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.
Hurricane Sandy is on the move and could bring damaging winds and significant rain to the upstate New York area. Here's some advice you won't get on the local news: what to do with your birdfeeders during the storm.
First and foremost - stay informed of the storm's progress and take necessary precautions for your own safety. Strong winds may bring trees down onto houses, cars, etc. Flash floods are a real threat. Please do what you need to ensure your own safety!
Now, about the birds. We found during last year's Tropical Storm Irene that birds will actively feed throughout the storm. If the winds and rain get too severe, birds will seek out a safe spot until things settle down. Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, bluebirds and other cavity-nesters might find safety in a tree cavity or birdhouse. Birds will also find safety in a shrub or brush pile, while others will cling on to branches close to the tree trunk or directly under a limb or other cover.
Here's a short video of a chickadee hanging on through the winds of last year's storm.
If you are going to be around to monitor your birdfeeders, consider leaving them out to provide an easy source of food during difficult storm conditions. Feeders in a somewhat sheltered location will probably fair the best; take down feeders that are in very windy locations. Keep an eye on weather guard domes and very large feeder set-ups; even our great Advanced Pole System® cannot stand up to hurricane-force winds*. You might also consider taking feeders down during the overnight hours.
If you are not going to be at home to monitor your feeders, you might want to take down feeders that are not in a sheltered location or that could be caught by the wind. Use your good judgment in order to reduce the possibility of injury, damage, or loss*.
As soon as the storm has passed, refill your feeders with dry birdfood. An easy source of quality food will help them replenish after expending all the energy it took to ride out the storm.
Stay safe out there everyone! Listen to the forecasts and take care. Please share this post with family and friends who feed and care about the birds.
*APS does not carry a
lifetime guarantee. Storm damage to WBU feeders is not covered by the
We have a couple types of migrations going on right now, providing some great bird activity in our yards.
Native sparrows that regularly migrate through our area like White-throated, White-crowned, and Fox Sparrows are in yards now. Watch for them on the ground beneath your feeders or on open tray feeders. When spooked, they'll head for cover in nearby shrubs.
Dark-eyed Juncos are on the move too. Lower elevation yards are now seeing the juncos that spent the breeding season in higher elevation locations. While in my yard, my breeding juncos are being replaced by birds from even further north. Juncos will return to the same yard each winter.
So-called "winter finches" are starting to arrive, some in force! Groups of Pine Siskins are being seen throughout the area, crowding many feeders. Since American Goldfinches have molted, make sure you check each finch flock to see who's really there.
Now that Pine Siskins are becoming widespread, here's some tips for feeding these gregarious finches.
1) Offer Niger (thistle) seed but make sure it's fresh. Don't buy more niger seed than you'll go through in a couple months. Always buy your niger seed from a quality shop like Wild Birds Unlimited to ensure that it's fresh. You never know how long that big, cheap bag of thistle has been sitting in a warehouse or on the shelves of that big box store!
2) Put out multiple feeders. Siskins are feisty and combative amongst themselves so have plenty of feeder space for all of them to feed.
3) Spread the feeders out. Siskins are prone to salmonellosis so spread the feeders out so the disease is less likely to spread.
4) Keep your feeders and feeding areas clean. Clean them now while you're thinking about it and then again a couple times during the siskins' presence. Again, they are prone to salmonellosis and clean feeders and feeding areas reduce the spread of disease.
There are a number of good signs out there that this may turn into a very good fall and winter for us bird feeders! Here's why I think so.
We are all familiar with the migrating birds that come in the spring and leave in the fall (or vice versa), year-in-and-year-out, and in a somewhat preditable fashion. Hummingbirds, orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, catbirds, and juncos are the ones most familiar to us.
But there are a number of birds that migrate more irregularly, showing up some years and not showing up in other years. This is called irruptive migration, meaning "migrations that are not seasonally or geographically predictable". (Kerlinger)
The irruptive migrants that we're most likely to see in our yards are Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins. Other birdfeeder birds that can move in an irruptive fashion are Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and even Blue Jays!
Every year, Canadian ornithologist Ron Pittaway writes a Winter Finch Forecast, predicting (from an Ontario, Canada perspective) the winter movement of irruptive bird species. His predictions are based on the availability of food, mainly the tree seed crops that certain irruptive species need to survive the winter months.
Some of the Good News from the Forecast
Poor seed crops on both coniferous and hardwood trees could very well cause some movement of irruptive species into our area. Here's some of the good news from Pittaway's forecast (again, from an Ontario perspective):
1) He is predicting that "most Purple Finches will migrate south of Ontario this fall". 2) He also predicts "there should be a good southward flight (of Common Redpoll) because the white birch seed crop is poor to fair across the north." 3) As far as Pine Siskins, he states "some siskins currently in the Northeast should move south this fall and winter because cone crops are poor." Siskins, however, have been known to move westward in search of food. 4) Even Red-breasted Nuthatches are on the move with "a widespread irruption of this nuthatch beginning in mid-summer indicated a cone crop failure in the Northeast." 5) Evening Grosbeaks might be seen "at feeders in central Ontario and probably elsewhere in the Northeast because coniferous and hardwood tree seed supplies are low."
Early signs in upstate New York are good that his predictions might be right!
- Purple Finches are being seen, sometimes amongst House Finches, by bird feeders who have typically hosted only the latter. - Pine Siskins are already in Saratoga County in decent-sized flocks of over 20 birds (like at my house!) Further north near Lake Placid, flocks are growing and are now nearing 100 birds. - Red-breasted Nuthatches are visiting feeders that have typically been visited primarily by White-breasted Nuthatches. - Evening Grosbeaks have been reported in Gansevoort NY as well as further north in the Adirondacks.
Amongst other non-irruptive species, good-sized winter flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are already visiting birdfeeders hard. Natural food supplies, while still accessible, may be low due to our somewhat dry early summer. Add some snow and ice to the equation, and our year-round birds might be really busy at feeders this winter!
Bottom line is that I think it could become a GREAT season for us feeder-watchers!
Get your birdfeeders ready by giving them a little fall cleaning. Buy some fresh birdseed, and make sure your niger seed (thistle) is fresh. Seed in the feeders should be dry and loose, not clumpy and moldy. Add some additional birdfeeders, especially finch feeders.