Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Reader's patience pays off as hummingbirds return

STACEY COLE June 14. 2013 11:47PM

"We have been patiently waiting for the return of the hummingbirds. They finally arrived on May 19th, and we are enjoying seeing them morning, noon, and night. They bring us so much joy." So began a letter from a longtime Derry reader, who continued: "For two years now we have been setting out a plastic bowl of grape jelly on the railing of our deck. Previous years we have had Orioles and Catbirds tasting all day long. This year for the first time, we have Robins up there and they really seem to enjoy the grape jelly. Is this O.K. for them to eat?

"A1so we have had at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches at our feeders all winter long. They are so entertaining and perky. We love them. Will they stay year-round or will they migrate? Thank you for all your help."

I am sure that what grape jelly the American robins will consume will not be harmful to them, or any other species. Grape jelly is frequently added to bird feeding areas. As a matter of fact, if any birders are having trouble attracting birds, the aroma of grape jelly carries quite a ways and that could assist in inviting birds in.

According to the "Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire," compiled and edited by Carol R. Foss for the NH Audubon Society, and copyrighted in 1994: "... Red-breasteds occur throughout New Hampshire from the Seacoast region to elevations of 3,500 ft., and occasionally higher, and are more common in the northern part of the state. Some remain paired throughout the year."

With respect to red-breasted nuthatches, I believed that they and their cousins, the white-breasteds, simply moved about within their ranges during winter. Thus, I never thought of them as being "migratory" birds because both were frequently seen here off and on during their non-nesting season. My impression was based on the fact that since they did not appear to travel long distances, and were not gone from our feeders for any great length of time, I thought of both as being year-round "residents."

It would appear that I was wrong on that point. I refer to comments of Dr. Pamela Hunt, New Hampshire Audubon's Senior Conservation Biologist, who wrote in a recent NH Audubon "Winter Bird Survey" report: "Let's talk a little about the Red-breasted Nuthatch. Like many finches these birds rely heavily on spruce cones for winter food and unlike White-breasted Nuthatches they are highly migratory.

"In 2011-12 there were lots of cones to the north and relatively few to the south. Some migratory Red-breasted Nuthatches moved through in early fall of 2011, but they were quite scarce south of the mountains. This is reflected in the Survey total of 396, which was the third lowest ever and about half the long term average."


One of our Windham readers wrote in mid-May: "I am writing because though it is not rare, we had an Indigo Bunting stay a long time on our feeders. That was a real treat as I have only seen them rarely in my lifetime. I was glad to have this one. I put the lids on my tube-feeders as I had neglected doing that. The squirrels had easily knocked them off in order to put their heads and upper bodies down into the feeders to eat the seeds. The birds never had a chance.

"We also had a Red-headed Woodpecker this winter which is a rare bird. Thanks for your column."

Our reader was fortunate to have had visits from these two species. As our reader noted, a visit by a migrating Indigo Bunting is not rare, although it has been a few years since one has called at our feeders. Annually, for several years, a pair of indigo buntings nested in our corn field located next to the house. We gave up raising sweet corn in that field when we closed our egg, poultry, frozen chicken pie and vegetable store.The red-headed woodpecker is a different story. Not one has ever paid us a visit that I know of. According to Carol R. Foss, writing in the aforementioned breeding bird Atlas, "the colorful Red-headed Woodpecker occurs only occasionally in New Hampshire. [Generally] Red-headed Woodpeckers are only locally common throughout their range, and are scarce in New England. Typical breeding habitat includes open woods and open country with scattered trees. The breeding range extends from the Atlantic Coast to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, from the Gulf Coast north to New England and southern Canada. The wintering range extends west to southern Minnesota and western Oklahoma, and north to southern New York. They rarely winter in New Hampshire. The sexes are alike in plumage. Juveniles lack the red heads and are duller than adults with black bands on their white wing patches and obvious white rumps."

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey.

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