Birds at a feeder

A red house finch, an American goldfinch and a chickadee share the space at a backyard bird feeder in Pittsfield.

Q: We have had a bird feeder with the sunflower seed you suggested for about a month now, and still no birds have found it. We supported it on a shepherd's hook near some bushes for them to hide and perch in, also as you suggested. What is wrong? Do you suppose that the seed we bought is no good? Old? Stale? Do you have any other suggestions?

— Reader in Alford

A: Have a little more patience is your best choice. I would not assume that the seed is old or stale; in other words, no good. If you purchased the seed this past fall, there is little doubt about freshness. My answer is that it is normal for anything between a few weeks to months for a bird to find a feeder, and when they do, other birds will also find it.

An exception would be seeing it almost immediately, as did chickadees and a cardinal. The first was the chickadee (no surprise) to find the small suction cup window feeder a friend installed for his mother-in-law. That was in an outer Williams Street neighborhood. It took only a few days to be found, and to my knowledge, there has not been a feeder there before, but I am told a neighbor has active bird feeders. That may be in part the reason. From your email, I think the placement of the bird feeder is close to, if not perfect.

As for sunflower “hearts” (shelled black-oil sunflower seed), a wide variety of songbirds appear to me to covet it, including from my November feeder notes: chipping, white-throated, white-crown and song sparrows; black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, purple, gold and house finches; pine siskin, blue jay, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers. (As I type, a chickadee, female house finch, and male downy woodpecker share the sunflower seed feeder.) As the seasons change, some changes in species will occur.

Q: What will happen if we don’t get snow this winter?

— Alice, Great Barrington

A: It all depends on to what you are referring to? For snowplow drivers, it will mean a loss of income. The same is true for the bottom line at ski operations. A few energetic teenagers will lose out on extra pocket money. Most other winter sports will be curtailed, like snowball fights, cross-country snowshoeing and skiing, and best of all, making snow people.

For plants, whether it be a tree or a spring-blossoming bulb, snow is beneficial insulation and a source of moisture at the spring thaw. It is a benefit for reservoirs and water levels. Mice of many kinds tunnel beneath it, staying safe from hawks and, most of the time, owls.

One wild animal I can recall delights in sliding down snowbanks. You are correct if you answered the river otter. And beaver lodges are warmer beneath a cover of snow, and long-tailed weasels (aka ermine in winter) are camouflaged while hunting and being hunted. Snowshoe hairs are equally hidden.

Snow today is called “the poor person’s fertilizer,” and it isn’t an old farmer’s tale; it is a source of trace elements and, more importantly, of plant-available forms of nitrogen.

It provides gentle percolation benefiting the soil, and when a heavy runoff helps fill reservoirs and delights, waterfall enthusiasts.

Q: I have been trying to catch moles in the old-fashioned wooden Victor traps with little success. I get some mice, but no voles. Can you suggest a bait?

A: My only suggestion is a piece of apple in each trap. I tried apple sauce, but that dried up and didn’t catch anything except my finger.


As if COVID-19 is not enough, President Trump is keeping his promises on climate change; he did not acknowledge climate change at the beginning of his term and has not changed his mind.

One of the results: "The white-tailed ptarmigan is the only North American bird to live solely in alpine habitat–above the tree line in mountainous regions. Warmer winters with less snow accumulation shifts that tree line farther upslope, reducing habitat for these striking birds. If Congress does not swiftly take action to combat climate change, white-tailed ptarmigan’s loss of range and fragmentation of habitat could result in dwindling food sources and reduced genetic diversity. " — The National Wildlife Federation

And if anything could be worse in the bird world, the president's overhaul of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act would not hold firms liable for "incidentally" causing scores of bird deaths

"Shortly after taking office, the Trump administration radically reinterpreted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to no longer prohibit industrial activities that kill hundreds of species of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. Now Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt is rushing to finalize this rule before he and Trump pack their bags. It's yet another corporate giveaway — and one that will have a disastrous effect on birds, who are already disappearing at alarming rates. It will lead to the slaughter of millions." — Center for Biological Diversity