Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Help Birds to Survive the Cold
November 22, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     An early winter blast of cold has taken hold of the Northeast this November. Riding the cold arctic air from the north, a few of our wintering birds have arrived. At least two snowy owls have made their way to the Salisbury Beach State Reservation, with one perched in the marsh across from the boat ramp this past Monday. 

     Plum Island has hosted at least three more snowy owls. One has been viewed near the edge of the river from the Hellcat tower, one was perched on a sign at Stage Island, and another seen several times along the beach and dunes between Lots 5 and 7. We saw a snowy perched on Emerson Rocks at low tide last Saturday. 

     Large numbers of sea ducks are finally moving in. We saw all three species of scoters from the Lot 7 Refuge boardwalk on Saturday, including a rare majority of black scoters. Common eiders, red-breasted mergansers and a few long-tailed ducks were also present. One caller reported two white-winged scoters that found their way up the Merrimack River as far as Larry’s Marina in Amesbury this past week. 

     The cold is bringing more birds to the feeders as well. So many customers have told me how ravenous the birds have been at their feeders lately – “eating them out of house and home.” Many are adding feeders to accommodate the increasing numbers of birds. If you are considering adding a feeder that may require another pole in the ground, best to do it sooner than later. The ground isn’t quite frozen yet, but prolonged, below freezing temperatures may soon make it impossible to get additional poles into the soil. 

     We are thinking of hanging another thistle feeder outside our window here at the store to accommodate all the goldfinches that have been fighting for position on the present feeder. I am hoping that some of the pine siskins that I have been seeing and hearing in my travels will find their way to feeders as the natural food supply declines. Redpolls are also expected this season and like enjoy thistle as well.

     With the weather so cold, it is important to provide food that is high in fat for the birds. We have black oil sunflower in our other feeder, which has the high fat content necessary for birds to survive the cold. Sunflower hearts, Meatties, and peanuts are also high in fat and provide good energy for a variety of birds. Suet is another important food so offer birds this time of year. I may add a window suet feeder to maximize the variety of birds outside my store window. 

     I miss the pole system and the number of feeders that we had outside our previous location. We had platform feeders that allowed cardinals, sparrows and other ground feeders to come and feast where we could see them. A number of customers have reported handsome fox sparrows under their feeders. I miss being able to look out and see white-throated, white-crowned, tree, and especially, the fox sparrows foraging under the feeders.

     If you have left up your bird houses during the winter, do check to see if they are clean. Birds will use them in the winter to get out of the cold and the elements. You may add some dried grass or hay inside as an insulator, but be sure to clean it out again in the spring for nesting. If you don’t have houses up, you could add a roosting box, which has the hole near the bottom permitting more heat to be retained inside. Grass roosting pockets are another inexpensive way to provide winter shelter for birds during the coming harsh months.

     As the temperature continues to drop and fresh water freezes, you might consider adding a de-icer to your bird bath or add a new bath with a built in heater. Heated baths come in a range of sizes and are made with a pedestal or stand, or they can attach to a deck or pole. The thermostatically controlled heaters only cost pennies a day to operate and they provide a critical source of water for the birds when they need it most.

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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