The Relocators: Our Newest Obsession

  |  January 15, 2013

I previously talked about our newest obsession of watching the birds in our yard. I don’t think (*hope) that it will ever grow to the point of needing to travel around the world to count the number of unique birds we see. So for the time being, we are content with watching, and keeping track of, the different birds that come to us. But first we need to attract them. Attracting birds is fairly a simple process. You set out bird feeders, put some food/seed in the feeders, then sit back and wait.

But with an obsession, it’s never really that simple. Is it? First of all, you have to do a little research. What type of feeder and food will attract the different types of birds to your yard? What do you do to discourage the starlings from coming around? And what about those damn squirrels?

Let’s talk about bird feeders for starters. There are many kinds and it can be somewhat of a hit or miss situation. So my advice is to go slow and see what works and what doesn’t work. For example, did you know Northern Cardinals prefer to eat at a feeder face-on and prefer safflower seeds and black oiled sunflower seeds? Apparently they don’t like to turn their head to feed. Another good way to feed them is to simply toss the seeds in a brushy area as they don’t seem to like be out in the open all that much. Also, if you see the male or female feeding, look around as they’ll often come in pairs but they don’t usually eat at the same time.

Did you know that Goldfinches are attracted to nyjer, a type of thistle seed, and that there are special feeders just for this type of birdseed? These birds are somewhat hard to find in the winter not because they migrate…but because they lose their brilliant yellow coloring during the winter months.

Did you know that a small flock of starlings can empty a bird feeder in less than 2 hours….a bird feeder that will take Dark Eyed Juncos, Black-Capped Chickadees and Titmice several DAYS to clean out? By the way, the fact that cardinals prefer safflower seeds and black oiled sunflower seeds is double bonus for keeping the pesky starlings away…who seem to hate these. Since filling my feeders with safflower and BOSF seeds, the starlings have all but vanished from my yard.

Currently we have setup four bird feeding areas in our yard. One of the areas was created just for the woodpeckers. There are two things you should know about woodpeckers. Woodpeckers don’t tend to perch when they feed; they need a feeder they can hang on. Also, woodpeckers like suet. Correction…they love suet.

We purchased an inexpensive suet basket that worked great at attracting at least four different species of woodpeckers.  However one morning we woke up to find that the raccoons had absconded with it (chain and all). A few days ago we found the opened and empty suet basket but no chain. So I purchased a log feeder that is used with suet. If a raccoon can take that sucker down I’m moving. It is heavy and that would be one BIG raccoon. We haven’t seen any bears….yet! So far, the woodpeckers don’t seem to like the log feeder but I’m hopeful they’ll figure it out eventually.

One thing I learned in my research was to use hot pepper suet to deter the raccoons and squirrels from stealing all it. Did you know that birds aren’t affected by the capsicum in hot peppers like mammals are? I didn’t. We’ll see if it works.

As for the squirrels, did you know that a squirrel can shimmy his fat little butt across a 36 inch pole to reach a bird feeder, only to hang from one of the perches and stuff his face with bird seed until he falls to the ground? I didn’t until I saw it for myself. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the squirrels. They are always available for a good laugh. I just get mad when they steal one (or all!) of the suet-balls I make for the birds. By the way, if you’re wondering what suet it and how to make it yourself, you can read more about it here.

So many things to be aware of. But the biggest thing I didn’t know is how much I’d enjoy watching it all. The other day we saw our first chipmunk. He scurried down the snowy hill in serpentine fashion until he made his way to our yard. Apparently he smelled the peanuts and peanut butter suet we put out for the birds and squirrels. He’s been a regular visitor to our yard every morning since.

If, after you’ve made your move to the Hudson Valley, you find that you too become obsessed with watching the birds, I recommend taking a look at this site. They have great photos of the different species of birds, and maps that can help you determine if a particular species  can be found in the area during various seasons. You’ll probably also need to get a good pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens for your camera. We’re still working on the last two.

Finally, you’ll need some patience. It took almost 2 weeks before the first bird showed up in our yard after filling one of the feeders. I was beginning to get worried. But then I saw my first Hairy Woodpecker (male AND female), and all was well with the world. 🙂

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