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Birds quickly find new feeders

By Scott Shalaway

"When can I expect birds show up at my new feeder?"

That's the most common question I get from readers who feed birds for the first time. My answer is that it depends on several factors, including habitat and time of year, but usually, birds discover and use new feeders in just a few days. Let me illustrate this with two specific examples.

Back in August, I donated a half-dozen gently used feeders to Grand Vue Park just outside Moundsville. After recently adding a zipline course to complement the park's existing outdoor activities, management agreed that a bird-feeding station would be a welcome addition to the park. I dropped off the feeders on a sultry August morning, and the station was up two days later.

The feeders are located just a short distance from the main office, under tall trees and not far from the edge of the woods. I stopped by two days after the station was operational. It was hot and raining, and I saw not a single bird.

I returned a week later and found what I expected. This time dozens of birds flew off as I approached the feeders. I sat on one of three benches the park had placed nearby and watched as mourning doves, goldfinches, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches quickly returned. By now, I'm sure woodpeckers, blue jays and towhees have found the new feeding station, and soon winter visitors such as juncos and white-throated sparrows will join the hungry flock.

So in this case, in a public park, it took less than 10 days for a new feeding station to become a hub of activity.

My second example is my daughter's backyard near Asheville, N.C. Nora, her husband and 5-month-old son Garek moved into a neighborhood built into a wooded area with lots of tall, mature trees. My wife and I visited last week, and I took along a small tube feeder and a bag of black-oil sunflower seed.

On Tuesday, at 11 a.m., I attached a bracket to a post on the back deck, filled the feeder, and hung it from the bracket. It's only about 4 feet from a window, so it's easy to see, even for Garek. Then we waited.

Just after 1 p.m., my wife saw some movement near the feeder. Sure enough, a Carolina chickadee was on the feeder. Minutes later, another chickadee arrived, and then a titmouse. It had taken just over two hours for birds to find a new feeder in a yard that had never before had a feeder. And that's exactly what I had expected in a backyard on the edge of a mature woodland.

By the end of the day the list of birds visiting the feeder had grown to include white-breasted nuthatches, three woodpeckers (red-bellied, downy and hairy), an eastern towhee, a chipping sparrow, and even a Carolina wren. Three gray squirrels appeared on the ground beneath the feeders to clean up any fallen seeds. It won't be long until cardinals and blue jays add more color to the crowd.

Results at other locations will vary, but generally, birds discover new food sources in anywhere from a few hours to a few days. On my next visit to Nora's house, I'll bring another feeder and maybe a birdbath.

My only disappointment was that Garek is too young to follow the quickly moving birds. He sees the movement, but he cannot yet follow the birds as they fly in, grab a seed and then fly off. But with time, that ability will come. Until then, he will have to focus on the birds as they wait to get on the feeders. He loves watching the tree leaves wave in the wind, and it won't be long before he notices all those birds flitting in and out among the leaves.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go out on a limb here (pun intended) and predict that watching the feeder will become one of Garek's favorite activities. Soon he'll be matching the birds he sees at the feeders to images in his little Golden Guide to Birds.         

Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or email sshalaway@aol.com.


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