Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Common Redpolls, one of the northern finch species making major appearance in Minnesota this winter, are being seen throughout the metro area. They've been seen north of us since late fall, but not this far south in the numbers people have been reporting in the past two or three days. They arrived in our yard Monday, and continued to flock to our feeders Tuesday. We probably had two dozen redpolls on and off from dawn to late afternoon. They were eating black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower chips, and niger thistle seed. Keep an eye on your feeders. Redpolls are cool little birds, emphasis on little. They're a bit smaller than American Goldfinches. The redpoll below was perched on our deck railing, waiting its turn at our new feeder.
We've setup a new feeder on our deck, a three-tube squirrel-proof (so they say) rig we bought at Ace Hardware in Maple Plain. Once the animal is in eating position, the squirrel's weight slides feeder ports closed. Stout wire mesh hopefully will prevent gnawing damage. We've not had a squirrel-proof feeder before because, frankly, I didn't want to pay as much as they cost. This one, however, was $19.95, a price that would be very good without the squirrel feature. In fact, it was a ridiculously low price. We bought two, one as a gift. We bought 50 pounds of black oil seed while we were there, also for $19.95, the lowest price we've paid in years. So, we bought two of those as well, one as a gift.
As long as the temp offered some above-freezing respite each day, birds could find melt water to drink. Not so today, with colder weather. Consequently, the bird bath on our deck has been busy all morning. It's as well-used today as I've ever seen it. Six and seven birds at a time are coming to drink. Water is an issue for birds as much as for all else touched by the drought. If you have water for the birds, keep the container filled, keep the water fresh and clean. If you want more birds in your yard, water is a good idea. The photo shows a Red-bellied Woodpecker drinking about noon today. The water is in a pan held by the wooden frame. There is a heating coil embedded in the pan bottom. Ours it set on a patio table on our deck. The photo was taken through a patio door.
Birders' Exchange (BEX), which began as a small optics "recycling" program at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in 1990 has become the major conservation initiative of the American Birding Association. The BEX program supplies optics, books, and other new and used donated equipment to researchers, educators, university students, and children’s programs throughout the Central and South America.
BEX is helping to support an increasing number of people who are conserving migratory and endemic birds, protecting some of the most ecologically important habitats, and teaching children about the value of birds.
To further its mission, BEX needs our help. BEX recipients need good quality optics, preferably rubber-armored and/or waterproof, and in excellent working condition. BEX has no budget to repair optics, and non-waterproof optics have a very short life span in the wet climates of the tropics. Financial donations are welcome; they allow BEX to purchase high-quality optics at discounted prices.
Optics are required for meaningful conservation efforts.
The program is under the direction of Betty Petersen, American Birding Association Birders' Exchange director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 800-850-2473 X223. The shipping address for BEX donations is ABA/BEX 1618 W. Colorado Ave. Colorado Springs, CO 80904
For more information, visit www.aba.org/bex
Our heated bird bath is soaking in bleach right now. It will be on the deck within the hour. The birds that were on the sunny edge of our pond yesterday morning are back. They found melt water there yesterday in early afternoon. Today, we'll see how long it takes them to find our open water. We have a simple metal pan, heated electrically from beneath, mounted in a rough wooden frame. We tend to avoid fancy. Birds have never complained.
Watching our muskrats this morning I noticed bird activity on the far side of our pond, where the morning sun had hit. The birds were at the pond edge, pecking at the ice. They were looking for water. I had cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, House Finches, and one Downy Woodpecker. Eventually, one observant goldfinch found open water at the muskrat lodge near that shore. The mammal had an entry hole in the half-inch-thick ice. Soon, chickadees were drinking there, too. It's very dry everywhere -- no rain, no snow, ponds iced over. Birds can't find water. This is a good time to put your heated bird bath to work, or to buy one. You'll need an outdoor electric outlet. Water is almost better for attracting birds in the winter than food is. Natural food always is available, but water can be difficult to find at best. Snow will help when it arrives. There's almost always a bit of melting snow and drops of water somewhere. That won't lessen the attraction of an open bowl of water in your yard. Below, a chickadee at the muskrat lodge opening. By the way, this is not the traditional cattail lodge often seen in marshes. This muskrat built with sticks and clumps of muddy leaves, all of it speckled with duck weed.
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