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NATURE’S TURN: Winter birds, animated, flock to our offerings

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By Monday, Jan 30 Home & Garden  3 Comments More In Real Estate
Judy Isacoff
Female red-bellied woodpecker on seed-and-suet cake outside window with aloe plant inside.

January 30 – February 12, 2017

Male downy woodpecker. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Male downy woodpecker. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Mt. Washington — On the coldest mornings, when thermometers register temperatures below zero or into the teens, birdfeeders are hot spots for the warm-blooded, winged denizens of our neighborhoods. Heavy snows also turn our feeding stations into avian community centers. A commotion of flapping colors, shapes and sizes approaches and persists as birds take turns digging into the high-energy food we provide, whether the most modest or lavish spread.

At my place, omnivorous birds are attracted to suet – animal fat – mixed with seed and fruit into compact cakes set in a 5-inch by 5-inch wire basket. I’ve suspended my humble offering at the end of a stretched-out coat hanger that is attached to an eyebolt screwed into the eave above a second story window. A black-capped chickadee flies to the 2-feet-long, vertical hanger, grasps it and waits for a turn. A silvery tufted titmouse, with its characteristic soft sienna-colored flanks, alights on the arch of wire that balances the basket on the hanger. Much bigger red-bellied woodpeckers fly directly to the basket, rivet themselves there and linger the longest, pecking and swallowing.

Adult red-headed woodpecker.

Adult red-headed woodpecker.

A stream of nuthatches are celebrated regulars – both the white-breasted that look like miniature penguins and the smaller, red-breasted that sport an outstanding white eye stripe in a sleek, black head. Black and white downy woodpeckers and larger hairy woodpeckers drop by occasionally; a red patch on the back of their heads distinguishes the males.

While comparing observations with Greg Ward, an avid birder, he expressed enthusiasm for my story about a slate-colored junco, a ground-feeding bird that taught itself to flutter and grab onto the aerial feeder. Greg urged me to share the photograph I snapped of the junco struggling and succeeding to get its beak on the suet. Typically, neighborhood juncos are much more at ease feeding on the seeds of echinacea plants that I leave for them in the garden. Ward’s Nursery and Garden Center in Great Barrington offers feeders and food for attracting birds with varying preferences. In season, the Center offers plants and advice for landscaping to attract, shelter and nourish the winged wildlife so vital to our world.

Rare feat of slate-colored junco, top. Usual acrobatics of rose-breasted nuthatch, below. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Rare feat of slate-colored junco, top. Usual acrobatics of rose-breasted nuthatch, below. Photo: Judy Isacoff

ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY from Living Bird (magazine), Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Winter 2017, volume 36, Issue 1, * and **

“The photographs illustrate the joy that feeding birds can bring right to our homes. That joy is not trivial. On the contrary, it can inspire people to engage in environmental advocacy and conservation action to help the many species that need more than sunflower seeds.”* page 32

The Endangered Species Act [ESA] is often criticized…. In an issues primer for last November’s election, the American Farm Bureau Federation claimed, “the ESA has failed at recovering and delisting species since its inception.”…… That’s just not true for birds, says a report of the American Bird Conservancy. ABC analyzed population trends since listing for all 96 bird species protected by the Endangered Species Act and found that more than 70 percent were increasing, stable or have been delisted due to recovery.** page 11

Sources, Resources and Opportunities to Participate

Bartholomews Cobble, Sheffield:

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox:

Berkshire birders field trips and meetings:

Ward’s Nursery & Garden Center – bird feeders, feed and bird friendly landscaping:

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. DB says:

    Was that red headed woodpecker in your yard? I have never seen one in all my years of birding!

    1. judy isacoff says:

      I enjoyed a red-headed visitor around my garden in warm weather; he, or she, alighted on my old fence posts. I included the photo to offer birdwatchers a quick look at the difference between red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers. My caption lacked this note because I intended to include it in the text, so, thank you for the opportunity to explain!

      1. DB says:

        Lucky you! I will look for it in warmer weather. I really didn’t realize they were around here. We get red bellied, pileated, hairy downy and sapsuckers. So, i have a new one to watch out for..yea. Thanks!

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