What is That … Cottage Feeder Bird?

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Waddells

We try to respect Ministry of Natural Resources advice concerning not composting or having bird feeders at the cottage, given the risks associated with attracting bears.  We do not compost kitchen scraps and until this year we did not have seed bird feeders.  Nevertheless, this year we decided to bend one of these rules and installed beside our cottage deck a lovely glass-sided sunflower seed feeder which Bruce made during the winter.  As we had hoped, beautiful, colourful feeder birds flocked to the feeder as soon as it was installed early in May.  By the end of May, Bruce took it down; the bird poop had accumulated to such an extent we just could not bear the sight and we certainly could not use the deck anywhere close to the feeder.  A second feeder was hung from the branch of a mid-size oak tree a good 40 feet from the cottage.  We are delighted many of the beautiful feeder birds still come to the more distant feeder.

May 16th was a great day for photographing birds at the feeder.  First was the American goldfinch, both male and female. We know they are still here in the woods as we hear them and sometimes see them, but the goldfinches seem to prefer spending their time in the forest. Next that day we saw white-crowned sparrows which, we have learned, do not summer at White Lake.  We see them only mid-migration when they are on their way to their summer breeding grounds somewhere in northern Canada along the borders of Hudson and James Bays (and other northern areas).  Third were purple finches.  The male willingly shared the feeder with the goldfinches, as did the female on the other side of the feeder.

A few days later, still in May, we spotted the beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak male.  It summers in our region, but blends in so well in the forest we seldom see one. Chris Earley has observed too that “though the male is bright, its preference for leafy trees can make it visually inaccessible at times”.  We feel lucky to have seen it at the bird feeder.

We saw our year-round resident chipping sparrows at the feeder in mid-May as well and often thereafter, but it was not until early August this year that we were able to capture a photograph of one at the feeder. When it visits the feeder it stops only long enough to pick up a sunflower seed and then flies off to a nearby tree to crack open the husk.  We were once able to watch one build its nest in the blue spruce within clear sight of our screened-in porch.  That was a treat.

Clearly the ruby-throated hummingbird does not visit our seed feeder, but they do come in good numbers to our hummingbird feeder which Bruce keeps filled with sugar water throughout the summer.  We saw our first one this year in mid-May, but the picture of the male hummingbird was taken June 19th.  In this picture we can see the iridescent head and how the red throat starts out darker under the chin (almost black to our eyes) changing to red at the sides.  Although this species is named for the male’s ruby red throat, photographs pick up the colour as anything from black to orange to a striking red, depending on light conditions.  We have also included a photograph of three female hummingbirds competing for the feeder.  They were not nearly as patient as the photo suggests. Such lovely wee birds, it is difficult to imagine them flying all the way to Mexico and beyond for the winter.

All of these species eat insects in addition to their preferred seeds with the chipping sparrow leaning more to insects.  At one point we were surprised to learn that even the lovely ruby-throated hummingbird which everyone knows prefers flower nectar occasionally eats small flying insects.

We remain vigilant for any reports or signs of bears near the cottage, but thus far our sunflower seed bird feeder has not attracted their attention.

We want to specifically recommend Chris Earley’s field guide entitled Sparrows & Finches of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern Norther America for your reading pleasure.  We find his photos and text for each of the birds included in his book very helpful, but especially the comparison charts he provides.  The Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds provides information about birds’ food preferences.