Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Feeder Birds Will Return as Natural Food Dwindles
October 10, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     There is a large oak tree outside my living room window. I have been watching the blue jays fly into the oak, feed for a bit and then fly out with an acorn and head for the woods behind. They fly back and forth, storing acorns in a cache for the coming season. These are the quietest I’ve ever heard the blue jays. Usually they are the noisiest birds in the backyard – always screaming about something. Perhaps they don’t want to advertise the bumper crop of acorns that they have found for fear that they would have to share it.

     As it turns out, the blue jays are sharing those acorns. The squirrels are using their acrobatics to reach even the outer-most branches to get to the acorns. They often shake a branch to drop a few nuts and then scamper down the tree to collect their treasure. They, too, will store some away for harsher times.

     The abundance of acorns and other nuts and seeds this season, has resulted in less activity at the feeders. Still, I see from my window a few chickadees and sparrows visiting the feeder. A nuthatch still moves upside down a nearby tree. The neighborhood turkey even makes an appearance to “clean up” under the feeder.

     A cardinal and a chickadee still visit the store feeders and, of course, the usual large flock of house sparrows. There was also a red-winged blackbird at the feeders this week. The goldfinches continue to empty the thistle feeders and socks. But I’m still looking forward to some white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, and juncos. As the days get shorter and cooler, the birds will visit feeders with more frequency.

     There are good numbers of sparrows on Plum Island and at the Spencer-Pierce Little Farm. They are taking advantage of some of the natural seeds and berries that are out there. I saw a dozen white-throated sparrows on the Refuge late one afternoon this week. They were feeding along the road, feeding on bayberries, and also scratching in the leaves with the towhees at Hellcat.

     There was a junco in with two dozen Savannah sparrows at the Warden’s. It probably won’t be long for more juncos to arrive and they, along with some other sparrows, will eventually find their way to feeders that offer millet close to the ground.

     That same afternoon, I found large numbers of robins feeding on the berries all along the refuge road. A pair of catbirds were “meowing” at each other at Hellcat. There have been large flocks of cedar waxwings on the refuge, though I didn’t see any this day, eating their share of the fruit. I did see many yellow-rumped warblers that would also enjoy the berries. Last week, I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker feeding on berries-I had never seen this before.

     It does appear that the berry crop is not very plentiful on the island this year and it seems to be depleting quickly. As a result, birds will have to seek food elsewhere if they stay into the winter months. If you have fruit bearing trees and shrubs, you will likely get a visit from robins, bluebirds, or waxwings this coming season.

     After walking the Dunes Trail at Hellcat that afternoon, it was beginning to get chilly, so I started walking along the road toward the parking lot. I didn’t get far when I heard some “hooting” behind me. I turned around and listened again, and two series of faint “hooting” was coming from the dunes side of the road. It had the cadence of a great horned owl, though it was so faint, I couldn’t rule out a mourning dove as they are plentiful in that area.

     I walked back up the road toward the sound. I realized that it was coming from beyond Hellcat and it was getting louder as I walked. It clearly wasn’t a mourning dove. It was, in fact, a pair of great horned owls calling back and forth to each other. One call, the male, was deeper than the other. It may be a tad early for these birds to be courting, but the beginning of their nesting season in only about three months away. It will be great if these birds nest on the Refuge again.

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