The weekly report from the world’s bird watching capital… By Seymore Thanu
But in 1955 there was a whopping snowstorm that pretty nearly shut down North Jersey. My mother, driven by compassion and housebound boredom, opened up the second-floor window of our carriage house apartment and threw slices of bread onto the snow.
I remember a near riot of color and animation as the white landscape was transformed by hosts of hungry birds.
It’s possible this event changed my life. It might be the encounter that made me conscious of birds; made me, over the course of my childhood and now adulthood, squander my money in the generous and self-serving effort to get as many birds as possible dependent upon my handouts.
Generous and self-serving.
Yes. Absolutely. Why should one preclude the other? After all, politics work best when all sides get what they want. Why should feeding birds be any different?
As for generous, yes. Feeding birds does help seed (and suet and fruit) eating birds get through the winter, particularly when weather conditions prevent birds from foraging effectively, and particularly late in the season (i.e. February and March) when natural food stocks have been depleted.
On very cold mornings, you’ll find birds coming to your feeder at first light and swarming over your offerings like their lives depended upon them. Because they do. The birds are cold-stressed. Their energy stocks depleted. Having food at hand when they need it will boost their energy and prevent them from having to forage more widely and at greater risk.
On mornings after a heavy snow fall, ground-feeding birds are backed into nooks and crannies, searching for little micro-habitats (beneath bushes, in the lee sides of logs), where snow levels have not put the food they need out of the reach of their bills. Last winter, ground-feeding birds died in droves.
Here’s the kicker. The reason I feed birds in winter is not to save lives. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling, but it’s not my primary motive. The reason I feed birds is because I just plain love watching birds, and feeding birds in my back yard brings birds close where I can enjoy them.
Just like that morning when my mother threw bread onto the snow, the sight of so much life in the dead of winter is captivating. A stick in the eye of Old Man Winter. Proof positive that life is tougher than anything adversity can throw at it.
Long live life! With a little help from your friends.
Now about that bread. Sorry Mom. The bread was a no-no. Seed-eating birds don’t need their seed husked, milled, yeast-enhanced, baked and sliced. All they need is seed. Some birds like suet, fat. Some birds like berries (like raisins) and fruit (like apples).
You want as much color and animation as possible (from the birds, that is), so put out as many different food items as possible. But please, only those on Seymore’s BYBF (back yard bird feeding) list.
Now, the Cape May Bird Observatory up in Goshen has just the stuff birds want. And the bird seed they are selling is premium stuff, including a brand of black oil sunflower seed that is Jersey fresh. To birds, black oil sunflower seed is as addictive as french fries. But once again, discretion. Seed-eating birds don’t want french fries either.
Seymore’s BYBF list includes black oil sunflower seed, Nyjer (thistle) seed, mixed seed (especially those containing sunflower seed and kernels), white proso millet, peanuts, suet cakes, and woodpecker mix. The bird feeding experts at the Cape May Bird Observatory will be glad to help with seed selection.
If you want to pick up some bird seed, CMBO’s Center for Research & Education is located at 600 Route 47 North in the town of Goshen. The center is open 9:30am–4:30pm every Tuesday through Saturday. The Nature Center of Cape May is located at 1600 Delaware Avenue on the harbor in Cape May. Call (609) 898-8848 for hours. For feeders or field guides to help you identify all those birds at your feeders, visit CMBO’s Northwood Center, at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Lily in Cape May Point. The center is open 9:30am–4:3opm except Tuesdays. Check out the schedule of daily walks, pick up a free birding map and checklist and while you are there, don’t forget the newest books (including Pete Dunne’s newest Bayshore Summer). And if you can’t make it in person, you can always visit our website www.BirdCapeMay.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon. He weaves information and insight into a net that captures readers. He has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.