Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – January 2020


Male Downy Woodpecker taken by John Piekos at his feeder

Do you wonder if your winter bird feeding actually helps the birds? Many experts have told us that birds don’t really need us; that feeding is only for people to enjoy birds, not to keep birds alive. But a new study done in the United Kingdom suggests that feeding birds may indeed help them. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology recently published an article titled “Research Shows Some Birds Benefit From Bird Feeding”, by Holly Faulkner (Winter Bird Highlights 2019). The U.K. study shows that “bird species in the United Kingdom that regularly visit feeders have increasing populations.” As U.S Project Feeder Watch leader Emma Greig states, “These results suggest that feeding birds may lead to increased survival or productivity”

Faulkner tells us that researchers in the U.K. used citizen science bird survey data from 1973 to 2013. They found that about half of bird species who visited backyard bird feeders had a population increase. During the same time period, the populations of non-feeder birds stayed the same. In North America, Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch data for the same time period shows a similar trend: Feeder birds populations have increased (while non-feeder birds populations did less well. The U.K. researchers studied several types of variables to try to account for the study results. Did the amount and type of feeders affect the outcome? Or did habitat and climate change affect the outcome more? What the researchers found was somewhat astounding; the amount and diversity of bird feeders and feed influenced the populations of feeder birds more than weather, climate or surrounding habitat. The amount and types of feeders people put out have increased a great deal since 1973. Faulkner states, “The take-home message from this work is that our actions have consequences for the creatures that live around us. We often think of humans as having a negative impact on wildlife, but in some cases, people may truly be helping some species thrive.”

Keep up that winter bird feeding, and don’t feel guilty about feeding in the other seasons too. Birds will find lots of natural food, as well as what they get at the feeder, and if they are migrators, they will leave on time despite the bird feeders.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of January. Reports sent by February 26 will appear in next month’s column. You can write me at 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.

Late December Reports:

Rose Marie Koester, Providence Rd. December report: Along with ten juncos, came white-throated sparrows. They are cute.  At feeder, house finch, purple finch, goldfinch, two pairs of cardinals, six blue jays, a few doves, chickadee, nuthatch, tufted titmouse. On a snowy morning in mid December, had many juncos. Two wrens appeared also. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, one pecking on the house again. Two hawks in the yard. One sat in the trees and checked out the feeder area (no one there). Another landed on top of feeder, but again, no one there. One evening a little sparrow bumped into the window. I got up to check it out and it was sitting on the edge of the window of the sliding glass door. Stayed for awhile, moved to the awning, then moved to upstairs window. A few turkeys come occasionally, sometimes as many as ten. One seems to have a partial white wing. Deer ran thru the back woods. “On Xmas eve, we retuned from church services to find four female deer in our driveway and front yard. We stopped the car and they stared for a few minutes and then took off—what a nice surprise!” On outdoor camera in front, saw what appeared to be a weasel, a first for us. A bear came to check out feeders early December, but left when he found they were not there.

Ron Gemma, Concord Rd. December 12, Carolina wren at suet feeder.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. December 30, 32 degrees, rain and freezing rain. At feeder, three squirrels, eight goldfinches, ten juncos, one titmouse, two downy woodpeckers, one chickadee, one white-breasted nuthatch. December 31, freezing rain, 32 degrees. A young gray squirrel eating mullein seeds from the stalk, then leaping all over the yard in play. Maybe mullein is “squirrelnip!” All three squirrels then started to eat it. I read that Native Americans used to grind up the seed as a paralytic for fishing….(I noticed that the squirrels were still fine the next week). At the feeder: red-bellied woodpecker, cardinal pair, white-throated sparrow, house sparrow.


January Reports:

Rose Marie Koester, Providence Rd. January 3, immature cooper’s hawk sitting on our deck this am, chirped a few times, then flew off [Rosemarie sent a photo-MH]. Our first bluebird, a male at our feeder. Also at feeder: blue jays, two pairs of cardinals, chickadee, tufted titmouse, goldfinches, house finches, doves, ten or more juncos, downy woodpecker, wren on deck railings, hawk circling overhead, three or four squirrels chasing each other, deer tracks in the snow, signs of mole or vole in front yard. On wildlife camera at night, two animals seen, raccoon or fisher.

Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. January 6, six deer foraging in the woods, Carolina wren, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, nuthatch. January 13, excited to see a pair of pileated woodpeckers in trees in the back yard.

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. January 6, light snow, 27 degrees.  At feeder, a pair of cardinals, two blue jays, five juncos, six house sparrows, two white-breasted nuthatches, one chickadee, one downy woodpecker, one hairy woodpecker, three mourning doves, one titmouse, one white-throated sparrow, eight juncos, three goldfinches. A cardinal is singing his spring song already. January 11-12, these past two days have been sunny, and the temperature has been in the 60’s! January 19-20, three or four inches of snow on the ground, temps 16-20 degrees. At feeder: twelve juncos, one goldfinch, one chickadee, one blue jay two downy woodpeckers, one white-throated sparrow, a song sparrow has shown up, a barred owl calling from nearby woods at 5:30 p.m.  A walk on the trail by Keyes Pond at noon, chickadees are singing their spring songs, “Hey Sweetie”. Beautiful long, blue shadows reach part-way across the frozen pond, beautiful clear blue sky. January 21, sunny and 14 degrees.  Saw and heard a beautiful pileated woodpecker hammering loudly and feeding on a tree in the woods between the cemetery and Pilgrim Drive. He called once, then flew across the street. January 26,  forty degrees and sunny. A walk on the trail around Keyes Pond: saw tracks of fisher, coyote, fox, raccoon and bobcat in the little snow that is left.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. January Report: Canada geese, opossums, deer eating acorns, a flock of cedar waxwings landed in my maple tree for a few seconds, chipmunk, gray fox, red fox, robin [Debbie sent photos of grey fox on her deck and deer in the yard-MH].


Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation group whose mission is the preservation of Westford’s open space and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out our website at westfordconservationtrust.org, and visit us on Facebook.