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Woodland Trails: Like to feed, watch birds

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outdoors River Falls,Wisconsin 54022
Hudson Star Observer
Woodland Trails: Like to feed, watch birds
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

OK, OK, I'll admit it. I am a bird brain! I like to feed and watch birds. In fact, I bet you're a bird brain too! I mean, who doesn't like to watch birds?


From the tiny hummingbirds to gigantic eagles, we all take time to look up toward the sky and watch the eagle soar on wide wings or try to see the little hummers' wings that go so fast they seem to be invisible until they settle down on the perch to take in a little nectar.

I waited a year until I set up any feeders here on the homestead. Not because there were no birds but because there were so many birds and so much natural food for them. The homestead is located on what is mostly a prairie setting with sparse woodlands running along a smaller creek. There is a descent pond within 200 yards of the house. With that type of setting I get just about every bird imaginable from warblers to sandhill cranes.

For the most part I only set out seed feeders along with a few oranges and grape jelly for orioles and cat birds. I don't want to set out meal worms to attract bug eaters because I want the birds to eat more bugs so the pesky bugs aren't bugging me! And I also set out a suet feeder because I like woodpeckers and some nectar for hummers and orioles.

It didn't take the little downy woodpeckers and black capped chickadees long to find the suet. The little woodpeckers are fun to watch because of the games they seem to play. One will land on one side and other paired bird on the opposite side and play hide and seek until the dominant of the two runs off the other one and feeds.

I also get a few red-breasted nuthatches, another favorite of mine because of their ability to climb and walk as if they are wearing antigravity boots. It doesn't seem to bother them if they are upside down, sideways or right side up.

The black capped chickadee is one of the most popular and abundant little birds at almost every bird feeder. Whether taking in suet or stealing a sunflower seed they are about as active and fun to watch as any backyard bird, especially when they try to open a tough sunflower seed. Sometimes they will pry it open right at the feeder but more times than not they take a single seed and fly off to find a nearby tree branch where they get situated so the seed is right in the claws. Then they peck at it until it opens and repeat the process over and over to simply keep us entertained.

Another favorite that I have in abundance at the feeders are the goldfinches. Decked out in brilliant yellow coats, the male goldfinches prove to the world that the males of any species are by far the best looking when they get all dressed up and head out on the town. The thistle feeder and a few sunflower seeds will bring them in in abundance.

The smaller sparrow-like reddish house finches are another common attraction. In the spring the red shines but not as much as the brilliantly red cardinal. Almost always the first to arrive at the feeder in the morning and the last to come at night, the gaudy redcoat male and slightly less beautiful female are always an attention getter. Mostly feeding on dropped seed on the ground, they brighten up a back yard with their colors like a bright bulb on a Christmas tree.

And then there are the red breasted grosbeaks. The males look sharp as if in a tuxedo with the red throat patch and white-over-black suit coat. But it's their large nutcracker bill that draws my attention and the ease with which they snap open hulls on any seeds. They are built for the job.

I also like the few red-winged blackbirds that stop in. They are one of my harbingers of spring. Like the robin they are an early arrival. But their arrival around wetland settings and their cheery call hearkens an early spring while setting out territory demands from cattails.

I have brilliant orioles and little hummers after nectar feeders, some cowbirds with their cool call who leave their eggs in other birds' nests, a variety of sparrows and a few more rarities that stop in as well. I also have a high perching pole for the bug eaters to perch from as they head out to catch bugs. Most of them are bluebirds but I also have a kingbird that has nested under my roof overhang on top of a floodlight. Its noisy call is loud but it catches a ton of bugs.

Lately I've been amazed watching the bug catchers go about their work. I've seen bluebirds sitting near the top of dead elms fly down and take a bug the size of a broken pencil lead from the yard from more than 50 yards away! People always talk about the eyesight of an eagle but it's these little bug eaters that must be carrying 10X binoculars in their back pockets to see insects so small so far away!

But the coolest bird I have around the homestead are the little green herons. One of the most secret birds along waterways, a couple pairs nest in the dead trees near the pines at the homestead. They have no fear of me near their nesting trees but they fly away quickly when spotted in the wild and get a title of rare secretive bird.

As I sit here writing this, I'm watching a little wren hop around the barbecue grill looking for a meal to take back to its young in the rolled-up hose along the house where it nested. I have to smile at its antics.

It's all a part of nature that should remind us that we too are just a piece of the puzzle no more important in the greater scheme of things than the catbird or chickadee. Watching them is great entertainment with no infomercials to get in the way!