Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Short-earred Owl

The Short-eared Owl is one of my favorite owls. This medium-sized owl lives in open habitats, such as tundra, grasslands, fields, marshes, prairies and savannas, where it hunts small mammals. It breeds mostly in the far North and parts of the West and can be seen in winter in many parts of the country.

I saw this one on Christmas several years ago in the marshes of Salisbury Beach, MA. It mostly hunts at night, sometimes during the day. I was lucky, it was out, and gave me photo ops. This owl flies erratically, like a moth, and courses low over the ground, so photographing it in flight was a challenge (as usual!) I was thrilled to get some photos.

One of the wonderful things I love about capturing a bird in a photo, is that you get to keep and cherish that moment. You can look at it again and again, re-experiencing the adventure, and share it, as I have done today, with others.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter Bird-Feeding Tips, How to Keep Your Birds Happy


Here's Some Advice on Winter Bird Feeding Basics

Brrrrrrr!  When winter temperatures plummet, furnaces are turned on, down parkas and mittens are taken out of storage, and hot cocoa is made on the stove. This how we humans cope with winter, but what do the birds do? Their feathers are their down parkas and their metabolism keeps them warm but they need increased fuel to stoke their furnaces and shelter from wind and cold. Understanding their needs is the first step in setting up your winter bird feeding station.

Where to place feeders

One of the best places to set up feeders in winter is on the south side of a thick stand of evergreens whose branches go from ground level to tree top. This green wall should have as much sunlight hitting it as possible. Not only is it a big solar collector that the birds will love for its warmth, but they can use the dense foliage as protection from predators, shelter from storms, a nightime roost and a place to await their turn at the feeder, or munch a seed recently taken. 

If you do not have this ideal set-up, then be inventive and  create some of its elements. Put your feeders in protected locations that get lots of sun, create a brush pile nearby for cover, plant evergreens, or stand up your discarded Christmas tree near the feeder.

Pine Siskins, Purple Finch,m.

Winter Chow; Supersize me

Because birds have higher metabolic needs in the winter, they consume more calories than in  warmer weather; thus, they need foods that are calorie-rich. Interestingly, one gram of fat provides 11 calories, and one gram of protein or carbohydrate contains only 4 calories.

Here is an interesting list of bird seeds and their protein, fat and carbohydrate content by percentage of weight. 


black oil sunflower   16/40/38
peanuts   30/48/2.5
thistle   18/32/13.5
millet   11.5/4/6.5
milo   11/3/2.5
Cracked Corn   9/4/2   

So for winter feeding in cold areas, the type of food you provide for is important.

Black-capped Chickadee

Suet cakes contain a high amount of fat so they are a calorie-rich food; so are black oil sunflower, peanuts and thistle. These foods are a good choice for feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches and cardinals. Offer these seeds in tube and hopper feeders hung above the ground. 

There are other feeder birds, such as Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Juncos that normally feed on the ground and whose seed preferences can tend toward carbohydrates. These species will eat seeds such as millet or cracked corn, or mixes containing them. You can offer these birds winter food on platform feeders near the ground, or even sprinkled directly on the ground provided you keep the ground raked clean of any old seed that is not quickly eaten.

Evening Grosbeak, males

In addition to offering food variety to fit the palate of your winter customers, the basic tenet of winter bird feeding is the all-you-can-eat buffet. Basically, keep feeders full so the food is there when they need it. Even though many of your feeder birds will alternate feeding at and then away from your feeders, they especially need supplemental food in severe weather when the wild foods are covered with ice and snow. In these tough times, a good feeder set-up can help their survival. Pay particular attention to filling feeders in mid-afternoon and early morning. This is when birds need to stock up on food and calories to heat their bodies through the cold night and replenish their furnace fuel in the early AM.

Consistency is the key

Once you have the birds coming to you in winter, it is important to be consistent in your feeding program, for they tend to rely in severe weather on the additional supplementation of foods you are offering. So if you go on vacation, see if a friend or neighbor, or hired youngster, will fill your feeders; that is what we do. You may also want to put out larger capacity feeders in winter so they do not have to be filled so often and so there is less chance of them going empty.

Let it Snow

One of the challenges in keeping your winter restaurant open for the birds occurs when there are storms that pile up snow and cover feeders. It is important to keep your feeders free of snow, especially in the portals of tube feeders, ledges of hopper feeders and the tops of platform feeders.  We always go out and knock or wipe the snow off feeders several times during a storm. Another good trick is to hang one of those squirrel baffles shaped like a clear plastic umbrella, above the feeder to shield it from the snow. One of the best snow protectors we have seen was done by someone who had made a giant plastic umbrella out of two big plastic window-well covers mounted back to back. This was held up well off the ground by wooden posts and multiple feeders were mounted under it.

