Q: We still have bluebirds living in Lanesborough. We saw one on Friday afternoon eating a worm while it was sitting on our iron wheel near our pond. Do many stay for the winter or do they usually migrate south?
We went out and purchased some bluebird food and worms, so it will have something to eat when the ground is snow-covered. We have several nesting boxes at the back of our property, so they do have somewhere to shelter if needed. With food and shelter provided, is it possible that the bluebird will stay in our area and raise another family for us to watch.
A: We will have a better idea as to numbers following the winter bird surveys, a.k.a. Christmas Counts, soon to be conducted by local bird clubs. These enthusiasts, both professional and "citizen scientists" will scour North, Central and South Berkshire in the coming weeks to know better what is here and how many.
To answer your question now, we have bluebirds with us every month of the year. My guess is that they are not necessarily the same individuals. Those we see now and throughout the winter feed for sustenance on berries and fruits such as crab apple, dogwood, wild grape, Virginia creeper, holly, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle. Among the list of foods just mentioned, if you have multiflora rose or Japanese honeysuckle, don’t encourage them for the bluebirds; these invasive plants should be eradicated.
I can unequivocally add winterberry to autumn and winter food for bluebirds. To digress, I have three winterberry bushes I transplanted a couple years ago, and the tallest of the three produced one fruit. I watched last week as four or five bluebirds investigated a bluebird house near these shrubs. One bluebird dropped from his perch atop the house and gulped down the only winterberry fruit we had!
Bluebirds rarely visit seed feeders, but some will, and in addition, have eagerly accepted mealworms and other grubs available through mail order and sometimes at local pet shops. Bluebirds "love" them.
I don’t provide special foods for itinerant bluebirds other than suet that they are also known to sometimes accept, and I have thought of putting out raisins, cranberries and currants for them. I have put out a heated birdbath on the deck. It won’t be used much I suspect for bathing, but the black-capped chickadees, house finches, dark-eyed juncos eagerly drink from it. Maybe the bluebirds will find it. In addition, I have cleaned out one bluebird nesting box (important), and added a larger roosting box for shelter during cold winter nights. This is the second year I offer these accommodations, although I did not notice any use last winter.
Q:Do you have any particular bird feeder you like more than all the rest?
-- Allen, Pittsfield
A: I think different situations call for different feeders. And while I have, over the years, had just about every imaginable style, I prefer a hanging tube-style feeder and the ground or our deck. The tube-style feeder would be my first choice if I was to only have one feeder.
Ours are of three types of tube feeders, one enclosed in a metal cage that only allows smaller birds (up to sparrow-size), a small screen tube, and (2, actually) self- closing feeders that shut when a squirrel hops on. This allows birds up to dove and cardinal size.
In one of these, I usually stock with black-oil seed and the other with a good quality mix that contains gray-strip sunflower seed, safflower, and assorted smaller seeds. The third tube-style is a Niger (thistle) seed feeder for goldfinches and siskins. We will discuss more next column.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com