Providing Shelter Near the Feeder to bring in more birds


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: Increasing the number of birds at your Feeder by providing shelter

This column contains all the material that was published in the Post Standard in Syracuse on the above date PLUS lots of additional information about the role of shelter in helping make your yard attractive to birds.

When you are finished with your Christmas tree, don't throw it away, but save it for the birds. Collect a few more from neighbors and use three or four to make a shelter near your feeder as described below.

Shelter is important for birds in winter. Feeders that have shelter nearby attract more birds than a feeder in the open.

A thicket of dense shrubbery about six feet from the feeder would provide a resting spot out of the cold wind. It would also provide a spot where they can hide from hawks. Birds are reluctant to visit a feeder that is out in the open.

If you do not have such natural protection near your feeder, plan to do something about it next spring. Planting evergreens in a cluster is one simple idea. Bushes and shrubs that form a thick or dense cluster of branches can help too, even though the leaves drop off in the fall.

In the meantime you can make an artificial shelter. Discarded Christmas trees work nicely. Tie several together at the top to make a tepee-like structure as in Sketch A. below. Add some other evergreen boughs if the cluster is not dense enough.

CAPTION: To provide extra shelter near your regular feeder, tie three or four Christmas trees together (A). Food can also be scattered on the ground underneath. Sketch B is a cat-proof enclosure where seed can be put if cats are a problem. Birds can go in and out, but cats can not. Sketch C is a wind-proof, cat-proof feeding area covered with evergreens. Sketch D is the frame for a hillside shelter that is covered with evergreen boughs so that birds can feed on the ground without the seed becoming covered with snow.

Put the tepee between 6 and 10 feet from the feeder. If it is farther away, birds will still be a bit timid about using the nearby feeder. If it is closer to the feeder, cats may hide beneath the branches and pounce on birds feeding on spilled seed below the feeder.

Such a shelter is especially important to wild birds because it provides protection when they are frightened. Sometimes it is a hawk or a noise or sudden movement that startles them. They stop feeding and dive into the nearby shelter until the coast is clear.

The Christmas trees could also be tied to a tree trunk, a clothes pole, a trellis or to lawn furniture or a backyard picnic table. If you have a feeder on your deck, the railing there is another place to put your shelter.

Protection from the wind

Next to food, adequate shelter is important in helping birds survive the cold weather. The heat produced by the food must be at least as great as the heat lost to the surroundings.

Normally, there is a layer of warm air near the birds body. When the wind blows this away, more heat must be provided by the bird. In weather terminology this is referred to as "wind chill".

When the bird can perch in an evergreen and out of the wind, the food it has eaten will go farther in providing warmth.

Shelter during the night

Birds must find shelter at night. In Central New York, they have a period of about 15 hours when it is too dark to find food. This means they only have 9 hours in which to find food to see them through. If there is proper shelter, they can make it.

Chickadees, wrens and woodpeckers often roost out of the wind in natural holes in trees or in nest boxes. Other species must seek cover where they can find it. Dense evergreens in a sheltered spot meet their needs.

Building a Tree

Instead of tying a few evergreens together, a wooden frame can be used to which many Christmas trees can be fastened with rope or wire.

When my house was new and before my shrubs and trees were grown, I constructed a shelter of this sort that was about 10 feet high and about eight feet in diameter. Through the winter, it looked like an evergreen tree and the birds didn't know the difference. It was placed in a spot sheltered by the house and about 10 feet from my big feeder. Many birds roost there and some nests are put there in the summer.

I have since planted a hemlock in its place. Each year while the hemlock was small, I carefully constructed this "tree" over the area until the hemlock grew up enough to do the job without my help. Some pruning may need to be done so that there will be more little side branches to fill in the gaps.

Feeding Birds on the Ground

If cats are not a problem, you can scatter food on the ground beneath the tepee. If there are cats, then the birds that feed beneath the shelter will need some protection. For this you can construct a box-like structure as in sketch B above. The 2 x 4 inch wire mesh keeps out cats, but birds up to the size of a jay can go in and out of the wire fabric enclosure to eat.

If you wish to put seed on the ground in the open, such a cage
can be put up against the lee side of an evergreen shrub and the top and two sides covered by evergreen branches. The structure can be put in the open and covered on all sides but one, (see sketch C above ). This keeps the wind off and cats cannot pounce on a bird feeding there.

Another way to feed birds on the ground without having the seed covered by snow is to make a lean-to and put the seed under that. Make it from long poles covered with brush and evergreens ( see sketch D above). This will be open on three sides, but if it faces away from the prevailing wind, many birds will be able use it. This lean-to protects the seed from the snow and gives some protection from the wind.

Making a Brush Pile

You may also wish to construct a brush pile for the winter. If you plan ahead during the warmer parts of the year, when you are trimming, save the large branches and cuttings for a winter brush pile.

This pile can be permanent if you have lots of space and don't mind the appearance of it, or it can be just for the winter. Whenever it is there it will help bring more birds to your yard.

A brush pile can be just a heap of brush, but it will be of value to other animals as well if you construct a substantial foundation. There should be a number of tunnels through this pile at the ground level. This allows places for creatures to hide and gain shelter from the weather extremes.

Lay four logs six feet long and four to eight inches in diameter on the ground to form the first layer. Then place four more logs of the same kind at right angles and on top of the ones resting on the ground. Then pile large limbs on top and eventually smaller and smaller branches further up.

The branches should be crisscrossed so that there are plenty of open spaces in between where birds can perch. Lay some evergreen cuttings on top to make a roof. This will provide a relatively dry and safe retreat where the birds can rest in the daytime or roost at night.

An alternative foundation can be constructed from large rocks that are placed on the ground with some space around each rock. You can lay limbs over this foundation. Again, tunnels and crevices and places for the animals to hide will become available. Place another layer of smaller limbs on top the the logs, but at right angles. The pile should be several feet high. Birds will roost in the upper parts of this and go there to rest during the day or when they spot a hawk.

If you do collect a number of Christmas trees, you can lay them on the foundation as well, or cut the branches to lay on the top.

Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo usually reports a very long list of species on the feeder survey. In October she tallied 44 and 34 in November. How does she do it? For one thing, she does have thick shrubbery, evergreens and brush piles. There are lots of trees along the edges of her property.

So, think about how you can provide more shelter for the birds in your yard. Try some of these ideas, and more birds will come there to add to your pleasure.

NOTICE: The January Feeder Survey starts next Sunday, January 2.

Results of the November Feeder Survey


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: The Results of the November Feeder Survey.

A shorter version of this column appeared in the Post Standard in Syracuse on the above date.
However the version here contains additional details on the birds seen at feeders throughout Central New York. Learn what birds appear at most feeders, which species have above normal numbers, which species are scarce, find out if birds from the north are coming south in normal numbers. There is a complete list of the species seen as well as the numbers of each species per 100 reports.

The November Feeder Survey Results

Readers counted the birds in their yard several times each day during the first week of November. At the end of the week, they sent me a list showing for each species the largest number they saw at any one time during that week.

Most people listed about 14 species. There were 69 species reported on the combined lists. We tallied 88 in October, but many have migrated since then.

Here are the species on the typical report. Did you have these? The list below shows the species and the percentage of the reports that included that species.

chickadee 97%
blue jay 94%
goldfinch 91%
mourning dove 90%
junco 88%
crow 87%
downy woodpecker 86%
white-breasted nuthatch 86%
cardinal 74%
tufted titmouse 64%
house finch 62%

Species with above normal numbers

This November survey showed that the goldfinch with 1284 on 100 reports was more abundant at feeders than any other bird. It was the most abundant bird in October too. This was also the largest tally for goldfinches for any count in the 45 years that data has been collected.

The count of pine siskins was above normal for a November Feeder Survey. The pine siskin is a bird that normally breeds in the coniferous forests of southern Canada and northern U.S. Some nest in the Adirondacks and at other high elevations in New York State.

Some winters it moves southward. The tally for the November survey suggests that they may become quite abundant by mid-winter. They are attracted by niger seed and sunflower seed. So watch for them.

CAPTION: Pine siskins were being seen in above average numbers in the November survey. This small finch from the north is a about the size of a goldfinch and is heavily streaked. Its field marks are a deeply notched tail and a touch of yellow in the wings and at the base of the tail. This painting is from Peterson’s “Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America”, (Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )

Mourning doves were seen in quite large numbers. In fact it has been 7 years since this many were listed.

This was the highest November count of red-bellied woodpeckers since they first began to show up on the feeder survey in Central New York in 1959. It has been 20 years since so many downy woodpeckers have been reported.

