Oct 30, 2013 | Featured Web Article

Supplying Skulkers and Wallflowers

Our most widespread sparrow in North America, the song sparrow prefers dense cover such as brushy field edges, hedgerows, and brambles, but it's also common in backyards, parks, and cemeteries.
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As winter settles in across our part of the world, we prepare. We check, clean, and fill our seed feeders. We mix up homemade suet dough in enormous batches that don't last nearly as long as they should. We set up heated birdbaths that offer winter visitors an oasis at which to drink. Winter may be the best time of year for backyard feeding stations, as wild food sources become scarcer. In our yard in northwestern West Virginia, we also take an extra step that is often undervalued: We spread some handfuls of mixed seed on the ground in sheltered spots where we know skulking birds hide. (Some folks spread a bit of cracked corn for the wild turkeys to find.) Although towhees and some of the shy sparrow species may not be regular feeder visitors, we know they take cover under our spruce and in the vine tangles along the edge of the woods. These are species that only rarely venture from such protected places across our open yard to the main feeding station. We've also noticed that skulking birds tend to congregate in places like these when the weather turns inclement. Providing birds with a cache of food in these covered shelter spots further encourages them to stick around.

Sure, the resident mice, squirrels, and chipmunks will undoubtedly take some of the food left on the ground for the birds. It's a small price to pay. Our efforts bear fruit with the first snow of the year, when most of the natural sources of food become buried and the weather is harsh. Suddenly that sheltered alcove under the bush is one of the few places left uncovered by snow—and the food inside is a welcome discovery. We've watched eastern towhees and Lincoln's, tree, swamp, and fox sparrows crowd into the protected spaces, scratching at duff and uncovering the morsels we've scattered for them. We've even had late-lingering gray catbirds, brown thrashers, pine warblers, and wintering hermit thrushes visit these "secret" feeding spots.

And when an accipiter jets through the yard, the regular feeder visitors (chickadees, titmice, cardinals, mourning doves) zip into these same protective habitats seeking, well, protection. While they are in hiding, most of them drop to the ground to forage on the food we've scattered for their shyer cousins.

Tossing a handful of mixed seed, sunflower hearts, peanut bits, old fruit, suet bits, or even crushed eggshells into deep cover around the perimeter of our yard makes us feel like we're also offering a bit of sustenance to the "wallflower birds" that visit us during the winter months.

About Jim Cirigliano

Jim Cirigliano and his wife live in Parkersburg, West Virginia, alongside an undeveloped wooded tract of bird heaven.

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  • I've been feeding the birds at my home for over 20 years and have multiple bird houses all over. I'm getting old and I'm worried more about the poor birds that occupy the bird houses and where they will go when I'm gone and someone else buys my house and takes down all the bird houses.
    by Linda DiPierro, Sun, 01 Dec 2019
  • i live in watauga county nc and bluejays left our area on tuesday aug 20 2019! About twenty came in for their feed of peanuts, then left. It has been so quiet since they left. The gold finches are busy feeding.
    by Rhoda Buffalo, Thu, 22 Aug 2019
  • Really?! I have two (2) feeders that hold just over a pound each of Safflower seeds (I weighed) and I have to fill them up EVERY day. The small birds absolutely love these seeds!
    by David John Repischak, Mon, 05 Aug 2019
  • I use frisbees for umbrellas. Sometimes I get them free at events. I use red over hummingbird feeders. Helps to attract them.
    by wnyfalconfan, Mon, 05 Aug 2019
  • I recently were given two new bird feeders. Both have not been touched by any birds. Its been nearly 6 month, why is this? One is like a larger orange Hazel nut with an open front & the other is a yellow honey comb with 3 sides open.Is it the colour which scares the birds? I have the same feed in them as in my old feeder, which I need to refill regularly. Many thanks. Doreen
    by Doreen Atkins, Mon, 29 Jul 2019