Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Readers share their adventures in bird feeding

By STACEY COLE March 10. 2017 8:23PM

Editor’s note: The following column was originally printed in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, March 3, 1984.

IT IS TIME once again to take a look into our mail bag.

A most unusual bird was sighted in Wolfeboro by one of our good readers. He writes as follows:

“Today (Jan. 11, 1984) as I looked out upon my tube feeder, loaded with sunflower seeds, I watched the goldfinches that had arrived in a gang, scrambling and fighting for space on the six available metal perches. Suddenly, I realized that I was looking at a bird that I had never seen before. It had a bright red face, wide yellow wing bars, and was a sight to behold ... at that moment, a big male evening grosbeak tried to take over the feeder, and all the little finches left in a flutter.

“I immediately went to my RTP (Roger Tory Peterson) Field Guide, and with no trouble identified the newcomer as a European goldfinch. No doubt about it — a positive ID.

“I have since learned that this bird was seen (once) within the last two months by a lady. Truly he is in the Wolfeboro area for the winter, and he made my day.”

This was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, this letter got mixed up with some other papers and was not found by me for some time. When I did discover it, I phoned Leslie Corey, executive director of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, and read this letter to him. He quickly agreed that it would be next to impossible to mistake the European goldfinch for any of our winter birds. Apparently this is the only sighting of this rare bird in New Hampshire as far as I know. A splendid record indeed.

The European goldfinch is a Eurasian bird which was introduced in Bermuda. A colony was established on Long Island, but it has now disappeared and according to Peterson “escapes” are still reported.

Next, a letter from Raymond, which reads in part:

“I tried putting peanut butter in pine cones and discovered my starlings prefer this food. We have so many grosbeaks that all our feeders look yellow at times.

“Realizing birds love and need water, we have obliged them by using old hubcaps placed on logs my husband cut in 3-foot lengths. Each morning, I tap the ice out and fill them with water — sometimes twice a day as they splash it all away. Perhaps this had been done before but thought if it hasn’t, some of your readers might be interested.”

Using hubcaps in this way was new to me. Sounds like something worth doing. Birds certainly do enjoy water even in the winter. Some of our readers have put small electric heaters in their birdbaths. I would imagine these are the same type of heaters that are used to keep water from freezing in hen houses.

A Chester reader wrote recently warning of the use of metal in bird feeders. Her letter read in part:

“My thought for this time of year. When metal is used for bird feeders, a bird could lose a tongue or an eye — so many feeders are hung by metal arms or have metal on them. All wood is best, I think!

“Also, you might include a thought about putting up birdhouses, and pointing them in the right direction.”

Here at the farm, we have done a bit of experimenting and find that houses that face to the east, south or west, or any combination of these directions appear to attract tree swallows a bit sooner than those which face in a northerly direction. Most who have written on the subject say that south is the preferred direction. I have felt that directly south perhaps would allow a bit too much sun so have turned our houses slightly east or west, depending really in which direction we could best observe the entrance holes. I came across a book the other day where the subject was mentioned, and that particular writer suggested houses facing south were best, but he cautioned they should be painted white, blue, green, red and brown, and have even left them unpainted, but find that in the case of tree swallows, it makes little difference.

This is the time of year to build houses, and they can be put out as soon as the ground will permit driving of a post. We have found that houses on posts work better for us than houses hung from tree limbs or attached to tree trunks. Apparently birds find houses out in the open offers them more protection from predators, and when you stop to think about it, it makes sense.

While on the subject of birdhouses, one of our readers who lives in Jackson wrote:

“I don’t know if other people do it but I always put an inch or so of fresh sawdust in my bird boxes in the spring. The birds seem to like it.”

Feeding suet not only attracts winter birds but is desired by some of our summer birds. This was found out last year by one of our good readers who lives in Claremont. She wrote:

“One day in May as we sat looking out our living room window, we noticed the oriole in the flowering quince bush. We have had orioles come back each year but were never that tame. My curiosity got the best of me as I wondered why they were sticking so close to the house so I went to look and there they were feeding on the suet. I was very surprised as I never knew they would come right to the window much less eat suet.

“In early July, we were sitting out on our patio with a clear view of the one feeder we keep with a few seeds in it each day, and lo and behold if Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal didn’t come with their two young ones who weren’t full grown! They proceeded to pick the seeds from the ground and feed their young. The young would hop to my rose garden where they’d eat the seeds. Later the young returned to feed on their own.

“About the same time, we had a chance to see our pair of nuthatches bring their four young ones back to the lilac bush where the silo feeder hangs. Mr. and Mrs. Nuthatch proceeded to crack the sunflower seeds and feed each one. It wasn’t long before the youngsters were feeding themselves. A cuter sight we’d never seen than those young birds grabbing a seed, then back to the lilac bush where they would bang it against a branch until it would crack, and they’d enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at

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