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Watching the feeders

By Susan and Biff Andrews

It’s nearly winter — though you wouldn’t know it from the 80 degree temperatures — and we wildlife folk are once again turning to our feeders for nature sightings. We run two suet feeders, four sunflower seed feeders, and a mealy worm feeder after Feb. 1. And we miss the hummingbirds.

We have to be careful to eschew plastic on our feeders. Squirrels eat it. We have some lovely pink steel feeders that had plastic perches. Bad idea.

Our newest discovery is the round nut cakes/mealworm cake holders that hang directly under the eaves 6 inches from our kitchen window. We do our morning dishes with chickadees and titmice a foot from our faces. They love us (or our food), and we love them. Within 4 or 5 feet, we have a suet cake with downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, yellow bellied sapsuckers and others. The bluejays will come later when times get tough. Besides the above, the species we get on or under our feeders include cardinals, chickadees, blackbirds, crows, red-wing blackbirds, towhees, tufted titmice, mockingbirds, starlings, grackles, boat-tailed grackles, grosbeaks, warblers (several), sparrows, wrens, finches, mourning doves and others.

But the purpose of this article is to tout a citizen-science project for all of us feeder watchers. Anyone who knows birds or has tried to look one up online knows that the authority on birds is the Cornell University Ornithology lab. It is that time of year when they begin their data collection from amateurs like us.

Project Feeder Watch starts Nov. 10. It costs $18 to join, a nominal fee, and allows you to record your sightings into Cornell’s database. To enroll, go to www.feederwatch.org. Our Virginia Master Naturalists group has several members who also report their findings to state authorities. But program or no, get involved with your feathered friends this winter. It’s their hard time of year. Insects are scarce, seeds have scattered and are few or hard to find. And birds are beautiful to observe.

One last plug. We live in Suffolk, but once a month in winter we journey to the Wakefield Peanut Company. (We’d like to say it’s for the birds, but we wind up with more nuts than they do.) Anyway, they carry 10-pound and 50-pound bags of “wildlife nuts” just for feeders. We get a 10-pound bag once a month and spread them often on a bench just outside the window. The bluejays come by the dozens, as well as other species. So basically for the cost of one dinner out, we feed seeds, suet and nuts for a month. We can forgo those extra calories. But then there are those cashews and peanut brittle.

(P.S. The chickadees and downies are our faves!)

 

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.