Tag Archives: feeding birds

Beginning anew with feeding the backyard birds

tube feeder

Male Red-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I knew when we moved from our home in Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that my backyard birding experiences would change. I just didn’t know how much difference there would be.

Our Virginia ranch home is one of nearly 500 in an established housing development west of Harrisonburg in Rockingham County. Mature trees, shrubs, and well-manicured lawns surround the many-styled houses. However, none of the vegetation is as dense as we had had in Holmes County.

Over the years, I tried to create an inviting habitat around our rural Ohio home for birds of all species, whether they nested or just needed the cover to approach the feeders. Neva complemented my efforts with beautiful flowerbeds all around the house. Birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife thrived.

a bird in the bush

Male Northern Cardinal.

The wide variety of cover and available water and food sources for birds near our home enhanced the variety of species seen on or near our Holmes County abode. White-winged crossbills, bald eagles, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, various warblers, barn owls, long-eared owls, and screech owls were just some of the amazing birds we had seen in the 38 years we lived there.

I wondered what birds would find their way to our Virginia home. I hung birdfeeders and placed birdbaths in the front and backyards not long after moving in. Our one-third acre only had two red maples, one in the front yard and one in the back. Nearby properties held sycamore, white pine, wild cherry, pin oaks, sugar maple, mimosa, and various shrubs and flowerbeds. The closest stream was a half-mile away.

The rolling hills and broad valleys are reminiscent of those in Holmes County. But they are not the same, and I didn’t expect the birds to be the same because of that. They haven’t been.

I was thrilled when red-breasted grosbeaks and northern cardinals showed up at the feeders soon after I erected them last May. I had the ubiquitous house sparrows and house finches, too. But once the common grackles arrived with their new fledglings, the more desirable birds were crowded out. Even the bossy blue jays headed for cover. I took the feeders down for the summer.

I rehung the feeders in early fall, including the suet feeder, in hopes of attracting some woodpeckers and other suet-eating birds. Again, songbirds found the food quickly. The northern cardinals and house finches returned. A small flock of American goldfinches followed, too, along with mourning doves.

As the weather cooled, more birds arrived. A red-bellied woodpecker found the suet and often came early morning and late evening. A male downy woodpecker appeared irregularly. Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows scratched at offering on the ground below. I was especially ecstatic with the latter. Their melancholy song seems to linger in winter’s frosty air.

Other yard birds included flocks of American robins. Unlike Holmes County where robins seek shelter in dense woods or migrate altogether, robins in Virginia linger longer. They forage on berries, crabapples, and grubs they find in yards and beneath mulch in flowerbeds. The robins particularly enjoy the birdbath for drinking and bathing.

A troop of European Starlings replaced the grackles as the rascals of the feeders. They’re pretty birds, but they can devour four cakes of peanut butter suet in a day. The woodpeckers shared my disapproval.

My bird feeders may not have attracted the variety of birds we had in Ohio. I keep them up anyhow to enjoy the ones that do appear. It’s a pastime that both my wife and I find more than worthwhile.

robins, birdbath

Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Multitasking

female red-bellied woodpecker sunning

Multitasking.

Sunshine in northeast Ohio in November and December tends to be a rare treat. When the sun does shine, all of God’s Creation soaks it in, including this lovely female Red-bellied Woodpecker. She took a break from enjoying lunch at the peanut feeder to warm herself on a chilly late fall day.

“Multitasking” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Winter is for the birds, big and small

male pileated woodpecker, pileated woodpecker feeding

Male Pileated Woodpecker feeding. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

At our house, winter is for the birds. Well, so are spring, summer and fall. We feed the birds that frequent our backyard year-round.

My wife and I enjoy watching the various bird species that visit at the assortment of feeders we put out for our feathered friends. Consider it our preferred entertainment.

The birds also take advantage of the little garden pond near the feeders. The water runs down the small waterfalls all year for the birds to bathe and drink. That’s especially important in the winter when most water sources often freeze.

But it’s the feeders that the birds flock to, excuse the pun, especially when the temperatures are extreme and the ground covered with snow. Natural food sources are often limited.

Eastern Bluebird, bluebirds, Bruce Stambaugh

Male Eastern Bluebird. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The feeders help out the birds and bring color and fun activity to our backyard. To meet the various needs of species big and small, a variety of feed stocks an assortment of feeders.

