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Home & Garden: Grand Valley’s birds prepare for winter

Larry Collins
WILD ABOUT BIRDS
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Black-capped Chickadee on branch
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Fall is just around the corner. How can you tell? Just watch the birds.

Not only are you beginning to see different birds, but their feeding practices and appearances are changing.

Currently, it’s caching season (hiding or storing food for future consumption), and many birds are cashing in on the abundance of natural foods for a better chance at surviving the coming harsh weather. And they remember, very accurately, where they stash each morsel.

Chickadees prefer to cache black oil sunflower seeds, often eating a small portion before hiding it in and under bark, dead leaves, knotholes, clusters of pine needles, gutters, shingles, or in the ground. They like to cache seeds within 130 feet of bird feeders — within your yard or a neighbor’s yard. Chickadees also cache more in the middle of the day when visiting feeders.

Nuthatches prefer heavier sunflower seeds over the lighter ones. Be sure to have some sunflower chips in your blend as they like these 25 percent more often than ones in the shell. They cache more in the morning and prefer to hide foods on deeply furrowed tree trunks and the underside of branches. Nuthatches are also known to hide seeds under a shingle or behind wooden siding.

Jays love to cache peanuts. They are especially fond of peanuts in the shell. They bury them in the ground and are known to cache about 100 in a day, emptying a feeder in no time. Watch them make repeated trips to your feeders (or an oak tree) and fly off. Try counting how many small seeds they can stuff into their crop before flying off to cache them. Some have stuffed up to 100 sunflower seeds in one sitting. They can travel up to a few miles away to bury their nutritious treasure.

In addition to feeding habits, there are other changes you might recognize as a sign of fall. Have you noticed that American Goldfinches are molting into a dull, nondescript color, even changing the color of their beak and legs from orange to black?

In addition to American goldfinches, many birds are finishing up their molts this month. Evidence of this can be seen in their wings. Look for a short or missing feather on each wing while birds soar overhead.

Are your hummingbirds starting to disappear? Yeah, mine too. But keep that hummingbird feeder out. Feeders can help fuel migrants moving through. And, it won’t keep them from leaving. Hummingbirds innately know when to head to warmer climates. Some people will leave their hummingbird feeders out until the nectar begins to freeze. I usually suggest to people that they leave their feeders out two to three weeks after they think they have seen their last hummingbird. That way, if some stragglers come through, they can still find something to eat.

Watching the birds may also help you in taking your mind off of raking those darn leaves! Enjoy the birds and the leaves, too!

Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to lcollins1@bresnan.net.


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