Our eyes and ears should be open and alert to the natural wonders that surround us every day. Take time to look out our windows to see the birds that visit us and open our windows to hear them. Walk around whatever space we have to enjoy the birds in nature. Every day, work on improving our powers of observation.
Nature happens. We cannot MAKE natural things happen (or NOT happen). We can create habitats to encourage natural things to happen around us, but there are no guarantees.
Birdfeeding comes with responsibilities to the birds and the environment we share with them. If you are unwilling to accept these responsibilities, you shouldn’t feed the birds. We also have a responsibility to share these natural wonders with the next generation.
Many folks in upstate New York and other areas are blessed with an abundance of trees on their property. Having trees near the house can provide shade to help keep our homes cooler during the summer. Trees add value to the home and they provide shelter and a place to raise young for various wildlife. But trees can also present a challenge when feeding the birds. While our favorite birds benefit from the trees, so do squirrels, who nest in them, feed from them, play on them, and jump from them. Jump, as in, jump onto our feeders.
Grey squirrels can jump 8-10 feet horizontally from trees (or wires, deck rails, rooftops, etc.) onto our feeders. And they can jump 4-5 feet straight up. One solution is to baffle your feeder pole and place the whole setup 8-10 feet from trees and other jumping-off points.
But this is not always possible if the yard or area where you want to place the feeder is small. That's the case on the west side of my house. Large pine trees grow within 8 feet of the house, with tree limbs spanning right up to the house and roof. It is a great setting in which to feed the birds, but any setup would need to be squirrel resistent.
When you can't deter squirrels by placing feeders out of their reach, you have two other solutions: (1) offer food squirrels don't care for, and/or (2) put the food in squirrel proof feeders. My "Woodland Setup" combines those two approaches.
First, I offer food they don't care for: Safflower. Safflower is what we consider a problem-solving seed. While many birds enjoy it (at my woodland setup, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, purple finches, and grosbeaks), squirrels (grey and red) don't care for it. This doesn't mean squirrels NEVER eat safflower. They will try it (especially young ones who are trying out everything new in their world) but they will not eat mass quantities of it and dominate your feeders. Unfortunately, Eastern Chipmunks will eat safflower (I haven't found much that chipmunks don't eat).
My woodland setup has safflower in a WBU Quick Clean Tube Feeder with Weather Guard. The safflower is not appealing to the red and grey squirrels, while the weather guard - while NOT a squirrel baffle - IS large enough to keep the chipmunks off the feeder during the summer (it's nice to get a chipmunk reprieve during the winter when they hibernate!)
Second, I offer a high quality seed blend in a squirrel-proof feeder. Specifically, I use WBU Choice Blend in an Eliminator feeder. WBU Choice Blend is full of high energy seed - black oil sunflower, sunflower chips, safflower, striped sunflower, and peanuts. The peanuts especially appeal to the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice.
The Squirrel-Proof Eliminator birdfeeder is a weight activated feeder that closes under the weight of a squirrel or chipmunk. It is adjustable even to the point that you could close access to larger birds such as pigeons or grackles. I leave the perching ring off so only the smaller birds can feed from it.
...but he just couldn't hold on.
It doesn't hurt to dream!
My setup is topped off with a squirrel-proof Absolute feeder filled with safflower. The larger perch makes the feeder more attractive to medium-sized birds like grosbeaks. The feeder is adjustable so I put it on the most sensitive setting to keep chipmunks from eating from it.
This setup with a combination of squirrel-proof feeders and food squirrels don't crave has worked extremely well for me. I successfully feed a wide variety of birds with the squirrels enjoying what's under the feeders, all offered up amongst the trees around my house. Choose the right feeders and the right food and you CAN have it all!
I am personally going through a lesson in Zen attention and acceptance lately. I was out of town for 6 days recently and returned last Tuesday to empty birdfeeders and a paucity of birds. The regulars are returning but activity is still a little slower than it had been prior to my trip.
The flocks of Evening Grosbeaks that had been regularly visiting are gone. My feeders that had become a good, reliable source of food had "gone dry" and they moved on. Didn't even leave a note. So I've been lackadaisical at best about posting lately.
So it was time to just stop, pay attention, and accept and be grateful for what is still going on at my feeders and in my yard:
Every morning, I put on my glasses and view Common Redpolls on the feeders off my balcony railing. Every day over the last week, I have had redpolls at my feeders, in numbers from 4 to up to 50. I get to scour those flocks for signs of a Hoary Redpoll. No luck yet, but it makes me pay closer attention.
I am still getting a daily visit from a single Pine Grosbeak. This is one very special visitor from the far north, new to my yard list last year, courtesy of the 2007-08 Winter Finch Irruption.
The winter flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, and Tufted Titmice is large and boisterous. The birds that make up this "regular" group are cheerful and always around to brighten any day.
