Wild birds are a big part of our lives. Since we live with woods on three sides and semi-open fields down below the house, we have a great variety of birds in winter and summer. We feed them year round. If you have bird feeders out, and hang them on your deck or from a tree, you might have the same problems we did with critters of all sorts getting in them and eating the seeds and destroying the feeders.
We had terrible problems with raccoons and possums. Our feeders were constantly destroyed. Then the seed would get all over the ground, bringing in mice and, even worse, chipmunks! Those things burrowed under my flower beds and killed all the plants. Last winter I spent a good deal of time trying to come up with a solution, and I designed a bird feeding station that I felt would solve my problems, and it did! I had a contractor come in and build it to my specifications. We’d just had an aluminum roof put on the house a month earlier, and I asked for some extra pieces so the roof of the feeder would match the roof of the house.
The 6 x 6 posts are buried 4 feet in the ground in 2′ of concrete. Nothing can knock it over. Well, maybe a bear. The posts are covered with the same vinyl post wraps that are on my deck posts in the front of the house. Nothing can climb up them! The feeder is high enough off the ground that I need a step stool to remove the feeders for filling. Nothing can jump up into them! Since this has been erected there has not been a single critter that can access it except the birds. It’s cat, possum, chipmunk, squirrel, and deer proof!
The wooden ledge belong the hanging basket is for a heated bird bath that goes up in the winter. The cord is hidden in the post siding and runs underground to a switch on my deck so I can turn it on or off if I want to. In the summer there is a fountain just out of sight to the left of this picture. I also purchased large, plastic plates which I screwed onto the bottoms of each feeder so no seed falls to the ground. This cuts way down on mice and chipmunks, and the cats help out a lot there too!
IF YOU FEED BIRDS IN THE WINTER, PROVIDE WATER AS WELL! Many people feed the birds in the winter but don’t have a water source for them. In the winter, starvation is often only 36 hours away for most birds. If you provide them seed, but no water, the energy they get from the seed is quickly depleted by searching for water. A bird can eat snow to satisfy its fluid requirement, but the snow reduces birds’ body temperatures and then they need additional food to get their energy levels back to where they should be. Also, birds WILL bathe in the winter. By keeping their feathers clean, they have better insulation, which helps them conserve energy during the cold nights.
I love sitting on the deck and watching and photographing the birds. Following are my favorite pics! The common name of the bird is followed by its genus and species.
BLACK THROATED BLUE WARBLER – Setophaga caerulescens
This warbler has a very limited breeding range in northern Wisconsin. I was lucky to spot it hanging onto the orioles’ jelly feeder in May, 2014, as it was on its way to its summer home up north. The red “X” is Richland County, where we live.
BLUEBIRD – Sialia sialis
BLUEJAYS – Cyanocitta cristata
The clip above is a 30 second video of a bluejay in the backyard waterfall.
CARDINAL – Cardinalis cardinalis
GRAY CATBIRD – Dumetella carolinensis
Catbirds are migratory and, like other thrushes, they love bathing! In the summer they are always in our bird fountain! They like to eat dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry, other small fruits, and seeds.
The 33 second clip below is of a cat bird and a young grosbeak in the water fountain.
The following series of photos are of a catbird nest I found in my raspberry patch. I photographed them almost daily, until they got to the point where I was afraid that if I bothered them again they would try to jump out of the nest and they weren’t quite big enough to be on their own so I stopped bothering them. I photographed them from July 22 through July 30. It’s amazing how much they grew in just 8 days! The dates are on the photos.
The photo below is the mama catbird, sitting on the nest.
CEDAR WAXWING – Bombycilla cedrorum
I believe these birds vie with the orioles and tanagers as the most beautiful of our song birds. The waxing below flew into our patio door and was stunned. I quickly picked him up before a cat found him, gave him a few drops of water and waited for him to revive. We always have birds hitting the windows or patio doors! I have tried many things over the years to eliminate this: metallic strips tacked above the windows and fluttering down them, screening tacked to the outside of the windows, films, and hanging baskets of trailing flowers above the windows, all to no avail. The woods behind the bird feeder is reflected in the glass of the large patio door and they think they’re flying into trees. I have read about many different experiments with things to prevent the reflections, but none have worked so far. And as we need to get in and out of that patio door, it cuts down on the things we could use.
BALD EAGLE – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
When we moved to Richland County in 1971, eagles were unheard of. These days, we usually spot one several times a week. They are often in our hay field eating one animal carcass or another, usually dragged and left there by coyotes. There is a big nest a few miles from our house. These pics were taken June 15, 2015. In the first pic, my husband was focusing on the nest and didn’t even realize he’d captured the adult eagle (seen in the bottom right of pic, sitting on a branch).