Below normal numbers

Several species were tallied in lower than normal numbers for this time of the year. Few bluebirds were listed and hardly anybody saw cedar waxwings. Others with lower than normal numbers were white-crowned sparrow, red-winged blackbird, house finch, redpoll and evening grosbeak.

What has happened to the cedar waxwing? It seldom comes to feeders, but flocks move about feeding on berries where they can find them. In the first week of November, only three people listed waxwings and the total was only 34. The waxwing has never been as low in the 45 years of the feeder survey. This is the second year in a row that their numbers have been way down.

The numbers of red-winged blackbirds was down. Only two people listed redpolls. Evening grosbeaks were seen by only 3 people. It doesn’t appear to be a year for northern finches to migrate down from Canada.

Seasonal trends

Tree sparrows have begun to appear from the north as they usually do in November. The numbers have not been this high in November since 1995. Are there more of them or are they early? The big influx usually comes in December.

Dark-eyed juncos were migrating down from the north on schedule with many more seen than in October.

Rare Birds

Some species were seen by only one person. Two mockingbirds were in Marcellus at Lawrence Abrahamsons. Janet Allen had a catbird in Syracuse. At Malone, Pete Biesemeyer had a gray jay. A merlin spent some time one day at Bill Burch’s in Skaneateles. The only turkey vulture was seen at Whitney Point by Steve and Dorothy Hanzlik.

A great horned owl was tallied by Linda Quackenbush at Waterloo. Paul Radway had a northern shrike in Pompey. The only one to see a red-headed woodpecker was Linda Sherman of Georgetown. Ken Zoller of West Winfield was they only person to list black duck, wood duck, greater yellowlegs, kingfisher and winter wren.

The shortest lists

Remember every list is important regardless of how few birds are seen around the yard. Mrs. Norma Griffin’s 4th Grade Class in the New Haven Elementary School has a feeder just outside and they participate each season. In November they had a 21 goldfinches in sight at once. They also had 7 mourning doves.

Joe Burgdorf at Hannibal listed 7 species. In Jamesville, Morgan Cooper tallied 8. Reporting 9 species was David Ferro of Auburn and Cynthia Wallace of Elbridge. Three people had 10 species. They were Eugenia Fish in Cortland, Dennis and Merry Gantley of Fulton and David and Kathleen Zakri of Liverpool.

Tallying 11 were Janet Allen and David Bigsby both of Syracuse, Mary Berkman of Camillus, Elizabeth Kelly of Hogansburg, Elaine Lyon of Cortland and Phyllis and David Smith of Dryden.

The longest lists

The longest list with 34 species was turned in by Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo. In Pompey, Paul Radway talled 32. Linda Sherman reported 30 in Georgetown. Ken Zoller had 28 in West Winfield. Listing 27 were Dorothy and Steve Hanzlik of Whitney Point and Kathy and Scott Trefz of Perryville.


Here is a list of all species reported. The first figure is the number of birds spotted by 100 observers. The number in parentheses is the number of reports out of 100 that listed the species. If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports, you get the average number per observer. You may wish to compare this with your own tally for that species.

Great blue heron 6(5); turkey vulture 1 (1); blue goose 8 (1); snow goose 1200(2); Canada goose 5,268 (44).

Ducks: wood 5 (1); black 6 (1); mallard 47 (8); common merganser 1 (1).

Hawks: harrier 3 (3); sharp-shined 7 (7); Cooper’s 7 (7); goshawk 2 (2); red-tailed 29 (26); kestrel 3 (3); merlin 1 (1); pheasant 6 (5); ruffed grouse 4(3); turkey 86 (8); greater yellowlegs 1 (1).

Gulls: ring-billed 135 (17); herring gull 383 (5); rock dove 284 (19); mourning dove 628 (90).

Owls: screech 2 (2); horned 3 (2); kingfisher 1 (1).

Woodpeckers: red-headed 1 (1); red-bellied 42 (36); downy 160 (86); hairy 75 (52); flicker 7 (6); pileated 3 (3).

Gray jay 1 (1); blue jay 351 (94); crow 1,394 (87); raven 11 (4); chickadee 493 (97); titmouse 152 (64); red-breasted nuthatch 48 (36); white-breasted nuthatch 133 (86); creeper 3 (2); Carolina wren 4 (4); winter wren 1 (1).

Golden-crowned kinglet 3 (2); bluebird 5 (2); robin 155 (33); catbird 1 (1); mockingbird 2 (1); cedar waxwing 34 (3); northern shrike 1 (1); starling 2,780 (35);

Sparrows: tree 65 (25); chipping 4 (3); field 4 (2); fox 12 (7); song 11 (7); white-throated 51 (29); white-crowned 7 (4); junco 407 (88).

Cardinal 154 (74); red winged blackbird 18 (4); grackle 28 (16); cowbird 45 (6); purple finch 25 (14); house finch 160 (62); redpoll 2 (2); siskin 49 (17); goldfinch 1,286 (91); evening grosbeak 4 (3); house sparrow 713 (48).

Food Storage by the Chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch and blue jay


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: Food storage by the chickadee and other birds that visit our feeders.

This column is divided into two sections

Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the Post Standard in Syracuse on the above date.

Section 2 contains additional information for the reader who is interested in learning more about the storing of food


Dear Mr. Burtt: My chickadees always fly away from the feeder after they pick up a sunflower seed. Only now and then do they shell one. Are they storing the seed? -R.C., Canastota.

Dear R.C.: Yes, chickadees do fly away with seed to be stored for later use. However, when they come to the feeder to get a seed to eat, they must also fly away to a nearby tree to hack open the seed. So, in either case, they will take a seed and fly away with it.

The sunflower seed has such a hard shell that chickadees cannot crush the husk in their tiny bill. They must hammer the point of the bill into the sunflower seed to split open the husk. The seed must be firmly held while the hammering is done. They can't do this very well right at the feeder.

To hold the seed, the chickadee takes it to a nearby tree and finds a twig of the right size so that its toes can wrap around it. Then while it is holding tight to the twig, it puts the seed under the toes of both feet so that the seed is held securely.
It stabs its bill into the sunflower seed and opens the husk to expose the nutmeat which it eats.

On the other hand, when it flies away with a seed to be stored, it will not hammer on it, but will push the seed under a piece of bark or into a crack or hollow in a tree. It may poke a seed into a cluster of pine needles or just push it into the ground. It stores each seed in a different place and sometimes quite far from the feeder.

The chickadee remembers all the locations. It frequently checks to see if the seed has been stolen. If so, it replaces the seed. In this way food will always be available.

When the chickadee flies away with a seed, watch to see what it does. If it flies out of sight or pokes the seed into the bark, it is storing it. If it stops and hammers the seed held in its toes, it is eating. The titmouse is closely related to the chickadee and has very similar feeding habits.

CAPTION: When a chickadee flies away from a feeder carrying a sunflower seed, it is usually taking it to a convenient perch where it removes the husk and eats the nutmeat inside. In the fall and winter it will often be taking the seed to hide it away for later use.

The December Feeder Survey starts next Sunday Dec 5.
If you need instructions, write to me or go to


Another bird that stores food for later use is the blue jay. When it finds a good supply of seed it almost seems compelled to store some away. The blue jay will fill its throat with sunflower seeds until the bulge is quite pronounced. All these seeds are carried away to be buried or to be dropped into a hollow in a tree.

Mark Twain was amused by a jay that stored seeds in a hole in the roof of a cabin in the woods. The seeds dropped some 8 feet to the cabin floor where the bird could never retrieve them. Nevertheless, the jay kept on storing acorns and other seeds there!
Another familiar bird that stores food from our feeders is the white-breasted nuthatch. It eats both plant and animal food. Most of its insect food is found in the bark of trees. There it scurries about on a tree trunk, sometimes right side up and quite often walking down the tree trunk with its head down and its tail up as in the photograph. Its motions are so rapid and sure-footed that it almost seems as if gravity doesn't act on the nuthatch at all!

Woodpeckers and brown creepers always move around on the trunk with their head up and with the tail braced against the tree for support. The nuthatch does not use its tail for a brace, but relies upon its strong and rather long toes to hold it in position.

( Courtesy of Jack Bartholmai of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin )

Some of the popular names used for this bird in the past came from the way it moved about on the tree. It has been called "topsy turvy bird," "upside down bird," "devil-down-head" and "tree mouse."

As for storing food, it takes sunflower seeds away and puts them in crevices in the bark of trees. It often stores pieces of suet in such a spots too.

When it comes to eating the sunflower seed, like the chickadee, it is unable to crush a sunflower seed and must split the husk with its pointed bill. Instead of holding the seed in its toes as does the chickadee, it wedges the seed tightly into a crevice in the bark of a tree. Once the seed is firmly held in the bark, the nuthatch stabs the husk with its sharp bill to remove the husk so the nut meat inside becomes available.

