New Year’s Project FeederWatch Update

feederwatchby Lee Farnham

The weather was pretty nice for a mid-winter weekend, with temperature in the 40s and sunshine, and there were birds at all the feeders, but not in the numbers of the last two weeks.  My conclusion is that, like many of us, they had reservations for New Year festivities elsewhere.  Also, we were only watching for about 90 minutes on Saturday a.m., and Sunday p.m.  The time one watches definitely affects the report, partly in species seen, but also in the maximum number of each species seen at any one time.

This weekend was different in that several species that had been turning up, didn’t.  The English (House) Sparrow, the European Starling, Crow and Robins were all among the missing.  The Robins spent time during the week gobbling down any remaining Holly Berries, and are now waiting for the 2017 crop.


By Cephas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, we’ve noticed that a number of birds not often seen around the Niger Seed (Thistle) seem to be taking a like to it in addition to the Juncos and Goldfinches.  We’ve seen Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, Titmice and House Finches also sampling the Niger.  We were looking at the House Finches on the deck rail on Saturday a.m. when I realized that there was a Purple Finch among them!  They are very irregular, and we haven’t seen one here for three or four years, but this was unmistakable.  What made it so easy to pick out is that it was right next to a male House Finch, and the difference in their coloring, at a distance of no more than ten feet was exceptional!  One of my very experienced birding friends described a Purple Finch this way:  “Imagine you’re looking at a House Finch, but all of a sudden you realize that it looks like it’s been dipped in raspberry juice…that’s what a Purple Finch looks like.”  He was absolutely right, and it was a thrilling sight.  He didn’t just make a solo appearance either, but we continued to see him at the Niger Seed, at the heated bird bath for a drink, and later at the Sunflower Heart feeder.

A perfect coda to the weekend came when the biggest woodpecker there is, the Pileated Woodpecker, made a brief appearance within the perimeter.  When a bird is more than 16″ long, has a 28″ wingspan, a bright red cockade and a voice like a Stentorian, it demands your respect, and it certainly got ours!

Seasons Results To Date

Project FeederWatch Update

feederwatchby Lee Farnham

As the Feeder Watch season progresses, the total number of birds seen at our location is rising, but it’s limited to a few species, not all.  We make a concerted effort to attract American Goldfinches by dedicating two tube feeders to them, as well as spreading Niger Seed on our deck rail, and also on the deck below it.  They also like Sunflower Hearts, so when they’re counted we also include that feeder, which is further away from the house.  (At times over the years we’ve seen Pine Siskins intermingle with Goldfinches if their food supplies further north are sparse…but none has been seen year).

By the same token, since we spread Safflower seed on the ground, there is a particular species, Mourning Dove, which is a ground feeder and they overwhelm the 10’ square enclosure we have If they’re all there at once.  At first, when they’re going to feed, there are a few scouts who drop down from surrounding trees.  If they don’t attract a crusading Cooper’s Hawk, then the rest soon join and the area under the Safflower feeder looks like a moving mass of Mourning Dove backs.

There’s no space for Cardinals, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees or Juncos…they just wait their turn….which can come quickly because Doves spook easily, and if one or two leave, there’s a burst of activity and then they’re all gone.

The deck area, where we’ve spread Niger Seed (Black Thistle) is attracting more than just Goldfinches.  Northern Juncos appear to like eating off the deck, and sometimes the deck rail. This past week they were joined by House Finches, a Starling (!), Robins, White-Throated Sparrows,  a Mourning Dove, and a jaunty Carolina Wren.  Word is spreading.

Early one midweek morning (not part of the Feeder Watch report), I went down to replenish the Sunflower Heart and Safflower feeders, and scatter seed underneath both.  As soon as I returned to the house and looked at the feeders I was shocked to see that 51 Common Grackles had arrived for an early breakfast, and were all over the ground under both feeders….and then they flew off and haven’t been seen since!   There hadn’t been a one in sight when I’d filled the feeders a few minutes before.

So far this winter we’ve seen 22 different species, but our beloved Brown Creeper still has not shown up.  If you see one, please tell it we’re open for business, and that it should come on over!

Project FeederWatch Results 12/10-11/2016

feederwatchDec 13, 2016

Environmental Commissioner Lee Farnham, aided by his “kat” Reina, reports in with a weekly update on their bird watching activities for Project Feederwatch.

Reina and I were watching the feeders, mostly on Saturday a.m., but also later that day and on Sunday p.m. To prepare for a bigger crowd (always hoped for), I had again put more seed in the feeders themselves, but also strewn some on the ground beneath the sunflower feeder, safflower feeder and the thistle feeders.  A new cake of suet was added too, as we always want to have two cakes in the suet feeder for the woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees and nuthatch (but it’s 90% woodpeckers).

