Feeding the Birds

I talked last Friday about how much I loved to feed the birds. There was a time–maybe 10 years ago–when I used to go through 80 pounds of bird seed a week! I really love bird watching and bird feeding.

But as with all things, nature less gotten a little less predictable, and my knowledge of wildlife has gotten better. Let me explain.

I used to think that bears did a thing called hibernation, meaning that they would go into a cave and sleep for a definite period of time–probably December until maybe early March. I know now that that’s not quite exactly right.

Bears–like chipmunks, if you have those where you are–do a thing called torpor. In case you don’t have chipmunks, let me explain what they do. Chipmunks have the amazing ability to quasi-hibernate–to go into their burrows, sleep through cold periods, and if we get a nice balmy day, they pop out and refresh themselves–maybe grab a bite to eat, run around and grab some fresh air– you get the idea. That’s torpor.

Surprisingly, wildlife biologists are learning that bears do just the same thing. Bears don’t take a 4 month nap. They’ll wake up intermittently and even pop out for a snack–and a bathroom break–and maybe even grab a bird feeder or two. Hence my recent aversion to feeding the birds.

But this doesn’t mean that I have to stop providing food for them (and no I don’t mean tossing a handful of seeds on the ground). There are plenty of berrying shrubs and trees with mast (nuts and seeds) that we have on our property that are already feeding our birds.

We have oaks (planted well before I moved to the property 25 years ago) that provide acorns for birds like blue jays and woodpeckers. Our pine trees provide cones with seeds for chickadees, titmice and nuthatches and nectar for hummingbirds. The American dogwood seeds are eaten by robins and starlings. And the crabapple is eaten by robins as well. Even the juniper berries are eaten by robins.

So you see that you don’t need a lot of plants–or exotic plants (in fact, plants native to your region are often best!)–to feed the birds. But you do need something that berries or makes seeds or nuts or acorns.

Next post I’ll talk about something that’s a little harder to achieve in winter–water.

It’s Full on Winter Here–Feed the Birds

I was a “birder” long before I was a gardener–or maybe sort of about the same time. If you click on the “Introduction” tab at the top of this blog, you’ll read that I’ve been gardening since I was 3, when I used to run ahead of my Dad’s push mower (many of you will be far too young to remember that mowers didn’t used to have engines–they were just a set of blades at the end of a long handles. You can still buy these “retro” mowers today). I would pick all the flowers–a type of viola called Johnny Jump Ups (again many folks consider them weeds, but I still love them) out of the lawn, “saving” them from the mower blades.

I also have fond memories of a small wooden bird feeder that my Dad hung in a sycamore tree in our backyard. We filled it with some sort of generic seed and backyards birds came. I don’t really recall having squirrel or chipmunk problems–maybe we did. And I know we didn’t have deer problems.

Even back then, I remember knowing the names of the birds–I was a little older by then, maybe first grade, so maybe 6 years old. And I still remember distinguishing between the house finches and the house sparrows (not terribly hard to do, except maybe for a first grader). My favorite was the bird that was then called the “slate colored” junco (it’s now called the “dark-eyed” junco).

Some things stay with you. Juncos (as I think of them because we really only have one kind here in the northeast) are still my favorite birds.

What’s a little more difficult is feeding them. When I was a kid, we didn’t even worry about deer, no less bears! Where I live now, it’s a wildlife bonanza! Just last weekend, a neighbor was showing me pictures of the neighborhood bobcat!

And while it’s just delightful to have all that wonderful wildlife in the neighborhood, I don’t want to attract it close to the house (or to create an “attractive nuisance” by feeding more than the birds.

So I have created habitat instead. Over the next few posts, I’ll talk about that, and show photos of what that looks like.

And, when I just can’t help myself (which happens less often now) I might toss a single handful of birdseed out on the ground, away from the house. That way, if something other than the birds come, it’s consumed quickly and they don’t get too used to it!

The Dawn Chorus

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No matter where you live, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, this is happening right about now.  I am not referring to sunrise–that happens worldwide of course.  I am referring to the dawn chorus.

You may not know the name for what I am referring to. It’s the cacophony of bird song at or even slightly before dawn this time of year.

Very few birds sing in winter, at least in my climate. I will hear what I call “the first bird of the day” ( who coincidentally also sings last at night all winter — that’s the cardinal). And there are assorted woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, titmice, finches and sparrows. That’s about it.

