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Snow Birds, Large and Small

By Margo D. Beller

By the time you read this, the first major snowfall of the 2013 winter season will have blanketed New Jersey, and it isn’t even officially winter yet.

When I was a kid, there was a popular song sung to the melody of a John Phillip Sousa march that went:

Be kind to your webfooted friends/ for a duck might be somebody’s mother.

cardinal pairThere are no ducks on my property but I have plenty of other feathered friends that have become mothers and fathers. So I’ve been busy feeding the cardinals, titmice, black-capped chickadees, house finches, juncos, white-throated sparrows, house sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, several varieties of woodpeckers and occasional Carolina wren.

In the days before this snowstorm, when severe cold gripped the region and my husband (MH) was glued to the Weather Channel for the storm’s track, the birds were in a feeding frenzy. I was agitated, too. After starting the season with one feeder filled with sunflower seed, I’ve bumped that number to three with seed plus a suet feeder. Somehow it still doesn’t seem like enough. The closer we got to the storm, the more birds came. I’ve been making a lot of trips outside to refill feeders. It is a small price to pay.

I know people with many more feeders than I have, but even one feeder will help the bird population at times like these when the temperature plummets and the snows come deep.

The key, of course, is to keep that feeder filled. An empty feeder becomes just another lawn ornament.

One of my first posts for this blog was on the importance of keeping feeders filled. I noted that “you’d be surprised how many people put out a feeder and then don’t bother to refill it when it is empty.” That hasn’t changed in two years. I always know when my next-door neighbor’s feeder is empty by how many more birds suddenly appear at my feeders.

feedersThere are many feeders at Scherman Hoffman and people are good about keeping them filled. Sometimes those filled feeders bring unusual birds such as fox sparrows. Sometimes they bring birds that even the experts can’t identify.

At this time of year, when the southbound migration is finished, the hawk watches have closed and the lakes and ponds are frozen, watching the birds at the feeders is as good as it gets. The birds come to you – no slogging through muddy fields swatting away mosquitoes or shivering in snow-covered boots. At my kitchen window the visibility is pretty good and the crowd is down to me, myself and I, with an occasional visit from MH.

The same is true at Scherman Hoffman, where you can stand in the store, warm up from parking outside and watch the birds at the feeders through the window while you are putting in your order for the sunflower seed and suet you’ll need for your own feeders. Scherman Hoffman is where I get my seed, in 50-pound bags if possible, which I think provide more bang for the buck. I also stock up on blocks of plain suet for the downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers that like rendered fat.dee

Even if you’re not going for 50 pounds, Scherman Hoffman, like the other NJ Audubon centers, makes it very easy to stock up on what the birds need. Members even get a discount on sunflower seed during the first weekend of each month.

Birds have a hard enough life during the summer when food is plentiful -- dodging predators and the changes to their habitat and environment created by the ignorance, malice or plain old stupidity of mankind.

Add intense cold and a thick blanket of snow and a bird’s life becomes that much harder. When I watch a chickadee in one of my bushes puff itself up to keep warm or fly from branch to branch in the trees looking for what it can dislodge from a crevice, I am glad to have a feeder of sunflower seeds to help keep it going into the breeding season, where it will find a mate and make more chickadees.

Do your part. Feed the birds.

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