Feeder Watch Update – Two for the Price of One!

by Lee Farnham

Apologies for not having sent these separately, but I never got around to sending in the 3/10-11 until today, so it’s the last two columns to look at.

Weekend of March 10-11

This was a pretty low key affair after the deluge that came with the snow the previous week…but the numbers show that most of the regulars were there except for the White-Breasted Nuthatch; this was its first miss since we began watching in early November.  My presumption is that it all has to do with when you’re watching, not just that you are watching because Nuttie (as we call him) stands out immediately.  We first see him on our Cherry tree, about 15 feet above the Sunflower Hearts, and a little to their east.  He wastes no time in getting to the feeder, for he swoops down and makes a three point landing on the Squirrel Buster’s Cardinal Ring, and from there grabs a seed or two and flies off to a close branch.  Then, like the Carolina Chickadee, he puts the seed on the branch, held by one foot, and pounds on it until it gets a little smaller, and then it’s gone and time for another feeding run, so he repeats the swoop and feed.

Meanwhile, we were thrilled to see a Northern Flicker, though briefly!  This time “Flicikie” zeroed in on the Peanut Butter Suet, a favorite of the Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Carolina Wren and Juncos.  He was first spotted as he hung onto our suet cage and banged away at the slab of suet.  Of course, some of it was staying on his beak, but some also fell to the ground where a Junco and Carolina Wren waited to dispatch it; it’s almost as If they knew he was going to be there.  After a couple of minutes on the suet the Flicker left, but we trust he’ll come back next week.

One more thing, about the Northern Junco.  You know that we spread Thistle Seed (Niger) on our deck rail and deck itself, in addition to putting it In two feeders.  The Juncos take it on the deck mostly, perhaps because they also seek cover in the vine that’s coming up from beneath the deck. Anyway, we can always count on seven or eight at first light, getting an early breakfast.

March 17 – 18

It was difficult to get as much time in this weekend because the Green Expo at Rider College was on, and the Ewing Environmental Commission and Green Team had separate, adjoining, exhibits which needed staffing.  Although there was no birding presentation (unlike in some years past) we had Feeder Watch brochures for one and all, so there was some birding emphasis at our table.  There was more emphasis on the damage tree volcanoes can do, and we had information on the Emerald Ash Borer seminar for the public on 3/20 at 6:30PM at the Ewing Senior Center.

That over, one thing interesting about the birds this past weekend was that the Northern Flicker was back, for the second week in a row!  This may be a harbinger of spring, as we’ve only seen a Flicker about 25% of the time this winter, but it’s now two weekends running!  If you want to contemplate beauty in bird design, with black, tan, red and white, then the Flicker is the one for you.  Something about its coloring, and design, really attracts me.

A surprise turned up on early Sunday afternoon, a bird that we had only seen nine times in the 240  we’ve reported for Feeder Watch over 13 years…a ratio of 3.375%;  it was a textbook example of a male Purple Finch,  and it was nibbling on the Safflower Seed we spread under our Safflower Feeder for birds which are more ground feeders.  I’ve always said that a Purple Finch looks like a Finch that’s been dipped in raspberry Juice, and it was a textbook example of that.  Even better, it was right next to a male House Finch, so you could compare the two side-by-side to see the marked difference.

The only disappointment this past weekend was that “Wrennie,” our beloved Carolina Wren(s) had a schedule different from ours so we didn’t see one.  This LOUD bird, for one so small, must’ve been travelling, so we’re looking forward to seeing it next weekend, the penultimate one in the Feeder Watch season, which ends on April 7 (since we’re supposed to report two consecutive days with a gap of five days between the last report, it doesn’t look like we’ll be reporting on the last weekend because we won’t be able to do two consecutive days.