This habit is responsible for the name "nuthatch." Members of the nuthatch family are found in Europe and Asia. Early English people were impressed with the way this bird wedged nuts and seeds into crevices in the bark of trees.

There the bird hacked the seed open with its strong bill. They called the bird the "nuthack." the French used the word "notehache." When pronounced, this French word does sounds a bit like "nuthatch", which has come to be the name used by Americans. The ancient Greek writer Aristotle even wrote about its habit of "hacking open nuts"

If you watch the nuthatch at your feeder, generally you will observe that it does not eat at the feeder, but takes the seed away. Watch it with your binoculars to see if it does indeed wedge the food item before splitting it open or whether it stores the food for later use.

The Syracuse Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, December 18th,
It is not too late for people to participate. Anyone willing to help us out can contact Kevin McGann at (315) 635-7013 or via email at

We still have some teams that can use an extra person and some potentially productive birding areas that can stand to have additional coverage. As usual, birders of all skill levels are welcome to join in.

There is a $5 participation fee for each participant. All persons under age 18 may participate for free. The money goes to the National Audubon Society, and it is used to process and disseminate all of the data that is collected.

Unfortunately, there is no rain date and volunteers must be willing to brave any weather that comes.

Why crows are bolder


By Benjamin P. Burtt

Many more crows are being seen in cities and near our homes than in the past. They roost in cities where they never roosted before. They visit our yards and even our feeders.
Are there just more crows or has something else made them more tolerant of human beings?


This column is divided into two sections

Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the Post Standard in Syracuse on the above date.

Section 2 contains additional information for the reader who is interested in learning more about the change in habits of crows.


Mr. Burtt: These days I have crows in my back yard under my feeder. Years ago I only saw them in the distance at a road kill. Are they less wary now? K.M., Nedrow, NY.

Dear K.M.: Indeed they are more tolerant of humans today. Several things have happened.

There are more crows in the State. Some of them live and nest in urban areas where they never lived before.

They have always gathered to roost together in a patch of woods on winter nights. However, the big change is that many of these roosts are now in towns. There was a huge roost a few miles south of Auburn in 1911 and it was still there in the 1930s. Now the crows roost in the center of town.

What are the reasons for these changes? Why are crows living closer to humans? I consulted Dr. Kevin McGowan at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. He has been studying the behavior of crows for years.

Here are some suggestions. Crows were scarce in New York before the forests were cleared for farms. After land was cleared and crops planted, more food became available and there were small wood lots where nests could be placed.

Crows thrived, but were considered pests. There was no law against shooting them and were they were killed at every opportunity. They began to keep away from people and their population grew and reached a peak around 1938. After that, the numbers decreased as agriculture declined.

At that time, crows did not visit feeders, did not nest in towns or roost there in winter.

Starting in 1972, hunting crows was restricted to only 124 days per year. In the years following 1972, the feeder survey shows an increase in the percentage of people who had crows around their homes. This suggests that crows were losing some of their fear of humans.

There are some roosts in towns these days. Roosting in towns has advantages for crows. Discharging firearms in cities became illegal in the 1950s so they avoided the shooting by sleeping in town. It is also warmer in town. Their most feared predator, the great horned owl, is seldom there. The town is well lit so an owl that wanders in will be more easily seen.

CAPTION: Crows are not as afraid of humans as they once were. This crow in the town of Dryden finds easy pickings on trash day! ( Courtesy of Kevin and Jay McGowan)

SECTION 2. More About Crows .( Much of the following is adapted from writings of Dr. Kevin McGowan mentioned above).

The material in Section 1 that was published in the newspaper serves as an introduction to my answer to the question, why do we see more crows near our homes nowadays?

Seeing more crows near our homes is true whether we live in the country or in a city. Two things come to mind, it could be because there are just more crows in our state, or perhaps crows have changed their habits and are more willing to live near people. Actually, I believe the latter is the major reason.

Some 40 years ago, if we lived in a city, we never saw a crow. Even if we lived in a small town the same thing was true. You had to drive to the country to see crows. Crows did not come to feeders or feed under them as they do now. When they roosted in huge flocks during winter nights, such roosts were far from buildings or barns or towns. Crows just kept away from people.

Their fondness for corn early on earned them the title of pest in the eyes of the early farmers. This gave rise to the shooting in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Crows are attracted to corn when the plants are just a couple inches high. They go down a row tearing out the little plants as they go. Presumably it is the soft and nutritious seed and perhaps the tender plant that attracts them.

Later when the plants are tall and the first ears of corn develop and are soft and tender, the crows return again. This time they attack the rows at the edge of the field or along a roadway that goes through the field. They do not wander into the center of a field where they are unable to watch for danger.

Crows were a serious threat to corn and other crops. Scarecrows were put out and many crows were shot. The crows became wary of humans. Crows have the same habits today and are still a serious threat to corn.

Population has grown.

How has the crow population changed in New York State? Breeding Bird Surveys have been conducted since 1966 and these give a rough approximation of the change in the population of crows. The breeding population now is about 1.7 times the population in 1966.

Where are the crows being seen?
When we examine the Feeder Survey, we find that the percent of people who report crows has gone up from about 30% to 80%. Remember, on a survey, observers list the species that are either at their feeder or can be seen out the window or from a point near the house. Birds on hikes nearby are not to be tallied. So the survey results are actually for birds seen near houses!

The graph shows the percent of feeder survey reports that list crows seen near homes in and around Syracuse in Central New York over the past 32 years. The observations were made by readers of my newspaper column in the Post Standard. Note that the first large increase came after 1977. This suggests that crows were responding to the decreased hunting pressure. It took about six years before we began to see a significant increase in the number of crows around our homes.

Crows are more abundant on farms too and a real problem for those who grow corn. Joe Mueller has had a farm on Seneca Turnpike in Jamesville for years. He sees more crows now and says that crows are more of a threat today than they were 10 years ago.

Frank Mueller, Joe’s father, worked that same farm and often said, “we always have to use extra seed. Only about a third is harvested. About one-third doesn’t grow and the remaining third is eaten by wildlife .”

After 1990, the percent of the reports listing crows has remained constant at about 85%. So it appears to me that the decrease in the amount of shooting is quite likely the reason crows are not as wary as they once were and it probably is the reason that the population has gone up too.

The Family Life of Crows
Dr. McGowan studies crows by attaching numbered leg bands and wing tags to the nestling crows so he can track them (at least until the wing tags fall off, which they do). The wing tags have a color and a large printed number and letter which makes it possible to identify the bird at a distance. After the tag hs dropped off, the aluminum leg band and its number identify a bird if it dies and the carcass is found.

Crows mate for life. Offspring from several earlier generations remain with the original parents to form a family group for several years. Several of these adult crows help with the nest building and incubation. They feed the nestlings and they bring food to the parent on the nest.

These helpers also spend some time chasing away predators such as horned owls and red-tailed hawks. Since there normally are huge losses of eggs and nestlings for most birds, these extra helpers for crow families probably have helped the survival of the crow and have accounted for the increase in numbers in spite of the shooting.

Each breeding pair of crows has an established home territory where they build nests and raise their young. In towns, territories are about 10 acres, but rural territories are much larger. Crows hold their territories year-round.

Non-breeding crows may leave the family territory for a while in the winter, but many return to their parents in the spring. Young crows don't leave to breed for two or more years, so family groups on the home territory can grow large. One crow family in Ithaca has up to 15 members. And it's not unusual to have three or more adults attending a single nest.

Crows in cities do eat a lot of earthworms. One year there was a very dry winter and spring in Ithaca and the crow nestlings that season were quite underweight. The dry earth meant fewer worms and smaller crows.

. For most birds there normally are huge losses of eggs and nestlings during the breeding season when only two parents are available. With the crows extended family, there is extra help from grown offspring of earlier nestings. This probably contributes to their success in raising so many offspring.

So crows are adapting to city life and living around our homes They are interesting and successful birds, try to enjoy them!

To read still more about crows, visit Dr. McGowan’s web site at

If clicking on this does not work, you can copy and paste it into the address bar of your browser or just type it there.

October Feeder Survey results & Where have all the male Goldfinches gone?


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: The results of the feeder survey taken the first week in October, 2004
Question from a reader: Where are all the male goldfinches? I only have females at the feeder.

This column is divided into two sections here

SECTION 1 is a copy of the column that appeared in the post standard on October 31 and includes an introductory discussion of the results of the October Feeder Survey.

SECTION 2 continues the discussion of that Feeder Survey with the detailed summary, a complete list of species seen, unusual species as well as species that were more abundant or less abundant than usual in early October.


