For the Birds Radio Program: Feeder contest

Original Air Date: Jan. 2, 1989

This year’s feeder bird contest is going strong. (3:33)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

Now that we’re beginning a new year, “For the Bird“‘s newest contest is going strong. Anyone can enter—all you need to do is keep track of the birds in your yard between the first day of January and the last day of February. The listeners reporting the most species in Wisconsin and in Minnesota are our grand prize winners, and other winners will be chosen in a random drawing. I’d also like to award prizes to classrooms that keep track of the birds on their schoolyards.

So far the most interesting feeder birds of the winter that I know of are two Bald Eagles coming down for hard boiled eggs in Port Wing, Wisconsin. For sheer novelty they’ll be hard to beat. A couple of Duluth feeders and one Port Wing feeder have been getting cardinals, but Iron River Wisconsin is apparently the big winner as far as cardinals go—the man at the feed mill there reports several feeders in town are getting them. There are at least a few robins and grackles sticking it out in the Northland, and my favorite Port Wing Blue Jay hater’s been getting a lone Pine Siskin. I’m getting four juncoes, which are common enough in winter in such tropical places as Minneapolis and Madison, but are pretty uncommon winter birds this far north. So far I haven’t been getting redpolls or Pine Grosbeaks, but they often come to feeders later in the season. I haven’t had any Boreal Chickadees either this winter. In past years they’ve come to my yard for peanut butter. Last year my father-in-law made me a peanut butter feeder—a chunk of birchwood with inch-wide holes drilled in for the peanut butter and dowel perches beneath each hole. Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers have been regular visitors to it this winter. So far my squirrels haven’t discovered it.

Squirrels are the bane of many backyard birders’ existence. So let’s see who’s getting the most squirrels this year. I’ve had as many as seven gray squirrels at a time in my yard. Since squirrels are every bit as interesting as birds for my little children, I don’t chase them away. In the seven-and-a-half years we’ve lived here, our squirrel population has remained quite stable, so feeding them hasn’t created a population explosion. And as a bonus, the squirrels have attracted more than one Great Horned Owl to my backyard. But I’m sure many listeners are eager to learn of novel techniques for keeping squirrels away, so if you’ve found any effective ways, let us know.

Although feeders are the most popular and effective way of attracting birds to a yard, it is possible to see a lot of birds without feeding them. For our contest, you can count birds flying overhead, so, for example, if you live in Duluth between the harbor and the dump you can count the Herring Gulls flying over. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any rare gulls with them this winter–not even a single Ring-billed Gull is staying for the winter, in spite of the fact that over 20,000 of them nested in town this year. I’ve had reports of a few old coots and some legal eagles, but unless a bird has feathers, you’re not allowed to count it.

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”