FeederWatch Update

by Lee Farnham

Sometimes, when you look forward to doing Feeder Watch each week, you build yourself up by expecting to see something new (a new bird, a record number of one Species, a bird that shouldn’t be in this area, etc.).  This past weekend was not a good one for that because it combined a number of different weather related events To keep the numbers quite modest.  The rain started early Saturday afternoon, and didn’t stop until late on Sunday afternoon, that wasn’t fun.  Higher temperature may have had an effect too.

Consider these numbers, for example:

  1. We’ve been averaging around 45-50 Goldfinches for the season, but saw only 8 while we were watching!
  2. Likewise, White-Throated Sparrows were down to three, Mourning Doves were 10 and House Finches just four.
  3. On the other hand, Cardinals were seven, pretty high; it was fun to watch them zooming around the safflower feeder and perching on the Sunflower Hearts feeder, and then sitting on nearby branches watching others.
  4. Several species were higher than normal, three Downy Woodpeckers and TWO Hairys, three Titmice, three Carolina Chickadees and a relative, one Black Capped Chickadee.

The temperature was pretty mild when compared with weekends past, and it got over 60 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, which had its effect too.

Strangest of all was something we didn’t report to Feeder Watch:  on Wednesday a.m. around 0800, we counted 83 Goldfinches on our feeders, the deck rail, the deck, in the trees and around the Sunflower Heart feeder!!!  Maybe they were stocking up for the seasonal change which will take them elsewhere, it was quite a sight.

Six weekends are left in this season’s Feeder Watch reporting; we’re looking forward to reporting some Pileated Woodpeckers if we’re lucky.  They’re around; we saw one on an early morning dog walk this week, so maybe we’ll report our first for the year hammering away at the suet next weekend.  Here’s hoping.

Project FeederWatch Report Jan 27/28

by Lee Farnham

Seed was put out early on Saturday a.m., but Juncos and Goldfinches were already on the deck and deck rail clamoring for breakfast (there’s plenty of old seed there but they like fresh), so more was added and I went inside to start watching, along with Reina, our cat, who watches with me.  Suddenly,  ALL birds left  the deck in a hurry, ditto the feeders at the bottom of the yard, which usually means a hawk is coming (or perhaps a Red Fox)….and then we heard a clunk as one of the departing birds hit a window in the rush.

Since the deck feeders are within ten feet of the house we’ve taken some precautions against birds hitting windows….it’s mostly that we’ve bought decals for the windows which refract light differently, so the bird knows there’s something there ahead of time.  This poor Goldfinch was woozy when I found him standing on the deck, but he listed to port instead of being upright.  Usually, if the bird has knocked itself out, we pick him up,  put him in a small box lined with tissue paper, and close the lid (and take him inside).  That way he’ll be in a dark place, away from the outside, and he’ll recover after a while.  If he doesn’t, but is still alive, read on.

I thought of doing that with this Goldfinch, but decided not to because he was almost upright.  Instead I left him alone for ten minutes with the hope that he’d recover and be on his way.  However, one of the overfed squirrels needed a drink, and his abrupt visit to the deck spooked the Goldfinch, who tried to fly off but hit another window in the process!  Now he was down on his side, though still conscious, so I gave him another ten minutes….and during that time there was another scare and he flew straight off the deck and into the  Dogwood tree nearby!  It looked as if he had recovered well, and that all he needed was some quiet time.

So we didn’t have to make a trip to the Mercer County Wildlife Center on the east side of Route 29 in Titusville, south of Lambertville, but  they’re there if you need them, and they will take birds that knock themselves out on windows near feeders.  It’s supported, in large part, by donations, so we’re happy to contribute annually to their continuing welfare, because we’ve taken birds and squirrels to them over the years.  They are very conscientious about following up with every patient they get; you’ll get a note when one of their “guests” have been released back into the wild.  While they are run by Mercer County, Wildlife Center Friends partners with them, and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Check out the Mercer County Wildlife Center.  They’re at 1748 River. Rd., Titusville, NJ 08560.  Phone:  609-303-0552. Hours are 9 am – 4pm seven days a week.  They take all types of injured, ill and displaced native wildlife, provide them with medical treatment and a temporary refuge before releasing them back into an appropriate wildlife habitat.