Notice: The November feeder survey starts next Sunday, November 7 and ends Saturday the 13th. Please watch whenever you can and keep a record of the number of birds of each species that you see each time. For each species, report the largest number you see at any one time during that week. For complete written instructions, visit this address on the web

or write to ask for a free printed copy.

At the end of the week, put your list on a postcard or in a letter or in an email and send it to B.P. Burtt via email at or by regular mail c/o Stars, P.0. Box 4915, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221.

A readers questionMr. Burtt: I have lots of goldfinches at my feeder, but all of them are females. Where are the males? –R.S., Cazenovia, NY.

Dear R.S.: the males look almost exactly like females in the winter. So some of your birds were probably males. See the illustration.

CAPTION: The goldfinch was the most abundant bird at feeders during the first week of October. They have several plumages. The female is shown on the right. The male in winter is on the left. It does have a remnant of a yellow shoulder patch and a whitish rump, but otherwise it resembles the female. The bird in the middle is the male goldfinch in summer. This painting is from Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America", (Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )

The October Feeder Survey Results

Readers counted the birds in their yard several times each day during the first week of October. At the end of the week, they sent me a list showing for each species the largest number they saw at any one time during that week. For example, if a person saw 20 chickadees during the week, but never more than 4 at one time, then 4 was put on the list.

This survey showed that during the first week of October, there were more goldfinches at feeders than any other bird. It was also the largest October count of goldfinches in the 46 years I have been conducting the feeder survey.

SECTION 2 Here are additional details of the October survey that were not in the published column.

During the first week of October 74 readers recorded the number of birds of each species that were seen at their feeder or that were visible from the yard.

Sixty nine fairly common species were seen. By "fairly common" I mean that each species was seen by two or more people. In addition to these 69 fairly common birds, 19 others were each reported by only one person. So the total was 88 species.

The most abundant species

As usual in October, the Canada goose was the most abundant bird with 5,645 per 100 reports. Next, right at feeders came the goldfinch with 993. There were 983 starlings, 517 grackles, 476 mourning doves and 426 house sparrows. Next came 375 chickadees, 368 crows, 322 blue jays, 216 house finches, 213 rock doves and 104 titmice. This was the largest October tally for titmice in 44 years.

CAPTION: this is a plot of the October feeder survey results for the tufted titmouse from 1960 to 2004 in Central New York.. Each bar shows the number of titmice for every 100 feeders in October for that year.

The tufted titmouse is a southern bird, that first nested in New York on Staten Island in 1914. Then it moved into the New York City area and the lower Hudson Valley. My records show that it first showed up in Central New York in Manlius in 1960. As shown in the graph the population gradually increased as these birds moved northward. This year we tallied 104. This topped last years record count of 90.

How widespread is it? At present , 48% of the feeders in Central New York have titmice.

These illustrations show how the feeder survey has provided valuable and interesting information over the years.

In addition to the numbers, we can ask how wide spread each species was. That is, what percentage of the feeders attracted each bird?

Ninety-nine out of 100 people had chickadees. Ninety-four percent had goldfinches. Other species were blue jay on 92% of the reports, Mourning dove 90%, crow 80%, cardinal 74%, white-breasted nuthatch 71%, downy woodpecker 67% and house finch 50%.


Some people have long lists and some have short lists. Every list is important regardless of its length. It tells us what birds are visiting your yard. Most of the reports had between 10 and 15 species.

You can compare your list of birds to the average feeder on the survey. Did you have 4 chickadees as did the average person? Are some common species missing from your list? Do you have a species that hardly anyone else reported?

Sometimes an observer does not send a list because there are not very many birds on it. All your lists are important. So let me hear from you. By counting them and keeping a copy of the list, you can also compare the way the numbers change at your feeder during the winter or from one year to the next.

The shortest list on the October survey came from the observations of Norma Griffin's fourth grade class at the New Haven Elementary School. In October, they saw 2 mourning doves, and 21 goldfinches.

Also listing 2 species were Beatrice Grainger at Morrisville and the Sampson family at Cazenovia. Listing 5 species were Lawrence Daley of Cazenovia and Joanne Sant of Baldwinsville. At Dryden, Marsha Smith listed 6. Tallying 7 species were Dorothy Coye at Skaneateles and Dawn Franits in Syracuse.

The longest list of 44 species was turned in by Linda Quackenbush of Waterloo. Tallying 39 were Paul Radway near Pompey and Ken Zoller of West Winfield. Bill Purcell of Hastings reported 33 species.


As mentioned above there were 19 species each reported by only one person. Some of these are hard to identify and others do not come to feeders so they are not often seen near the house .

Four species of warblers were still around. The only people to report a fox sparrow were William and Mary Fais of New Woodstock. Nils Tegner saw a hummingbird on October 3 in Liverpool. Most leave in late September, but there are always a few sightings up to October 10. Now and then one stays later.

There was one report of two redpolls down from the north. The earliest record is October 16 so this could be a new early date.

There were just a few reports of tree sparrows from the north and this is normal for October. They usually do not show up in good numbers until December. The white-crowned sparrow is erratic and this year the numbers are a bit low.


Below is a list of all the species reported. The first figure is the number of birds spotted and the one in parentheses is the number of reports out of 100 that listed that species.

If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports, you get the average number of birds visiting a feeder. Lets do it for the goldfinch. There were 993 seen by 94 people. 993 divided by 94 is about 10. So that means the average person had about 10 of them in sight at once. How many goldfinches did you have?

Here is the entire list:
Great blue heron 11 (10); turkey vulture 78 (28).

Ducks and geese: Canada goose 5,645 (49); wood duck 21 (1); mallard 22 (6); common merganser 4 (2).

Hawks: harrier 4 (4); sharp-shinned 5 (5); Coopers 5 (4); red-tailed 11 (10); kestrel 4 (4); merlin 2 (2).

Pheasant 3 (3); ruffed grouse 5 (3); turkey 86 (10); killdeer 7 (3); snipe 1 (1); woodcock 1 (1).

Gulls: ring-billed 402 (17); herring 217 (2); rock dove 213 (24); mourning dove 476 (90); screech owl 5 (4); horned owl 1 (1); barred owl 1 (1); hummingbird 1 (1); kingfisher 2 (2).

Woodpeckers: red-bellied 10 (9); sapsucker 9 (6); downy 118 (67); hairy 55 (39); flicker 8 (8); pileated 4 (4); pewee 2 (2); phoebe 24 (17); horned lark 5 (1); tree-swallow 10 (1).

Blue jay 322 (92); crow 368 (80); raven 5 (3); chickadee 375 (99); titmouse 104 (48); red-breasted nuthatch 36 (25); white-breasted nuthatch 118 (71); brown creeper 5 (4); Carolina wren 4 (4); house wren 4 (3); winter wren 1 (1).

Golden-crowned kinglet 13 (3); ruby-crowned kinglet 10 (4); bluebird 39 (6); hermit thrush 1 (1); robin 160 (34); catbird 7 (7); mockingbird 1 (1); brown thrasher 2 (2); starling 983 (28); cedar waxwing 32 (5); blue headed vireo 1 (1).

Warblers: Tennessee 1 (1); Nashville 2 (2); magnolia 1 (1); black-throated blue 1 (1); yellow-rumped 12 (4); black-throated green 3 (3); palm 3 (1); yellow throat 3 (2).

Towhee 6 (5); cardinal 165 (74).

Sparrows: tree sparrow 8 (4); chipping 64 (21); field 6 (5); savannah 9 (3); fox 1 (1); song 77 (31); swamp 3 (2); white-throated 106 (20); white-crowned 46 (15); junco 49 (25).

Red-winged blackbirds 211 (10); grackle 517 (18); cowbird 5 (2).

Purple finch 12 (6); house finch 216 (50); redpoll 2 (1); pine siskin 3 (2); goldfinch 993 (94); house sparrow 426 (38).

Suet Feeders for woodpeckers and other birds


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: Attracting Insect Eating birds to Suet.

Suet feeders: Many different designs, where to place them. How to keep other creatures from eating the suet.


Over the years in this column I have discussed many ways to feed suet to birds. Readers have told me about their new ideas. The present column summarizes this subject and covers the types of feeders, where to put them and how to keep other creatures from stealing the suet.

Included here is everything that was published in the newspaper today plus additional information for the reader who wishes to learn more about the subject.

Woodpeckers do not usually visit feeders that contain seed alone.
They are primarily insect eating birds and suet is a good substitute for insects. It certainly brings them in. Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches also eat suet.

While birds will eat most any fat that you put out, beef kidney suet is best. It is a firm material, white and hard and easy to handle. Ordinary fat cut from meat will be eaten by some birds, but suet seems to have the greatest appeal.

