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 features@syracuse.com 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 features@syracuse.com. 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 http://www.artofwilderness.com/


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