Dark-eyed Juncos prefer to scratch at cracked corn on the ground. Northern Cardinals are more versatile, feeding on the ground, from hopper feeders and will even perch on the oil sunflower feeders.

The faithful American Goldfinches prefer the chipped sunflower seeds from the tube feeder by the kitchen window. Eastern Bluebirds will join them.

Several kinds of woodpeckers visit the suet feeder, filled with peanut butter suet cakes. The sturdy wood and wire contraption hangs from a limb of the sugar maple tree that dominates the backyard.

We are fortunate to have nearly all of the kinds of woodpeckers that live in Ohio, Downey, Hairy, Red-bellied, Redheaded, and even Pileated. We’re particularly grateful for the latter.

Pileated Woodpeckers, Ohio’s largest woodpecker, are giant, usually secretive birds that often live and feed deep inside dense woodlots. We’re glad the ones that visit our backyard are an exception.

white-breasted nuthatch, Bruce Stambaugh

White-breasted Nuthatch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

For the last couple of years, a pair of these incredible birds has regularly visited our backyard suet feeders. We live in the country. Nearly 200 trees and shrubs populate our little slice of land. The small grove apparently is enough to satisfy the Pileateds.

The desire to dine at our free buffet must overcome their instinct to be reclusive. Often we know when they are coming. Their harsh call warns all other birds that the big boy and girl have arrived, and to make way. The others regularly oblige.

As big as they are, the Pileated Woodpeckers don’t seem that aggressive toward the other birds. Surprisingly, it’s the opposite. The smaller woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches play it safe until the Pileateds retreat.

I’m pleased that the big birds feel safe coming to our feeder every season. With the maple tree dense with leaves, the birds can easily hide. The huge woodpeckers even bring their fledglings to the feeder in the summer.

Without the leaves in the winter, the Pileateds are much easier to see. They always arrive from the south, usually landing on the same limb. They shinny down the big branch and flop over to the heavy-duty feeder.

Both the male and female are striking in their size, shape and coloration, a vivid red and contrasting white and black. Their thick, chisel-like bills taper to narrow, blunt points.

My wife and I are grateful for all of the beautiful birds that visit us, whether it’s once or daily. The Pileateds, however, are a most revered treasure.

Ohio's smallest and largest woodpeckers feeding together, female Downy and female Pileated. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Ohio’s smallest and largest woodpeckers feeding together, female Downy and female Pileated. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Enjoying the cold from the inside out

Bluebirds on maple limb by Bruce Stambaugh

Male Eastern Bluebirds perched on the crooked limbs of the backyard sugar maple.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a good day to stay inside. Though the partly cloudy sky revealed a gorgeous sunrise, the thermometer read six below zero, the coldest temperature of the season so far in Ohio’s Amish Country. That alone told me this day would be best enjoyed from the inside out.

Given the fact that I was in the midst of a battle with the annual wintertime crud, I wasn’t about to argue with that logic. The frigid air would do me no good.

Having spent five long hours in the local emergency room the previous morning, I knew I needed to take it easy. Stuck inside, I resigned myself to two main activities. I checked the birdfeeders for visitors and I rested.

Compared to previous winters, it had been a disappointing season at the birdfeeders. I had kept them well stocked and cleaned of any old feed, mold or other potentially noxious particles that would harm or discourage the birds.

Despite my efforts, the usual nice variety and numbers of birds had failed to materialize. Before the snow flew, I had a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. But they must have been passing through because they haven’t been back.

Just before the holidays, Pine Siskins chased the American Goldfinches away from the feeder that contained sunflower chips. The siskins never came back either. After one of the series of Alberta Clippers came through, I had a Rusty Blackbird for a couple of days.

Goldfinch by Bruce Stambaugh

An American Goldfinch perched on a porch post.

The usual birds, other than the pesky House Sparrows, seemed fewer in number. A pair of Cardinals made infrequent appearances. The Dark-eyed Juncos, a given at winter feeders, were scarce. A few White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees came and went irregularly.

A pair of bully Blue Jays could be counted to show up from time to time. A Downy Woodpecker pretty much had the suet feeder all to himself. The Red-bellied Woodpecker that had been a regular seemed to have disappeared since the snowfall.

The goldfinches and the congregation of house sparrows were the only feeder faithfuls. My winter’s entertainment wasn’t as entertaining as I would have liked.