Where do these birds normally find insects in winter?

A feeder for woodpeckers is most likely to be used if it is placed near where these birds are hunting for insects. In the colder weather, many insects are hidden away in and under the bark of trees. In the summer, many adult insects deposit their eggs in a protected spot in the bark of trees.

In some cases, the egg hatches before the cold weather to form a larva, a grub that eventually surrounds itself in a cocoon-like container called a pupa for the winter. While some adult insects hibernate, most die when the weather turns cold. However, their eggs or pupae are alive, but dormant until spring.

During the winter, birds locate and eat many of the eggs and pupae. The woodpecker goes to a lot of work to dig this food out.

Since woodpeckers search for their food on the surface of tree trunks or in cracks or under the bark, a tree trunk is a good place for the suet feeder.

If there is a dead tree close to the house, put the suet feeder on that. It will probably have more insects than a live tree.

Fig. 1

The simplest arrangement is to nail or wire a piece of one half inch mesh galvanized screening (called hardware cloth) to the trunk of a tree to form a basket as shown in figure 1.

The pieces of suet are stuffed into the basket from the top. The hardware cloth should also be bent in such a way as to taper the container inwards towards the bottom. The piece of suet gets smaller as it is eaten away. Consequently, it drops down to the bottom where the screening is very close to the trunk of the tree due to the tapering. The woodpecker can thus reach every last scrap.

A piece of screening can be wired to cover the top to prevent jays and starlings from taking away large chunks.

Fig. 2

Figure 2 is a drawing of the suet feeder that I have used for many years. It was designed by Robert Meadway of Seneca Falls.

It has a triangular piece of wood as the back which is wired to the tree. The wooden roof is fastened by a hinge at the back. The roof is lifted and the suet dropped into the tapered hardware cloth container.

Cut the triangular back from 1/2 inch stock that is about 9 inches long. Make it about 5 inches wide at the top and 1.5 inches wide at the bottom.

Bend a piece of hardware cloth around the wood as shown and nail a strip of wood on the outside of the screening and into the edge of wood backing. Use enough hardware cloth so that the ends can be bent to overlap in the back. Wire the ends together. This will make it strong enough so that raccoons cannot tear it apart.

Fig. 3
Wire the entire feeder securely to the trunk of a tree with very heavy wire or the raccoons will take it down and carry it off. I generally wire the cover down with a piece of soft wire that I can twist to hold the ends together.

Figure 3 is a photograph of that feeder after 20 years of use. The roof has rotted away and I must rebuild it. A block of wood serves as a temporary cover now to prevent jays and squirrels from quickly removing the suet.

What does one do if there is no handy tree for the suet feeder?

In my yard, there was no tree trunk, live or dead, close enough to the window to get a good view of birds there. So I decided to plant a "dead tree" in the right spot.

Back in the woods, I cut a white cedar which had a trunk that was three to four inches in diameter. I selected a piece about six feet long, left the bark on it and trimmed the branches to make what resembled a roughly hewn fence post.

At first I planned to select a spot and bury the end of the "dead tree" in the ground. However, I was not sure exactly where to locate it and decided to make a moveable "dead tree". With that, I could try it in different places and later, even set the tree aside when mowing the grass.

To this end, I put a half inch diameter steel rod in the bottom end that protruded about 14 inches. The tip of the rod had a tapered point as shown in Figure 4.just below.

Figure 4

Holding the post in position I could apply my weight to the post and push the rod into the earth until the lower end of the post was pressed against the ground.

If the earth is hard, make a hole by pounding another rod into the ground. To remove that rod, grab it with vice-grip pliers and rotate and withdraw it. Now you have a hole in which to put the tapered rod to hold the "dead tree".

Mounting the rod

To mount the rod in the tree, bore a one-half inch diameter hole up into the post about a foot deep. From your hardware get a one-half inch diameter reinforcing rod. You will need at least three feet, but it is not expensive and a piece 5 or 6 feet long will give you extra rod if you need it.

Hammer the rod into the hole in the post so that about 14 inches is left protruding from the bottom of the post.

Next, taper the last 4 inches of the rod, use a grinding wheel to remove the extra metal. Make it taper gradually from a half inch diameter down to a point. This gentle taper will allow you to push the rod into the ground.

Thus the "dead tree" is firmly held in place. To remove it, rotate the post a bit and lift it from the ground.

Our suet feeder is fastened close to the top. The "tree" is placed where we can see it easily. It has served us well for many years.
The feeder at the top end of the "tree" is shown in Figures 2 and 3 above.

If you wish, you can bore some 1 inch diameter holes in this "tree" and stuff them with suet. You can also pack the holes with peanut butter instead of suet. Many of the same birds like that as well.

Raccoons were a problem for a while until I took a piece of 7 inch diameter stove or heating pipe about 2 feet long and hung it on the dead tree about a foot below the feeder as shown. I stuffed it with an old plastic bag to keep smaller animals from climbing up inside the pipe. I have had no trouble with raccoons or squirrels since I mounted that pipe on the pole.

One interesting feature of this suet feeder has come to light somewhat by accident. Apparently when the woodpecker and other birds feed, they drop many tiny bits of suet as they go through the stabbing of the suet and the consumption of the little pieces that they pull off. They waste a great deal.

This suet falls into the stove pipe packed with the plastic bag. When the suet in the feeder is gone the woodpeckers drop down to the packed plastic in the top of the stove pipe and pick up the pieces of suet that have fallen there. I never realized how much they waste with their sloppy eating habits. Perhaps we should mount a tray below the suet to catch those scraps.


Fig. 4
A natural looking feeder can be made from a small log that is about 18 to 20 inches long and three inches in diameter. See Figure 4. Bore a number of 1-inch diameter hole half way through the log. Stuff these with suet. The suet can also be melted and poured into the holes and left to harden. Hang the log from a tree limb or from your feeder. Starlings and jays generally find it difficult to feed from such a log. However, if they do become a problem, the log can be hung horizontally as shown in the illustration and only the holes on the underside are filled.


Some people like to prepare "a suet cake". They put other materials into the melted suet and allow it to harden. These include cornmeal, peanut butter, bread crumbs, nutmeats, raisins, sugar and seeds of various kinds. My personal opinion is that the preparation takes a lot of time and the mixture is no more attractive to the birds than the items offered individually.

The birds that are after suet will not eat the seeds mixed with the suet and so the seeds are wasted. Birds that eat the seed will dig them out and discard the suet. So I put plain suet out and then I present the other items in separate feeders. If you are willing to prepare a "cake", then use the other materials, but omit all the seeds.

Fig. 6
A nice suet feeder which is a bit better than the one shown in Figures 2 and 3 is a box like feeder shown here in Figure 6. This one is about 4 to 5 inches wide and perhaps 9 inches tall. The rood is hinged and it can be lifted to drop in the suet. The sloping hardware cloth front keeps the suet within reach of the birds even when it is almost empty.

If the feeder does not have a metal baffle on the post to stop raccoons, the lid will need to be wired down or otherwise fastened for a raccoon can easily lift the lid to reach the suet.
A Suet Bag
Another simple feeder is a net bag filled with suet and hung up somewhere from a wire across the yard or from a branch.

Fig. 7

Warning: The mesh must be at least three-eighths or ½ inch square. A smaller mesh can sometimes seize onto a birds bill and hold the bird there.

October Feeder Survey starts & Fox Sparrows Migration


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPICS The October Feeder Survey Starts Today
Fox Sparrows Migrate South Through Central New York This Month


The October feeder survey

The October feeder survey starts today and ends Saturday. Will you help with the 45th year of this scientific project? Here is what you do. Spend a few minutes at the window making a list of all the species you see and the number of each. Try to do this once each day. The more often the better.

At the end of the week, send a list of the species and the largest number of each that you saw at any one time. For example, if you see 12 jays this week, but never more than three at a time, then three is what you report.

List 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. At the end of the week, put the list on a post card or in a letter or use e-mail.

Via Mail: Send to Ben Burtt, Stars Magazine, P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse, NY 13221

Via E-mail: Send to Be sure to put "For Ben Burtt" in the subject line.

To read the detailed instructions for the Survey,click this line

Fox sparrow due

Watch for the fox sparrow this week. It breeds in Canada and migrates south all through October. A few will show up now, but many more will be in your yard by the middle of the month. It will not show up here again until April.

As shown in Bob McNamara's painting below, it resembles a large song sparrow. The breast is heavily streaked. The streaks come together to form a central spot on the breast. These markings on the fox sparrow are much broader and darker than those of the song sparrow.

The fox sparrow's most distinguishing feature is the rusty-brown rump and tail. It is this fox-like color that gives it its name.