Project FeederWatch Catchup

By Lee Farnham

Weekend of Jan 13/14

It wasn’t quite as cold this past weekend, and that might have accounted for our seeing one species fewer, but 55 fewer birds among the ones we did.  When you compare the numbers of Goldfinch with last weekend and this, it was 54 v. 29; Juncos were 16 v. 9; White-Throated Sparrows were 19 v. 7 and Mourning Doves were 20 v. 14….and the Flicker seen last weekend didn’t return 😦 .  The rest of the supporting cast was there, as always:  Carolina Wren, Titmice, Cardinals, White-Breasted Nuthatch, three Downy Woodpeckers, one Hairy and two Red Bellies.

There may be another thing at work….squirrels!  We normally spread seed on the ground beneath both our Sunflower Hearts Squirrel Buster feeder, and the Safflower tube feeder because we’ve seen, over the years, that some birds are ground feeders, and don’t go to a suspended Feeder.  White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos and Mourning Doves are ground feeders, while House and Goldfinches prefer feeders…but what if the ten fat squirrels that hand around our feeders are the cause of the White Throats and Juncos shifting their feeders some?  Could that account for the greater numbers of same we’ve seen on our deck, where we spread the Thistle (Niger) seed, as well as be a deterrent for other hungry birds?

Time will tell, so be sure to tune in next week for the results of Feeder Watch for 1/20-21.  This was our 231st submission to Feeder Watch, and it’s more enthralling than ever.

Weekend of Jan 6 & 7

With the bitter cold, and snow still on the ground, we expected a big number of birds this past weekend, and weren’t disappointed.  It seemed like there were hordes on the feeders, whenever we looked out the window at our deck or at the lower yard, under the feeders or suet, …  and don’t forget the water.

On Saturday night I emptied the water out of the bird bath, carried the rocks, water heater and bird bath into the kitchen, cleaned the moss off everything, and then ran it all through the dishwasher so the birds would greet Sunday, the coldest day so far, with clean, warmish water and clean rocks to perch on.  The effort was rewarded by a Northern Flicker late Sunday a.m., who flew directly onto the deck rail, jumped onto the side of the bird bath and took many swallows of water, and also wiggled his face in it!!   What a treat to see such a beautifully colored woodpecker within ten feet, and to watch while he tanked up and washed his face.  When he flew off he didn’t stop for any suet or Sunflower hearts, he just went (but he came back the next two days around the same time, so maybe he’ll be a regular).

Aside from that thrill, it was interesting to see how two species which are mostly ground-feeders here, the Northern Junco and the White-Throated Sparrow have expanded their ranges in our yard.  Normally seen underneath the Safflower or Sunflower Heart feeders, we now see them on the deck where we’ve spread Niger seed for the Goldfinches.

Juncos, in fact, take over the deck (but not the deck rail), and we’ve counted more than twenty of them having an early breakfast there.  The White-Throated Sparrows have started to appear on the deck, but not in the same numbers, and they are still mostly under the Safflower and Sunflower heart feeders….still, to see fourteen White-Throats on the deck at one time is unusual.

One thing particularly evident this weekend was how the different species which feed together under the feeders get along so well.  It was particularly evident under the Safflower feeder where Mourning Doves congregate.  This time, in the early afternoon, they were joined by Cardinals (male and female), White-Throated Sparrows, House Finches, Juncos and Carolina Wrens.  Each was busy pecking at some loose seed, but none was paying any attention to the other birds.  The only upset came when the Squirrels (there are about ten, rambunctious and well fed) ran through the feeding area scattering everyone…but it was momentary, and order was soon restored.

For the week we bought another 40# of Niger Seed as we’ve been running through it at a great rate, now that we’re also spreading it on our deck.

