Action at the Winter Feeders

It may be deepest winter, but there is still lots of bird activity on THB Farm.

Chickadee with its feathers fluffed up from the cold and wet

Chickadee with its feathers fluffed up from the cold and wet

Generally (except for nectar feeders for the hummingbirds) we don’t keep many birdfeeders here. Most of the year, there are plenty of natural food sources for them (seeds, berries, insects, worms, etc). But in winter, we always hang a few feeders just outside our windows so we can watch the bird action from our hibernatory state indoors! And judging by the number of visitors, the birds really do appreciate an easy snack at a time when insect populations are at their lowest and many seed plants are deep under snow.

Chickadees are probably our most common feeder visitors, and we love watching them develop “superhighway” flight paths to and from the feeders. Those visiting the feeder always fly the low route, while those returning to nearby tree perches always take the high road out. Amazing how well organized they are, and we never see collisions…

We always keep a winter feeder filled with Thistle seed. Tiny seed-eating birds such as American Goldfinches, Chickadees and Tufted Titmice all feed from it, and the small holes of the feeder prevent squirrels from ravaging the seed supply…

We also fill a tray feeder with Safflower seed, which attracts many of our feathered friends but not squirrels or House Sparrows (the “thugs” of the local bird world). And, a couple of Suet feeders at the front window attract insectivorous Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as a Song Sparrow who is a year-round resident and a highly talented songster:

songsparrow_closer If you look carefully at the picture below, you’ll see a bright red Northern CardinalCardinal Richelieu (as Rob has named him…) spends a lot of time here during bad weather. He sits at the edge of a grove of Rhododendron shrubs, scoping out the scene near the feeder, and making an occasional flying visit for some Safflower seed. Birds won’t visit a feeder unless they feel safe, so dense evergreen shrubs planted nearby gives them a safe place to dive if predators such as Hawks pay a visit.

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A few weeks ago, I was surprised to see a Carolina Wren (below) at our feeding station. They are not usually resident in New England, but their populations do drift northwards during milder years. When really bad weather hits, though, they often seek food and shelter at residential bird feeders. We had a string of several snow storms over the past few weeks, which is probably why he was here.  The last time I saw one of these birds was in the very bad winter of 2003, when one took shelter from the wind inside our patio chiminea. They are shy and never stay for long, and they have such a beautiful song, so I always feel lucky to have them visit…

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This plump little Carolina Wren had to squeeze hard to get through holes designed to keep larger birds from hogging the suet.

And finally, on the subject of winter bird feeding, check out this winter scene from our brook. The seed heads on the right are Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), and birds are still foraging from them! If you can stand it, leave some of your garden plant stems standing into the winter. Not only are the seeds a source of winter food for birds, but many important pollinators and other beneficial insects overwinter (or lay their eggs) inside hollow plant stems. It’s always tempting to clean up your perennial beds in the fall, but even leaving a few patches of plant stems and seed heads standing will help sustain bird populations through our tough New England winters…

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Stay warm and don’t forget the wildlife outside your door!

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