Wild bird food on Cape Cod

Many of us love to feed and watch the birds that come to our feeders. We dutifully fill feeders with sunflower seed, thistle seed and suet. Some also add safflower seeds and other goodies.

What many of us forget is that wild food is better for the birds and many of us actually have wild bird food right in our own yards. Goldfinches are especially fond of evening primrose seeds so I always leave some stalks in the yard for them.

024Goldfinches have pretty good camouflage for the fall and winter. Look how nicely they blend into the landscape against the seed stalks.

027 032Many gardeners and yard lords really, really want to clean up the yard and gardens until there is nothing for the birds at all. I understand not wanting to leave piles of leaves and weed seeds in certain areas but surely there is a place or two in your yard where you can leave some leaves on the ground for the birds to forage in and some weeds and wildflower stalks with seeds that the birds can feed on.

012 005 001

You will make some little birds very happy and it will make you happy to watch them as well. Look how lovely these sweet goldfinches were today. I do offer thistle but they prefer the natural seed at this time of year and some days I have several dozen feeding on various seed stalks. Other birds like them, too.


Nest building

Even though it has been chilly out there this week the birds are already busy declaring territories, courting and some are already building their nests.

Last week we were out walking when we noticed a pair of chickadees keeping an eye on us. They also had their eye on the end of a branch that seemed to be hollow. Knowing that chickadees often choose such sites for nest building we pretended we weren’t watching and just hung around quietly.

This is what we saw.

022The chickadees were using old cattail fluff to line the nest. The cattails were growing in the nearby swamp which would also be a great place to catch insects to feed a growing family.

023You can’t see it in these photos but the chickadee is patting down the fuzzy warm fluff to line the nest in there.

024The chickadee also used its breast to shape the nest inside the hole in the branch. Both chickadees took turns doing this.

021These stills don’t really show the movement made by these busy birds but hopefully you sort of get the idea. Here is some more information about our state bird, the black capped chickadee. Most of us can recognize them but knowing more about them will let you observe what they are up to more easily.


Of birds and the blizzard….

If you’re on the Cape or even just in New England you know it’s been a crazy couple of days around here! Although it started as sloppy sleet here on the Cape the snow blew fast and furiously, clomping onto trees and wires like cement and dragging them down like cement, too. There was also tidal flooding and between the wind and water power is still out for almost two thirds of Cape residents and businesses. To be honest, I must admit I am one of the lucky few who lost power overnight but had it back by yesterday morning. I spent most of my day yesterday watching the snow blow and refilling bird feeders. Boy, were the birds hungry and cold!

All these photos were taken through an ice encrusted window but they do give the feel of the day….these two redheads shared the feeder for awhile. That’s a male house finch with the male cardinal…

These goldfinches were holding on for dear life….

This downy woodpecker is getting ready to make her move, waiting for the wind to die down a bit…

This flicker has had a rough time of it–she even has snow and ice encrusted on her feathers

Chickadees were a bit wind blown but they’re pretty sturdy

This tufted titmouse had a little bit of a prize

And this white breasted nuthatch was happy to find seeds and nuts here

while its smaller cousins, the red breasted nuthatches worked on the suet…

and although I’m not a big fan of the mobs of house sparrows I did make sure there was plenty of seed on the ground for them on such a rough day….

This cardinal seems to express the way we all felt while the storm raged around us….

Today, however, is a new day….



Discovering new places….

I love getting out and discovering new places, especially here on the Cape where I’ve lived virtually my whole life. Over the next 7 weeks I’ll be leading art and nature walks on Saturday mornings for the Barnstable Land Trust and while preparing for these walks I’ve discovered some wonderful places. This morning we were at the Sydney Woodlands in Hyannis, a new piece of property for the BLT sandwiched between town watershed land and a very suburban neighborhood. You would never guess it to look at it but this area even has its own crystal clear spring outlet with drinkable water.

The area is off Pitcher’s Way heading south toward Craigville Beach Rd. and you would never know this little gem was there. It backs up to Simmons Pond on one end and Ben’s Pond on the other. We started off looking at the wonderful ground cover plants and doing some sketches. Star flower, Canada mayflower and sarsparilla are all in bloom–among the very healthy poison ivy plants.

We heard a lot of the usual bird suspects you would expect to find in a fragmented woodland and pond area like this–towhees, pine warblers, common yellowthroats, yellowwarblers, robins, catbirds, blue jays, red winged blackbirds, downy woodpeckers, white breasted nuthatches, song sparrows, titmice, grackles and so on….and at one point we heard the sounds of grackles in distress. It didn’t take us long to find their nest, or the cause of their distress….

Their nest was being raided by a Cooper’s hawk! The hawk landed nearby and began to enjoy its catch while the grackles continued making distress sounds.

After taking its fill the hawk turned, the young bird still in its talons, and flew into a tree nearby…

There, up high in the tree was its own nest. We watched it join the other adult bird which then took off, leaving this hawk with the food and the hungry young, which we could hear begging.

Look closely toward the top of the nest and hopefully you can see the hawk–its long tail is sticking out toward the right and just looks dark.

Soon the other hawk was raiding the same grackle nest and it became apparent right away that ma and pa grackle had made a dreadful mistake in their choice of nest location. These grackles will probably build a new nest, lay more eggs and try to raise more young but hopefully they will choose a different neighborhood….

Anyway, it was pretty exciting to find this hawk nest–which is very close to homes and busy paths. We know that Cooper’s hawks have adapted to suburban living with the proliferation of bird feeders offering them easy pickings and this was just one more example of that. Also, don’t feel too sorry for the grackles….they raid plenty of other bird nests themselves…

For more information on upcoming Barnstable Land Trust walks please check their website.