Dark-eyed Junco

Keeping the ground free of snow for ground feeders like White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, and even Wild Turkeys, like we have coming to our feeders, takes dedicated shoveling or a snow blower. During one of last winter’s worst storms, we took turns shoveling out a space on the ground under our feeders just about every hour. On our deck we shoveled out spaces under our built in benches and sprinkled seed there for the Blue Jays and Juncos.

Northern Cardinal, f.

In Milder Climates

We are aware that not everyone shivers through winter with snow and cold. Mild climate areas, like California and the southern states, escape the worst weather. In addition to the resident birds, such as Cardinals there, many migrant birds from the North, like Goldfinches, Doves, Catbirds, even an occasional hummingbird, visit feeders there. We have fed birds in Florida in winter for a number of years and it is great fun. While there is not snow, some of the basic practices of bird feeding apply — a diverse menu for both tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling species, providing clean water and good cover, and keeping feeding areas clean. We have even put out oranges in Florida and had catbirds regularly come to them. Maybe they are the same catbirds that breed in our yard in New Hampshire in the summer. We like to think so.


One of the biggest rewards of winter feeding, in addition to knowing you are helping the birds survive, is being entertained by all those wonderful, active creatures while you are house-bound. Colorful Cardinals, perky Chickadees, big-eyed Titmice, maybe even a more rare visitor like a Pine Siskin, will line up for your restaurant where there will be standing room only.

This winter, meet your birds’ needs for the right food and shelter and have your own winter bird festival.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Say's Phoebe, First State Record for NH!

It was way far away and had flown
behind the other side of the buildings and the chain link fence. Don is looking for it.

Just got back from seeing New Hampshire's first state record of a Say's Phoebe, a bird from the West, far out of it's usual range here in NH. It was found by Chris Borg at the Penacook, NH wastewater treatment plant. Pardon the photos, when we got there it had flown farther back into the wastewater treatment plant, too far for decent photos with my usual high end Canon gear which I had with me. So I did what I could with the Canon SX 40 HS camera, the little superzoom point-and-shoot which zooms out and can magnify things up to 140x, albeit with grainy photos at that distance. In this case having that camera with me meant the difference between getting less than ideal record shots, or no photos at all. It was a very cool little bird to see.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pine Grosbeaks, plus video, Wow!

For most of yesterday we had two female Pine Grosbeaks (the males are mostly red) hanging out in our "Prairie Fire" crabapple trees chowing down. I was amazed how many apples they ate and they seemed to continuously eat for most of the afternoon, like a kid going through the Halloween candy. They were really very tame, not at all bothered by us or the Corgis who ran under the trees. The hardest part of photographing them was to get a clear show through the tangle of apple branches and also to every get a photo of them without applesauce covering their bill!
This is a more northern species who usually is found throughout Canada and up into AK. In irruptive years, such as this one, when so many northern species are coming down into the U.S. due to lack of food in their usual area, Pine Grosbeaks can join the exodus. Pine Grosbeaks are now being reported from numerous locations around our state of NH.
Thus far this fall we have had these irruptive species visit our yard; Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-winged Crossbills, and no, Pine Grosbeaks.
We try hard to landscape our property for the birds, using lots of berry and food producing shrubs and trees. It pays off when we get to see such a beautiful species. Let us know if you see any.

Video (handheld) and photo number two shot with the Canon SX HS, the rest with my Canon 1D Mark IV.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yellow-breasted Chat in NH!

There's a Yellow-breasted Chat in New Hampshire, a surprise bird, out of it's usual range. We went to see this cool warbler Sun., in the backyard of some birders lucky enough to have this avian celebrity. Yellow-breasted Chat is classified with warblers, but it doesn't seem like a warbler. It's big and slow and large-billed compared to tiny, hyper, delicate warblers. The backyard had just what Chats like, lots of tangled growth of brambles and shrubs to hang out in. The Chat was being pampered with oranges and dried mealworms, which she scampered out happily to consume. 

This NH Yellow-breasted Chat is a female (the male has black lores with black bill and gray lower base to bill, female has gray lores and brownish bill with yellowish-pink base to lower mandible.) She is the virens subspecies which occurs from e. SD-e. TX and east and these birds have  a white moustachial stripe that is small and narrow and stops below the eye.  Below are photos of a bird I photographed in GA in winter and it is the auricollis subspecies which occurs from s. SK-w. TX and west, vag. to GA and has a white moustachial stripe that is large and white and extends to behind eye.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Red-breasted Nuthatches are irrupting too! Are you seeing them?

