Winter Bird Feeding–A Session With Randy Carone’s Camera

downy-woodpecker

carolina-wren

Hello, everyone!  This post follows up on a conversation I started with Randy Carone, who contributed one of the photographs for a previous blog post about leaving plant seedheads and fruits for winter birds to eat and when which birds eat particular fruits and seeds.

After feeding birds in his backyard for 30 years, Randy now has a seriously addictive bird feeding habit.  Randy, who is a photographer first and a birder second, doesn’t count himself a having seen a bird unless he has gotten a photograph of it.  In fact, he may end up photographing a bird and not really knowing what he has “seen” until he views the photo, since light conditions make it hard to see with the naked eye.

Randy has one pole mounted bird feeder that his daughter Kate bought him a while ago.

ruby-breasted-grosbeaks

He also has two window mounted feeders—the one in the front acts as “cat TV” for his (and his wife, Emily’s) two cats.

tufted-titmouse-as-cat-tv

red-bellied-woodpecker-as-cat-tv

He also has two “finch feeders,” round clear tubes with a roof, hanging from a line.  During warmer weather, he also has a hummingbird feeder.

His basic food of choice is Audubon Supreme Blend, which has seeds, fruit, and nuts, and which he buys a 40 pound bag of for about $40 every two weeks.

red-bellied-woodpecker-extracting-nut-1

red-bellied-woodpecker-with-nut-2

red-bellied-woodpecker-with-nut-3

He supplements this with suet on the pole feeder.

red-bellied-woodpecker-eyeing-downy-on-suet-cake

The pole feeder also has a “squirrel catcher” that prevents squirrels from getting to it, although they still get to feed since the birds slop things over the sides of the feeder onto the ground.  Squirrels –two of them—can and do get to the window feeders, but so do the birds.

cardinal-on-squirrel-catcher

He fills the two finch feeders with Nyger seeds (sometimes called thistle seed, but apparently not actually related to thistle at all).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Randy’s feeding (to me) is that it has given him ample opportunity to intimately observe and learn some bird habits.  He has noticed that while cardinals stay around and are feeding year round, they generally like to wait until dusk to feed, and like to eat alone or in the company of other finches (since they are also a type of finch).  White throated sparrows are only around in the winter, when they migrate south from their summer range for the somewhat warmer weather New Jersey represents for them.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are aggressive, and will peck other birds; blue jays are also aggressive.

winter-bluejay

The bird feeders indirectly also feed meat eaters—hawks will sit some distance away, pretending not to notice, but waiting until an unwary smaller bird can be picked off at the feeder in a cloud of falling feathers.  Mourning doves, in particular, are “dumb,” as shown by how often they end up being someone else’s meal.

cooper-hawk

another-hawk

One of Randy’s favorite photo sequences is of a mother Red-bellied woodpecker feeding her almost same size offspring; he feels sure that the juvenile was fully able to feed itself, but the mother still wanted to do so.  She had picked out a peanut from the mix, used cracks in the roof of the feeder to smash it into smaller pieces, and then carefully picked out and fed the pieces to her child.

1-parent-preparing-peanut-for-juvenile

2-parent-feeding-nut-piece-to-juvenile

Randy’s and Emily’s yard includes various trees and shrubs that also provide cover; in particular, finches take refuge in a Blue Spruce tree, and an Azalea bush right by the back porch is also a common source of cover, especially when it leafs out.

house-finch-on-a-branch

Randy grows Tithonia, Passion flowers, Sage, Cat Mint and other flowering plants that provide nectar to hummingbirds and seeds for other birds to eat.