Berkshire Naturalist Thom Smith looks for winter birds and ways to attract them to your dooryard.
As a snowstorm approaches, birds flock to neighborhood feeders. If you want to operate a frugal diner for flying visitors, variety remains the key word.
Many feeders with different foods will attract the most species and often in the greatest numbers. Stock them with foods like black oil sunflower seed or better yet sunflower hearts, suet, either cakes or butcher shop chunks, and a good blend of mixed bird seed with few of the little round orange seeds that most birds don’t like.
Through the years a well-stocked backyard bird diner will draw in many customers. Here’s a look at just a few of the many winter birds to expect.
1. White-breasted Nuthatch — the upside down bird is often seen headed down a tree rather than climbing up as woodpeckers do. (BOSS, BOSSH, PNT, PNTH, SUE, SFR) Photo by Thom Smith
2. Purple Finch — gives the impression it has been dunked in raspberry juice or jam. It is easier to identify when you see a pair; the females have no red. They are streaked below, with facial markings with a white eye stripe and a dark line down the side of the throat. (BOSS, BOSSH, SFR, NGR) Photo by Thom Smith
3. Black-capped Chickadee — the Massachusetts State Bird is a year-round resident, easily tamed and ready to scold when seed runs out. They will feed from a hand to sock feeder, most commonly though at a tube feeder. They may be the easiest bird to attract. (BOSS, BOSSH, SFL, NGR, PNTH). Photo by Thom Smith
4. Red-bellied Woodpecker — is sometimes confused with the red-headed woodpecker, which has a completely red head. The reddish tint on their bellies is most noticeable during nesting season. Older bird guides tell us that they are southern birds. The first record of one in the Berkshires was in 1972. Since then they have increased. (BOSS, BOSSH, SFR, SUE, PNTH) Photo by Thom Smith
5. Downy Woodpecker — has a short bill and is the smaller version of the hairy woodpecker that has a long bill. It’s best to see both together to understand their difference in size. (BOSS, BOSSH, SUE, PNTH). Photo by Thom Smith
6. Pine Siskins — are here either in large numbers or not at all, and we rarely see a single bird. They are gregarious. They come from the far north when food there is scarce. When you see them, give a listen: They are constantly talking (twittering) back and forth. (NGR, BOSSH) Photo by Thom Smith
7. Song Sparrow — is more a warm weather bird, but a few come early or stay late and even brave the Berkshire chill in mid-winter. This much-loved striped sparrow sings a song that with some imagination can be translated to “Maids, maids, hang up your teakettle-lettle-lettle.” (MLT, BOSS, BOSSH, MLT, CRN) Photo by Thom Smith
8. American Robin — no longer the harbinger of spring as it once was, they have now been seen year-round. They are most commonly connected with the earthworm, but in fruit-ripening season and in the winter months they make fruits and berries a staple. Attracting these birds in winter will require some planting: They like winterberry (seen here), Dogwood and Crabapples. And like their relative the bluebird,they have come to eat dried mealworms that can be added to your arsenal of bird foods. Photo by Thom Smith
9. Mourning Dove — with their soft, mournful drawn-out calls have inspired their name. Not arrogant birds, nor fussy, they happily eat a wide assortment of seeds on the ground or platform feeder (BOSSH, MLT, MLO, CRN). It is among the most numerous bird in the country. Photo by Thom Smith
10. Tufted Titmouse — beside a Downy Woodpecker, a titmouse with its big black eyes is sharing a ball feeder. Another southern bird, the titmouse wasn’t recorded in the Berkshires until New Year’s Day, 1945. And they will eat most of the seeds above, including fruit and, along with downy woodpeckers, sugar water. Photo by Thom Smith
You’ll see some of their food preferences above with the following abbreviations
BOSS — black-oil sunflower seeds
BOSSH — black-oil sunflower hearts
PNT — peanuts
PNTH — peanut hearts, crushed
SFR — safflower seeds
NGR — Nyger
CRN — cracked corn
SUE — suet
MLT — millet
MLO — milo
NB — native berries, fruit, dogwood, crabapples, meal worms