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Bird feeder tips and prep for upcoming nesting season

Woodpeckers, from the largest Pileated to the smallest Downy, can be identified by the rate and pattern of their drumming.
Woodpeckers, from the largest Pileated to the smallest Downy, can be identified by the rate and pattern of their drumming.

The availability of natural food sources has an effect on the frequency of birds visiting feeders filled with foods we supply. Our provisions are primarily supplemental food.

Most species cannot survive on just our offerings. However, during periods when natural food supplies are low, or in the case of severe environmental conditions, well-stocked feeders can literally make a difference in whether or not a bird survives.

The mild conditions over much of the East Coast this winter have allowed many birds to stay farther north of us. In addition, those that are here for the season have had opportunity to glean much of their dietary needs from natural sources, especially available insect prey. The relatively few sub-freezing nights and milder daytime temperatures we’ve experienced have also assisted the birds to not need as much food in order to stay warm.

For those who maintain bird nesting boxes, now is the time to clean them out for the upcoming breeding season, as Eastern bluebirds, titmouses, chickadees and other cavity-nesting species in our area customarily begin their house-hunting in mid- to late-February. Valentine’s Day is a useful and convenient date to use as a reminder to perform this annual chore.

Many of our resident bird species have begun to show signs of the impending breeding season.

Cardinals, chickadees, titmouses and pine warblers have started singing, and soon woodpeckers will be drumming on any available surfaces. As woodpeckers do not have breeding “songs” to attract mates and advertise territory boundaries to rivals, they resort to drumming instead.

The louder the noise, the better from a woodpecker’s point-of-view, and they will seek out the most resonant spots upon which to ply their trade. In residential areas where there are usually less natural sources available, the birds will use metal chimney caps, flashing, siding, etc. (in the era of metal trash cans I observed red-headed woodpeckers using those, often at first light) to perform their percussive scores. Different woodpecker species drum at different rates and intensities, and their drumming may be used to identify species just as song is used to identify other birds.

A reminder that the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is scheduled for the period Feb. 17–20. It’s an opportunity to put a favorite activity to work for the benefit of our feathered friends by assisting ornithologists in the on-going studies as well as take a closer look at these amazing avian creatures.