You will need to put seed on the ground to attract it. Since it finds most of its food on the ground, it will never visit a tubular feeder with perches.

At my home I put cracked corn and millet on a huge flat rock whose top surface is just above the grass. While the seed can be gobbled up there by chipmunks and squirrels, I keep it on that rock from now through the first week of November to attract the fox sparrow, the junco and the many other ground feeding sparrows that migrate through.

CAPTION: The fox sparrow makes two brief visits to Central New York each year. Now it is on its way south. It returns next spring, en route to Canada. This was painted by Bob McNamara of Constantia. He is a wildlife artist and you can see more of his work by visiting his web site at


A. Some more life history of the Fox Sparrow..

B. The migration of the fox sparrow, where it nests and where it spends the winter.

The fox sparrow is one of the most attractive members of the sparrow family. It breeds in the far north and is now on its way to its winter home in the southern part of the United States. The winter range extends from southern Pennsylvania, southern Ohio to northern Florida. Some winter on Long Island. Since it is only here in Central New York for the month of October, you must keep your eyes open.

You won't get another opportunity until April when it passes through on its way north to nest. So we get two opportunities each year to see it as it passes through.

The fox sparrow is the largest of the sparrows that we see here. Like the towhee, it feeds by scratching away dead leaves in its busy search for fallen seeds or insect food. Both its feet are used together and it makes quite a commotion in the brush. In fact, one usually hears the scratching and rustling in the leaves before actually seeing the bird.

From now until early November, it can be found in the woods or secluded thickets or amongst the bushes at the edge of a field. Since it feeds on the ground, it seldom is seen perched high in trees. When disturbed, the bird usually will fly into the lowest branches of some nearby trees and be quite conspicuous and easy to identify. In a moment or two it will return to the ground to scratch around some more.

The summer home of the fox sparrow is in the extended forests of Canada that go on and on for miles. There, it breeds from the limit of the trees, south to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Newfoundland, it is one of the most common nesting birds.

South of the St. Lawrence River there are a few nesting spots. In Nova Scotia it occurs on one big island and along the eastern coast. Its summer neighbors there are such northern species as the rough legged hawk, the pine grosbeak, the gray cheeked thrush, the white-crowned sparrow and northern shrike. The only place it nests in the eastern United States is in the northernmost tip of Maine.

It nests in the northern parts of the western provinces of Canada.

As for the western United States, under ordinary circumstances, California, Colorado and other western states in this country are too far south to be breeding grounds for the fox sparrow. However, the higher elevations of the mountains in those states have a climate and plant and animal life similar to that of Northern Canada. Fox sparrows can be found in summer even in Southern California if one searches the high mountains just below the timberline.

Since it migrates through Central New York into November, the fox sparrow is just about the last of the small land birds to migrate. Now and then one or two will stay on for the winter, but this is a rare occurrenc

The Birds that migrate in September and early October

By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPICS: The Birds that migrate in September and early October.

The Feeder Survey Begins in Two Weeks. Discussion of what it is, how you can help and Complete Instructions for you to follow.

This column is divided into two sections here
Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the newspaper on the date above.
Section 2 contains additional information on the Feeder Survey that starts October 3, what it is is and how you can help me with this scientific project. Detailed instructions are provided for your participation.


BIRD COLUMN FOR September 19, 2004
By Benjamin P. BurttMIGRATION NEWS
Many birds that are just here during the summer have gone south already. They slip away and we do not notice. These include chimney swifts, nighthawks and hummingbirds.

During September, warblers are going through from their nesting grounds further north and we will not see them again until spring.

Migrating thrushes will be conspicuous in the coming weeks. The veery, which breeds here as well as to the north, left in mid-September. All the other thrushes, however, will now gradually pass through in numbers. Each individual will be here for a day or two and will be replaced by others as it moves southward a bit each day. Wood thrushes are next, but by mid-October all of them will have passed through our yards.

Also coming through from the north are the grey-cheeked thrush and the Swainson's thrush. They will be seen for about three more weeks.
The bluebird, hermit thrush and the robin continue their migration until mid-November.

As for flycatchers, all will be in gone in a few days except the phoebe. By the end of October it too will be gone.

Some birds feed on the ground during migration and stop off in our yards where we can easily see them. The dark-eyed juncos and the white-throated and white-crowned sparrows are for many of us the most exciting migrants in the fall season.

These species are just beginning to show up. Flocks in the back yard brighten the October days, but they will all be gone by the end of that month.


While most white throated sparrows and juncos go further south, a few remain in Central New York through the winter. Another sparrow that spends the winter here is the tree sparrow. It breeds farther north than does the white-throat or junco. It nests in the Arctic beyond the trees, but spends the winter in the Northern United States. It will be along in a few weeks.

CAPTION: Migrating Sparrows. The two most conspicuous sparrows that will be moving through are the white-throated sparrow, top, and the white-crowned sparrow, bottom, shown in this painting from Roger Tory Petersons "Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America." Both birds have stripes on the crown, an unstreaked breast as adults, but the white-crowned sparrow is a grayer bird. The white-crowned has a pink bill instead of a dark one and it lacks the white throat patch. The white-throated sparrow also has a yellow spot in front on the eye.(Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )


The October feeder survey starts two weeks from today on Sunday October 3 and continues through the following Saturday. I hope that you can help me with this.

This is a scientific project that I have been operating since 1959 that utilizes readers of this column who observe the birds in their yard and report the numbers and species to me. It is a lot of fun and if you haven't participated before, the following paragraphs describe what it is and how you can help out.

Your observations will help me find out what birds are visiting our yards and feeders throughout the winter. When the results are printed, you can compare the number and types of birds at your feeder with other feeders in the area. I will be able to compare this years results to earlier years.

Participation in this fun project is open to all readers of this column who live in Central and Upstate New York State. Here is how I define the limits of that area.

The northern boundary is the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario west to Rochester.

From there the boundary goes south to Elmira and Binghamton. From Binghamton the line goes north east along Interstate 88 to Albany and then north on Interstate 87 to the border with Canada.

Thus it includes all of the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes regions.
For those of you familiar with the reporting regions of the former Federation of NY State Bird clubs, it includes all of Regions 2 through 7 and part of 8 ( The Federation has a new name, The New York State Ornithological Association ).

History of this projectThis feeder survey was started in the winter of 1958-59, and data have been gathered every year since then. The idea was suggested by the late Dr. Francis Scheider. So this is the start of the 45th year of this project.

In 1970, a feeder survey was initiated in England. In 1976, one was started in Ontario, Canada, by the Long Point Observatory. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology began a survey for the whole United States in 1987.

This is what you do.
Starting on the first Sunday of the designated month and continuing through Saturday, when you have a few minutes, look out the window at the feeders in the yard, and record the number and species of all birds that you can see from the house at that moment. These birds can be at the feeder or anywhere in sight.

Those flying by can be counted if you are sure of the identification. You can record birds that you see when you are outside as long as you are looking from a point right near the house. Birds seen on hikes nearby are not to be included in the list.

To avoid counting the same bird more than once, write down the maximum number of a given species that you see at one time. This way, you know that there are at least that many birds visiting your yard.

Later that day or on another day during the week, check the yard again and write down the number of each species that is visible at one time during that period. Watch as often as you like and keep these lists until the end of the week. You don't have to watch every day, but any day Sunday through Saturday can be included.

Then, summarize your observations by preparing a single list for me that shows the name of each species seen and the largest number of birds of that species sighted at any one time during the week. For example, if you see a total of 42 house sparrows this week, but never more than nine at a time, nine is what you put on the list that you send in.

There may be more than nine house sparrows around your yard, but we are certain that there are at least nine.

We conduct a survey for a week starting the first Sunday of the month from October through May. Through these surveys we see how the population of different species changes throughout the winter. We can also pick out long-term changes in the population of some species over the years.

Preparing the list.
There are several things you can do to make the tabulation easier for me. First, it is a big help if each list has the birds in the same order. If you can, please use what is called "check-list" order. It is the order the birds are listed in your field guide and the order I use when I publish the list of birds seen on a survey.

The second way you can help is to put each species on a separate line with the number of birds first and followed by the name of the species.

Please write the total number of species at the top of your list.

Unusual birds. If you list a bird that is unusual in this part of the country or should not be here at the time of the survey, or closely resembles a species common in our area, please write a note describing the field marks you observed and how you made your decision.

Sending in the ReportsAt the end of the week, put your final list on a postcard or in a letter and send it to the address below. You can use EMAIL if you wish. If you do use Email, please give your name and address so I will know where your observations were made.

PLEASE send your report by Monday right after the survey so that I can get the tabulation done in time to write up the results by the following Saturday.

