Usually I’m not too thrilled when huge flocks of birds descend on the yard, displacing our “regulars” from the feeders and birdbaths. But I must admit that when fifty-six (at least!) Cedar Waxwings visited this past weekend, I was happily excited. Unlike the big flocks of Common Grackles, European Starlings and Brown-Headed Cowbirds, this crowd was not aggressive towards the other birds and didn’t displace them. They didn’t want anything from the feeders after all. They didn’t mess with the other birds and the other birds didn’t mess with them. They were just there to drink.
If pressed, I would say that I am an intermediate birder. I can successfully identify the common birds, as well as most of the regular migrants and less common birds, that might wander through my area. I’ve also seen some less common and rare birds, around here and in other places, that I would recognize again. Basically, when it comes to identifying birds, I know enough to be dangerous, not in a lethal kind of way, but in that way of assuming I know something that can lead me wrong. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. And that is where you make mistakes . . .
As in large parts of the US, it has been bitterly cold here in Maryland. The bird feeders in the yard are hopping with birds, as are the birdbaths. When everything else is frozen solid, a heated birdbath is a big draw for birds . . . and ok, also squirrels and neighborhood cats. Everyone is looking for a place to get a drink.
Location. Location. Location. Where you put a bird feeder matters. You want to place it where it is close to cover . . . but not where a cat or other predator can hide to pounce. You want to place it within three feet of a window or more than thirty feet out to reduce window strikes. You want to place it so that squirrels can’t reach, climb or jump to the feeder and so that raccoons can’t grab it and carry it off. And you want to place it so you can see it!
But what if you’ve done all that and have your feeder in what you think is a good spot and it is full of fresh seed that the species of birds you are hoping for will like? Will the birds find the feeder? How long might it take? Here is what I’ve learned about adding or moving bird feeders in my yard:
I have several birdbaths in my yard and all but one is a simple inexpensive DIY version. You really don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to offer birds water. Most of mine are simply large plant saucers from the local home improvement store that I set on the ground and keep filled with water year-round. (In the winter, I add a heater to one of them.) But I decided recently to create one more. This one actually has a base so that it sits higher . . . and it has something hidden underneath it!
I seem to have a growing collection of bird feeders. Some women can’t stop buying shoes. I can’t stop buying bird feeders. Just when I think I’ve got the yard set up perfectly, some bird dynamic changes, I look for a solution and there I am buying another bird feeder!
The problem I was having was a real pain . . . or a non-problem depending on your point of view. While all birds have their good and bad qualities (as seen by humans), I have mixed feelings about Common Grackles. While I think their feathers can be very beautiful in the sunlight and they are quite clever, their manners at the bird feeders don’t endear themselves to me. They tend to arrive in groups and if they like what they find in a feeder, they’ll hang around all day, dominating the feeders quite aggressively, not letting other birds have a chance.
I only have grackle issues periodically, mostly in the spring when they are moving in really large groups. But this year, a small group of them settled into our neighborhood, decided they liked my feeders and didn’t move on. With a crowd of grackles on the feeders, I was hardly seeing the Carolina Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches and Tufted Titmouses that have been yard regulars for years. Even the finches and sparrows were getting scarce. What to do?
In May, Jim and I took our birding on the road to go to “The Biggest Week in American Birding” festival and to see the warblers at Magee Marsh near Lake Erie in Ohio. We spent a solid week birding at the marsh and around the area and loved the adventure. During our time there, we saw 101 species of birds and added 27 to our birding life list. Along the way, we photographed some of these birds, me with a point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix p900 zoom lens camera and Jim using a DSLR Canon 7d Mark II with a 400mm lens. In this post, I will share pictures of some of these cool birds, taken mostly with the Nikon, but with a few from the Canon so you can compare the results when two people using two different cameras photograph birds under the same conditions.