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Into the Outdoors: Birds and Maintaining A Bird Feeder

For openers, here is a follow up on last week’s column regarding feral dogs. In the photo below, Dave Lewis’ trail camera captured a deer being pursued by a canine, probably a coyote. There is, however, always the possibility that it is a domestic dog.

We have been having some really weird weather lately. After a period of brutal cold, we are now experiencing some balmy temps. A rather unusual phenomenon has come about, probably because of this. Old Bub saw a large flock of robins in his yard last week. Reader Chris Phillips reported a similar occurrence in his holly tree. Lisa Taylor spotted a robin right outside her window. As I mentioned recently, I have seen winter robins in the woods, but never near my house.

One of the more pleasant winter activities is maintaining a bird feeder. While many of our area bird species migrate southward for the winter, there are also many permanent, year round residents. Food for them is often relatively scarce, especially if there is snow on the ground. With a backyard feeder, you can help out the birds, and have the pleasure of seeing them as well. Let’s take a little look at some of the more common winter visitors to a backyard feeder.

The black-capped chickadee is one of our most popular birds. These little guys are actually seen more often in the winter than in the summer, when they are busy raising their young. They are frequently seen hanging upside down from small twigs and branches. The call of the chickadee is unmistakable, as he plainly says his name. Both the chickadee and the white-breasted nuthatch, a similar though larger bird, are extremely fond of suet in the winter. Commercial wild bird seed will draw them in, too, although I’ve heard that the suet provides them with more heat and energy.

The blue jay is one of our best known and, for many, least loved winter layovers. While they are confirmed nest robbers, and do tend to run other birds off once in awhile, they are really very beautiful and fun to watch. Rather than judging them, I choose to just enjoy them. They are, in fact, among my favorite birds. One of my most valued art prints is a Donald Blakney rendition of blue jays in autumn. The whole scene depicted in the print strongly resembles one of my all time favorite squirrel hunting spots which, sadly, no longer exists.

The cardinal is one bird that everybody loves. Its bright plumage and perky demeanor are sure to cheer you up. In winter, they stand out as a burst of color against both snow and barren landscape. Cardinals are well known for their curiosity. A friend of mine once had a cardinal become fascinated with the mirror on his car. The bird would sit for long periods of time on the stem of the mirror and watch its own reflection. It even tried to feed it a time or two. Legend also says that cardinals signify the nearness of deceased loved ones. That is a nice thought.

Both cardinals and blue jays like suet and mixed birdseed. Their absolute favorite, however, seems to be sunflower seeds. They eat a feeder full of these in no time. It’s not unusual to see both species at the feeder at the same time when sunflower seeds are on the menu. They will sometimes even methodically pick the sunflower seeds out of commercial bird seed mixes, often discarding the other seeds. For this reason, I now fill my feeders exclusively with sunflower seeds, as all species of birds love them. Also, squirrels, raccoons and bears love them, too. I don’t care about the squirrels and raccoons, but the bears destroy the feeders. They are, for the most part, hibernating now.

Sometimes, the birds themselves become food. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen a hawk swoop down and grab a bird off the feeder. Sparrows seem to be their favorite, but, when it’s winter, I suspect that their palates become less discriminating. Very rarely, owls will drop by very late in the day, and you can’t rule out the occasional passing cat. Some people find these things disturbing but they are, in reality, just nature at work.

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