Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Provide Food and Shelter for Winter Birds
November 03, 2018
By Steve Grinley
A screech owl, or should I say two screech owls, returned to our owl box at home this past week. I first spotted the red screech owl peering out of the box early Monday morning as I was getting ready for work. Before I could get the binoculars on it, and before I could alert Margo to its presence, the bird ducked back into the house.
Later that day, while I was at work, Margo texted me a photo of a screech owl peering out the box. This time it was a gray screech owl! We had never seen a gray one in the box, so that was a real treat!
But it was short lived. Since that day, we have only seen the red screech owl peering daily from the box. The two may have been competing for the roost with the red one winning out or, as I joked, the red one was standing on top of the gray one to look out! We have another owl box some distance away, but we have never seen an owl in that one, at least not yet. I will keep you posted.
I received a call from a customer in West Newbury who said that there were five bluebirds going in and out of their bluebird house. Bluebirds apparently had a successful nesting in this box this past season, so this may have been a family group checking the accommodations as a winter roost.
Many birds will use bird houses for night roosting during the winter. A number of birds will huddle together in the same box to stay warm. If you have nesting boxes up and plan to keep them up over the winter, please be sure to clean them out so that the birds can use them to roost. Sometimes adding dried grass will provide added “insulation” for the birds. You might also plug any ventilation holes to keep the box warmer during the winter.
Alternatively, you might consider getting a roosting box that has the entrance hole near the bottom of the box. That keeps warmer air trapped in the box for roosting. Roosting boxes typically also have perches for more birds to use. There are also “convertible” boxes that act as a roost, but the perches are removable and you can invert the front of the box to put the entrance hole at the top to make the box usable for spring nesting.
There are also grass roosting pockets that are inexpensive and can be helpful to the birds. These may accommodate one or more birds depending upon the size of the grass hut where several birds may huddle together to get out of the elements. You can always add more roosting pockets for more birds to use.
Last week I mentioned the influx of winter finches already starting in our area. We had a noisy flock of thirteen evening grosbeaks circle over us at Halibut Point in Rockport last weekend. Several evening grosbeaks were reported at a feeder in West Newbury this past week with more reports of grosbeaks from all around Essex County.
We heard a pine siskin fly over while we were on Plum Island and there have been a number of reports of siskins and redpolls also visiting feeders in the county. More winter finches are coming, so making sure that you have sunflower available for the grosbeaks and crossbills, and thistle available for pine siskins and redpolls, will increase the chance that they will visit your backyard.
So get those roosting houses ready and the bird feeders filled. Providing food and shelter for birds will help them survive our New England winter. In turn, these colorful birds will brighten our day and warm our hearts.
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