Linda Bailey is the Nature Education Coordinator for Fredericksburg Parks & Recreation. The Nature Notes blog highlights natural happenings in the area, and highlights various nature programs available in the city.
Backyard Birds at Your Feeder
A flash of brilliant red at the feeder. The flick of white tail feathers as juncos flit from the snowy ground to a low branch. The incessant “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call from nearby trees. What a flurry of activity winter is!
Feeding birds is a passion many of us treasure. There’s something magical about seeing and hearing these tiny creatures, grabbing morsels of fuel, on the coldest of days. By simply putting out a few handfuls of seed, we are treated to a display of color and activity, while at the same time helping songbirds stay warm by keeping their metabolism up.
Black oil sunflower seeds are the best all-around fuel for winter birds. Relatively inexpensive, this seed is packed with protein and attracts the largest variety of songbirds. Suet blocks which you can put in a special hanger from tree branches, will attract insect eaters like Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches. Niger thistle is more costly but will bring in the brilliant American Goldfinches.
What about squirrels? The only way I have found that repels squirrels is to put a feeder with a baffle below in the middle of an open lawn or field, at least ten feet from a tree branch or other launch pad! However, many homeowners have come to just enjoying the antics of these robust rodents in our yards. Squirrels have to eat too, and since females often give birth in February, they need the protein our feeders offer.
Bird feeding is a great family activity and a wonderful way to get children interested in nature. Put up a checklist and see how many species you can identify! Some of the most common backyard birds found at feeders in the Fredericksburg are: Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Carolina Wren, White-throated Sparrows, the White-breasted Nuthatch, and if you’re lucky, a Pine Grosbeak, with its large cone-shaped bill. Dark-eyed Juncos will litter the ground below your feeder as will Mourning Doves. And keep an eye out for Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers flicking about in the leaves on the edge of your yard!
Wondering how to identify these feathered friends? When you see a new bird, don’t run for a field guide, but stay put. Quickly note key characteristics like length of tail, whether it has a crest on its head like a cardinal, eye-stripes or wing bars, shape and length of bill, and other features like a crown stripe or spots on its breast.
Bird-watching is a win-win for everyone, and it will surely enhance any trip you take beyond your backyard!
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