Next week we’re going to keep an eye out for Pine Siskins (which look like a cross between a Goldfinch and a House Finch, but aren’t because those two species don’t hybridize).  If winter supplies for them in Ontario run short, they’ve been known to come south looking for food.  In 2009 there was just such an irruption, and we saw a few at first, but then reported a maximum of 55 in one weekend before they started tapering off.  Our cat will help us look too, as she sits on her cushion and watches the deck activity each day.

Weekend of Dec 30/31

At 0715 on Saturday a.m., I opened our bedroom curtains to the backyard and saw a Coopers Hawk sitting on a horizontal branch 20′ from me.  He was looking west, and fidgeting hungrily, but staying where he was.  A quick check of our deck and yard feeders showed no birds at all….they’d sensed his arrival and disappeared, a good thing because Coopers Hawks prey on birds, and we’ve found remains of Doves and Titmice that they’ve probably done.

Before long the hawk was gone and things began to return to normal.  Our deck, where we have the two Thistle feeders plus spread seed on the deck rail and on the deck itself were doing a land office business:  fourteen Juncos busied themselves on the deck itself poking around in the Thistle seed (they like to poke around in the vines at that level too; on the deck rail, and on the Thistle feeders themselves, we eventually counted 33 Goldfinches this past weekend, a few were in trees waiting for their turns, and a couple were on the Sunflower feeder, but most were on the deck rail and the two feeders there.  A lone Song Sparrow was also spied among the Juncos on the deck; they’re not often seen.

The suet feeder, hung off a cable between a Dogwood and our deck had a nice collection of clients, and a new peanut butter suet cake to boot.  The three woodpeckers, Red-Bellied, Hairy and Downy were all on it, but also the White-Breasted Nuthatch was seen, as was the Carolina Wren.  Other species like Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows will sometimes station themselves below the suet, on the ground, to catch extra pieces as they’re ripped off by the bigger woodpeckers….you should see the mess a Pileated Woodpecker makes, with its massive bill…. but it helps the small fry share in the booty.

Since it snowed later that morning, there were a few more species than usual, two English Sparrows showed up to go along with the Song Sparrow, but the Grackles and Crows from a few weeks ago weren’t close enough to be counted.  The Safflower feeder had its usual collection of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice taking a seed at a time, flying to a nearby branch, pounding on the seed and eating it, and flying back for more.  On the ground below it, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, Cardinals, White-Throated Sparrows and House Finches poked around.  On the other side of the bushy Holly which provides cover, the Sunflower feeder was mobbed by Goldfinches, House Finches, Blue Jays, Cardinals, the Red Bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, and White-Breasted Nuthatch, while the squirrels gobbled up what had been spread on the ground for the White-Throated and English Sparrows, and Cardinals, Doves and occasional Carolina Wren.

It was a satisfying weekend for Feeder Watch, and the birds knew that we bought another 20 pounds of Niger Seed, 40 pounds of Sunflower Hearts and 16 pounds of Safflower Seed to go with six more cakes of suet….they’ll be back next weekend to do their part (of course they’re fed on a daily basis, and we’re adding much water to the heated basin they use…, and will clean it next weekend, weather permitting).  It is colder than we can remember, so make sure your birds have food and water for they depend on us.

Weekend of Dec 23/24

The Grackles and Crows seen recently had family obligations elsewhere over Christmas, so did not show up at our feeders either day.  However, it was not a total loss because The Red-Tailed Hawk was back, this time late morning on Saturday.  Instead of sitting on a branch and looking directly into the house, he chose to sit about 50′ up an Oak tree, where a big limb branched off from the trunk…there was a superb view of our feeders, but he wasn’t inclined to get any closer, which proves that he’s not preying on birds.  Had he been a Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-Shinned Hawk, that would not have been the case, and ALL feeder activity would’ve stopped until the threat was long gone.

