I haven’t seen my Pileated Woodpecker around much lately but yesterday he turned up in the morning but flew quickly when he saw me. Later in the afternoon he returned and I managed to get some pictures of him.
A Piliated Woodpecker has been appearing at my feeders since last fall. Until yesterday I had not been able to get a photo of her. As we drove in the driveway my wife saw her at the feeder. I assumed she would be long gone by the time we unloaded the car and shut the garage door. Fortunately when I checked the feeder she was still around. I managed to get some shots of her on the suet feeder.
Last week we headed out on another trip to find Bald Eagles along the Mississippi River. Just before we reached Durand, Wisconsin I noticed one sitting in a tree along the road. We turned around and went back for some shots. This is probably the best Bald Eagle shot I’ve gotten. He was right near the road and was not obstructed by any branches.
As we drove over the Bridge At Wabasha we noticed an eagle sitting in a tree next to a nest just north of the bridge. Unfortunately it was too far away for a shot. We then headed up to Reads Landing. There were a few Eagles sitting on the sand on the other side of the river but too far away for any shots. We did see a pair of Mature eagles flying around. It looked like they might be getting ready to mate. About that time a train came along and I could see that the eagles had gotten close enough to photograph but by the time the train passed they were gone. We had lunch at the Reads Landing Brewing Company. Apparently it is in the process of changing hands.
We then drove north toward Red Wing, Minnesota. There are several pull offs just north of Reads Landing so we stopped to watch the eagles fishing on the open water. One of them caught a large fish before it flew off to have lunch.
We then drove to the next turn off where another photographer was already photographing eagles. He hadn’t had much luck but just then one landed a short distance away. Unfortunately it was partially hidden by the trees.
While we were looking at the eagle another bird flew into a patch of Sumac. Turned out to be a Piliated Woodpecker.
A little further up the road we found a bunch of Mallard Ducks on a partially frozen pond.
When we reached Red Wing there were no birds around so we headed home.
After an absence of several years I now have a Pileated Woodpecker back at my feeder. He turned up during a snowstorm and has returned a number of times in the following weeks. I hope he sticks around for a while.
I see the Pileated Woodpecker at my feeder almost every day but haven’t been out in the woods to see what he has been up to. This last week I took a trip around the farm and found several trees where he has recently been active. As you can see they can make short work of a tree and do considerable damage.
A couple of weeks ago we had, what I think, was the last major snowstorm of the year. There is nothing like a good snowstorm to bring birds into the feeder. They typically are not nearly as shy as they are on a nice bright sunny day. A good snowstorm means some great bird photography. Most of the usual suspects turned up during the storm.
More bird photos from the last snowstorm can be found on my website.
This has been a great winter for bird photography. I’ve been able to photograph several birds that I’ve never seen at my feeders and I’ve had a several species that have shown up in unusually large numbers. In contrast to last year when we had little snow this year we have had a lot of snow. More importantly it has snowed during the day when I can photograph birds. I live for photographing birds in snow storms.
Pileated Woodpecker – This year, for the first time, a Pileated Woodpecker has shown up at my feeder on a fairly regular basis. In the past I’ve seen them around the farm but they just flew past my feeders. This year I tried a new suet feeder and that has attracted a male Pileated. He is still a shy bird so I’ve only been lucky enough to photograph him a few times. He is a spectacular sight when he lands on the feeder and starts banging away. The down side is he does considerably damage to my suet feeder.
Northern Shrike – This is also the first time I’ve seen this bird at my feeder. Of course he is feeding on other birds usually the Black-capped Chickadees that frequent my feeders. I’ve only seen it a couple of time but still was lucky enough to get a few photos.
Common Redpolls – This bird showed up at my feeders in small numbers early in the winter. Around the end of February they showed up in large numbers. I had my thistle feeder out all winter and up and until the redpolls showed up I hadn’t had to change the thistle seed even once. One morning I woke up and found the thistle feeder filled with them. After a couple of weeks they were around in reduced numbers.
Northern Cardinals – I have Northern Cardinals at my feeder year around but this winter I’ve had an unusual number of them at my feeder. It has not been uncommon to see a dozen of them at the feeder at any one time. They really love my new suet feeder probably because I’m using peanut suet with nuts in it. The new feeder has plenty of places for them to perch so they can get at the suet.
Downy Woodpeckers – They frequent my feeders year around but seem to be most active in the winter time. It is not unusual to have a half dozen of them at my feeders at any one time. They feed on both the peanut and regular suet feeders.
Hairy Woodpecker – Larger than the Downy Woodpecker the Hairy Woodpecker is seen less often around the feeder. I rarely see the female and male at the feeder at the same time.
