Hockessin, Delaware


In the winter try using Plain Suet.  Squirrels don't like it, but your Woodpeckers love it!


From Our Backyard


   Fifty days of gray.  It's partly this or partly that and mostly overcast. Neither sun nor snow enter the picture. There are just various shades of an old black and white movie to greet me. It’s enough to make a one miserable.  Luckily I have the birds outside my window and cheery customers to brighten my days and spirit. 


    I lay out a breakfast buffet of seed, suet, and nuts each morning.  Most goes in to the feeders but I always broadcast a cup of seed into the woods.  The hope is that by offering a variety of foods in different settings, every bird will find a place at the table.  If the winter were to revert to its true calling of cold, snow, and ice you would notice an increase in activity and consumption of bird food.  The birds know your yard to be a reliable source of food and flock to your feeders.  


    Birds respond to adverse winter conditions by eating more. That’s why you’ll observe a lot of birds during the crepuscular hours.  In the morning, they need to replenish body fat burned off from a cold night of trying to stay warm.  Then, the birds will eat more before turning in for the night.  Increased commotion at your feeders will hopefully draw in strangers like the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, or a Northern Flicker. We've actually had each bird at our suet feeders recently. Occasionally a camouflaged Brown Creeper is seen ambling about the tree trunk.  On the colder days, we’ve actually had a flock of Bluebirds eating from the seed feeders at the store. We're filling them with No-Mess bird seed. In fact, I’m seeing more Goldfinches and Dark-eyed Juncos at work than at home and I would never consider a parking lot to be their habitat. It just demonstrates that with the right food, pretty birds can appear anywhere. 



   In some species it is easier for a flock of birds to locate a food source than an individual bird.  That’s why in winter you may spot groups of Robins about.  Once they find a tree still bearing fruit they’ll descend and devour every overripe berry or rotten crab apple and then move on. The Mockingbird is exhausted from having to chase away the aggressive mobs of Starlings that happen upon the Beauty Berry bushes.  This dawn I spooked a flock of Bluebirds exiting the Screech Owl box. Thankfully the owl wasn’t home or they might have become a midnight snack.  The Bluebirds were probably roosting inside the box for the evening.  Roosting is what birds do when they seek shelter on a winters’ night.  Our Downy is usually the first to call it an evening.  I can find him peeking out of a Bluebird house at 4 PM.  Just where do birds go at night?  For some cavity nesters, sanctuary can be found in a snag hole or nest box. Other birds will seek protection in a dense evergreen bush or overgrown thicket.  The more birds in a bush the warmer it will be for all.  In addition to food and shelter, a flock can provide protection from predation.  It’s harder for a Hawks to pick out birds when they’re in a flock.  Flocking together in the winter is advantageous to a bird’s survival overall.


     It was last call at the feeders.  The remaining avian patrons gather their seed and head off into the descending dark.  The nightly chorus of yelping foxes, squeaking raccoons, and tramping deer begins afield.  Dixie the dog whines to be let out and reenact the chase scene from The Fox and The Hound.  Evidence of nocturnal visitors will be found in the morning. Feeders will lay on the ground, the compost bin will be empty, and the trash can will be torn apart.  Maybe for tomorrow’s banquet I’ll mix in some cracked corn and millet for the Juncos. A slather of Bark Butter on the side might entice the Bluebirds. For now it was time to close up the diner. 


Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck

Love your cat, love your birds; keep your cat inside.

February 2017