My bird family

>> Sunday, December 2, 2007

I have been feeding birds that visit my yard since about one week after moving here in May of 2004. Everyday, rain or shine or snow, with the exception of the occasional vacation and mini-vacations we take, I have trekked out to all four sunflower feeders, one thistle feeder and two suet feeders and filled them all as needed. I have recently decided that I would like to place some native plants in my yard that will help feed these birds.

I feel an acute responsibility to these birds. In part because I attract them for selfish reasons. One is so they will help keep the population of insects down, another is because hearing their songs add so much to my general sense of well-being. It is very difficult to be depressed when birds are singing. I am not given to bouts of depression anyway, but you gotta love hearing birds singing all around you.

I am certain these birds could probably find food elsewhere, after all they survived here long before I ever showed up, but I also feel that if I did not attract them to my yard then I would probably have a big problem with insects. Of course, I don’t know how valid that fear is because I feed them everyday and I am not going stop feeding them just so I can find out.

The flock of birds I feed has grown tremendously over the time they have been visiting here, from maybe twenty or thirty to well over one hundred. Also, the diversity of birds has grown from those first few Finches to include juncos, doves, chick-a-dees, starlings, flickers, robins, hummingbirds, ducks, an occasional magpie, downy woodpecker, coopers hawk and blue-jay. The Blue-jay was a real surprise, because I haven’t found one map that shows they even exist in Utah. I have also seen some birds that I am unable to identify, but not very often. I figure they are probably just passing through.

When I first began feeding birds I would give them the standard wild bird mixture found at any discount store. It consisted of millet, sunflower seed, safflower, thistle, etc. It didn’t take long to figure out what these guys did and did not want. What they didn’t want was anything that wasn’t a black-oil sunflower seed. So, that is what I have been feeding them ever since.

That Fall I hung a second feeder as well as a thistle feeder for the goldfinches. It was weird how the other Finches never ate from the thistle feeder, but the goldfinches love it. During the second year I was visited by five or six Mourning Doves and each year their number has grown. Just this morning I counted 18.

There is a family of Northern Flickers that feed on the suet, usually only in the morning and only in Winter. I don’t know where they go the remainder of the year or in the afternoon, for that matter.

The Chick-a-dees, juncos and Coopers Hawk only come around in Winter too. The first year I saw only one Chick-a-dee and I have read that their numbers are decreasing due to humans taking over their habitat. But yesterday and today I counted five. It is fun to watch these little guys, they go to the sunflower tube feeder, grab one seed then fly back up to a high branch, hold the seed in their foot and peck at it to crack the hull open to get to the seed. Sometimes they go to the suet feeder and peck away to their hearts content, all the while looking around for any sign of danger. Also, they really like peanut butter. I place a big lump on a piece of stale bread and they will devour all of it in no time.

I counted six juncos and never more than one Coopers Hawk. The juncos will only eat off of the ground or from a large flat container of seed. I have never seen one at the tube feeders, maybe their feet won’t grasp the small-diameter perches.

Today I was able to catch this Coopers Hawk just as he flew into the Dogwood tree outside my office window. I heard all of the birds suddenly take off with a loud flurry of flapping wings and there the hawk was sitting, looking around, without the meal that he came in for. He sat there for about three minutes, allowing me to finally get a picture of him from the front. Previously I have only been able to get his back and from no closer than about 100 feet. This time he was sitting six feet away.

Starlings, well, they flock, boy do they flock! Yesterday I took this video of a very small number of them sitting in six trees. video I have seen, literally, close a thousand of them almost blacken the sky as they fly in crazy patterns seemingly as one unit. When they all sit on telephone lines they remind me of a football stadium full of spectators. They will eat anything. And generally do. I have seen them hanging onto the tube feeder perches that are made for the small feet of Finches digging sunflower seeds out of the small holes.

What I can tell from the numbers of birds coming to my yard is that this must be the only place around where they can find food. Logic tells me that this cannot be the case, but I am blown away by their numbers.

I was reading Wild Flora’s Wild Gardening post of Nov 20 and she says that research into the habits of birds that visit bird feeders indicates that they use the seed we supply primarily as a supplement to other food sources. If this is the case then they must be eating quite a lot from somewhere else! I go through 40 pounds of black-oil sunflower seed every 12 days! In Winter I fill the feeders twice every day trying to keep their energy up so they survive the cold, and the feeders are empty when I go to them at night. At other times of the year I fill them only once and they are usually emptied by about 2 PM. I fear of making them too dependant on me for their food even though research again shows that they never really become dependant on backyard feeders. I don’t know if I can be convinced of this because they sure do eat at lot here.

After reading her blog I am even more driven to provide more of a variety of native plants in order to help feed these birds.

Now I need to learn more about Utah native plants.

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