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Baby Black Bear by Chuck Wiser

The Upland Gardener: Birds


by M. L. Wells, Master gardener volunteer, Allegany County Cornell Cooperative Extension

As promised: The birds. Where would we northerners be in the gloom of winter without our colorful, feathered friends and helpers?. They do so much to control all those “bugs” in spring through the fall; we owe them a bit of lunch in the winter.

Bird watching is one of the biggest hobbies in America–more of us watch the birds than football–imagine that!

Now, you can spend a lot in this endeavor or very little. Here is what I have done: (1) bought a 20-foot length of 3-foot-wide, heavy-duty fence, the spaces within the fence are 4 inches by 2 inches. (2) I set this up in a loose spiral about 4 feet in diameter under the shelter of a pine about 25 feet from the house. That’s it. The fence will outlast me. It keeps the cat at bay. Birds are smart–see her coming (sneak, sneak) and simply fly in and out from the other side.     

Then, I only feed black oil seed and some homemade bread. Maybe in really cold weather (15ish degrees Fahrenheit), I scrape some inexpensive shortening on the tree bark. The seed and bread go on the ground, they all learn to either eat it there or snatch it up and fly away into the trees to eat. This is what the chickadees and nuthatches do. The blue jays take over and sit – gobble, gobble. So do the cardinals although in a more dignified manner. And of course, the red squirrel is the king of the heap.

Regular winter visitors from the north include the juncos and tree sparrows (the sparrows with the small black dot on their clear chests). These birds form winter flocks and hang together to forage until late March. The chickadee is the leader of the pack, their warning (dee-dee-dee) is heeded by all.

I only put food out early in the morning so none is left by dark. And I don’t start til’ Thanksgiving and taper off by mid-April.

Finally, many have joined the Cornell University’s Feeder Watch Program. Check it out online at and sign up!

Meanwhile, enjoy the snow and your “little flock of birds” as they come to check out the lunch counter in your back yard.

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