The number of Mourning Doves, while not setting records, changed because, of a sudden, they’ve discovered that we’re spreading Niger Seed on the deck rail for The Goldfinches, and half of the 24 we saw were on our deck!  (Since we have feeders in three different locations, the highest number of a species we see at any one time includes all three feeders plus any others of that species waiting their turn in the trees.  Goldfinches and Mourning Doves spend a lot of time perching in the trees before finally coming to the feeders.

Feeder traffic starts to dwindle around 3:30PM these days, but that’s a good time to see the ones who are late feeders, principally Cardinals and White-Throated Sparrows; that’s how we noted seven of the latter this time.

So far this season, in six reports, we’ve seen 19 species, with House Sparrows already showing up twice (practically never in the past 12 years).  At the same time it appears that there are fewer Red Bellied and Hairy Woodpeckers than usual, but slightly more Downy Woodpeckers.  The rest of our visitors are about in the same numbers as last year.

Weekend of Dec 16/17

I’m trying something different with this report….showing the % of FeederWatch reporters who report the birds we saw.  That’ll give you an idea of the rarity, or not, of what we’re seeing.  I can’t edit the FeederWatch chart, so here’s a rudimentary chart by species, % reporting it in SONJ, and what we saw.

Species %
Mourning Dove and Dark-eyed Junco 84
Northern Cardinal 81
Blue Jay 79
Downy Woodpecker 78
Tufted Titmouse 77
House Finch 71
Red-Bellied Woodpecker 66
White-Breasted Nuthatch 63
White-Throated Sparrow 62
Carolina Wren 43
American Goldfinch 32
Hairy Woodpecker 20
Common Grackle 16
Carolina Chickadee 15
American Crow 12
Red-Tailed Hawk 4

What surprises me is that Hairy Woodpeckers were in the 30’s last year, and it was the first I’d seen this year (Ann sees them during the week).  We Used to get the Brown Creeper regularly, one or perhaps, two…but they started disappearing late last year and are now seen by only 1-2% of those Reporting, down from 4-5% last year.  On the other hand it appears that Carolina Wrens are being seen by more as their numbers were in the low 30s last year.

The best sighting was the young Red-Tailed Hawk.  It was later on Sunday, about 3PM, and he flew in and perched on a Sassafras branch looking right into our family room.  I looked at him for 10″ and he flew off to another house, but the thing that impressed me most was that five or six Mourning Doves continued to feed about 20′ behind him, paying him no heed and vice versa.  He looked just like he does in Sibley:  Big, clear white patch on the upper part of his breast, streaked below and above that, and definitely not a Coopers Hawk (no white patch, size, slim, gray).  What a treat.

Weekend of Dec 9/10

Snow was in the air; we noticed this on Friday when larger numbers of birds were at the feeders, which repeated on Saturday, when it started snowing around 0800, and didn’t stop until early morning Sunday.  In the interim we probably had 6″ of loose snow and more activity at the feeders than normal.  It helped that we were able to spend more time watching too, and an overnight guest, who has written six books about birding in South America, was happy to sit and check the feeders with us on Sunday morning.

Early on Saturday morning four Crows were in the feeding area; their presence discouraged other birds from getting food, but the Crows didn’t get much other than water because the safflower’s in a protected tube, the sunflower feeder has a weight ring which closes when something that heavy jumps on it, the suet cage is Too small for their size, and the Niger seed wasn’t to their liking….but they were there and recorded.

Three different woodpeckers favored us, the reliable Downy pair, and a Red Bellied Woodpecker kept coming back to the sunflower hearts.  There was a Hairy sighting on Saturday a.m. which was much anticipated since the Hairy is a neat bird.

