Monthly Archives: May 2014

Blackbird, fly

Common Grackle in my hand

The Common Grackle, a bird in my hand.

As in the fairy tales, be careful what you wish for.

A cackle of grackles (yes, that is the proper collective noun for these icterids) has been visiting for a few days. This morning I wished one would come close enough, or hold still long enough, for me to take a good picture.

Less than a minute later… BAM

Grackle window strike

…a grackle hit the kitchen window, fell to the ground and lay motionless.

“This is spooky,” I thought, and went out to check on it. About half the birds I’ve ever seen hit a window are stunned for a few minutes then they fly off. I was hoping this was the case.

Grackle in grass

Poor bird. It wasn’t moving.

I picked it up gently and checked for obvious wounds or broken bones and found nothing except a few loose feathers on its left shoulder. I held it for about five minutes, then I let it rest on my lap where it was mostly motionless except for mild panting and an occasional blink of its eyes.

Then it pooped on my pants, so I got a nice towel for it to rest on, warm in the sun on the back deck.

Common Grackle on a towel

I hung around and kept an eye on it, even chasing away one of my chickens who came up the back steps. A few times the grackle started to stiffen up and become especially unresponsive; it looked like it was going to do one of those bird-giving-up-and-dying things.

So I encouraged it: “C’mon, bird, don’t give up. Grackles don’t quit!”

About half an hour after the window strike, quite suddenly it popped back to lively life, hopped a couple of times, opened its black wings and flew off into the shady woods.


Later I ran some errands including buying a package of WindowAlert decals (butterfly shapes) from Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland, NH.

To get them to stick right, I had to wash the window. The one damn window in the whole house I can’t flip open to wash from the inside and I have to use a ladder. And my husband is in Barcelona. And I’m afraid of heights.

It’s the only window without a screen in summer, other than half the sliding glass door. We had a problem with bird strikes there too, until I added Window Alert Snowflake Decals a couple of years ago.

I stuck those ultraviolet-reflecting butterflies on good. (Photos by daughter Anna, at home in her pajamas on a Saturday.)

Good to know…

All About Birds: Window Collisions

Hope: New glass technology could stop hundreds of millions of birds from flying into windows every year

two grackles

The rest of the day the grackles came close enough, and held still long enough, for photos. They flew over me while I was in the back field weeding the sprouting corn. Spotted them while I was out back too with Anna, my sister Fiona and our dogs.

Grackles seem to like the Audubon Workshop High Energy Suet Nuggets best.


Grackles can be pests especially for farmers, but I like them. They are spunky and attractive.

Common Grackles are blackbirds that look like they’ve been slightly stretched. They’re taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, more tapered bill and glossy-iridescent bodies. Grackles walk around lawns and fields on their long legs or gather in noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens.

A bright golden eye gives grackles an intent expression.

grackle on suet

This evening I celebrated my strange encounter by inventing a new cocktail…

The Common Grackle Cocktail

The Common Grackle.

1 part ROOT
3 parts Coca-Cola

Catbirds sitting pretty

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird inspects the hummingbird feeder.

These birds are curious, active, vocal, and sometimes comical. I watched one stand on the rim of a jelly dish, get surprised by another catbird swooping past and hop feet-first into raspberry jelly. Then it hopped around leaving jelly footprints on the wooden railing, sometimes stopping to peck little tastes off its feet. The other catbird landed and hopped along behind the jelly bird, tasting its footprints.

I like their sleek gray bodies and little black caps. They are named for one of their vocalizations, a mewing call.

Our catbirds – there are at least two pairs nesting nearby – like to peck on suet cakes and and feast on the “insect suet kibble” and dried berries and fruits in Cole’s Nutberry Suet Blend Bird Seed.

I knew of the existence of catbirds but I didn’t really know which birds they were until I started paying attention to our backyard and Seacoast birds in 2014 and identifying and recording species on

Gray Catbird

Hearing the word “catbird” always reminded me of the James Thurber story “In the Catbird Seat”

… which features a character, Mrs. Barrows, who likes to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explains that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber, a baseball broadcaster, and that to Barber “sitting in the catbird seat” meant “‘sitting pretty,’ like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.”

Gray Catbird


According to Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary, the phrase refers to the Gray Catbird and was used in the 19th century in the American South.

When used in the sense of a lookout, it can be considered a euphemism for the nautical term “crow’s nest” that is used on sailing ships.

Bluebirds every day

Eastern Bluebird father and child

Photo of an Eastern Bluebird dad feeding his fledgling kid.

I spotted this scene as I was walking past the sliding glass door this morning. Fortunately my camera was near at hand.

One reason I started this blog is because I know most people don’t get to see things like this every day. I share photos on Facebook and get many likes, comments and questions.

Eastern Bluebird fledgeling wants food

Another reason I started this blog is because my friends say: “You get so many birds in your yard, you’re so lucky!”

Let us go back in time, once upon a time, long ago in cold dark winter, before we had these bluebirds living in our backyard where we can see them every day. Maybe I can help change your luck…

In January I was snowshoeing in the marsh behind our house and I saw a flock of bluebirds feeding on the red berries of winterberry holly. I thought: so, they are around in winter! Why don’t they visit our feeders?

Feeder for bluebirds

A short Google search later, I had learned that Eastern Bluebirds do not eat the sunflower seeds we were putting out in tube feeders all winter and they cannot cling well to a suet feeder. Yes, Backyard Bird Feeding 101.

So I ordered a feeder that bluebirds can use. This is it. It works! It attracted not only bluebirds but other new birds as well.

(Click the pic and you can buy it on Amazon. If you do, I get 4% commission to keep me in bird feed. I will NEVER recommend or link to a product I have not already tried and liked.)