Several things stood out this past weekend:

  1. We’d spread Niger seed (thistle) on our deck, and the deck rail, and also in two feeders and it was pandemonium at times, and not just goldfinches.   There were nine juncos on the deck, and we saw House Finches, a Dove, and a Carolina Wren too.  Maybe the area was preferred because it’s right by the 24/7 water which never freezes (the bird bath heater is wonderful).
  2. For the first time this season we saw a Hairy Woodpecker, but it was at 0730 on Saturday a.m., and we never saw another. Still, Hairy Woodpeckers have been a mainstay for us through the years. Never many, but we did see two at a time, reliably, until this year.  To date, since the Hairy has now been seen, only the Brown Creeper is missing….and it is not often seen. Last year only 3-5% of NJ stations reporting saw Brown Creepers consistently, and we were among them. This year, nothing.  Memory tells us the Brown Creeper is most often seen between noon and 1PM, so that will be the next step, to watch around noontime. Stay tuned.
  3. For years we have had sprightly Chickadees at our feeders and water. They like Safflower Seed and Sunflower Hearts, and take a bite of suet on occasion.  We’ve always seen Carolina Chickadees (smaller, a little more gray at the end of the cheek), rather than Black-Capped Chickadees, but this past weekend we had a chance to see two Chickadees side-by-side when at the bird bath, and it was obvious that one was a Carolina Chickadee, and the other was a Black-Capped Chickadee. Don’t feel badly if it’s hard to distinguish them….just understand that we’re on the borderline between their ranges, so we’re bound to see both from time to time.
  4. Five swaggering American Crows were poking around under the Sunflower Hearts Saturday morning. Compared to the usual birds at that feeder they looked like Goliaths, and the Goldfinches, House Finches, Titmice, Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, White-Throated Sparrows and Juncos gave them a wide berth. After they left, the Robins (only three) arrived to see if there were any winterberry hollies left to devour.

That’s it for this week.  Check out the season summary to date in the PDF attached.  Look for more as the FeederWatch season progresses.

2016-2017 Project FeederWatch Begins

feederwatchby Lee Farnham, Past Chair, Ewing Environmental Commission

Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology started its annual Feeder Watch survey this weekend, and I spent between 1-4 hours watching my feeders and noting what species were there, and the most I saw of each species at any one time.   This was the first year I had not filled my feeders year ’round, so I got the seeds and suet (sunflower hearts, safflower, Niger [thistle] seed) at the beginning of November and filled the feeders so the birds would know that food was available, and would get to used to multiple daily visits.

We have the Safflower and Sunflower tube feeders at the bottom of our backyard, in an enclosure of about 70 sq. ft., protected by a wire fence that’s six feet high;  the seed is in feeders, and spread on the ground.  A large Holly bush separates the feeders, and provides cover.  A nearby brush pile provides further cover, as do MANY deciduous trees in this small woodlot.

There are two Niger (thistle) tube feeders mostly used by the New Jersey state bird, the American Goldfinch.  Those feeders are on the deck right next to a bird bath with a heater, which gives birds a reliable place to find water during the winter… it’s a BIG draw, as water is critical in the winter.

In preparing for the Feeder Watch season an initial supply of seeds and suet was laid in.  Sunflower hearts (no messy shells to worry about) in a 40# bag and Niger (thistle) seed (20# bag) came from Shady Brook Gardens in Yardley/Newtown, PA, also the source for suet (bought by the dozen).  Our Safflower seed comes from the Bucks County Audubon Society (BCAS) near Lahaska, PA because it’s available in 5# sealed bags, is from a PA manufacturer, is less expensive than anywhere else, and it’s support for BCAS… no tax is charged since BCAS is a non-profit.

Feeder Watch requires participants to watch for two consecutive days a week, so it’s a weekend project (usually accompanied by the family cat, Reina).  The observation post is in our family room, overlooking the backyard, with the safflower and sunflower feeders about 50 feet away, at the bottom of the yard.  The double suet cage (beneath a plastic witch’s hat to deter squirrels) is suspended on a cable between their deck and a dogwood tree, and is 20 feet away.  The thistle feeders, being on the deck, can’t be seen without getting up and walking about five feet.

The established routine is to watch in the early morning for 45-60 minutes, and then to do it again in the late afternoon, for the same time.  Ideally, it’s done both days, but the total time watched over the weekend is normally one to four hours.

