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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 
May you have a wonderful 2018 filled with the beauty of birds!
Bald Eagle next to my yard this morning, my favorite bird!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Yellow-crowned Night Heron with prize

Yellow-crowned Night Heron recently at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, FL with a prize - a little fish. These herons usually are active at night but lately we have been seeing a lot of Yellow crowns hunting during the day. These birds winter and breed in FL and can also breed in many parts of the lower eastern two-thirds of the country.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Wishing you lots of beautiful birds in 2018!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Bald Eagle at Ding Darling NWR

We saw this wonderful subadult Bald Eagle yesterday at J.N. Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel FL. Ding is one of the best places in winter to see and photograph birds and thousands of birds inhabit the refuge, spending the winter there. It can take Bald Eagles 4 years to attain adult plumage.

Another treat was seeing this Spotted Sandpiper who posed in a stretch. Spotted Sandpipers have spots in their breeding plumage, but not in winter. They breed across much of the country near water including rivers, streams, mudflats, rocky shores. Look for them ion spring.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Winter Bird Feeding Tips, How to Help the Birds!


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.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Yellow-breasted Chat, a "Good Bird"

A "good bird" for a birder who likes to see rarities is often the wrong bird in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's recently been seen a Yellow-breasted Chat in New Hampshire, a surprise bird, out of it's usual range. There was also one there in Nov. 2012 and that is when I took above photos. We went to see that cool warbler in 2012 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. 

That previous NH Yellow-breasted Chat was 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.

For more on Yellow-breasted Chats and all other birds, see our best-selling, most complete field guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Rare Finches Coming To Your Feeders This Winter! Here's Who.

White-winged Crossbill, adult male, eating hulled sunflower seeds at our feeder

White-winged Crossbills, 1st yr. male, left, adult male, right

White-winged Crossbill, adult male

White-winged Crossbill, adult male

White-winged Crossbill, 1st yr. male

According to the 2017-2018 Winter Finch Forecast compiled by Ron Pittaway this could be a good year to see rare Red and White-winged Crossbills and also other finches like Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls at your feeders if you live in the Northeast and eastern Canada. Cone crops are bumper this year in these regions, drawing the finches to these areas.

We are lucky to have had some of these birds at our feeders in NH in years past, waiting for them this year. These northern birds are rarely seen here, let alone seen at feeders. Finches like hulled sunflower and also nyger seed. White-winged Crossbills are large finches who mainly live in Canada, AK, and northern areas of the northeast quadrant of this country. In winter they can come down into the U.S. in search of food. They use their amazingly bill, which is crossed at the tip, to pry open conifer cones and extract the seeds. We were making it easy for them, as we had hulled sunflower in the feeders, no shell to remove.

It's fun to age and sex the birds at your feeder and our new field guide will help you. The top photos are of an adult male who has "Two broad well-defined white wingbars; white tips to tertials (lacking on Red Crossbill). M. head, rump and most of underparts pinkish red; back all black to mostly red; rear flanks paler and strongly to indistinctly streaked darker. F. variably faintly greenish, (sometimes yellowish) on crown, back, rump and breast: otherwise, grayish-brown upperparts and pale underparts darkly streaked with brown. 1st Yr: M. mixed brown with pinkish red or orangish yellow; f. brownish or faintly greenish." (The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, page 749).