Send your feeder survey report to either of the following addressesBy Regular Mail: Ben Burtt, PO Box 4915, Stars Magazine, Syracuse, NY 13221.

By E-Mail: Send to Be sure to put "For Ben Burtt" in the Subject Line.
How you can read the Summary Report of the results.

About 3 weeks after a particular survey week ends, when the next survey starts, I will make available on this web site a detailed discussion of "The Feeder Survey Results" It will include the complete list of species, a discussion of all the trends and unusual birds reported, as well as the longest and shortest lists, etc. Click on COLUMNS and then the date of that column.

A brief discussion and summary of the observations is published in the newspaper on that same date, but there is not enough space there for all of the details that are in the summary of the survey on this web site.

Wind turbines and Birds

BIRD COLUMN FOR August 8, 2004

By Benjamin P. Burtt

Topic: Wind Turbines and Birds

Are these devices for generating electricity from the wind a danger to birds?

Provided below is a copy of all the material that appeared in the newspaper column on the date above, plus extra information for the interested reader who wishes to learn more about this subject.

Mr. Burtt: There are wind mills near Cazenovia, NY for making electricity. I've heard that they can somehow be harmful to birds? What can you tell me about this? J.G. Cazenovia

Dear J.G. The use of wind turbines to make electricity is attractive because it does not contaminate the air. Each tower has a three blade propeller that is turned by the wind. However, some people worry that many birds will be killed by flying into the moving blades.

This concern arose when it was reported that a number of hawks and eagles were killed at the Altamont Pass area east of San Francisco after wind turbines were first put there 20 years ago.

Bird Collisions with human-made structures.

This question brings up the whole subject of the structures we build and that birds are killed by flying into them each year.

Birds collide with our cars and trucks, with buildings and with the windows in them. Powerlines take their toll. Radio and television antenna towers and cell-phone towers on the tops of hills or ridges, cause fatalities in bad weather at night when birds are forced to fly nearer the ground during migration. They run into the towers or the guy-wires supporting them.

Dead birds have been counted and estimates have been made of the number of fatalities at these different structures per year. The estimates vary because scientists use different assumptions in making their calculations. In each case below, I have chosen the estimate that is half way between the lowest and the highest published estimate.

For example, birds die when they collide with a building, a house or its windows. About 4 die each year per building. I know that in a year, about 20 birds hit my big picture window as they mistake the reflection for part of the scenery. Most are able to fly away, but 4 or 5 die. Thus my house is about average.

Counting all the buildings and houses in the United States, about 400 million birds are killed each year by hitting buildings and windows. Buildings kill more birds than other structures.

Collisions with powerlines cause about 85 million deaths. This is about 175 per mile of wire.

Cars, trucks and buses kill about 70 million birds per year. That is a lot of birds, but taking into account the number of cars, on the average, it means that my car kills a bird every other year.

The TV and radio towers cause the death of about 20 million birds per year. Each tower kills about 300 per year. This happens most often when birds are migrating at night and bad weather and clouds force the birds to fly nearer the earth. A TV or radio tower mounted on a high point is thus a serious hazard and the guy wires take their toll. Steadily burning lights on the towers seem to attract the birds as well.

Wind turbines kill about 2 to 4 birds per tower per year depending on where the tower is placed and how it is constructed. About 45,000 birds are killed each year at turbines about the country. This knowledge comes from careful carcass counts at existing wind plants.

CAPTION: These modern turbines to produce electricity from the wind are in Wyoming. There are some 15,000 others around the U.S. including some in New York State. Note the size in comparison to the old fashioned windmill on the left.

The structure of the wind turbine and the tower

Those early turbines rotated so rapidly that the short, moving blades were almost invisible to birds.

The turbines then were supported by a lattice of supports and braces much like you see on the old fashioned windmill on the left in the photograph. Birds that perched there may have been killed as they tried to fly away through the whirling blades.
(Photo Courtesy of David P. Young Jr., West, Inc.)

At Altamount mentioned above, on the average one or two birds were killed per year at each tower, but with 6000 towers clustered there, the kill was impressive.

The improved models

The turbines near Cazenovia are modern ones like the white ones in the picture and are supported by a single tower with no place for birds to perch. The blades turn more slowly on these newer models and thus are visible as they turn. Nevertheless the tip of the blade is still moving fast enough to kill a bird.

The towers east of Cazenovia are 216 feet high and each of the blades is 108 feet long. The blades turn at about 20 revolutions per minute.

The location

Careful attention to the environment in the area of the wind turbines must be taken into account. The place chosen must have wind of course, but it should not be where there is a concentration of birds. The early wind turbine plants were located without attention to the use of the area by birds.

It turned out that there were lots of birds-of-prey in the area of the Altamount power plant in California that was mentioned above. Many rodents lived there and this brought the birds of prey in.

The modern turbines are probably less dangerous to birds, but much depends on where they are put. During migration, birds generally fly well above the towers if they are located on flat land. In the daylight, low flying birds are observed to swerve as they approach the tower.

However, if the towers are put on high ridges birds may hit them while migrating at night. An estimated 20 million birds are killed every year by collisions with TV and radio towers placed in such spots. Turbines located there would stick well up into the sky too.

At night, in bad weather, the clouds are sometimes very low. Since birds fly below this cloud ceiling, they may be forced to fly so low that they will run into any tall tower on the ridge.
Shown in the picture here is part of a line of turbines that runs along the top of a ridge of the Alllegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. Often, as here, some of the forest along the top of the ridge is removed during construction. Cutting the forest for 10 miles along the ridge does destroy and fragment considerable nesting habitat for birds.

To prevent collisions with aircraft, the towers must have lights. If there are steady lights that are on all night or if the area around the base of the tower is illuminated, when birds are forced to fly low, they encounter the lights and are often confused. They circle the lights and hit the tower or its guy wires.

Photo Courtesy of D.D. Boone, Bowie, MD

Blinking red or white strobe lights do not cause a problem and all turbine towers now use them, but some older TV towers have steady white lights.

How dangerous are turbine towers?To answer this question for a particular location, a careful, scientific study must be made. This must be done nowadays in order to get a permit. The developer must engage the services of a company that has the knowledge and experience to do the scientific experiments required.

There are a number of companies in the environmental studies business. They are also hired by government agencies such as a state conservation department, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or a town to study the project and provide a report on the impact the project will have on the environment.

As for wind turbines and birds, the occurrence of birds at the site must be studied. Radar can be used during migration to determine the number of birds moving, their speed, the direction as well as the altitude at which they fly. Many birds migrate at night and radar is of particular use then.

It is useful to determine how many birds fly low enough to be at risk for colliding with a tower or the blades. In one study by radar of a prospective site in West Virginia. some 1,800,000 birds flew over the 10 mile stretch of the ridge of mountains during the fall migration of 2003.

The radar detected birds from the ridge top up to nearly a mile above it ( 4922 feet). The critical region was from the ridge up to a point just above the top of the prospective turbine blades. In that lower region of higher risk, 300,000 birds were observed during the fall migration.

Of those, about 500 would have been killed. This conclusion was based on carcass counts at another ridge line wind plant where 2.37 birds were killed per turbine during the fall season.

These carcass counts are carefully done. Since predators may pick up a carcass before it is counted, the investigator must plant some dead birds to see how fast they are cleaned up. A test must also be run to see how well the planted carcasses are found by those making the survey. The 2.37 birds per turbine came from such a study.

Studies of this type have been made all over the country and they lead to the figure of about 2 birds being killed per turbine per year in the west. Where turbines are located on the Appalachian ridges in the east, the number varies from 2 up to 4 per turbine per year. I have found no studies that show higher numbers killed anywhere in the United States.

These studies are complicated and are done in a scientific manner and I have read such reports and am impressed with how thorough they are. Well educated biologists and other scientists make up the personnel of the firms doing the study.

Some people express the opinion that the investigation may be biased in favor of the developer. If that happens just once, the environmental consultant company is out of business. The report is used by the developer and by the agency that has to approve the project. Money to pay for the project often comes from both sources.

Summary of bird loss due to collisionsThe figures here are the estimates of the number of birds killed per year by colliding with each of the various human structures discussed above.

400,000,000 by collisions with buildings and windows
85,000,000 by collisions with power lines.
70,000,000 by collisions with vehicles
20,000,000 by collisions with TV and radio towers
45,000 by collisions with the 15,000 wind turbines

If we eventually had a million turbines, they would account for only 1.5% of all the casualties that birds now undergo to live with we humans.

Just for comparison, the Audubon Society estimates that about
100,000,00 birds are killed by house cats each year.

Producing ElectricityWe make most of our electricity by burning coal or oil. This produces acid rain that damages our forests, kills fish in the lakes down wind and ultimately makes it impossible for some birds to feed in our lakes and streams.

