To Watch a Feeder

I’m a backyard birder.  I like that my wildlife habitat, also known as the garden, attracts a multitude of native and migrating birds and that I am able to observe them from the comfort of my back patio or from inside my house.  I have little desire to wake up a 3am and drive somewhere to watch birds, though that would certainly allow me to see a wider variety of birds and there are clearly rewards collaborating with other bird enthusiasts to observe and learn about birds.   In reality though, seeing many different kinds of birds is not my goal, though I understand why it’s important to others.   At least at this point in my life, I’m not a birder in that sense–and that’s just fine.

I also appreciate that there are several kinds of citizen scientist activities that I can easily participate in which allow me to watch, to learn, and also contribute to on-going and vital research concerning how birds in North America are faring.  Climate change, urbanization, various kinds of pollution (chemical, light, noise) all have had serious deleterious impacts on North American birds.   The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are engaged in long-time research and are great resources for learning all about the birds of North America.  Both organizations support myriad volunteer and educational enterprises related to birds, bird watching, and installing bird-friendly habitats.

My primary and on-going participation in science-based bird watching involves volunteering for Project FeederWatch, sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The FeederWatch season occurs from mid-November to early April:  the ‘watch’ period is after the main autumn migration and before spring migration is fully underway.  I’m now about 8 weeks into my 2019-20 FeederWatch season and am thrilled to have listed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, though I admit both little songbirds showed up on only one of the watch days.  For most of my recorded FeederWatch days, I’ve only seen this tiny cutey, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

During the November to April FeederWatch time, I’m mostly counting and categorizing the native birds and those birds who are migratory, but have decided my part of Central Texas is a good place to stay for winter–like the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I’m especially excited about seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets this season, because it’s been about 3 years since any have over-wintered in or near my garden.  I’ve learned much as part of my FeederWatch participation.  Not only do I watch birds for a regular and close connection to nature, but I’m also assisting–in a small way–the research related to the health of birds, their numbers in various areas, and their changes and movements in population over periods of time.

Before I became involved in FeederWatch, I’d planted for birds (and other critters) and most warblers and other songbirds visit the garden and trees to glean insects and nosh on plants’ seeds.  But I’ve also widened both the type of feeders I place in the garden and feed that I provide for birds to better target those same songbirds and that’s thanks to my greater knowledge about birds–what they like and what’s good for them to eat.

Another typical overwintering bird species (and this season there are at least 2 and possibly 3 in my garden, it’s hard to tell for sure), are the Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata.  I think the Orange-crowns are my favorite of the warbler species: there’s a sweet cheekiness about them and they have darling faces.

The Orange-crowns favor the peanut feeder.

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Do you see the bit of green among the peanuts in the feeder? It’s a rogue bit of plastic–yuck! I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos. I dumped the peanuts out and disgarded the plastic.

But I don’t think they always favor the watcher.

 

Participating in Project FeederWatch is ridiculously easy.   Pick what days are most convenient with your schedule; watching and documenting isn’t time-consuming–watch as much or as little as you please–though you need to commit to two consecutive days.  As well, the process for entering your online data is a snap.  I’ve had the occasional question about my data and the Cornell folks are friendly and great about promptly responding.

Counting birds is usually not a problem, even with their flighty natures, but sometimes…

From a post last spring: Mob

…it can be a challenge.  Oh, those silly, pond-loving, gregarious Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum, they’re such charactersI haven’t seen any so far this year; no doubt they’ll be in my FeederWatch counts sometime in February.

It’s not too late to join in for this year, just click here and you’ll find easy-to-follow directions to help you jump on the birdie bandwagon.   Cornell Lab requests an $18 fee to get the initial information, but that’s all–unless you want to donate more to either Cornell Lab or Audubon–and they’re both worthy organizations.

Birds rock.  They’re beautiful, fascinating and you can help birds by helping the humans who study them so that your descendants will have birds in their lives, too.

20 thoughts on “To Watch a Feeder

    • Thanks, Rooster!! Rubys are so hard to get photos of!! They’re rarely still, so the shots were lucky. I was just looking at a FB post on the Birds of Texas and someone had a great shot of a little male who thought he was hidden in a shrub. The photographer said the Ruby sat still for about 5 minutes. I’ve never seen that happen!

