Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Spring Migrants Need Feeders Filled
February 23, 2008
Steve Grinley

     As I did some general birding driving around the area today, visiting neighborhoods in Newburyport, Newbury, West Newbury, Amesbury and Salisbury, I saw flocks of robin feeding on bare grassy areas and heard red-winged blackbirds singing their territorial “conk-a-ree” call at various wetland locations. Many customers have reported redwings at their feeders already and even a few folks have reported grackles arriving. Though I can always predict with much certainty that these “harbingers of spring” will be soon hit with the harsh reality of a New England late winter storm, they do, non-the-less, insist in forcing us to think about spring.

     The other thing I noticed as I drove around was the number of empty bird feeders. Whether these are a result of the climbing prices of bird seed, or the notion that birds can “fend for themselves” as we move closer to spring, it is not clear. 

     Bird seed, specifically sunflower, has climbed to record high prices during the last few months. The demand for non-trans fat oils has been one reason. Sunflower oil is non-trans fat, and as more restaurants and food convert to non-trans fats, the demand for sunflowers has risen, particularly sunflower meats, but also black-oil and striped sunflower seeds. This increase in demand has driven up prices, and, together with increased transportation costs, has caused a significant increase in all sunflower seed prices and all quality mixed seeds that contain sunflower. Reason enough to not fill the feeders so often.

     Another reason for empty feeders may be that some people feel that birds can find natural food during more moderate weather. They think that birds don’t need supplements when spring approaches.

     Late winter and springtime are the most important times to feed backyard birds. There are few other food choices for birds since natural winter supplies have dwindled and run out. Natural seeds have been consumed throughout the winter leaving returning birds with slim choices. New natural seed crops won’t happen until summer and early fall, so feeding birds now will help sustain them until the warmer weather brings insects.

     As we’ve seen this weekend, this time of year can be a time of unpredictable weather. Even though we may get some warm days, it can be very cold at night and late season storms can blanket the area with ice and snow. Birds need to eat to stay warm. Feeders can help them to stay warm and to survive.

     As I drove along Hale Street and the Common Pastures, I could see crows at the edge of the ice in the fields. The warm sun was melting the edges of the ice and the crows were drinking the water that resulted. It reminded me of the need birds have for fresh water during frigid weather. It is not too late to put out a heated bird bath. As the weather turns warmed in the spring, just don’t plug it in. But it will be there on these cold days when the birds need it the most.

     Continuing to feed birds during the spring and summer does no interfere with “nature”. Birds will continue to use feeders to supplement what natural food they find, and you then have the opportunity to observe their most interesting activities-mating, nesting and raising their young. Spring feeding is also an environmentally safe way to control insects in your yard. Bluebirds, wrens, and woodpeckers will consume caterpillars, ants and mosquitoes, reducing the need to use other,, less friendly, means to control these insects in your yard and garden.

     It may seem premature to think about spring today, but it is only weeks away and the spring migrants are already arriving. Feeding them, and providing fresh water for them during these final days of winter will ensure their survival and provide you with much enjoyment and benefit in the months ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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