I served up some whole peanuts and dried mealworms from Agway and some peanut butter suet dough I ordered from Audubon Workshop. (Recipe to make your own dough is here on Four or five bluebirds – and other birds too! – began visiting right away.

Important note: We check and fill our feeders EVERY day, sometimes two or three times a day. They are in a convenient location and easy to see and be reminded. The birds can rely on the food source and they become accustomed to the people who feed them.

Gilbertson bluebird house

“Hello, honey, over here!” Mr. Bluebird picks out a home.

By early March, a pair of bluebirds had staked out their territory, helped along by our purchase and installation of a Gilbertson PVC Bluebird House from Amazon.

I had researched nest boxes starting at and settled on the Gilbertson type, which was recommended on a number of bird-friendly sites.

My husband bought the pole, a 5-foot, 1/2-inch piece of galvanized steel electrical conduit, at Home Depot. He pounded a 2-foot piece of rebar through two feet of snow and into the frozen ground then slipped the conduit over it, with a clamp on it so it wouldn’t spin around. The nest box slips right down on the pole.

(We also bought a heated birdbath. More on that later. But adding water to your backyard is a huge factor in attracting birds, and our bluebirds seem especially thirsty.)

Bluebird eggs

On Easter, April 20, we checked the nest box and found a clutch of five little eggs. Nice color!

It is easy to remove the bottom PVC portion from the wooden lid, with just a careful pinching together of the lightweight plastic sides to unhook them from the screws, to look inside. The bluebirds don’t seem to mind this, but we didn’t overdo it.


Food delivery for the hatchlings! Photo taken on May 7.

Lots of back and forth for a few weeks. They caught many fresh insects and worms, but definitely seemed to appreciate the ease of stopping at the feeder now and then.

baby bluebirds

May 7: Five bluebird babies in a cozy nest of pine needles (with a couple of chicken feathers underneath, we discovered later).

So unbelievably tiny.

bluebird butt

The parents were good about feeding the babies… up until the couple of days they fledged and left the nest, May 18 and 19.

Four of the five nestlings were ready to be fledglings. But there was a runt left in the nest, not developed enough to have grown all its flight feathers. After a day the parents stopped feeding it, while continuing to fly around feeding the others up in the trees.

I wasn’t sure whether I should intervene and when I finally did it was too late. So one baby bluebird was “buried” under a little moss blanket out in the woods.

fledgeling bluebird

Today was the first day I got a good look at the next generation, when this one followed its father to the feeders.

No wonder I have had trouble spotting them in the trees – they are not very blue yet. They are wearing their woodland camouflage.

female Eastern Bluebird

The female Eastern Bluebird perched on a feeder pole, near sunset.

Our backyard pair have tidied up their nest and are visiting the box again. I think they are getting ready to raise a second brood this season.

Have you had success with bluebirds? What worked for you?

The woodpecker says wake. wake.

Downy Woodpecker

5:45 a.m. Three days in a row. The Downy Woodpecker sits on the porch rail outside our bedroom window and calls a sharp, loud, one note call:




Listen to Downy Woodpecker sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It sounds like a distress call. It is impossible to sleep through. I peek through the wooden blinds and the bird is looking at the house, at the window, at me.

I roll out of bed and go carry the suet feeders, tube feeders and bell feeder, which are stored inside overnight because of raccoon banditry, back out to the porch.

The piercing one-note call stops. Now the chorus of ordinary morning birdsong carries no special message for Bird Food Lady.

Downy Woodpecker female

Our most popular and successful back porch suet cake here at Amy’s Early Bird Diner: Feathered Friend High Energy Suet from our local Agway.

(Top photo is a male downy, bottom is a female. Males have a red patch on their noggins, females do not.)

Feeding hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hello, bird! A Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits our backyard.

I finally took the hint and bought them a feeder.

Two weeks ago I was buzzed a couple of times while sitting on the back deck with a book and glass of wine. Hummers really do sound like big bumblebees. Two days later my daughter Anna was doing dishes when a hummingbird came and hovered at the kitchen window, staring at her. “He looked into my soul,” she said.

The first skinny, tiny, hungry migrants arrived in coastal New Hampshire three weeks ago. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico and Central America. In spring, they fly from the Yucatan Peninsula to Florida and Louisiana, across the Gulf of Mexico – 500 miles over open water!

Hummingbird feeder

I did some research and decided to order a Aspects HummZinger HighView 12 oz Hanging Hummingbird Feeder from Amazon.

It has a perch around the rim so they don’t have to hover and expend energy while they feed. (Also, then they hold still for photos!) It has an “ant moat” in the middle to keep ants from getting to the nectar.

The cover is bright red to attract hummingbirds and it snaps off easily for cleaning and filling.

Pensive hummingbird

I like to imagine this little bird is appreciating this newly discovered food source.

Recipe for hummingbird nectar:

• Boil 1 cup of water

• Add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve (4:1 ratio water to sugar)

• Let cool to room temperature and serve

No need to add red dye. If it’s cold and rainy, or near migration time, you can make the nectar a bit more concentrated… as much as a 3:1 ratio.

The first hummingbird dinner guest arrived the day after I put up the feeder. I celebrated by creating a new cocktail I call The Ruby-throated Hummingbird…


Mix melon schnapps (or Midori melon liqueur) with vodka and some simple syrup… or homemade hummingbird nectar! Carefully and slowly pour a “floater” (it sinks) of Grenadine. Top with crushed ice.

Sip slowly on the back deck in view of the hummingbird feeder. Don’t worry about scaring them off. They are tiny but they are bold, not shy.

Do you feed hummingbirds? Any tips on what works (or doesn’t) in your yard?

Good info: Debbie’s Tips for Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds