2013-10-31 / Nature

Backyard Birding Adventures

By Jack Kelly

Territorial display by male Downy Woodpecker. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Territorial display by male Downy Woodpecker. (Photos by Jack Kelly) The natural world is as close as one’s own backyard, porch or fire escape. An outing with nature may be as simple as pouring a cup of coffee, sitting at the kitchen table, and looking out the window at a birdfeeder.

The late fall and winter seasons are a prime time to begin an adventure in nature by observing the various colorful songbirds that visit feeding stations. During this time of year natural insect prey and seeds may be scarce, so many species will seek out feeders. Birds need to consume large amounts of food during the cold months for energy and to maintain body warmth, and they need good sources of nutrients and protein.

Starting a feeding station is easy and economical. Most major retailers, hardware stores and discount outlets sell birdfeeders and birdseed. Feeders and seed choices depend on which types of birds you want to attract. Larger birds such as Jays and Cardinals prefer platform feeders with an assortment of sunflower seeds and small nuts, while smaller birds such as finches, chickadees and others prefer tube feeders with a variety of seeds.

Items that will enhance a feeding station and attract a wider variety of birds are suet cages and suet blocks. The blocks will appeal to Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creepers, as well as providing protein sources for other species. Reliable food sources will keep birds returning regularly to feeding stations. Providing a constant supply of fresh water will also ensure repeat visits. Feeding stations and water supplies need to be kept as clean as possible to maintain the health of the birds and to prevent the spread of avian diseases through droppings or unsanitary conditions. Feeders should be cleaned on a weekly basis at a minimum. Always remember to wash your hands after filling or cleaning feeders and water apparatus.

Blue Jay Blue Jay The best placement of feeders should also be considered. They should be set in a sunny, windless southeastern exposure close to trees, shrubs or hedges that will provide escape and safe haven from predators. Not all of the birds attracted to your feeders will eat directly from the station. Groundfeeding species such as Song Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Juncos and others will forage for seed spilled from the feeders.

Last Christmas, I gave my octogenarian mother a feeding station as part of her present. I installed two platform feeders, two tube feeders in various sizes and three suet cages in the southeastern corner of her backyard, adjacent to a 100-year-old Weeping Beech tree and just outside her kitchen window. For the past year she has enjoyed her morning coffee and her crossword puzzle at the kitchen table and has observed and identified over 30 species drawn to her feeding station. Her favorites are the colorful Blue Jays and Cardinals that visit daily. One bird that is intriguing to her is the Downy Woodpecker. The male has a red nape mark on the back of its head while the female doesn’t. The males will peck directly at the suet blocks, while the females hang from the side and take an angular approach to feeding. My mother has spent a number of hours watching the curious and sometimes comical behavior of “her birds” and claims that the Blue Jays are the smartest, while the Mourning Doves seem to be “a little dense.”

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Bird feeders offer a window into the natural world and are a great family project that may inspire young budding naturalists. There are field guides for novice or casual observers viewing a new feeding station. The Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of R.I. gift shop at the Sachuest Point Visitors’ Center and the Norman Bird Sanctuary’s gift shop offer both the Peterson’s and Sibley’s field guides for bird identification. They also offer beginners guides and books on backyard birding.

Black-capped Chickadee Black-capped Chickadee For more information or tips, visit allaboutbirds.org or the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology at birds.cornell.edu.

Local nature organizations such as the Rhode Island Audubon Society or the Norman Bird Sanctuary also offer tips and guidance for backyard birding at asri.org or 949- 5454 and normanbirdsanctuary.org or 846-2577.

For the live webcam feed from the Peregrine Falcon nest in Providence visit asri.org. For the live webcam in Jamestown of an Osprey nest visit conanicutraptors.com

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