What’s in Our Feeders?

Visitors often ask us what we feed the birds. We currently have several feeding locations: the ground (including up on some rocks), crabapple trees, and elevated seed and suet feeders. We also hang oriole and hummingbird feeders in summer.

On the ground, we sprinkle kernel corn and mixed seeds, to attract turkeys, sparrows, juncos, blackbirds, and others. Not only do we sprinkle this by the viewing area, but in the summer Bob scatters corn by the pond for resident and visiting waterfowl (although the turkeys appreciate it too).

The crabapple tree produces small, cheery-sized apples, which attracts grouse and many of the smaller birds who also visit our feeders. This tree is visible in the photo below, in the background behind the feeders. There are other crabapples and feral apples on the property (that’s another post, someday).

The hummingbird feeders are hung just outside the viewing window and another outside the front door, but those are removed for the winter. We usually see hummingbirds during the first week of May, and they typically leave the first week in September. We do keep the feeders up through most of September, to support those migrating from points north.

Our upper feeders hold (generally) black oil sunflower seed, sunflower chips, mixed seeds, thistle, and suet. These attract a wide variety of birds, from doves to jays, grosbeaks to finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and many more. We hang a jelly feeder for orioles in the summer also. Check out our birds at the feeder posts for records of what we’ve seen when (a click on those post titles will take you to the posts and any pictures as well).

Our webcam shows a few of our upper feeders; this image is from a sunny morning in November 2010.

Four Feeders (visible with web cam), food types labelled
Four Feeders (visible with web cam), food types labeled. The crabapple tree is the red-dotted one in the background behind the mixed seed feeder.

Our elevated feeders–the ones in the photo–are mounted on a 4″-diameter steel pole, 8 feet above the ground. The pole is set in concrete, and has a baffle beneath. We grease the pole every now and then. Most feeders are hung above the cross-bar part of the pole, although occasionally we will hang a feeder below.

Why all the elevated infrastructure? In a word, bears.

It is recommended that people in bear country not feed birds when bears are awake, especially early in the year when they are just awakening and are hungry after hibernation. For us in Vermont, this is roughly April 1 through November 1. However, as a Bird Museum, we also want to attract birds so visitors can enjoy them as we do, not to mention learning about and from them. Thus: tall, greased poles than black bears can’t knock over. (They have tried…)

Identify the bird: Rusty Blackbird? Common Grackle?

possible a Rusty Blackbird (but not in fall plumage?) or Common Grackle (but that tail is too short)
Possibly a Rusty Blackbird (but not in fall plumage?) or Common Grackle (but that tail is too short?)

Can you help with this bird? It has features of a Rusty Blackbird and of a Common Grackle according to our research in Sibley’s and the National Geographic field guides, and our experienced birders Bob Spear and Gale Lawrence.

The photos were taken on a rainy day (October 29) through our viewing window, so they are a bit low-light and there are occasional water drops.

You can click on the images in the slideshow below to see five different pictures (including a bigger version of the one to the left).

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February at the Feeders

Noted through our viewing window in February (more or less in the order we saw them; the ones we didn’t see last month are in bold):

    Downy Woodpecker
    Downy Woodpecker

  • Blue Jays
  • Mourning Doves
  • Hairy Woodpeckers
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Wild Turkeys
  • Red-Breasted Nuthatches
  • Common Raven
  • White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Tufted Titmice
  • American Crow
  • Red Squirrels
  • Gray Squirrels

About Project FeederWatch

The Christmas Bird Count isn’t the only citizen science activity that the Museum does. We do Project Feeder Watch, too. It makes for a very pleasant lunchtime: good food and a viewing window (today we saw our first Wild Turkey and Tufted Titmouse of the month). Many of you with feeders at home or work can participate. You can sign up at any time. Here’s an overview from a recent Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s e-newsletter:

Project FeederWatch

The 2009-10 season of Project FeederWatch begins November 14, though you can sign up at any time. FeederWatchers keep track of their birds through the winter and report their tallies each week. This helps scientists track changes in winter bird populations from year to year.

To learn more and to sign up, visit the Project FeederWatch website. New participants receive a kit with a handbook, a bird-identification poster, calendar, and instruction booklet. There is a $15 fee ($12 for Lab members) to help cover the costs of materials and participant support. If you live in Canada, please visit our partner, Bird Studies Canada, or call (888) 448-2473.

Turkeys continue to visit


Wild Turkeys at Feeder
Wild Turkeys at Feeder

In the winter we put insulation on all the Museum windows (to conserve heat). Ingrid cut a small hole in the insulation so we can see what is outside the window before we go out to feed birds. Almost every day there is a flock of Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) enjoying the scattered corn. On January 3rd we counted 19!