Feeding the birds during year’s colder months offers pleasant pastime


A still shot from the Feeder Watch cam in Ontario showing Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks.

Patricia Werth, a resident of Abingdon, Virginia, shared with me in an email that that she has been enjoying watching birds visit feeders for snacks of sunflower seeds and other tidbits. The feeders, however, are not her own. She has been watching online a camera focused on a family’s backyard feeders in Ontario, Canada. A couple named Tammie and Ben Haché are identified on the webpage as the hosts for the camera.

She informed me that the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology placed the camera on the feeders. In similar projects, Cornell has also placed bird cams in positions that allow different moments of a bird’s life — such as hatching and fledging —to be shared with onlookers watching from the comfort of their living rooms or with the convenience of a smart phone.

“They have a flat tray as one of their feeders with shelled peanuts and sunflower seeds on it,” Patricia shared.


A pair of House Finches visit a feeder.

She noted that some of the birds at the feeders include a ruffed grouse. While the grouse was eating, a blue jay arrived and wanted the grouse to leave. In response, the grouse ruffled its neck feathers and spread its tail. “The blue jay decided to wait to eat,” she added.

Patricia has also enjoyed the habits of the crows and blue jays at the feeders, noting that a jay will pick up one shelled peanut and fly away but the crows won’t leave until they have at least three peanuts.

“Fun stuff to watch,” she said. Patricia has seen many species that don’t often reach Virginia and Tennessee, including birds like evening grosbeak and pine grosbeak.

Patricia also shared that she felt that others would like this site as much as she does. To observe the birds visiting the feeders in the yard in Ontario, Canada, just visit  http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/38/Ontario_FeederWatch/

Patricia had also read my recent column on dark-eyed juncos. “I still haven’t seen any juncos yet, but I have been watching for them,” she shared.



American Goldfinch eating sunflower seeds at a feeder.

It’s simple and relatively inexpensive to feed the birds. While a wide range of feeders of all shapes and sizes can be purchased at gardening centers and most retail stores, something as simple as a clay saucer can function as a dispenser of seeds. Of course, seeds can even be scattered on the ground. In fact, this is the preferred method of foraging for many of our ground-dwelling birds.

I like to provide a mixed variety of foods during the winter months. My main offering include black oil sunflower seeds (and plenty of them), as well as suet cakes and shelled, unsalted peanuts.

Some of our more common feeder visitors include Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, blue jays, house finches, American goldfinches, as well as a variety of sparrows and woodpeckers. It’s still fairly early in the winter season, but it’s good to watch for more unexpected visitors such as purple finches, red-breasted nuthatches and evening grosbeaks.


Downy Woodpecker obtains suet from a feeder.

In urban or suburban settings, expect to entertain such birds as house sparrows, European starlings and rock pigeons at your feeders. These non-native species can quickly overwhelm some feeders and crowd out native birds.

Whether or not the show is televised, it’s always great fun to watch the antics of birds at our feeders during the winter months. Many of the other aspects of the natural world that we enjoy, from flowers and butterflies to gardening and dragonflies, are absent during the winter months. Curious chickadees, feisty finches and wily wrens can definitely lift one’s spirits on gloomy winter days.



A female Northern Cardinal perches on the side of a rustic feeder.

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.


A White-breasted Nuthatch departs a feeder with a seed.

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