Scott Smith’s New Pet Interest

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith has spent this snowy winter feeding birds in his back yard. In between setting out seed, he shared these insights:

I’m currently in recovery from the news that my beloved mutt Miller will not be crowned Westport’s Top Dog 2015. He did not even have the chops to make it into the finals of this year’s competition, which concluded last Friday.

I’m not giving up on man’s best friend. But I’ve recently become infatuated with a new pet interest: All the birds that flock to my backyard feeder.

A typical winter scene.

A typical winter scene.

Especially since the snow has been on the ground this new year, my feeder attracts dozens of birds at a time throughout the day.

Most are little brown birds — sparrows and such — but there are many other kinds, including gentle doves, flicky finches, belligerent blue jays, the occasional red-headed woodpecker and more. Some feed only at the hanging tubular feeding station, while others peck through the snow-covered ground below for their meals.

After I purchased a new bag of bird feed advertised especially for cardinals at Pet Supplies Plus, I’ve been rewarded by frequent visits from 3 bright red males and 2 dusky females. Being from St. Louis — and a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training — this particularly excites me.

I asked the clerk how much bird feed the store sold a week. He calculated the bags by weight and said, “600 pounds, at least.” Figuring all the other local pet stores, and Super Stop & Shop, that must add up to a ton or more of seed each week for our community of wintering song birds and other feathered friends.

Dogs rule the roost and the news in Westport. Most attention to birds in these parts focuses on problems with geese, the singular beauty of swans or the wonder of ospreys nesting along our shoreline. It takes a long white winter to notice just how many other winged creatures also call Westport home, and enliven it throughout the year.

I don’t have the camera to nicely capture the birds in my backyard, but I imagine other alert readers and local birders have their own tales and photos to share.

Scott Smith's Miller is a “bird dog.” – He loves chasing away squirrels poaching seeds scattered across the snow.

Scott Smith’s Miller is a “bird dog.” He loves chasing away squirrels poaching seeds scattered across the snow.

 

7 responses to “Scott Smith’s New Pet Interest

  1. I question your assessment of blue jays being belligerent. Continue to watch their behavior patterns throughout the year and you will see they have more patience then they ever get credit for. Furthermore, they take a few individual seeds per bird, per feeding and then they are gone until later. The female cardinal has more consistent ‘belligerent’ tendencies towards the finches in particular when it comes to being on the feeder.

    • I agree with Jeff. Blue Jays, being from Canada, are simply more friendly than the holier-than-thou Cardinals from Missouri who believe that they have some God-given talent that make them superior.

  2. Everyone can always go to Sherwood Island State Park from 8:00 AM to sunset, where serious birders are known to flock in hopes of seeing a Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Falcon and/ or the elusive Snowy Owl (not seen in 2015…yet).

    Winter at Sherwood Island can be a serene experience. Bring your family and friends and start searching, dogs on leash are invited until April 15th. Remember to bring a wastebag (not provided) and dispose properly.

    http://www.friendsofsherwoodisland.org

  3. Joyce Barnhart

    Scott, your “red-headed woodpecker” is probably a red-bellied woodpecker. There are only a few, hard to see red feathers on its stomach. ( A lot of research and naming in the early days was done with dead specimens – poor things.) There are many good guides out there, Peterson’s being my favorite. A regional guide is better than one of North American birds; you don’t need to learn the birds of the west, not yet, anyway. Earthplace might still sell laminated cards including one of back-yard birds. They can make it very easy to find out who is visiting you.

    The birds can be better predictors of coming storms than than the weather people. More birds at the feeder, more snow soon.

  4. I’ve been a citizen-scientist for FeederWatch, a program through Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology. The program started in 1988 and there are millions of feeder watchers in all 50 states and all the Canadian provinces. It’s a wonderful program! I get my seed, feeders, suet, and other birding supplies from Wild Birds Unlimited who partner with Cornell’s Project Feederwatch. The program goes from November to April every year. You can also go to http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/birding123/ to lean about and identify birds.

  5. Thanks! The good news is that my young son is now expressing interest in “birding” … and I still think of blue jays as more of the backyard bully than any cardinal, though that might be the St. Louisian in me talking. I do know that once you habituate a gathering of birds to your feeder, you have to keep at it, certainly as long as the snow is on the ground. Off to buy more bird seed!

  6. Ginnny Williams

    Although I’m late to the party, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this article which lifted my spirits on a very cold morning!