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      • I was lucky a couple of years to get several god shots of a hummingbird resting in the Redbud behind the house. He sat there for quite a while for a hummingbird. Sometimes we lucky but so many times birds are tough.

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  1. I don’t think I’ll participate this year, but next year I might. I’m really limited in terms of feeders, since I can’t place anything in the lawns away from the buildings, in the trees, and so on. But I have a double shepherd’s crook now with a mesh peanut feeder and a platform feeder, and once I figure out the logistics, I’ll be adding a couple of water sources and another feeder. Right now, I’ve got chickadees coming to the feeder, and wrens under the shrubbery that’s just outside my patio — and those cardinals, that I still see from time to time.

    I have a question about the mesh peanut feeder. How do you deal with rain? Can the peanuts be left in it? For how long? Since I don’t have any birds coming to it yet, I’ve only filled it halfway, and if there’s real rain I take it down and shelter it, but with our fog and humidity, the peanuts still get wet. It doesn’t seem an issue with the platform feeder, since it has a perforated bottom that allows the water to drain, and the birds still are coming to it. But wet peanuts? I’m not so sure about that!

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    • I don’t really leave the peanuts out during heavy rain, or even moderately drippy days. I imagine that they could develop mold and that can’t be good for anyone’s feathers, right?. Ditto for the sunflower seeds.

      I’ve learned to only put out about 2-3 fingers worth of peanuts in the feeders. Last spring, when I first started with the shelled peanuts, the starlings and to a lesser extent, the squirrels were eating the peanuts too quickly. Some one at Wild Birds Unlimited suggested that I add just a little at a time and the targeted birds nosh early enough, so they get their fill. That worked. The starlings still ate, but so did the birds that I wanted to feed. So far this year, I’ve only seen a few starlings, but more will come, I’m sure.

      Most days, I’ll add more peanuts sometime later, depending on my schedule, so really, the birds get peanuts twice–just in smaller doses. Interestingly, the squirrels lost interest in the peanuts during summer, so I could put more out and the local songbirds munched all through the days. That said, I’m thinking about getting a baffle to keep the fuzzy-tailed varmints off the feeders for good–or until they figure out a way to outsmart me. I have no doubt they will.

      During spring and through mid summer, I have to add sunflower seeds daily–the birds really eat them up After that time, I only add a little bit once/week.

      As well, we were seeing rats on the feeders at night and obviously don’t want to encourage that business, so one of us remembers to bring the feeders in. Strangely enough, no one favors the suet much, or at least, they eat from it, but it doesn’t disappear too quickly. I only use suet in the cool seasons.

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  2. Did you get these photos from you back door or did you use a blind? And approximately how many feet away were you from the feeders? Also what mm lens did you use to get these nice photos. Hope you don’t mind my nosey questions. I read your posts all the time but just have not felt like commenting. I really enjoy the photos since I also plant for the birds, butters, and bees.

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    • I took the photos from both my kitchen window and just outside my living room. In both cases, I’m about 8-10 away. I shoot with Panasonic FZ1000. It’s a bridge-style camera, ie., I it doesn’t have changeable lenses–just one, that is adjustable. I don’t recall which setting I had the camera, but often enough, I just IA setting, unless I’m shooting for macro, or there’s some light issues. I’m nothing more than a hobbyist photographer, but I have been quite happy with this camera.

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      • Thank you for graciously answering my questions. I am needing a new camera and have not been able to decide which one to get for my needs of pets, birds, and butterflies. I will research the Panasonic FZ 1000.

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  3. Our favorite kind of birdwatching is from a comfy chair on our back porch. Right now I am watching at least a dozen goldfinches on the nyjer feeders. It’s about 20 degrees, so they need their calories. Thanks for reminding me about Project FeederWatch – it’s something I do most years but haven’t gotten around to it this year.

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  4. We have a similar bird count here in the UK each year, but hubby and I haven’t taken part in quite a while. Also we stopped feeding them from feeders, but just hang a suet (fat) filled coconut from one of the perches on the outside of the bird table and the rest are fed on the ground. I wish we had some of the ones you get there, am still happy with ours, too. 🙂

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