Woodpecker activity is strong, especially late in the day. Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are regulars at my suet feeders and seed cylinder feeder. The hairies alert me to their arrival with their loud PEEK call, summoning me to my window in advance of their landing. I have 3 hairies and 3 downys regularly enjoying my offerings.
The downy I've named "Sweetie" continues to bring a smile to my face as I've seen her poking her head out of her adopted roosting place. I've been able to see her emerge from the box on two cold mornings and head straight to the suet. And I've seen her tucking in for the night, or maybe just ducking inside to warm up for awhile.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk visits regularly. Just yesterday, one was proudly perched on top of my Advanced Pole System. What a sight! I missed that photo-op but here's one perched in my plum tree that is only 10 feet from my front window.
Common Ravens regularly fly in an east-west flight pattern in the skies right out my window. In the late afternoon, I've seen them come in to roost in the tall pines south of my house.
Many "common" birds and a few special visitors have graced my yard in the days since my return. I have no reason to be in the doldrums or to succumb to the "Mundania Monster", as Lana of The Dreaming Tree called it.
In fact, just recently I had one of the absolutely BEST compliments when the Birdfreak Team told me, "Your yard rocks!" WOW!!!!!
Thanks to the Birdfreak Team for reawakening me to the fact that my yard really does rock! It doesn't have to be filled 24x7 with large flocks of winter finches or uncommon migrants or great woodland birds. I have chickadees and titmice and downys and hawks....every single day! Jays and doves, juncos, finches, and nuthatches, all no more than 20 feet away and just right outside my window!
That's why I love to share the passion of feeding the birds. Anyone can put out feeders to have the opportunity to see these treasures daily in the little bit of nature around their home.
ps: Thanks to Lana and the Birdfreak Team for helping out a fellow blogger!
I stepped outside to get a shot of some ravens that were passing by, but ended up taking some images of the afternoon moon.
This image was taken just after 4:00pm this afternoon. I've experimented with some digiscoping of the moon in the night sky before, but this one was taken with just a 12x zoom digital camera. The moon was just so striking in the bright blue afternoon sky!
As the number of Common Redpolls at my feeders increased to as many as 140, I was keeping a close eye on the flocks to try to see if there were any Hoary Redpolls amongst them. This was going to be a challenge, as even Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes they are "extremely difficult to tell apart, even for experts", which I am NOT!
Until today, I hadn't spotted a candidate that might be one of the less common hoary-type. I was looking for a "frostier" look, less streaking on the sides, and a bird that was overall lighter in color than their Common Redpoll companions. Then I see this "frosty"-looking individual on my feeder.
(The one clinging to the feeder is the bird in question. NOTE: all photos are unretouched in terms of color, hue, brightness, and contrast. Click on any photo to enlarge.)
It's time to pull out all the field guides and check internet sites and blogs for that one little clue that will confirm it one way or the other. Sibley Guide to Birds mentions a shorter bill and that the hoary "averages more white on secondaries and coverts than Common." The Sibley blog had an entire post (and many many follow-ups) on Redpoll Identification. Those posts add other clues like a forehead "bulge" due to the shorter bill and nasal bristles, fluffy "leggings", and a more uniformly streaked back and scapulars. Other authorities list the lack of streaking on the rump and on the undertail coverts as the truest differentiating field mark.
Here's some photos I took along with my questions relating to its "apparent" field marks.
More uniform streaking on back of the hoary? More white on secondaries of the the hoary?
Overall more "frosty" and less streaking of the the hoary? Hairy leggings of the the hoary? No whitish rump of the common? Forehead "bulge" of the hoary?
Do I think it is a Hoary? I'm very conservative, unwilling to claim a new yard bird (and in this case, LIFE BIRD) unless I'm absolutely sure. So I'm saying no. But Sibley says our conservatism may have us undercounting Hoary Redpolls.
So, help me out here all you real bird experts! Let me know what you think. Please weigh in on my Great Redpoll Debate! Leave a comment letting me know your opinion.
This monthly feature highlights 3 blog posts from the last month that exemplify the Zen nature lessons of Attention, Acceptance, and Responsibility. I encourage you to take a moment to enjoy these thoughtful posts.
The "Cardinal fire" post on the Stokes Birding Blog is right on the mark with a message of Zen Attention. Even veteran birders take time to appreciate "common birds".
When birds eat birds, it is a tough lesson in Zen Acceptance, but it is reality at a backyard birdfeeding station. In a frank yet poetic post entitled "When Death is on the Wing", Bill Thompson of Bill of the Birds shares information about a Sharp-shinned Hawk that regularly visits their farm.
"'Tis the Season" on The Feather and the Flower reminded us to think about wildlife during the holiday season and all year long.