I led the Three Capes Tour for the Birding and Blues Festival last weekend. Spring migration had not quite kicked into high gear, but there were some nice birds around. This is one of two Black-bellied Plovers we saw on the beach the day before the tour. They were losing their dull winter plumage and growing in some crisp black and white feathers.
I moved at the end of last year. It was not a great distance (less than 100 yards as the finch flies), but I was anxious to see how long it would take the birds to find my feeders. When people ask me that question, I generally tell them between six minutes and six months. The Anna’s Hummingbirds found their feeders almost immediately. The seed feeder sat unnoticed for about a week.
The first birds I saw were a mixed flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Black-capped Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Not too shabby. A few House Finches came by a few days later. Things remained pretty quiet for a few weeks, but activity has recently taken an upturn. A pair of Purple Finches, including the ridiculously beautiful male pictured above, have been regular visitors. Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins have joined the House Finches, and Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees are busy on the ground under the feeder.
The biggest surprise at the feeder has been a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a species I never saw at the old location. These birds have eluded my efforts to obtain a photo. I am looking forward to seeing what else will appear.
Home improvement projects are keeping me inside lately, so here are a few images from dog walks and the bird feeder.
The weather is cooling and rain is in the forecast, as our long dry summer is finally letting go.
For the past few weeks I have been enjoying a large flock of Pine Siskins at my feeder. But as often occurs during years of high siskin numbers, I started noticing a few sick birds. So I stopped feeding for a few days. With the feeder empty, the large flocks of birds dispersed, reducing the risk of disease spreading from bird to bird.
Packing birds into unnaturally high densities at a bird feeder can create risks for the birds we are trying to help. While many of us enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife, it is important to do so mindfully. We have to be aware that feeding birds is something we do for our own entertainment, not something that the birds actually need. My feeder is outside my window for the sole purpose of drawing birds in close so that I can enjoy watching them from the comfort of my home. If the feeder wasn’t there, the birds would do just fine. It is my responsibility to be aware of how my bird feeding impacts the birds.
It was reported recently that Scotts Miracle-Gro was selling bird food treated with pesticides known to be harmful to birds (see story here). A few years ago, it was revealed that sunflower farmers in the Dakotas have taken such measures as destroying cattail marshes and poisoning and/or shooting birds to reduce the impact of blackbirds feeding in their fields. These stories illustrate how the seemingly innocuous hobby of feeding birds can have broader implications. We need to know where the food comes from and what is in it.
My feeder is filled again and, with the large flock of siskins gone, other species are becoming more visible.
As luck would have it, a recent streak of clear sunny days has coincided with my battle with an influenza virus. So rather than traversing the state enjoying birds in the sunshine, I have been stuck on the couch and at my work station watching the birds at the feeder. The feeder has been very busy, however, thanks to a new batch of large clean sunflower hearts and an influx of ravenous finches.
I am hoping the weather holds and my lungs clear so I can go a little farther afield next week.
This La Nina weather pattern shows no sign of abating, making outings miserably wet and not so productive, so I was delighted to see a Purple Finch in the yard this week. About once a year I see a Purple Finch at my feeder. They breed in mixed woodlands in the Portland area, but not in my neighborhood.
Many years ago, before House Finches had spread across the entire continent, separating House and Purple Finches was considered quite a challenge. But here, with the benefit of a few decades experience, they don’t look all that similar. There are clear differences in color, and the Purple Finch shows quite a bit more heft than the more slender House Finch. While the House Finch has patches of red, the Purple Finch is pinkish-purple all over.