News from the Huffy aviary

Goldfinches return to the newly clean feeder! (© Huffygirl)

Even though the snow is gone for most folks, the birds still need and appreciate goodies from your feeder. If you still have your bird feeders out, you’ve probably noticed the goldfinches have almost completed their summer transformation to their full yellow uniforms. I hadn’t seen any goldfinches for several days and wondered what was going on. Then I remembered – after the 40 days and nights of rain that we’ve had, the finch food may have gotten wet. Goldfinches are very particular about not eating seed that might be moldy or spoiled. If there is any wet seed in the feeder, they eschew it. Today I went out, emptied the finch feeder, and sure enough there was a small clump of wet seed at the bottom. This necessitated scrubbing out and drying the feeder and putting in fresh seed. In no time at all, the finicky goldfinches were back in all their finchy glory! Goldfinches are the strictest of vegans of the bird world – eating only seeds, and apparently pretty particular about it. They probably also do a little birdy Yoga and only drink soy lattes too, but I can only guess at that. Since goldfinches do not nest until mid summer, you’ll see them pretty much hangin’ around the feeders for the next couple months, adding bright yellow to your backyard landscape.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - not the one I saw in my yard, but close enough! (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today, I caught a glimpse of a bird I’ve never seen in my back yard, and perhaps will not see again. It was a male rose breasted grosbeak, who did not stay long enough for me to grab the camera. According to my bird book, the grosbeak is not a city-dweller, favoring scrubby habitats, so he must have ventured into town looking for food. Finding all the birdy restaurants closed, and no berries on the trees yet, he decided to stop by my feeders for a bite, but was too coy to stay for the photo shoot.

The starlings have been back for about a month, the urban gangsters of the bird world. They come in big groups, scarf all the food and scare the other birds away. Then they fight with each other over what is left. There doesn’t seem to be any way of keeping them away, although they do hang back if large groups of the better-behaved  birds are around, not unlike the “Samaritan woman at the well”  of the bird world.  They are especially greedy over the suet. If you have an upside-down suet feeder this will discourage them, as they don’t like to eat upside down. Otherwise, it may be time to put the suet away, if you don’t want starlings swarming all over your feeders.

Rogue squirrel baffles baffle! (© Huffygirl)

One rogue squirrel has figured out how to get up on the bird feeder pole. I never witnessed how he did it, but must have gotten up by jumping on the baffle from the patio. We’ve moved the baffle up higher and have not seen him back yet, so that may have done the trick.

Some people put their bird feeders away for the summer and let the birds fend for themselves. I tend to leave them out at least until June-July, so the busy new parents in the bird world will have a place to eat in between tending their young. If you’re getting messy shells and seeds on the ground spoiling your landscaping, try shelled peanuts and shelled sunflower seed instead, which leave less ground mess. You can also plant low-growing junipers under your feeder pole, so the mess falls below the branches where it’s not seen. Just be careful to choose low bushes, or the squirrels will use them to jump up onto the feeders. If you have a bird house and want to watch some birds nesting, you should put it out now.  Leave any old nests you see in your trees in place, as some birds return to reuse their nests from previous years.

Enjoy watching your spring and summer birds!

Mr. Goldfinch (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl


It’s not too late

Count me! (Photo: Huffygirl)

To participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count that is. From February 18 to 21, 2011, spend at least 15 minutes each day counting the number and kind of birds you see in your backyard or chosen area. Then go to, click on submit your checklist and enter your data in the easy to use form. If you take any great bird photos you can submit those too.

My first bird counting attempt yesterday came up short. I was almost embarrassed to submit my count – two measly birds in the 20 minute or so period that I counted. Just like kids and pets stop doing whatever cute thing they were doing as soon as you get your camera out, my backyard birds went AWOL the minute I started to pay attention to them. To their credit, we were having horrible winds of 35 mph and up at the time, but hey, they could bird up and get out there anyway, right? Most any time I look out my kitchen window, I see birds. That is, until yesterday. I filled up my feeders and bird bath, then sat with my pencil and list and waited. And waited, and waited. Never mind that the winds were twirling the feeders around like Tilt-o-whirls at the county fair – where’s the birds? Finally two brave souls – a chickadee and a junco braved the winds to take a few birdy bites at the feeders, then quickly fled for shelter as the wind whipped the trees and swung the feeders around again. I guess I’ll try again, and hopefully get some better weather this time, and a more respectable count to turn in to the birdy stats people.

And me! (Photo: Huffygirl)

So get your pencil and paper, your bird book and a cup of tea, and join me the next few days counting the birds!

Hummingbirds: Birds who don’t know the words

A female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochu...

Image via Wikipedia

I was going through my bird feeder stuff this week. I cleaned out the summer detritus: all the random seed leftover on the ground, the seeds that have sprouted into weeds, cleaned up the pole (why, birds will be pooping on it again tomorrow?) and generally getting things ready for winter birds. While pulling out the suet and bark butter for the winter birds, I came across, once again, the hummingbird feeder and food. Straight out of the “hope springs eternal” department, I have owned at least four hummingbird feeders. The first one was a spaceship type – flat with a rimmed perch. the idea was that the birds would perch on the edge and bend over the feeder to sip the sweet nectar. It was hard to clean so I gave away that one and got The Mini Feeder. Perfect for one bird – it had a tube for the liquid with one port for feeding. I used that one until the cap on the port broke. I replaced it with one just like it, but something was defective in that one and it leaked. My newest hummingbird feeder is a pretty standard one – a tube for the liquid that screws into a round perch with four feeder ports. It is perfect – it doesn’t leak, is easy to open and clean. So what’s the problem? No hummingbirds. EVER. Yes, that’s the hope springs eternal part. In the several years that I have been putting out various incarnations of hummingbird feeders, I have never seen a hummingbird. Well, of course, except for the first one. The first year near the end of the summer I saw one hummingbird approach the feeder. It looked like a giant bug. No one believed me but I managed to click a picture. Since then, I’ve been dutifully filling, hanging and cleaning out hummingbird feeders almost every year, waiting for the rest of the flock to appear. Well, there’s been some years where I actually gave up, but I always came back. Just like a child who chants “I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies…” I do believe in hummingbirds. And I believe that they are out there – we just can’t see them. Not that they’re invisible, they are just likely to be at the day lilies, petunias, Echinacea, coral bells, red lilies and every other flower I’ve planted that is guaranteed to attract hummingbirds. I even saw one once at the coral bells. Of course no one else was around and no one believed me…

So every spring, I dutifully get the hummingbird feeder out, mix the nectar and put it out. And nobody comes. At first I keep refilling it with fresh nectar, but eventually give up and let it hang there with the same old nectar for weeks. Finally, I clean it out, defeated for that year and put it away, until the next time. 

Sometimes helpful people feel sorry for me and give me tips on feeding hummingbirds. One person told me the h-birds don’t like other birds, so I should separate it from my seed feeders. Didn’t make a bit of difference. Someone else said that if only I would plant Monarda at the base of the hummingbird feeder, they would come. Zilch. Plus I had a useless pot of Monarda at the end of the summer. Same deal with red petunias one year. And making my own homemade nectar, instead of using the packaged stuff.

So what’s so bad about hope springing eternal? It’s what makes Charlie Brown kick the football every fall, try to fly his kite every spring, and makes me put out feeders every year for birds who don’t know the words.

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