Thom Smith: Reader finds reason birds shun feeder


Q: You have had questions in the past about birds just vanishing for a period during the winter months. I think I know one reason.

Just yesterday, there were a few birds as usual in the morning, but by noon, nothing. And today, nothing.

I decided to explore around our yard to see if a fox or a cat was lurking. I almost missed it -- a hawk, canceled among some branches of a nearby tree. That scared the birds away.

Hawks have to eat too, so I didn't disturb it. It was far smaller than the red-tailed ones that we see on telephone and light poles along roads, and had a very light, pale markings on it, and darker bands on the tail. Any idea?

ANNA, Pittsfield

A: First, I like your attitude about the hawk needing to eat.

Just by its actions, I would suggest the bird was either a Cooper's hawk, or, and more likely, a sharp-shinned hawk.

Bird feeders do attract both species, not for the sunflower seed but for the small birds attracted by the seed.

If the hawk is the reason the other birds have vanished, why not take the feeder down for a week. That will encourage the hawk to go elsewhere, and soon after you hang the feeder back up, the birds will return.

One way I distinguish between the two hawks, besides size, is that the larger Cooper's has a more pronounced roundish tail. The "sharpie" has a proportionally longer tail. As for size, that alone doesn't always work for identification, as the female "sharpie" is about one third larger than her mate.

Songbirds make up close to 90 percent of the sharp-shinned hawk's diet, although it won't pass up a mouse or vole.


I cleaned the bluebird nesting boxes months ago, but you never know what's happened in the meantime. I got to wondering this morning if it is time to ensure they're ready for prospective tenants. I just now looked out the window and exclaimed "Uh oh!" as I saw two bluebirds out there, one standing on one of the boxes. I guess it's time.

HOWARD, Schuylerville, NY

The end a February is the traditional time to check and clean bluebird nesting boxes for prospective tenants. Roosting boxes in which they spend the winter, should be checked, cleaned and taken down at the time of years as well.

CORRECTION: In last week's column regarding deer ticks, we meant to say winter snow protects ticks rather that hikers.

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