As the temperature of this frigid day climbed into positive single digits, the bird feeders suddenly came alive. Colors flashed in the bright morning sunshine, and I grabbed my camera.

Two sparrows by Bruce Stambaugh

A Tree Sparrow and a Song Sparrow searched for food.

I spent a majority of the morning snapping one shot after the other. Tree sparrows picked at the corn my wife had put out since I was on the disabled list. The secretive song sparrow found a spot in the sun where it could simultaneously feed and warm itself.

The show really picked up at the shelled peanut feeder, which was a section of hollowed out log hanging from a hook on the back porch. The red-bellied returned, and brought along a hairy woodpecker as a sidekick. Tufted titmice and even chickadees grabbed some protein.

Bluebird with peanut by Bruce Stambaugh

A male Eastern Bluebird enjoyed a raw, shelled peanut.

A family of eastern bluebirds stole the show, however. They tried out every feeder. Males and females alike ate peanuts, chipped sunflower
seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and even pecked at the peanut butter-laden suet.

Despite the cold, both in the air and in my body, I had hit the trifecta. I enjoyed the extreme winter weather without having to bundle up, was treated to some wonderful birding, and captured much of it through the lens of my camera. I was beginning to feel better already.

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Getting ready for winter

Martins Creek by Bruce Stambaugh

A series of heavy snowfalls hit Ohio's Amish country last winter.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Like it or not, winter is right around the corner. We have already tasted some of winter’s appetizers, snow, temperatures in the teens, and, of course, shortened daylight.

Fortunately here in Ohio’s Amish Country, the snow didn’t amount to much, and the skinny temperatures quickly moderated. Once winter arrives officially next week, that could change. We could have a snow-filled winter like last year, or worse yet, one like 1977 and 1978 when snowdrifts reached 20 feet or more.

Living in Ohio all my life, I have found it helpful to mentally and physically prepare myself for the inevitable. Whether it is prolonged or only stays awhile, the weather will get cold, and it will snow from time to time.

Snowbirds arrive in Pinecraft, FL by Bruce Stambaugh

Snowbirds arrive via bus in Pinecraft, FL.

Those who dislike that harsh reality and who are in a position to do so flee south or southwest to warmer climes. At least the snowbirds hope they will be warmer. Last year proved otherwise. It frosted in Florida and snowed deep in the heart of Texas.

Snow deep in the heart of Texas by Bruce Stambaugh

It even snowed in Austin, TX last winter.

All of us can’t escape the onslaught of winter’s harshness. Some of us don’t want to. Others are involuntarily stuck here to fend for themselves.

I have fond childhood memories of the benefits of winter, like ice skating, sledding, flinging snowballs and digging snow tunnels. Most of them likely were indeed in the throes of winter. But I do remember delivering newspapers in a glorious Christmas Eve snow.

I also recall hustling our young son and daughter into my in-laws’ farmhouse amid stinging, sideways snow, howling winds, and frigid wind chills. There are times when Ohio winters are at their absolute worst in December.

We then anticipate January and February to be utterly horrible. And low and behold they might turn out to be meek and mild, not to mention mucky.

Whether we stay or whether we go, winter, regardless of the weather, will arrive. We might as well get ready for it.

Snow covered cornshalks by Bruce Stambaugh

A typical snowy scene in Ohio's Amish country.

In many ways, we already have. The tomato trellises we erected last spring have long been coaxed out of the ground and stored in the garden shed, thanks mostly to one of our kind, strong young neighbors.

The birdfeeders have been cleaned, filled and hung, and the backyard birds, and a couple of mooching fox squirrels, have already been taking advantage of the freebies. Actually, I am the one that is grateful. Watching the birds, and squirrels, rabbits and occasional deer, enjoy the cracked corn, oil sunflower seeds and suet mixes is my winter’s entertainment.

White breasted nuthatch by Bruce Stambaugh

A white-breasted nuthatch at my kitchen window feeder.

In truth, I feed the birds year-round. With winter’s approach, I merely increase the number and style of feeders to accommodate the various feeding habits of my feathered friends.

Of course, I can’t neglect the vehicles that transport us from place to place during the winter weather. I make sure each is winterized and ready to endure whatever winter has to throw at us.

The woodpile is stacked high and wide, ready to feed the hungry fireplace. I’d rather be shunning the cold elements in front of a warm fire than on the outside shoveling them. Who wouldn’t?

Winter is nigh. Are you ready?

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