Posts Tagged ‘feeding birds’

The Gleaners by Millet

Bit by bit, gleaners gather what has been left behind. With care and patience, they find just enough among the overlooked pieces to subsist on for another day.  

Female dark-eyed junco
Female dark-eyed junco

In my backyard, these gleaners are the dark-eyed juncos, small slate-colored birds that gather near the feeder after the larger birds have had their fill. Quiet and unassuming, they move slowly on the ground as they forage through the grass for tiny morsels.

Male dark-eyed junco

Juncos are common throughout most of North America. They make their nests on the ground, often on the borders of woodlands or ditches. They’re usually located in slightly raised areas, safe from flooding, and tucked behind grasses.

Juncos will make a ‘tsk tsk’ sound as you approach their nesting area. I’ve been able to find many nests over the years by listening for their warning sounds.  One time, I accidentally stumbled right next to a nest and several baby juncos ran out towards me at once with their wings and mouths open. I don’t know if they thought I was a predator or their mother returning with food.

If you would like to attract juncos to your yard, they are very keen on white millet and will enjoy a bird bath. However, they will also be content with gleaning whatever seed is left behind on the ground by the larger birds.

Junco and red squirrel

Hey, I was gleaning here first!

By spring, little is left of the previous fall’s seeds on grasses, flowers and trees. Birds returning from migration south are likely to be hungry after their long journey, especially as they begin to look for mates and build their nests. You don’t have to put out loads of bird seed to stave off their hunger. Just a handful a day will help until more insects are available for their dining enjoyment.


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Winter is beginning to overstay its welcome. The barren landscape at this time of year in Nova Scotia can seem so void of life. However, with just a fistful of sunflower seeds, you can liven things up by attracting a variety of birds to your backyard.  You never know who’s going to fly in for a nibble.

Blue jay fluffing its feathers to stay warm

Blue jays, chickadees, finches, nuthatches and mourning doves are all potential visitors at this time of year.  Despite the February cold, I’ve often noticed several species of birds waiting nearby for their turn at the feeder.

Mourning dove patiently waits for its turn at the feeder

The black oil seeds are easier for birds to crack open than the thicker-shelled striped ones and provide more nutrition for their weight. All you need is a fistful. If you put out too much at a time, it may not be eaten and get moldy or attract rodents.  A fancy bird feeder isn’t necessary.  Just a flat surface that is easily cleaned is ideal.

Black oil sunflower seeds are also a favorite of red squirrels.  If you don’t want them to get the lion’s share,  you might want to put seeds out for the birds before mid-morning when the squirrels begin to make their rounds.

Finch eating sunflower seed

Some of the birds you attract to your feeder in late winter may decide to nest nearby come spring.  In the meantime, you never know who’ll show up to take advantage of your hospitality and add some color to your backyard landscape.

Ring-necked pheasant looking for breakfast

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We could live offa the fatta the lan’.
– John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

wee mouseBirds and squirrels are frequent visitors to my birdbath area where I also put out sunflower seeds.  This week I noticed a little mouse had also decided to pay a visit.  I’m guessing it was a  Deer Mouse as it appeared to have a lighter underbelly.  I’ve seen them before.  It didn’t look like a vole, which is darker with a shorter tail.

At this time of year, insects are plentiful and it’s easier for animals of all types to find food.  Some plants have already gone to seed.  I see a year round benefit to offering water, but is there a point at which one should stop offering bird seed?  Isn’t there enough out there already for birds and squirrels to eat? 

I leave enough time between feedings to make sure that all the seed is cleaned up, but this little guy was bold enough to come to the top of the feeder.  He wasn’t satisfied with the odd seed that might have fallen on the ground and been overlooked by the birds.  I don’t mind seeing the odd mouse or vole at my feeder, but I don’t know how I’d feel if I suddenly saw several of them dining there…

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Every once in awhile, seagulls will sweep in for a visit to my backyard.  Compared to the songbirds that normally hang out at my feeder, these seagulls are huge.  Wingspans are a minimum 2-3 feet across. They always look bigger up close. Their brilliant white feathers glisten in the sunshine and their light eyes are keen and alert.   Their bright yellow beaks and feet contrast sharply with everything else in the woodland environment.

Seagulls have the advantage of being able to drink both fresh and salt water. They don’t mind what’s on the menu either. However, they only show up in my yard if I throw out bread crusts that are large enough to be spotted from their flying altitude. 

Although they’re quite attractive birds up close, regular visits from them are not to be encouraged. They can be VERY aggressive to both other animals and humans. Around homes where there’s a constant availability of large crusts, they’ll gather in larger numbers and roost on a nearby roof , leaving a terrible mess.  They’re best appreciated at the seashore.

An excellent place to see large numbers of seagulls in Cow Bay is towards the end of Silver Sands beach.  Their favorite gathering spots are clearly marked on the sand and rocks. Leave your bread crumbs at home.

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