Thursday, November 12, 2015

Questions and Dilemmas from Readers

Every fall I get inquiries from backyard birders concerned about a sudden lack of feeder activity. Some of the reason for the decline in activity may be due to the migration out of our area of many birds. I think the main reason however is the abundance of natural food that is available right now. In the treetops, sweet gum and tulip poplar seeds attract finches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and brown-headed nuthatches.
Low to mid-level vines like poison ivy and Virginia creeper are important food producers for warblers, sparrows, thrushes, and mimic thrushes. In the weedy fields and hedgerows, fall-blooming asters have seeds that are maturing and thickets of pokeweed attract cardinals, mockingbirds, and sparrows.
Make sure seed in feeders is still viable too. Seed can go bad and become unappetizing to birds after prolonged periods of damp weather. Make sure seed is loose and dry on the interiors of your feeders.

This is not to say that feeding the birds now is a futile endeavor; periods of rainy and unsettled weather will still bring birds in to stocked feeders. But feeder activity may not peak in your immediate area for a month or so. It really all depends on how long it takes for the natural food to be depleted.

Other questions I often get are whether to clean out old nest material from nest boxes and whether to leave the boxes up in winter or take them down. Remember birds that nest in cavities and boxes also prefer to roost in cavities and boxes. By leaving a box up through the winter you can provide needed night time shelter. Old nest material can provide some added insulation on unusually cold nights too.

You may start to see a bully Northern mockingbird chasing birds away from your feeders now too. Mockers establish winter territories and vigorously defend them against seemingly every other species. If this happens to you, consider spreading your feeders around the yard. The mocker might still try to defend them but will eventually grow tired of the constant chase. You might even try giving the mockingbird its own private feeding area. Stock a station with suet, grapes, cranberries, and mealworms; foods mockers prefer over dry seeds. 

Northern Mockingbird by Cathy Miller