Wrens, Hummingbirds and October Feeder Survey begins

BIRD COLUMN FOR October 5, 2003

By Benjamin P. Burtt

I have decided to write this column every other week from now on. Thus the next one will be published on Sunday October 19.


The October feeder survey starts today and ends Saturday the 11th. Please watch when you can and send in a report promptly after you complete your observations.

For each species, report the largest number you see at any one time during the week. For example, if you see 12 jays this week, but never more than three at a time, then three is what you put on the list. List all the species in the order shown in your field guide. Put each species on a separate line with the number first, followed by the birds name. Please write the number of species at the top of the list.

At the end of the week, put your list on a postcard or in a letter and send it to B.P.Burtt, Smokey Hollow Rd., Jamesville, NY 13078-9548. You can send results by EMAIL to bpburtt@usadatanet.net.( Please include your town ).


Dear Prof. Burtt: I like having the house wren around, but I have heard that wrens cause trouble for bluebirds and other hole nesting birds. Is this true? --J.L. Phoenix.

Dear J.L.: The house wren does try to prevent other birds from nesting in holes nearby and it frequently causes quite a bit of trouble for these birds. If a bluebird house is put near some shrubbery there may be great difficulty in their nesting there because of wrens trying to use the same box.

If wrens are nearby as bluebirds build their nest, they will "buzz" the bluebirds. This harassment may continue throughout incubation. Often wrens will puncture or even remove the eggs of other species.

In one yard a day after the young bluebirds had hatched and the parents were away, the wrens went into the bluebird box and killed all of the youngsters.

You can prevent some of these problems by carefully choosing the location of the box. Wrens prefer brushy places and bluebirds like open country. Put the bluebird boxes in open areas and then add a few more boxes in brushy places for the wrens.

Generally the wren wins out over the bluebird, but now and then a bluebird will defend its nest vigorously. One reader mentioned several years ago that a bluebird did hold a wren down on the ground and kill it.

Mr. Burtt: Can you tell me when we should stop feeding the hummingbirds for the season? P.B. (town not given in email.)

Dear P.B. Your question suggests that you have read that we "should" take the hummingbird feeders down so that we will not keep them from going south on time.

That is a myth and is not true. Birds migrate at about the same time each year, but different species migrate on different dates.

All birds migrate when there is still plenty of the food. It is the shortening of the daylight that tells them to go and not a shortage of food. Having food available will NOT keep them from migrating.

In fact, birds always migrate while there is still plenty of food available. They must be able to stock up and have energy reserves for the long migration. If they do not go until food is scarce, they could be too weak to migrate.

Sometimes a bird is ill and does not have the strength to migrate. It can not go until it gets its strength back. In such a case it may save the birds life for you to have food out that is easy to get.

Most hummingbirds start south in late September. Now and then a few will linger in Central New York until mid October. The latest date on record is November 10.

We should put food out until they have all migrated. Keep food available until October 15.

Dear Ben: What type of binoculars do your recommend? We have seen an increase in the number and kinds of birds in our yard and would like to see them more clearly from a distance. -E. T. Syracuse. ( by email)

Dear ----- ( No greeting or salutation ): Do you have a recommendation or website for selecting binoculars used in bird watching? - - E. V., Ilion ( by email )

Dear R.T. and E. V.: There are several decisions to be made when selecting binoculars. Useful information to help you make these decisions can be obtained from two recent publications.
I suggest that you send a stamped , self addressed long envelope to each of the following addresses.

Write, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 150 Sapsucker Woods Rd, Ithaca NY 14850 and ask for a copy of the article on binoculars by Ken Rosenburg.

Write Bird Watchers Digest, P.O.Box 110, Marietta, OH, 45750 and ask for a copy of the December 1999 article "Choosing and Using Binoculars"

Benjamin P. Burtt, a Syracuse University professor emeritus and a Jamesville resident, writes a column every other week on birds for Stars. Write to him in care of Stars Magazine, P.0. Box 4915, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221. Send e-mail to features@syracuse.com. Be sure to put "For B.Burtt" in the subject line. He will answer as many questions as possible.

To get in touch with Benjamin P. BurttVia Mail: Write to B.Burtt, Stars Magazine, P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse,, NY 13221.
Via E-mail: Send to features@syracuse.com. Be sure to put “For B.Burtt” in the subject line.