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Birdchick Blog: Bird Feeder Rush Hour

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bird Feeder Rush Hour

One of my favorite things is to watch a really active feeding station. Even if it's birds I've seen a bazillion times, I love watching bird feeder activity, especially in winter before we get a snow and birds are coming from all different directions. Tuesday had subzero temperatures and the start of snow fall and birds were ready to take advantage of a feeding station. I laughed when I arrived at the Minnesota Valley NWR visitor center because of the turkey activity. Note all the turkeys on the ground and all the songbirds crowded into the feeder on the right. Now, note the turkey on top of the feeder on the left...and now songbirds!

It was fun to watch the large bird balance its body and avoid sliding as it went after the food in the platform feeder. Periodically the turkey would slide down and then feed on the ground for a bit. But soon it would again try for the food on the feeder. The activity of all the birds and the snow was intense. I tried to get a video:

It was a steady stream of turkeys, house sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers and chickadees.

Some of the turkeys would just park themselves right next to the windows and sit there. I'm not sure if the bird was looking at its reflection or feeling some of the heat off the building. I've always found it curious that turkey vultures migrate out of Minnesota, but wild turkeys stay. Turkeys have bald heads, but they do have some bristly feathers and from the above photo, it looks like those are enough to keep them off the face.

A big surprise to me was a small flock of about 16 brown-headed cowbirds hanging out. They really looked like they were hating life. I'm sure they were asking each other, "Okay, who had the brilliant idea of not migrating because it would cost too much energy and be dangerous?" The mostly stuck to roosting in the trees and the few who came to the feeders were not their usual bossy selves. They were slow and lethargic. One lone male kept feeding on the ground and almost got stepped on (or tasted) by a turkey.

I like sit on the visitor center on cloudy days in winter. If you sit inside you can watch the feeders without the sun directly behind them. So, I was able to sit inside, get some decent photos, and stay warm.

One challenge is that the heaters are right next to the windows, so you do have to deal with a little heat shimmer, but that combined with the snow can make for some arty photos like the above digiscoped image of a female cardinal. And though the birds were active at the feeders full of sunflower seeds, there was plenty of other food around:

Tree sparrows (above), cardinals, and juncos were feeding on seeds in the grasses. It's a myth that if you start to feed birds in the fall that you have to do it all winter or they will starve to death. They find plenty of food in plants that we look at and see nothing. I think that falsehood was started by some seed seller out there to try and keep his customers coming all winter.

If you have to go for a bit without feeding the birds, they will get over it, some birds like the above blue jay stash food away in a cache for just such an occasion. That said, birds may not visit your feeder as regularly as one that is always filled, but they will come back and they will not starve. They treat your bird feeders the way we should treat fast food restaurants. It's a convenience, but not a sole source of food.

Here's a downy woodpecker on a mullen. The woodpeckers mostly perched on this but they would peck on it from time to time, so I wonder if they were getting some food out it as well?

The mullen also made nice perches for the juncos too. It was just a gorgeous snow scene.

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Blogger spacedlaw said...

Those poor turkeys look frozen.
What is the cute little critter underneath the sparrow?

12/18/2008 11:59 AM  
Blogger NCmountainwoman said...

What a great series of photographs. Who would have thought a turkey would try to eat at the feeder? Amazing!

12/18/2008 12:13 PM  
Blogger Vickie said...

Great post. I love the puffed up female cardinal, bluejay and junco.

12/18/2008 12:16 PM  
Blogger Natural Moments said...

I have a picture too that I will have to post one day of a downy woodpecker feeding on Mullein. Mine was definitely feeding on some tiny unseen objects off several different stalks in a row at about this time of the year a few years ago. I also love the turkeys at the feeder. There used to be a place in Winthrop WA where all of the Turkeys and a lot of deer used to hang out for the winter when there was deep snow. They were always fun to watch.

12/18/2008 12:52 PM  
Blogger momo said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous photos! Every day I take a break from being stuck in this silly office by looking at your site--such a special window on what is going on right outside but that I can't see. Thanks!

12/18/2008 1:08 PM  
Blogger DMBY said...

The turkeys look so big and silly next to the feeder!

Also I love the colors of the cardinals and the chubb of the junco.

12/18/2008 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Jen8 said...

Nice!! Great way to spend an afternoon. I get mallards at my feeders in the spring. I'd flip out if I ever had turkeys (I live in a city).

12/18/2008 6:45 PM  
Blogger ChicagoLady said...

Great shots! I had a Blue Jay come to my feeder yesterday, can't remember the last time I saw that. I heard a Cardinal today, but didn't see it. I'm sure they were all getting ready for the snow that's coming tonight and tomorrow.

12/18/2008 9:52 PM  
Blogger Spiky Sandy said...

Gorgeous pix, Sharon! Thank you!!

Spiky Sandy in Pinellas Park, FL

12/19/2008 7:13 AM  
Blogger dguzman said...

Beautiful photos, especially that DE junco. I love them! So cute.

12/19/2008 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Dona said...

Oh wow! I didn't know turkeys came to feeders. I saw my first (and only) wild turkey in Wisconsin a couple of years ago.

12/19/2008 7:50 PM  
Blogger Wren said...

great capture - who would have thought turkeys were feeder birds? I've seen crows have trouble with feeders, and they are much smaller.

12/21/2008 12:05 PM  

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