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.
Q: Should I let my garden go to seed? It looks messy after everything is done blooming and growing. I'm torn between having a tidy garden/yard and providing for my birds.
A: Depending on what plants you have in your garden, it's an excellent idea to "let things go" at the end of the growing season. Most bird gardeners try to include a mixture of seed-producing plants such as zinnias, sunflowers, coneflowers, and coreopsis that bloom all summer and provide food in fall and winter in the form of seeds. Native plants are best, of course, but non-invasive non-native plants can also be good for birds.
If you are worried about keeping things tidy, set aside a little-used or secluded corner of your property for the birds. You may be surprised to find that this is the birdiest spot in your yard in fall and winter.
Reprinted from the Summer 2005 edition of WBU BIRDTracks®
I loved observing and trying to photograph the hummingbirds at the flowers, and discovered that the hummingbirds were doing more than just getting nectar from the flowers: they were also serving as pollinators.
Sometimes they would feed from the base of the flower.
But when they would feed from within the whorled flowers, their role as pollinator began.
The pollen-laden stamens (the male part of the flower) on the Turk's Cap extend high above the flower, and as the hummingbird feeds, it picks up pollen on its head. Then as they move from flower to flower, the pollen will be deposited to the stigma (the female part) and will fertilize the plant, resulting in production of fruits and seeds.
I just found this so fascinating and a great nature lesson, just from watching this little jewel feed!
I thought it was fun watching this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly land on some of the smallest and lightest flowers in my yard, delicately balancing himself on the flower head or bending the threadlike stems with his 0.3 gram bulk.
You'll enjoy the images more if you click on them to enlarge.
I just got back from a short weekend trip to the Boston area and had a lot of birdfeeder filling to do on Monday morning. The two hopper feeders - empty. Three suet logs - just empty holes. Peanuts - drained. Squirrel-proof Eliminator - empty. Seed stackables - gone. Niger seed - 3/4 gone.
And that was just over a 3-day weekend. What a change from the autumn of 2009!
In mid-September last year, we traveled to Ohio for the Midwest Birding Symposium. We were going to be gone 5 days or so, so we loaded up all the birdfeeders. Hoppers and tube feeders were filled to the brim and suet feeders stocked. Our aces-in-the-hole were three large 4-1/2 pound Supreme Fare cylinders, a great birdfood choice when you're going to be away from home for a number of days.
Imagine our surprise when we returned home and most of the feeders were still full! What was going on??
Mid-September 2009 marked the beginning of a long period of extremely SLOW activity at birdfeeders. The questions started and not a day went by when store customers didn't ask, "what happened to my birds?" And it was not only here in eastern New York state - it impacted backyard birdfeeders all along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Massachusetts to New Jersey. Disappointed homeowners were asking local WBU storeowners and even Massachusetts Audubon, "where are my birds??"
Last year, I posted pictures of bountiful natural food supplies, pine trees loaded with seed-laden cones, oak trees full of acorns, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs weighted down with berries. There was such a bounty that it didn't become depleted as the winter wore on, and birds feasted on these natural food supplies and were spending very little time at birdfeeders.
Bittersweet berries (top) White Pine (bottom) Fall 2009
The only "light at the end of the tunnel" came in an assurance from WBU Inc. Chief Naturalist John Schaust that the next winter would be better - trees and shrubs seldom have two such bountiful seed- and fruit-bearing years in a row.
And he seems to be right. Here's a picture of the same white pine that is shown above just laden with pine cones. This year? No cones to be seen. There are few berries on the Mountain Ash and the bittersweet. No crunching of pine cones on the ground beneath my feet.
White Pine treetops - Fall 2010
And the birds? Well, they're back in force. Large winter flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, titmice have formed. Extended families of Blue Jays are porkin' out on high-fat peanuts faster than the fans at Fenway. Pine Siskins are joining goldfinches to crowd the finch feeders. Juncos blanket the ground with migrating native sparrows. And instead of "where are my birds?", we're hearing the lament, "they're eating me out of house and home!" What a difference a year does make!!
It's difficult to not get excited during spring and fall migration. On any given day during these migration seasons, you have the chance of seeing a non-resident bird use your yard as a stopover spot.
Black & White Warbler
At either end of their journey could be locations as diverse as British Columbia and Mexico, or the Yukon Territories and Venezuela. In between, birds rely on stopover points when weather and/or need for food and rest brings birds down for a day or two or maybe longer. They use this time to rest, rehydrate, and to replenish fat reserves for the next leg of their journey.
There are famous stopover points across the US, like Cape May NJ, known for their fallouts created by favorable geography, coupled with the habitat and abundant food and water resources needed by migrating birds. But you don't have to be in Cape May to see migrating birds, especially if your property provides what birds need during a migratory stop: shelter, food, and water. The more diverse these resources are on your property, the greater your chances of seeing a variety of migrating birds.
My yard provides a diverse habitat - many species of deciduous trees of various heights, a variety of coniferous trees, many shrubs and bushes, and lots of low cover. I don't use pesticides of any type so insects are plentiful and for the frugivores, there are crab apples, mountain ash, holly, juniper, bittersweet, sumac, and more. Besides my numerous birdfeeders filled with a variety of seeds, nuts, and suet, I have 2 birdbaths out year-round (more in the summer) since I don't have a natural water source on the property.
Mountain Ash berries
This diversity of habitat and food and water sources is not just for the migrant birds - our everyday birds rely on these resources as well. And while the everyday birds in our lives provide reliable enjoyment on a day in and day out basis, having a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or Blue-headed Vireo visit your yard for a day or two in spring or fall adds to our yard that variety which we call the "spice of life"!
Sometimes a bird species just seems to dominate the month. They're everywhere you look, there's lot of them, their high level of activity captures your attention and your heart. Last month it was the hummingbirds. This month, it's the goldfinches.
Of course, over the past 3 weeks, the number of American Goldfinches on this earth has increased as fledglings have emerged from nests. They're demanding little things, like young birds are, calling for mom or dad's attention, quivering their wings, hoping for some regurgitated food (yummy!)
Feeders are busy with lots of jockeying for position. They're going through a half a tube of niger seed and about a cup of sunflower chips daily. The sunflower chips are like lazyman's (or lazybird's) lobster - all seed, no shell, less energy-use for the birds, less clean-up for you. The goldfinches are frequent visitors at the birdbath too, especially those with moving water.
I leave standing the few coneflowers that haven't been destroyed by chipmunks so that the goldfinches can enjoy the seed heads. Goldfinches will eat from the coneflower seed heads well into the winter months so leave them standing if you can.
Goldfinches in my area start their molt in September. Molting takes a lot of energy for a bird but so do all the activities involved in breeding and raising young. So goldfinches' fall molt takes place at the end of the breeding season.
I'm enjoying the activity and their sweet little flight calls. Their numbers will decline as the weeks progress but I hope to see a few throughout the winter months. My feeders will be ready!