The biggest surprise of the weekend came around 4:30PM on Sunday, just as all birds were calling it a day, when a Hawk flew in!  This hawk, which turned out to be a Cooper’s Hawk, flew to four different places trying to find something to attack:  he was on the Sassafras tree first, but moved to the Dogwood’s top…no luck at either, so he then hid in the Hemlocks at the back of the yard, but was impatient and flew off after thirty seconds.  He was about 15-16″ in length, but the key I use is that the corners of his tail were rounded, unlike those of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, whose tail corners are square.  But, with the appearance of the Coopers Hawk, we were able to log sixteen species on this snowy weekend.

Weekend of Dec 2/3

Species seen were:  Goldfinch, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Red Bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Junco, White-Throated Sparrow, Blue Jay and Carolina Wren.  My comments follow:

Still puzzled by the absence of the Hairy Woodpecker (seen once in three times), and the Red Bellied Woodpecker (twice out of three, but only seen once each time when there Are usually multiple sightings of both on weekends).  Goldfinches were down A LOT from first two weekends, maybe it’s weather related.  Mourning Doves down too, and only saw them once…but I’ve got to spend more time watching.  Highlight of the weekend was the Carolina Wren which, yesterday, busily inspected a cluster of small brown pots we have Hanging on a lattice.  It went into one pot so all you could see was its tail sticking out, inspected, turned around and went on to the next, and repeated – very heart-warming.

The secret (major) to the ones we do get is that we have heated water available on our deck rail…a Chickadee and the Carolina Wren shared it yesterday, the Blue Jay bathes in it, Squirrels love it, all  birds need a source of water when it freezes, so our supply of same attracts many.

Weekend of Nov 18/19

Feeder Watch has started again, but our cat, Reina, doesn’t seem as interested in it just yet.  Maybe it’s because the bird count is down and we’re still waiting to see more consistency among the Woodpeckers.  E.g.  The Hairy and the Red-Bellied were seen only once, the Hairy last week and the RBW this week; they are usually Guaranteed visitors.  Same goes for the delightful Carolina Wren, who pokes around under the Safflower feeder getting what’s jettisoned from above by the Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and House Finches (it saves squeezing into the protected feeding tube).

Last weekend, the first, also had no White-Throated Sparrows, but there were 8 English Sparrows (down to two this past weekend).  They’re not often seen at our Feeders.  And where is our favorite Brown Creeper?  …we only saw him a couple of times last year, and not this year so far.  Has his range changed so that we’re no longer in it?  Well, only 5-6% of Feeder Watch’s New Jersey contingent (generally more than 200 a week) report the Brown Creeper.

Of course the low count may also be because we’re still working in the yard and I haven’t spent as much time watching the feeders as I should…

Project FeederWatch Updates

by Lee Farnham.

Development of land is the bane of habitat for many species.  As open space is lost to housing, industry, roads and “progress,” animals, birds, reptiles, plants, insects, trees and flowers all lose their habitat, unless it’s preserved.  That development leads to an increase in emissions which contributes to global warming, posing further threats.

In the past 50 years, according to many studies, the population of Neo-Tropical bird species in the U.S. has plummeted, by up to 75% is some cases.  New Jersey, one of the smaller states in size (but high in population density) has more than 500 species of birds, partly because it is on a number of important bird migration flyways.  The area around Cape May is known around the world for its spring and fall bird migration.

Twenty-five years ago The Cornell Lab of Ornithology started Project Feeder Watch as a way to document the movement of feeder birds around the country, and to see what’s happening to them.  Now, more than 15,000 participants in all states (and Canadian provinces) report what species they see weekly, and how many at any one time, from November to April.

The Ewing Environmental Commission participates in Feeder Watch because one of its aims is to preserve the natural environment in the Township.  Participating in Feeder Watch helps do that on a local, state and national basis, by increasing knowledge about what birds are seen at feeders, and with what frequency.  Now in its tenth year, more than 160 reports have been filed, and more than 45 different bird species have been seen in that time.

Lee Farnham, former Chair of the EC,  is our Project Feeder Watch citizen scientist who has participated in the project for many years.  He provides updates on the bird counts in his backyard on a weekly basis  Look for his results and insights in posts to come.