Once spring arrives the robins, always a vocal bird anyway, become the first and last bird of the day. They are often joined by other mimic thrush type birds–mockingbirds, catbirds–and then there are blue jays, crows, starlings , grackles–the bird loud mouths.

At times it’s so loud it will even wake me, even with windows closed. And I am a very sound sleeper.

Why does this happen? Well, the birds aren’t saying precisely. The theories are that the birds are defending territory,  looking for mates, or both.

The next time you wake up early,  listen for the bird song. It’s a great way to start the day.

Unwelcome Guests

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This photo–which appears to show just a jumble of plants–actually shows an invasive brown marmorated stink bug on the orchid spike in the photo.  Since the new year, I have been having a mini invasion of sorts. They have never been a problem before for me,  either in the house or the garden.

I know enough not to kill them. If they are somewhere where I can catch them and toss them outside,  that’s what I do. Otherwise,  they seem to die rather quickly on their own. Problem solved.

On the same day that I took this photo,  I heard the unmistakable calls of grackles. Sure enough,  the next morning,  I saw one strutting around on my neighbor’s lawn.

That may not seem strange where you live,  but they’re a full 3 weeks earlier than usual here. Is spring really on its way?

Need A Winter Container Indoors?

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As you plan for winter arrangements, scavenge in your yard for some foliage.

I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest so I don’t have a lot of those wonderful cedars with cones that you see in the professional arrangements.

And here in the northeast, our magnolias are not evergreen, so that lets out using their lovely glossy leaves.

And I usually want to leave my berried plants–holly, juniper and crab apple–with their berries–as winter treats for my wild life.

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This is what I have left: scavenged branches from the bottom of my Christmas tree (Fraser fir from good old Somers, CT), some variegated euonymus and some hellebore leaves.

Enjoy!

By the way, that adorable nativity just to the left of the top container is from El Salvador. It’s one of my favorites (I collect nativities, among other things) because of the rainbow arch, the palm trees and the sweet little lambs.

I doubt you’ll ever see most of my collection on here (not gardening or weather related) but most come from countries like Peru, Vietnam, Mexico and the more “rustic” they are , the better I like them!

Wordless Wednesday–Camouflage

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Rarely do I get to just sit and observe.  And when I do, I find that nature is often wary of being watched.  But these house plants provide great cover!

I hadn’t realized that they make a great screen for bird watching.  Apparently I am much less visible when hiding behind some indoor greenery. You’ll learn what I observed Friday.

Birding from the Car

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What on earth is this mess? Actually it’s a bunch of weeds almost obscuring a garden near the restrooms in Elizabeth Park.

The Park clearly needs more volunteers. But actually, perhaps not. While I was sitting in y car waiting to meet a friend, I was watching this weedy patch and the goldfinch were just loving it! They didn’t even seem to care that I was snapping photographs, or that folks were driving in the parking lot.

In fact the only thing that seemed to drive them away was when folks–some with excitable children–started to queue up for the bathrooms.

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The “fluff” from these flowers is what they were after. As you may know, goldfinch are late nesters. I suspect they may have been lining their nests with these seed puffs. The fact that there was a seed at the end of the “fluff” almost seemed to be an inconvenience. The finches seemed to be wiping the seeds in the study stems of these weeds in an attempt to knock it off. Apparently, it is not tasty–at least not to the goldfinch.

So next time you a have few minutes to wait, sit quietly in your car. It makes a great “birding blind.” You never know what you’ll see!

Boids

It’s getting to be “beetle ” time in the garden.  I am not really seeing too many beetles on the plants–I never really do–but occasionally I see the beetles on the screens at night, or hear them thwack into a window while I am reading at night.

Do you remember the Japanese beetle traps? They were popular in the 90s.  They were plastic bags with a scent lure designed to attract the beetles. They did attract beetles because of the scent lure–but then the issue became whether they attracted more beetles than they caught?

In any event,  after a few years, everyone stopped using them. I don’t think I have seen the traps in years and I can count on two hands each year the number of beetles I see.

So what is the magic in my yard? Boids–as the the Spoiler calls them, otherwise known as birds.

I have written about this topic before.  This isn’t news. Birds feed insects to their young. And what are grubs but insects!

Grubs–the larva of beetles–are some pretty protein packed food for young birds. And if the birds get them, you don’t have skunks or moles or voles digging up the lawn either.

It’s all pretty simple.  It’s the ecosystem working as it should.  But it can only work if you do not use pesticides.  Just a thought.