Since this was the first weekend, it took a while to get back in the rhythm, but the birds cooperated, especially on Sunday late afternoon.  Here’s a summary of the first weekend:

  1. 15 total species seen, 47 birds in all.  The most were 15  Mourning Doves at 0630 on Sunday.
  2. The usual suspects at our feeders were all there except for the Hairy Woodpecker, an unusual absence as we’ve seen them all the time over the years.  However, there were three Downy Woodpeckers, a periodic Red Bellied Woodpecker, a wonderful Northern Flicker at one point, and a Pileated Woodpecker (the biggest there is!) cruised by late on Sunday.
  3. American Goldfinch has always been common and four were spotted (we usually have two tube feeders, and spread thistle on our deck rail and on our deck to attract many [but not quite yet]).  Three House Finches were seen alternating between Sunflower and Safflower’, and the Tufted Titmice shuttled between the water and the Safflower seed; four were seen at one time.
  4. Carolina Chickadees were very active on Sunday afternoon, when five were seen together.  Likewise, two White Breasted Nuthatches appeared near dusk on Sunday, as well as two Carolina Wrens.  Two Northern Cardinals (male and female), notorious late day arrivals, were tallied just before two White-Throated Sparrows, a Song Sparrow and a Junco ended this first weekend.

One idea that worked out really well was adding Sunflower and Safflower seeds to the feeders and on the ground around 3 PM on Sunday.  Later on there were swarms of birds, undoubtedly having learned that there was seed galore.  Maybe we’ll see the Hairy Woodpecker next weekend, and the elusive Brown Creeper (aka Creepie), seen only by about 3% of NJ Feeder Watch participants on a regular basis.

I’ve been doing this citizen scientist project for the Lab of Ornithology for 12 years; it’s my version of catnip for adults.

To learn more about the Feeder Watch program and participate as a citizen scientist go to their How to Participate page.  The site provides all types of information for those concerned about declining bird populations.  Examples include: The impacts of supplemental feeding on bird populations, Bird Friendly Winter Gardens, the Importance of Local Action to Create Better Habitat for All Species and many more such articles.

Ewing Project FeederWatch Report for Feb 20/21

By Joshlaymon (Own work)

By Joshlaymon (Own work)

by Lee Farnham

The numbers  of species seen, and the greatest number of  each while  I was watching this past weekend, were respectable for a mid-winter weekend.  Woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, Juncos, House Finches, Titmice, a Carolina Wren, Mourning  Doves, and White-Breasted Nuthatch were reliable  visitors,  but the highlights of the weekend were three.

  1. For the first time in a month, The Brown Creeper was back, scurrying up the Dogwood and the Sassafras looking for insects.  Have you ever noticed  how  the Brown Creeper only goes UP tree trunks, unlike  the White-Breasted Nuthatch, which goes up and down?
  2. We keep very close watch on Goldfinches because Pine Siskins sometimes are found amongst them, and we saw TWO on Valentine’s  Day (what better gift?)!  Since Pine Siskins can travel in large flocks (irruptions), we’ll need to watch closely over the next weekends to see if more show up.  (In 2007, when we  first saw them, there were a few, then a few more, then a bunch and then a swarm, and  we counted 55 at the high point….  and  then they were gone.)
  3. I took a break from my normal observation point and was in the back of the house when I looked out at the backyard and saw a Pileated Woodpecker (!!!) on our Sasssafras…  I scooted back to get my  glasses for a  closer look, but it was in vain as he had  left….still, it’s a hopeful sign because we had seen two of them on our Dogwood tree near the suet in March last year.

(For Lee’s project start to date results, check here.)

Cross Town Report

Feeder Watch has more than one observation post in Ewing, and we’re delighted to have made contact with a watcher in the Brae Burn neighborhood, who is also a member of the Washington Crossing Audubon Society.  When you compare what we’re seeing in Mountain View, to what’s seen in Brae Burn, there are some birds in common:  Mourning Doves, Downy Woodpecker, a Junco, Chickadee, a White-Throated Sparrow and House Finches. But they also reported 45 Common Grackles, 25 European Starlings and seven House Sparrows, most of which were seen on Saturday.  Those are birds that have been seen, but not with any consistency, in Mountain View.  While we may see Starlings and Grackles two or three times a season, House Sparrows have only been seen once or twice in eleven years.

(Note from the Editor – Lee continues to faithfully make his reports of bird activity in the northwestern section of Ewing for Project FeederWatch, a citizen scientist to ornithological research. He has been sharing the highlight of his results with readers weekly. For more information about Project FeederWatch go to

Late January Snowmageddon Brings Birds Flocking to Local Feeders

Project FeederWatch Update for Jan 23 and 24



by Lee Farnham

The forecast for last weekend was grim: snow starting late Friday night, and ending who knows when….  It started around 6PM Friday and didn’t end until late Saturday night. By the time it had stopped the accumulation at our house was really overwhelming, close to 18”.  The Township declared a state of emergency, so the plows didn’t come until close to 1PM on Sunday. How did this affect our weekly Feeder Watch?