Project FeederWatch Update – Weekend of March 18/19

by Lee Farnham

As Feeder Watch draws to a close on April 7, we continue to see the effects of a coming change in the seasons. This weekend had 20 different species, three fewer than last weekend, but the total number reported was up to 129 from 112 a week ago….yet a year-round resident, the Carolina Wren (a real favorite of ours) was among the missing. We know he’s there because we saw him on Monday after we were finished…it’s a matter of our adjusting to his schedule, not v.v.

Goldfinches again led the hit parade;  if we had seen three more it would’ve given us a new record for the year, 58.  Juncos had a strong weekend with 14; they are mostly seen on our deck, beneath the Thistle feeders for the Goldfinches.  In fact, I’ve seen 16 of them at one time, but last weekend, they were all over:  on the deck, under the suet, around the Sunflower Hearts, and under the Safflower.

Mourning Doves got into bigger numbers (20), but the novelty about reporting 20 is that only six of them were on the ground, under The Safflower. The rest were on branches of our Hemlocks, at the end of our yard, but they can be included in Feeder Watch count because they will drop down to feed.

Transients, like Grackles, Red-Wing Blackbirds and Starlings will taper off quickly, but maybe next week will bring the return of the Carolina Wren, and perhaps a Cedar Waxwing, or Bluebirds, or even a Brown Creeper.  “Creepie’s” not been seen this year, and it isn’t right….he always used to come around 1200 and scoot up (not down) the Sassafras and Dogwoods looking for insects.  If you see him, please ask him to stop by when we’re looking next weekend.

The final total for the weekend was 20 species and 129 total birds. See Observation tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

Project Feederwatch Update – First March Weekend

by Lee Farnham

The weekend didn’t start out to be as spectacular as it ended up, but I had vowed to watch at least an hour on Saturday morning, which meant that I had logged 12 species by the time I ended.  There is a core of birds that always appear:  Downy, Hairy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Goldfinches and Juncos, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Cardinals, White-Throated Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee and Titmouse.  Later in the day a Starling showed up, and then a Pileated Woodpecker (!!), what a treat to see him banging away on the suet.

By Vkulikov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The following afternoon was when a Grackle invasion occurred, for the second time this  year!  A few scouts were seen, and noted, but Then a swarm of Common Grackles was upon us, on the Sunflower feeder, and the Safflower, a few on the Suet and many more in the trees, And they were very loud….and then they were gone!!  From trees overloaded with Grackles, nothing, but then they were back, more determined than ever, and I eventually counted more than 50.  While looking at the various groups in the trees I noticed that a few weren’t acting like Grackles, so I returned to them after making my count and found a lone Red-Winged Blackbird (first this season), and four Brown-headed Cowbirds (ditto).  The males have a darkish brown head with a black body, all somewhat shiny, and are unmistakable.

The females with them were probably looking for nests to put their eggs in, for they are notorious for laying their eggs in the nests of others.

The Grackles came and went three or four times, and in between two Blue Jays had some Sunflower and a pair of House Finches sampled the Safflower….and the Pileated Woodpecker had some more suet.  What a great weekend!!

The final total for the weekend was 19 species and 169 total birds. See Observation tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

Project FeederWatch Update for Weekend of Feb 11/12

feederwatchBy Lee Farnham

Other tasks kept us (my cat and me) from getting to Feeder Watch until around 2PM on Saturday, but we made up for it by watching for at least 90 minutes.  Surprisingly, we saw only nine species during that time with the most prominent absentee being a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  They’re normally all over the suet and sunflower hearts at least four or five times a day.

