Mild temperatures this fall have confused humans and birds alike. I usually suggest putting up feeders after the first frost if you are a seasonal provider, yet I have put mine up already. There are some rules that should be reviewed every fall, or year-round if that is your method of providing for your feathered friends, about how to keep the birds that come to your feeders and birdbaths healthy.
Birdbaths should be cleaned out several times a week, or more often if there are leaves or other detritus floating about. Do not just add new water to old. Dump, brush out or jet out the old water with a hose and then refill. Once a month the bath should be scrubbed with a mild solution of water and 10 per cent bleach. Make sure the bleach solution is totally flushed from the bath (no foaming). Then let the birdbath dry before refilling.
There are also more ecologically sound products than bleach that are made from a corn starch base and are said to keep organic build-up, mineral deposits and stains down in your bird-bath. I have not used them so have no idea if they are effective. There are also enzyme products sold at pet stores that are purported to keep water baths clean.
Bird feeders are no different. In her bird feeder cleaning tips, Melissa Maytz says if they are not kept clean “they can harbor bacteria, mold and other disease agents that can decimate backyard bird populations. Infected birds can spread the illness to other backyards and wild populations, creating epidemic conditions that could wipe out entire nesting colonies if left unchecked.”
So here is the drill. Bird feeders should be cleaned at least once a month and more often if they are well-used. They should be cleaned inside and out making sure that perches, feeding ports, trays and platforms are cleaned. If there are deposits of feces on the tops or sides of the feeders, this should be cleaned off frequently as well. Again, the best method is to wash the feeder with a mild solution of 10 per cent bleach. Scrubbing with a solution of dishwashing detergent is also okay as long as in both cases the feeders are flushed out well and dried afterwards.
Rob Culbert contacted Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and they agreed with the above, but also added, “Any time you see a bird that is clearly sick at your feeders, it’s a good idea to do a couple of things. The first is to bring your feeders in and clean them thoroughly with a 10 per cent bleach solution. Then wash with hot soapy water and rinse well. Dry thoroughly before putting seed back into the feeders. That will help protect the rest of the birds at your feeders.
Even if the sick bird doesn’t usually feed from the ground, it is a good idea to clean up the seed cases from the ground below your feeders as well. Let’s make sure we keep a disease-free population of feeder birds on the Vineyard!
The Vineyard was very lucky we dodged the bullet. Hurricane “Frankensandy” gave us moderately high winds and extremely high tides, but nothing compared to what happened to communities south of us. Birders always go into the field after hurricanes or tropical storms to see if unusual and more southern birds have been blown in by the storm. So far there have been practically no unusual sightings.
The best bird seen after the storm was a cattle egret spotted by Gus Ben David on the roof of the World of Reptile and Birds in Oak Bluffs on Oct. 31. Gus said it took off shortly after he first saw it, circled the property and headed out towards Major’s Cove off Sengekontacket Pond. Gus added that he had two to three red-breasted nuthatches at his feeder daily and had a flock of over 30 pine siskins before the storm.
Flip Harrington and I had two male and one female evening grosbeaks at our Quenames feeder on Oct. 28. This was the first time in years we have had evening grosbeaks at our feeder. We also had a female purple finch the same day.
Flip Harrington, Frank Fenner and Frank Lurosso watched an American kestrel flying along the dunes at Lobsterville on Oct. 27.
Dale Carter reported from Chappaquiddick that she had seen two house finches with eye conjunctivitis, so hopefully she will wash out her feeders and clean up the ground below her feeders. On a brighter side, on Oct. 23 she had a golden crowned kinglet hit her window, sit stunned on her deck for a spell and they fly away.
Back on Oct. 17 Dana Bangs counted six greater yellowlegs and an osprey over the Lagoon in Vineyard Haven. He also commented that his mother’s feeder on Skiff avenue had pine siskins for the first time ever! Vasha Brunell spotted the yellowlegs again on Oct. 25 as well as two belted kingfishers over Lake Tashmoo.
And speaking of ospreys, David Stanwood spotted an osprey over Lake Tashmoo on Oct. 30 and Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and I counted two over the Fischer field on Tisbury Great Pond the same day. Dick Jennings reports that Belle, the Vineyard’s osprey, is back at her winter digs in Rondonia, Venezuela having made yet another migration safe and sound! As Dick said “it is simply incredible how these birds migrate and get back and forth to their respective summer and winter digs.”
Lanny McDowell, Flip Harrington and I spotted a Blackpoll warbler in with a flock of black-capped chickadees at Quansoo on Oct. 30. Flip and I later spotted a peregrine falcon and an American coot at Black Point in Chilmark. In Menemsha, Flip and I counted eight common loons and spotted one northern harrier flying along the coast headed towards the Gay Head Cliffs.
On Oct. 30 Allan Keith counted about 80 northern gannets moving from Vineyard Sound offshore. He was pleased to report that there were between 2,500 to 3,000 common eider off Gay Head, more than we have seen in a couple of years. He also said there were between 2,000 and 3,000 scoters, mostly white-winged and black, but also a few surf off the Gay Head Cliffs. His best birds at the Cliffs were two red-necked grebes. In Oak Bluffs at Farm Pond, Allan spotted two buffleheads, two hooded mergansers and two American oystercatchers. He also said there were several laughing gulls in the seaweed washed up on Sylvia Beach.
On Oct. 31, Winkie Keith spotted eastern bluebirds in the Turtle Brook Farm yard.
Pat Ingalls’ yard near Thimble Farm has been very active. She had a flock of dark-eyed juncos, hairy and downy woodpeckers, brown creepers, eastern bluebirds, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice and both white and red-breasted nuthatches. She also thinks she might have a flock of common redpolls, but we are going to wait until we have a photo to be sure.
Allan Keith and Lanny McDowell traveled to Chappaquiddick on Oct. 22 where they found a few northern gannets, nine male harlequin ducks, Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks, two northern harriers, two American kestrels, one peregrine falcon and one merlin. They counted 12 American oystercatchers, one late piping plover on East Beach along with several black-bellied plovers, a Bonaparte’s gull off Cape Poge and one barn swallow in with a flock of tree swallows.
The next day, Oct. 25, I joined Allan and Lanny McDowell at Chilmark Pond where we spotted an osprey, a northern harrier, a merlin, several semipalmated plovers, four American oystercatchers and four greater yellowlegs, a dunlin, an Ipswich sparrow and a swamp sparrow. Lanny and Allan heard and saw an American pipit.
At the Quenames feeder on Oct. 25 Flip Harrington and I had a female purple finch, 50 pine siskins, two eastern phoebes and a white-crowned sparrow.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.