For the past five years, I have enjoyed putting bird feeders out and watching the variety of winter birds that visit them from my kitchen window. Before that, my feeder placements of seeds, nuts, and berries was a bit more haphazard. Back then, I simply placed seed trays on or near the back porch (where I keep a heated bird bath filled with fresh water) and hung a few thistle feeders on shepherd hooks nearby. But eventually, I realized I did not spend enough time on the back porch observing the birds in the chill of winter to make the effort worth my while. Also, the bird poop that whitewashed the decking of the back porch soon became quite a nuisance to clean up. Consequently, I had to rethink the whole bird feeding idea.
As I studied a better arrangement for my bird feeding setup, I quickly decided the heated bird bath would have to remain on the back porch. I knew if I put it anywhere out in the yard, I would not be disciplined enough to fill it if water was not handy. And running an extension cord out in the yard would be a lot of trouble. As for the feeders, I decided to relocate them to an area on the north side of the house, being careful to place them directly under a canopy of trees along the neighbors chain-link fence. This arrangement would provide the feeding birds some protection in case a predator came along. A hawk, owl, or some other raptor would have more difficulty swooping down on them for an easy lunch, and the birds would have plenty of safe perches to fly to if a ground predator came after them.
With this location set, FD positioned a special “hopper” type feeder for the seed, nuts, and berry mixture. The spring-loaded, perching bar of this feeder is designed to prevent heavier birds like Blue Jays and Woodpeckers from stealing food away from the smaller birds that I was trying to attract. When a larger, heavier bird lands on the bar, the hopper closes down the eating area, preventing access to the feed (although you will note from the caption above that a red-bellied woodpecker actually outsmarted this ingenious design!). Most of the time, the design of the hopper feeder also prevents squirrels from raiding the seed mix but, the occasional, smart squirrel still figures out how to bypass the hopper bar.
Finding a good thistle feeder for the Goldfinches and Pine Siskins was not an easy feat. Over the years, I have learned what I do not like about the design of most thistle feeders. But, finally, the Aspects “Quick-Clean Nyjer Tubes” has won me over. For me, the process of cleaning and maintaining a feeder has to be practical and easy, and the Aspects feeder provides that quality. And, after using this model for two years now, I am actually thinking about trying some of Aspects’ other feeders. I also ordered a large, clear plastic dome to protect the thistle feeder from moisture during wet weather. Thistle/Nyjer seed is very expensive, and moisture in the tube will cause the seed to mold. With this dual, winter feeding station setup complete, I am happy with the low maintenance efforts, and the birds are kept well fed and visible to me… along with an opportunistic squirrel or two (sigh).
One dreary, overcast day last week, when I was walking to the storage building, I noticed the chatter of birds coming from the feeding area suddenly stopped. As I looked to the north along the fence line, not a bird could be seen at the feeders. I knew there must be a predator nearby. Sudden silence is often the first sign of danger in the area. I realized that even I could be viewed as the danger, but that was not likely this time, as I was a good distance from the feeders. Also, most of the birds that frequent my feeders are not bothered by my presence, unless I get too close to them.
The most common alarmist who calls out danger of a predator in the woodlands, is the squirrel, but I was not hearing anything from them either. A squirrel’s chortling all along the path of a ground predator alerts the entire woodland population that danger is in the area. Squirrels are most excellent little sentries who seem to be alert and on patrol at all times! While squirrels may chatter along the path of the coming predator, one squirrel at the site where the predator stops, will continue to chortle solely, flagging it’s tail at the predator. If the predator changes position, another squirrel in the new location will take up flagging and growling or fussing. Pinpointing the location of a predator through observation of the squirrel’s alarming habits, is often how I get photography opportunities when I have my camera handy.
As I stood watching the feeders this day, wondering why both the birds and squirrels were silent and out of sight, I caught a bit of movement in the limbs just above the fence line, about mid-way between the two feeders. “Aha!” I thought, as I discovered a Cooper’s hawk perched on a low limb, hoping for an easy lunch, “There is the reason for the sudden silence and stillness of the birds and squirrels!” With an overhead predator like a raptor, who can swoop down and deftly snatch them from a tree limb almost as easily as from the ground, stillness and silence was their best defense.
I had often seen Cooper’s hawks in our woodlands, but this one had spots on its back. I wondered if it was possibly a juvenile and, wanting to get a few photos of the young hawk, I eased back in the house for the camera. All the way, I was thinking he would probably be gone by the time I returned, but he was still there! Carefully, I stepped closer and closer, snapping away with the camera as I neared him. “How odd for him not to take flight”, I thought. Hawks had such keen vision and I almost never get decent photographs because they spot me and fly off. Fortunately this time, other than tree branches being in my way, this young Cooper’s hawk made it easy for me to photograph him.
After getting plenty of good photos and going back in the house to view them, I returned almost an hour later and still there was no bird activity at the feeder. The hawk was gone… or so I thought. Perched higher up in a nearby hackberry tree, I once again spotted the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, still sitting and waiting. I do not know if he thought a change of position might serve him better, but it was apparent he was not fooling the little songbirds. I suppose like any other “youngster” he was going to have to learn the ropes of what works and what does not, in surviving in the wild. And perhaps he was more interested in keeping warm and conserving energy that afternoon. Regardless, I was excited to have had the chance to observe and photograph him at such close proximity. What a handsome specimen he was for me that day! I hope you enjoy him as much as I did…
© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…