Enticing Non-seed Eaters

By Scott Surner

April 19, 2020

Gray Catbird PHOTO Scott Surner

Many people enjoy feeding the birds as I have for many more years than I care to admit. Currently I’m watching American Goldfinches start to acquire their beautiful breeding plumage of yellow and black, while my once sizable Dark-eyed Junco flock continues to shrink significantly. We’re now passing the midway point in April and our winter residents are leaving and new feeder birds should be showing up at your station.  We have been seeing more chipping sparrows and occasionally a red breasted nuthatch will show up as spring continues to bloom.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird PHOTO Scott Surner

Today I’d like to touch upon some of the birds that are returning, but are not seed eaters. The birds I have in mind require or prefer a slightly different menu. In the next ten to fourteen days, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Gray Catbirds and Baltimore Orioles will be returning to our area from their wintering grounds. If you’ve never tried to entice one of these species into your yard, now maybe the time to give it a try. Enticing a hummingbird basically requires (other than a beautiful flower garden) a hummingbird feeder. You can purchase one from a number of stores in the valley. Mix up your own hummingbird mixture, which is very easy. I use one cup of sugar to four cups of water. Boil the water, add the sugar, mix well and let cool before you fill the feeder. Place the extra in the frig and depending on the household, mark the container or else some thirsty family member is going to be for a sweet surprise!

Baltimore Oriole PHOTO Scott Surner

Here in Massachusetts, as well as Eastern North America we get one hummingbird on a regular basis, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They start to show up in late April and head back south by September, although they can linger into October and even into November on rare occasions. Of the six species of Hummingbirds recorded in the state, Western Massachusetts has recorded four of them.  The previously mentioned Ruby-throated, Rufous, Allen’s and Calliope, the other two on the state list are Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Generally, the best time to encounter one of the rare western hummers is in the fall, but most of the time these birds are immatures and identification can be quite challenging!

Baltimore Oriole PHOTO Scott Surner

To entice Gray Catbirds and the Baltimore Oriole to your feeders, get oranges and grape jelly. Each spring I cut oranges in half and place them in a suet basket. I hang the suet basket from a dead tree limb and put grape jelly in a small dish. They both enjoy the oranges and jelly immensely especially when they first arrive into our region. We don’t put out the oranges or the jelly out for the birds all summer, as we notice a drop of in activity at the oranges (at least in our yard) once the heat of summer arrives. The bees also come around! Every yard location is different and what might not work in my yard might be completely different for your yard.

Black bear PHOTO Scott Surner

In terms of numbers, we get three or four Orioles in the early spring along with a couple of Catbirds, but who knows what could show up in your yard? It’s all about location, location, location. If you put out a bunch of oranges at a migratory hot spot like Monhegan Island, Maine in May, the results can be pretty impressive! One spring in the late 1980’s we arrived at the tail end (no pun intended) of an Oriole fallout! One gentleman had an impressive feeding station on the Island back then and we witnessed his deck full of Baltimore and some Orchard Orioles on the oranges, about forty-five to fifty at a time! Could that happen around here, I’d say no, but even getting one or two will brighten up your day.

So I encourage you all to try feeding the hummingbirds, orioles and Grey catbirds as they return! Also remember that bears love all of these treats.  In recent years bird feeding for us has become trickier in our yard with the coming and going of the Black Bear! I know quite a few people (including myself) that bring their feeders in at night or risk getting them flatten or in some cases just get carried off to who knows where. And the bears also love jelly and hummingbird food!

Porch update — Carolina Wren has at least two young, and Phoebe still making her nest.

Scott Surner has been studying and observing birds for over 45 years throughout the Connecticut River Valley, (Massachusetts) New England and North America. His travels have taken him to New Jersey, Delaware, Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, Alaska, Canada (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Churchill) Costa Rica, Belize and Veracruz, Mexico. He has been teaching bird ID classes at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, MA since 1980. He is a founding member and past president of the Hampshire Bird Club, (Established in 1984) and a past member of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. 

Sunday Birding with Scott is published weekly on Sundays.

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