WOOD DUCK – Aix sponsa
The wood duck
is found all over
These are such pretty little ducks. This female was living in a pond directly below the eagle’s nest in the above photos! She had about six little babies swimming along, but I wasn’t able to get them into the shot. I can’t imagine living under an eagle’s nest is a very safe place for them to be!
CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER – Setophaga pensylvanica
These little warblers mainly breed up north. Our county, marked with a red “X“, is one of the few counties in Wisconsin where this bird does not breed.
It was a rare treat to see this little guy in my back yard in May of 2014. These birds do not generally inhabit the lower 2/3’s of Wisconsin, but instead live and breed in the northern third of the state. There is supposedly a small group of them in the Baraboo Hills, but none have been recorded in Richland County. Since they migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter, it’s more likely he was just stopping here for a brief lunch and cool drink before heading up north to the Chequamegon and Nicolet Forests.
COOPER’S HAWK – Accipiter cooperii
I was driving in town and incredibly saw this guy right on the side of the road in a residential area, in someone’s yard. I pulled over but it was difficult to get a pic with passing traffic. Plus, I had my old phone at the time and it didn’t take good photos. The hawk had a dead pigeon. A Cooper’s Hawk captures a bird with its feet and kills it by repeated squeezing. Falcons tend to kill their prey by biting it, but Cooper’s Hawks hold their catch away from the body until it dies. They’ve even been known to drown their prey, holding a bird underwater until it stopped moving.
SAND HILL CRANE – Grus canadensis
North American distribution of the sand hill. The dark pink denotes common breeding areas.
These cranes have made an incredible comeback here. Most rides into the country will turn up several of them in a farm field. Our property across the road has a pond and a creek; both are habitat areas for them. I usually don’t have a camera on me when I come across them in the wild, but in 2009 I had my phone with me when I was riding my four wheeler down to my son’s house (in the background of this pic), and saw four of them in our hayfield. They were a great distance from me, and the phone was a crappy one, so the pic isn’t good.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET – Regulus satrapa
Some birds of this species migrate south in the winter, and others stay in their northern homes. Since I found this one on April 13, he was obviously a migrant, as none of these birds breed in our county, marked with an “X.”
Sadly, this kinglet was another victim of our 8′ wide patio door.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH – Spinus tristis
Of the three species of goldfinch, Wisconsin is home to the American Goldfinch. These birds stay here year round. In order to live through the frigid, below-zero nights, the birds must consume a lot of seeds, and during periods of heavy snow fall many of these birds will die if they can’t reach seeds on the forest floor. To help combat the cold temps, they grow 1,000 new feathers for winter.
ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAKS – Pheucticus ludovicianus
Starting in 2011 I began keeping notes on when the first hummers, orioles, and grosbeaks arrived. The male grosbeaks always showed up from May 1 to May 5, with the females arriving about a week later. All of the male grosbeaks have a slightly different pattern of red feathers on their chests. Being able to tell them apart this way, I have been able to count the number of males we have each year. It’s usually between 10 and 16. It’s hard to tell how many different females we have because they are not easy to tell apart. Some years, the grosbeaks are at the feeders all summer, and in other years, they leave by the second week of June. Since a grosbeak’s preferred diet is made up with over 50% of insects, they obviously leave when the insects become more abundant. Dissected grosbeaks were found to have wild and cultivated fruits, peas, corn, wheat and oats in their stomach, but by far the largest food item was beetles!
The following video shows a young grosbeak eating in the feeder, and it’s suddenly surprised by the arrival of a large purple grackle.
TUFTED TITMOUSE – Baeolophus bicolor
Titmice are most common in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. The county we live in is marked with a red “X” and we have many of them. These birds always look “delicate” to me, while in fact they are bigger than the goldfinches and pine siskins and many other birds that come to the feeders. They are also quite bossy when it comes to sharing a feeder with other birds. Titmice love sunflower seeds and peanuts. They seem to prefer eating out of open platform feeders than pulling seeds out of tube-like enclosed feeders. They’ll also eat suet from time to time. In the summer, 3/4 of their diet is insects. One of the remarkable things about titmice is that when building a nest they will use grass, moss, and twigs, but they’ve been known to pluck hair from woodchucks, dogs, and even humans to line it with!
EASTERN TOWHEE – Pipilo erythrophthalmus
These birds, sometimes called rufous-sided towhees, are common in Wisconsin. They are large sparrows, and their favorite eating spot is on the forest floor and in thick brush, so they are not often seen even though they are fairly numerous. We almost never see them around in the summer, because they prefer the woods, and in the winter the only time they show up is when there are a few inches of snow on the ground. During periods of snow, they’ll show up under the feeders, trying to find dropped seeds, and they will be in the platform feeders, as in the pics below, but I never see them on the enclosed tube feeders.