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Cheryl Kimball Nature Talks: Let another year of feeder-watching begin – The Union Leader

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Rain giving way to foggy conditions for the afternoon. High 42F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 80%..
Cloudy with periods of rain. Low 39F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 70%.
Updated: January 1, 2022 @ 6:01 am
The tufted titmouse is a common visitor to backyard feeders in New England.

The tufted titmouse is a common visitor to backyard feeders in New England.
A CHICKADEE, a titmouse and a bluebird fly into a mealworm feeder.
The chickadee says to the titmouse …
Ok, I have no idea what the chickadee says. If someone asked me my secret ambition, it is to be a stand-up comedian. But clearly it is a good thing I kept my day job.
Despite not having a ready joke, I found it just lovely to see all three of these birds eat from the mealworm feeder at the same time. Why does this seem so remarkable to me? Humans of all different types go to restaurants and eat at the same time. We do seem to find it unusual when animals act in ways that we humans do. But why not? I stood at our full-view storm door with my camera ready to snap a picture but did not manage to witness the confluence again.
Another thing that I find entertaining is the mere fact that I find birds feeding at my feeders so entertaining. Year after year, the same birds drawn by the same feed. I abide by Fish & Game’s recommendation to take bird feeders down in the spring when black bears are coming out of hibernation and don’t put them back until the bears have gone to bed for the winter. I put mine out Thanksgiving weekend. And within what seems like minutes, the usual suspects are feasting. And I find even that entertaining.
Chickadees love black oil sunflower seed. Although there are several types of chickadees, the black-capped (Poecile atricapilla) is the one that calls our area home. These little designer black-and-white birds are cheerful, with not only their chick-a-dee-dee-dee song but a pleasant little “meep meep” sound that is easier to hear if you are close, like when they flit around impatient for you to finish filling the feeder. They are bold and can be easily enticed to feed from your hand. Chickadees, according to “A Guide to Bird Behavior” by Donald and Lillian Stokes, do little north-south migration but some move to different local territories in winter. After the first of the year, they will start to scope out their territory for courting, breeding, and nesting until early summer.
The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is also a first-arriver at the feeder. A bit larger than the chickadee, the titmouse is more drab in color but has a softer look, like it would be very nice to cuddle (good luck). Something I didn’t know until I looked them up in “The Sibley Guide to Birds” is that there are two tufted titmouses (or, the great debate, “titmice”?): the black-crested (or Mexican) and the northern. The black-crested has, not surprisingly, a black crest which is prominently swooped making one think that perhaps this is where Elvis’s early hairstyle came from. There is an “intergrade” that happens, Sibley notes, in central Texas where the range of the two birds meets. This intergrade has a stronger crest like the Mexican but the crest is a little less swooped and not black but gray like the northern edition.
These two birds are immediate visitors to my feeders, several at a time. A few other birds are common and come fairly immediately as well but are one-at-a-timers. The cardinal couple arrives and enjoys the sunflower seed, mostly what is flicked off to the ground by the other birds. A bright red male cardinal against fresh white snow always elicits a gasp. While I see multiple cardinals at other people’s feeders, I only ever see the one pair at mine. The male often stands watch while the female eats.
Once it gets truly cold and I get out the suet cakes, the woodpeckers come. Different types of woodpeckers often come at the same time, but it is usually only one of each species at a time. The little downy woodpecker is common; the bigger hairy woodpecker comes less often but still regularly.
Yesterday I looked up to see a flash of brilliant red that I at first thought was the male cardinal on the suet feeder mostly hidden by the feeder pole. I thought it was odd for a cardinal to eat suet, but I haven’t seen everything by a long shot, so who knows. But then I saw it hammering its head against the suet. “That is not something a cardinal does,” I thought. It was then I realized that it was the first-of-the-year sighting of a red-bellied woodpecker whose head was so spectacularly red to mistake it for a cardinal.
These magnificent birds, unheard of this far north even within my lifetime, are now common visitors all winter long. And bluebirds, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, are also now regular residents.
Every year, I see these same bird species — chickadee, titmouse, cardinal, woodpecker plus junco, goldfinch and mourning dove. And every year (with a few exceptions of when I have lived elsewhere) since I first started watching birds at my mother’s feeders decades ago, these regulars help me greet the new year with joy and wonder and enthusiasm about what surprises the winter of feeder watching will bring.
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Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at [email protected].
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