Well, if you thought last week was a good number of birds, Saturday past, when it snowed all day long, turned into a real procession of Goldfinches, plus some unexpected visitors: six Common Grackles, and a solitary Crow!

Before counting on Saturday, we filled the two Thistle Feeders and spread thistle seed on the deck and deck rail. We also filled up the Squirrel Buster feeder with Sunflower hearts, and spread a lot of sunflower on the ground (Juncos, Titmice, White-throated  sparrows, Squirrels, Goldfinches and Mourning Doves were grateful for that).  The Safflower feeder was also filled (it’s about eight feet away from the Sunflower feeder, but separated by a large Blue Holly bush which offers great cover for birds. The next step was to change the suet in the suet feeder, so two new cakes were added while the leftovers were dumped on the ground for the squirrels and Juncos. The final step was to fill up the heated bird bath so water would be available…it’s really great to see Titmice, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals and other species all taking their turn at the bird bath.

Saturday’s Feeder Watch was unprecedented, it snowed all day, and we set a record for the number of one species (Goldfinch) seen at one time: 57!!  (It broke the Pine Siskin record of 55, from the winter of 2007-2008). We also saw 17 Juncos, 14 Mourning Doves and eleven House Finches, all records for 2015-2016 season.

Sunday was clear and a little warmer, and while there were still birds at the feeders, Saturday was when all the big numbers were seen….even though we’re still waiting for the Brown Creeper to come back

Project FeederWatch Update Jan 16 &17

Dark eyed Junco

Dark eyed Junco

by Lee Farnham

A hint of things to come was the theme of this weekend’s FeederWatch as some larger numbers of birds were seen within some species this weekend.

Since FeederWatch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, asks that watchers record not only the species seen, but also the greatest number of that species seen at any one time, we’d been wondering why the numbers were down from years previous…but no more.

Overall fourteen species were recorded, but the total number of birds seen at any one time of those species increased to 85 in all, up from 47 the weekend before!

The big jump was on Sunday, as a result of two changes:

  1. It was snowing, and about 32° F. Whenever it snows, demand really grows.
  2. We decided to spread Thistle seed (Niger) along our deck rail  and on the floor of the deck underneath the rail too (to supplement the two Thistle feeders with 12 positions each).

You wouldn’t think that a small change like that would have such a big result, but it did.  The highest number of Juncos seen at any one time jumped to 12, but the really big gain was in Goldfinches, which peaked at 37 on Sunday afternoon.

At the same time there were Robins all over the place; we saw 15 in the feeding area on Sunday, and the number of House Finches was big, ending at eight!

Mourning Doves were scarce, just one, and there’s still no sign of the Brown Creeper (aka Creepie) who was a regular visitor for the last ten years.  Please tell Creepie that we’d love to see him if he’s in your yard. We miss him.

Project FeederWatch Update This Week

Eastern_GoldfinchBy Lee Farnham

This interesting weekend began when the temperature was above 50, but you wouldn’t have known it from the Goldfinch and Mourning Dove activity at our feeders. Starting Sunday morning, and continuing through that afternoon, the Goldfinches and the Mourning Doves, in particular, seemed to be queuing at or under the feeders without cease….which makes us think that their ability to sense bad weather coming is better than ours…. they were storing up for the cold and potential snow.

Our species count this week was 13, down several from what was the norm last year. We’ve seen The Brown Creeper only once this year whereas he was a regular visitor last year. Also, Blue Jays just aren’t going to the feeder area when we’re watching (although we know they’re at the front of our house because we can hear them).

And there’s the question of why we’re not seeing bigger numbers of birds (although the Goldfinches and Mourning Doves were good this weekend). But it’s not usual that we see only one White-Throated Sparrow, or two Juncos, or a couple of Carolina Chickadees. Their numbers are off (we saw 16 Juncos one weekend last year, and have seen up to eight White Throats and four Carolina Chickadees).

The weekend proved, once again, how important it is for you to provide water for the birds at your feeder. Without snow, when the Temperature drops like a stone, where do birds turn for water? At our house they know that there’s water on the deck, thanks to the Immersion heater in the bird bath. It’s really nice to be able to see Titmice, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Goldfinches, House Finches, Juncos and the Carolina Wren all taking their turns at the water when it’s freezing outside.

The coming week sounds more like winter, perhaps there’ll be some of our regular visitors returning. To now, we’ve reported only 20 species seen since the beginning of November. In the 11 years we’ve been watching and reporting to Feeder Watch, we seen 43 species.

Feeder Watch activity to date