in the feeder, do a thorough cleaning with soap and water. You can also disinfect with a ten percent bleach or vinegar solution, rinse thoroughly and let the feeder dry before adding fresh seed. 

     With this frigid weekend upon us, do keep your feeders filled with fresh seed and suet to help the birds survive the cold. In return, they will keep you entertained and maybe they will bring along a rare friend to visit!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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