The carbon dioxide and other gases from the furnaces and from our vehicles traps the heat of the sun and is slowly raising the temperature of the earth. ( This can change the climate and it is called the "greenhouse" effect.)

Electricity from wind turbines produces no toxic or harmful materials, but some birds and bats are killed by colliding with the towers.

So how do we weigh the benefits of having electricity with the harm its production causes to the environment? We do have to weigh the benefits and the risks. Becoming informed is the only way we can each reach an intelligent decision. I hope that this discussion has been of help to you.

The Danger to Birds Caused by the Reflections


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: The dangers to birds caused by the reflections from glass windows.
Some are killed by colliding at high speed with the glass while others spend fruitless hours attacking their own reflection visible in a window near their nest.
One Billion Birds are Killed each Year when they Collide with Windows in the United States.


This column is divided into two sections here

Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the newspaper on the date above.

Section 2 contains additional information for the reader who is interested in learning more about the subject of this column


The fall migration has startedSparrows that nested further north will pass through during September and October. Even now the white-throated sparrow is migrating.

Question: Mr. Burtt: Recently, a bird hit my window and died. Is there some way to prevent this? M.S. Liverpool, NY.

Dear M.S.: This happens to a lot of birds as they fly away from a feeder towards the reflection of the sky or the reflection of the plants nearby.

In addition during the next two months, migrating birds will also collide with windows on homes that are situated on a migration route. They collide with the glass on buildings in our big cities. Birds do not recognize glass as a solid object.

Professor Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College has studied bird collisions with windows in commercial buildings and homes. It is a very serious environmental problem and windows kill more birds than any other thing that humans do except our destruction of their habitat.

A conservative estimate indicates that almost a 1 billion birds are killed by glass each year in the U.S. This is about 10 birds per building. Before the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, about 32 birds were found dead there per year by volunteers from the NYC Audubon Society. This is only a fraction of the casualties for many carcasses probably were not found, or were cleaned up by maintenance. Some undoubtedly were eaten by gulls or rats.

CAPTION: Thousands of migrating birds are killed by colliding with windows in the buildings of New York City. The white-throated sparrow is the most frequent victim found in downtown Manhatten. The arrows in this painting from Peterson's "Birds of Eastern and Central North America" call attention to important field marks for identification, the white throat and the white stripes on the crown. ( Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Co.)

A number of things have been tried in an effort to decrease the reflection or to frighten the birds away.

There is a new simple method that I think we should try at our homes. It was invented by Stiles Thomas of New Jersey.

One or more lengths of monofilament fishing line are fastened above the window and extend to the bottom. Attach a six to seven inch white or colored feather about every 7 inches. Keep the line loose so the feathers can blow back and forth across the window. I am not sure why it frightens birds, but would you give it a try and let me know whether it works? You can get feathers at a craft shop or perhaps from a chicken or turkey farm.

Many other methods are worth trying and are discussed in Section 2 that follows just below.


A. Bird Collisions with windows and additional methods for preventing these accidents.

B. The problem of birds attacking their own reflection that they see in a window near where they are nesting.

One of the hazards of any window is that it reflects the garden and sky and birds in flight mistake the reflection as part of the scenery and fly headlong into the window.

Professor Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College was mentioned above. Here is more of what he discovered over a 20 year period as he studied the accidents that befall birds that collide with windows. From his studies he came to the conclusion that each year, between 100 million birds and 900 million birds are killed by colliding with windows in homes and buildings, particularly with tall ones in the cities. This is where I obtained the estimate of the annual window caused deaths of nearly a billion birds.

Often at our homes, a bird that has been at a feeder will leave it and crash into a window as it heads towards the reflection of the open sky. Klem has shown that the number of fatalities increases as the feeder is placed further from the window glass. There were no fatalities if the feeder was located 3 feet or less from the window. However, birds that hit the window after leaving a more distant feeder were much more likely to die.

If the feeder was 15 feet or more from the glass, over half of the collisions were instantly fatal. So you can save the lives of some birds by having your feeder close to the window. You can also better see the birds when they are close to you!

Home owners often report that a particular window kills many, many birds each year. Such a window usually faces north or south in an open area where migrating birds are already moving at high speeds.

Our large window faces the area where the birds feed. The house and window form the southern boundary of a clearing in the trees and shrubs.

Our window is not protected by an overhanging roof, so the room inside is bright and well illuminated. This reduces the intensity of the reflection. Windows that are underneath the shelter of a roof generally kill more birds since the reflection is more obvious when the room behind the window is dark.

If you are building a house with large windows facing the garden, you can have the glass tilted downward, that is have the glass lean outward from the top. Sometimes a building will have large windows designed this way. A bird flying towards the window does not see a reflection of the sky and garden, but only the image of the ground below the window and will veer away.

Attacking the window.

Here is another question about birds and windows.
Question: Dear Mr. Burtt: A cardinal was flying up against my window last spring for hours at a time. Is there some way to stop this if it happens again? J.B., Hastings, NY

Dear J.B.:This question is also related to the fact that birds do not understand the nature of reflections they see in a nearby window. The cardinal was attacking the image that it saw of itself that was reflected by the glass. It instinctively tries to drive away any other cardinal that comes near to where it plans to nest. To the annoyance of the homeowner, this thumping against the glass may begin as early as sunrise. The bird often carries on this activity until it is almost exhausted.

Each bird tries to keep the area around its nest clear of birds of the same kind. This area, called the territory, varies in size with different species. With robins for example, it may be from 70 by 70 feet up to an area 100 feet on a side.

If a male bird of the same species enters into that territory, the resident threatens the intruder. Sometimes there is physical contact, but more often a threatening rush will send the visitor flying.

Having a territory to itself is advantageous to the resident. It reduces interference by others, it may insure a better food supply, it spreads birds out and reduces losses due to predation and disease.

If a window happens to be within the territory and the bird sees its own reflection in that window, an attempt will be made to drive out the apparent intruder. Since the reflection does not go away, the local bird fights its image for one fruitless hour after another.

Birds have even fluttered at their image in the shiny hubcap of a car parked in the territory. Sometimes the outside rear view mirror gets the birds attention.


If a bird fights its image, it will exhaust itself in this hopeless task. The useless hours spent in fighting the reflection very often cause the nest to fail. The nest may not be properly constructed or the bird will fail to keep the eggs warm because it spent so much time fighting the intruder.

To stop this activity, something must be installed to frighten the bird away or somehow the reflection must be reduced.

Frightening the bird.

It has been recommended that a silhouette of a hawk be placed on the outside of the window. It is hoped that this will frighten the bird and cause it to veer away from the "hawk" before it gets close to the window.

Some people say that it has no effect what so ever while others think that it has decreased the number of hits on the window. I suspect that any piece of cardboard or paper fastened to the outside of the glass will break up the reflection enough to be helpful.

As indicated above in Section 1, there is a new method using feathers that you should try. It was first described in Bird Watchers Digest a few years ago. It involves the use of feathers dangling outside the window on one or more strands of monofilament fishing line. The details were given above.

Some people have tied the shafts of several feathers together loosely so that there is a cluster of feathers together that stick out in all directions.

Why does this frighten birds? The most likely suggestion is that loose feathers or some blowing about suggest that a bird has been killed by a predator and perhaps birds instinctively stay away from an area where there are loose feathers and possible danger.

Bill Thompson III, the editor of Bird Watchers Digest and his wife Julie have tested this method at their rural home in Ohio that has many reflecting windows. Now the Bird Watchers Digest store on the web is selling these "Feather Guards" ready made. Their unit has a plastic suction cup on each end of the fishing line to hold the string of feathers loosely in front of the glass.

Check their web site at If you wish to order one, click on "Order Now"( it works better than the"Buy Now" button.) If you want to sell some in your store, click on "Wholesale Information".

Some Stores that specialize in items for attracting birds already have them in stock. Ask around.

I hope that you will try this feathers idea and let me know how it works.

Reducing the Reflection

A white material placed against the glass on the inside usually will reduce the reflection enough to stop the attacks. Avoid pulling a dark colored drape across for this will enhance the reflection. Similarly, a darkened room with a clear glass window makes the reflection more pronounced.

One of simplest things to do is to temporarily tape up pieces of newspapers on the inside of the window. Another treatment is to spread a coating of white window cleaner on the inside of the glass. This could be in large blotches so that your own view out the window is not completely obstructed.

At the present time efforts are being made to manufacture a window glass that will appear to be frosted when viewed from the outside and yet appear transparent like normal glass from the inside.

If nothing else works for either the "attacks" against the window or to prevent high speed collisions, you may need to cover the outside of the window with a thin netting which decreases the reflection, without seriously interfering with the view out the window.