However, late in the day we were treated to a Cardinal invasion when eight were seen around our sunflower feeder and under the safflower feeder.  The difference between the two feeders is that the sunflower has a ring around the bottom of the seed tube that allows birds to perch while they feed (you can adjust the weight to allow heavier birds or not… ours is set to 1.4 ounces, which is plenty for multiple birds, but doesn’t let squirrels get to the seed).  The safflower seed tube is in a cage, so only smaller birds (Titmouse, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee and Carolina Wren) can get into the feeding ports….but we spread loose seed on the ground for each feeder too, so ground feeders (including squirrels) have access.


By Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us(personal website of photographer), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2589165

The interesting thing about Cardinals is that they normally travel in pairs, so if you see the red male, look closely for his mate, or vice-versa.  And the ones we had on Saturday afternoon were equally divided between the sunflower and safflower. On the safflower side they were sharing the ground with House Finches and a Carolina Wren while Titmice and Carolina Chickadees ate above them (and scattered seed to them).  On the sunflower side there would be a Cardinal on the feeder ring, and another one or two on the ground, sharing seed with Juncos, White-Throated Sparrows and the ubiquitous squirrels.

The missing Red-Bellied Woodpecker turned up late on Sunday, along with a White-Breasted Nuthatch and two infrequent visitors: a Robin and a European Starling, both were interested in the suet…the Robin picking pieces off the ground, but the Starling holding onto the cage which he took his whacks.

The final total for the weekend was 16 species and 122  total birds.  See Observation Tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

Project Feeder Watch Update

feederwatchby Lee Farnham

The nicer weather we enjoyed for the last weekend in January, especially Sunday PM, probably cut down on attendance at our feeders, but we logged the normal number of species, 15, and when you add up the highest number of each species seen at one time, and reported, that came to 80…a far cry from some previous weekends, but it’s always fun to watch the birds interact as they eat:

  • Consider the Thistle seed (nyjer) we have in two feeders, and put along our deck rail and also on our deck.  Having so much seed available attracts lots of birds, which is why we reported 34 American Goldfinches and 16 Northern Juncos.  What it doesn’t tell you is that the lovely Juncos are early risers (they know the saying:  “the early bird gets the worm”), and the 16 were counted before 0700 on Saturday.
    By the same token, just after I’ve replenished the feeders each morning is a good time for the Goldfinches, and all but four or five of the 34 seen this weekend, were bunched together along the deck rail, with probably 12 on the two feeders within two feet.
  • Our suet offering consists of two cakes of suet in a metal cage, suspended from a cable midway between our deck and a Dogwood Tree.  The cage has what looks like a witch’s hat over it to keep the squirrels at bay, which it does.  While we see squirrels attempt the perilous approach on the cable, they usually turn back because they get to the witch’s hat and give up trying to score suet.
    We had added a cake of Peanut Butter suet (from Bucks County Audubon Society at $2 each) to the regular C&S suet, so it made an added attraction on Saturday a.m., and soon a Pileated Woodpecker was on the trunk of the Dogwood eyeing the suet while he waited for an opening.  It came, and this magnificent bird,  with a 28” wingspan, quickly left the tree and fastened himself to the suet cage.  It’s really fun watching a Pileated bang away on suet, and to see the chunks of it go in all directions.  A couple of Juncos, and a Carolina Wren, were waiting on the ground to get random chunks, and were quickly rewarded!  After satisfying his immediate hunger, the Pileated took wing, but it was wonderful seeing him, and knowing that there are two of them who visit us regularly.
    Later in the day a White-Breasted Nuthatch, not often seen on the suet, was suddenly there and nibbling on the suet at one end of the suet cage.  While watching him there was suddenly a second bird on the other end of the same suet cake, a Carolina Wren!!  What a treat it was to see them both filling up, almost side-by-side,  a White-Breasted Nuthatch on one end and the Carolina Wren on the other.  It didn’t last, but it was a real treat to watch both of them dig in.

So far this Feeder Watch season we’ve seen 27 different species at our feeders, and there are still two and a half months left to the reporting season.  Results Summary

Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, 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