Red-breasted Nuthatch, female, has a gray cap

Red-breasted Nuthatch, male, has a black cap

Another bird we are getting at our feeders is Red-breasted Nuthatch. Very cute bird! We are hearing reports that they are being seen far down from their usual winter range, a sign that they, like Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeak,s and others, are irrupting, or leaving their usual winter range because of food scarcity there. We are in the permanent range of this bird, so we do see them regularly, but we heard from birders that they are being seen as far south as GA.
Though I would share these photos.
Tell us if you are seeing any Red-breasted Nuthatches
For information on where to see the most updated winter, summer, year-round ranges and migration routes of all the bird species see our new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Video of Birds At Suet in Snowstorm Athena, cool!

Snowstorm Athena is here today in NH and the birds are chowing down on the suet feeder. Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees all take their turns. Suet is a great food for winter because it of its high fat content which provides lots of energy for calorie hungry birds trying to stay warm in colder temperatures.
I like the antics of the White-broeasted Nuthatch who hangs upside down. This agile behavior enables it to feed on the underside of tree limbs.
It's fun to just watch how birds feed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Red, White and Blue Bird, Please Vote!!

When I saw 6 Eastern Bluebirds in our field this morning I was struck by how their red, white and blue colors are our patriotic colors, like a reminder that this is the day to vote. Please go vote!!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vote Tomorrow!!!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Voting is a privilege and your right, please everyone, go out and vote tomorrow. When you do, consider voting for officials whose policies will benefit birds.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Which Birds Are Most At Risk and How You Can Help!

Reddish Egret

Loggerhead Shrike

Snowy Plover

Red Knot

Painted Bunting, these are all on the lists of birds most a risk.

There's an amazing new list of the Conservation Assessment of Total Bird Diversity in the United States Including a Complete List of Birds of the United States with Conservation Rankings. The list is based on a study by the American Bird Conservancy, the first ever study to include the full range of bird diversity in all 50 U.S. states and U.S. dependent territories. Alarmingly the study found that one third of these birds need conservation attention. 

Here's the list of the most At-Risk birds in the 50 U.S. States. 

Gunnison Sage-Grouse
Sitka Sooty Grouse (ssp)
Lesser Prairie-Chicken 
Black-capped Petrel
Pink-footed Shearwater
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Hawaiian Storm-Petrel
Reddish Egret
Yellow Rail
Black Rail (both ssp)
Gulf Snowy Plover (ssp)
Alaskan Marbled Godwit (ssp)
Eastern Red Knot (ssp)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Guadalupe Murrelet
Scripps's Murrelet
Craveri’s Murrelet
Red-crowned Parrot
S. CA Olive-sided Flycatcher (ssp)
S. FL & Is. Loggerhead Shrikes (ssp)
S. CA Pinyon Jay (ssp)
Kauai 'Elepaio
Hawaii 'Elepaio
Eastern Bewick’s Wren (ssp)
Bicknell’s Thrush
SF Bay Common Yellowthroat (ssp)
Mangrove Prairie Warbler (ssp)
Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow (ssp)
Eastern Painted Bunting (ssp)
Maui 'Alauahio (Maui Creeper)

What can you do to help conservation? Here are some things,

- Look at the list and familiarize yourself with what birds need help
- Join and participate in national, state and local organizations that are working to conserve bird populations.
- Educate others about the importance of conserving birds
- Share your love and knowledge of birds with others, including kids. People will be more ready to conserve the things they know and love
- Become a better bird identifier and get involved in citizen science projects such as,

- Plant a bird friendly yard with native trees and shrubs and eliminate the use of pesticides, get our Stokes Bird Gardening Book
- Keep cats indoors it's safer for them and birds.

If we all don't help conserve birds, who will?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Feeder Birds in Hurricane Sandy Video

I took this video, with my Canon SX 40 HS point-and-shoot superzoom camera,  from inside the house, through the slightly open glass slider, during Hurricane Superstorm Sandy here in southwest NH. It was really interesting to see how the feeder birds coped during the storm. Birds need to eat, so they tried to come to the feeders when they could. The winds were blowing at 20-30 miles an hour during the day, getting much worse, gusting to maybe 50 mph, at night. The birds stayed low in the shrubs and were most protected the lower down to the the ground they were. The Blue Jays had difficulty landing on the feeders and one was able to feed on the lee side of the biggest feeder. The Mourning Doves, Juncos, White-throated Sparrows and one first winter White-crowned Sparrow (big sparrow with plain face and 2 brown stripes on crown), prefer to feed on the ground and thus were most protected from the wind. 
By morning, the bird feeders were knocked down to the ground from the wind. The birds seemed fine and were hopping around waiting for us to upright and fill the feeders.
Luckily we had no other damage, and we still had power. Sending positive thoughts for a fast recovery for all who sustained losses due to the hurricane. Take care.