American Goldfinch – Again they are here year around. They have appeared somewhat sporadically at my feeders. Generally there are some of them around but they were gone for a couple of weeks and on the day the Common Redpolls showed up at my feeders in large numbers the American Goldfinches also returned to the feeders in large numbers.
Blue Jay – Blue Jays are frequent visitors to my feeders but they usually stay in the shrubs at the base of the feeder. They seem to be fairly skittish so any movement and they are gone. The only times I’ve been able to get some shots is when it is snowing out and they are at the suet feeder.
White-breasted Nuthatch – White-breasted Nuthatches show up at my feeders every three or four years. This is the first time they have been at the feeder since 2009. They have been around all winter this year.
Red-bellied Woodpecker – The Red-bellied Woodpecker also shows up at my feeders every three or four years. They have also been around all winter. This is the first year both the White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches have been around the feeder at the same time.
Dark-eyed Junco – Is one of the first winter birds to turn up at my feeders. They have been around in large numbers this winter.
Black-capped Chickadee – I have more Black-capped Chickadees at my feeder than any other bird or at least it seems like there are more of them. Since they are in constant motion it seems like there are a lot of them going to and from the feeder.
For a number of years I used a standard wire suet feeder at my bird feeder. While it attracted some birds it did not provide a very interesting prop for photographing the birds. In looking for an alternative feeder my primary goal was to make something that provided an interesting landing spots so I could photograph birds in a more natural setting. I noticed a tip in Birds and Blooms that described how to make a suet feeder using a log. Since I live on an 80 acre farm I have lots of logs around.
More bird photos from the farm can be found on my website.
The first feeder I made was from a small log I had in my woodpile. It was about 18 inches long and partially rotted. That made it a little lighter to lift up to the feeder. I drilled a bunch of 1.5 and 2 inch holes in it and filled it with some commercial suet that I was using at the time. It seemed to work well and the woodpeckers liked it. One day, after a storm, it fell from the pole it was attached to and split into several pieces.
I immediately started looking for another log. This time I chose to make one out of a birch tree that had recently been cut down. I cut an 18 inch section out of it and drilled a number of holes in it. The birch worked well during the winter when the white blended in with the snow. However, in the summer it provided too much of a dynamic range when photographed with a dark background of grass and pine trees so I took it down and went looking for another prop.
This time I found an oak tree, out in the woods, that was partially rotted. I cut a an 18 inch piece out of it and drilled some holes in it. I used this one for a couple of years This past summer when it was really hot out the suet melted and impregnated the log and making it too heavy to lift up to the feeder.
Off I went again to find something else. This time I chose a partially rotted poplar tree. I also chose one that was about 3 feet long. I had a couple of reasons for choosing this tree. First it was a softer wood and I realized that Pileated Woodpeckers were attracted to it. I have plenty of Pileated Woodpeckers around destroying my poplar trees but they never show up at my feeder. Second, it had a number of broken limbs sticking out.
All of my other homemade suet feeds were straight sided logs. It was fine for the woodpeckers but noticed that the non- woodpeckers had problems using the feeder. They had difficulty holding on to the straight sided logs. They would try perching on any little nodule on the log but most of the time they were unsuccessful. I wanted to see if the new feeder with perches for the non woodpeckers would attract more birds to the feeder.
I have been amazed how much better this new feeder is for attracting birds. Within a few weeks of putting it up a Pileated Woodpecker turned up and has continued to come to the feeder all winter. This feeder has also attracted a variety of birds that never fed at my traditional suet feeder or my earlier straight sided feeders. This has included Northern Cardinals and Grey Catbirds. It has also allowed the Black-capped Chickadee and the Dark-eyed Junco to feed. In the past they tried but really needed a perch to stand on.
One of the problems with a homemade log suet feeder if getting the suet into the holes. Several companies make round suet logs which are easy to get into the holes. I just inserted them into the hole I drilled and cut them off with a spackling knife. I thought they were a little pricy. The other problem was that, particularly with the soft wood like Poplar the birds started to drill their own holes and enlarge the holes I made so the logs no longer fit. I started just filling the holes with suet by hand. That proved a little messy since most of the suet is crumbly. It made a mess but as long as I did it outside it wasn’t a problem. However, I started losing too much of it when the weather turned cold. When it reached -15 I decided I wanted to fill the feeder in the house. This really made a mess in the basement with crumbly suet.
A few weeks ago I decided to try heating the suet cakes in the microwave. I used a little too much power and the suet became the consistency of wet cement. However, When I took it down to fill the feeder it worked great. I just used a spoon to pour it into the holes. I poked it a little to eliminate air bubbles and with the cold weather the suet hardened like cement.
What I will be looking for in my next suet feeder will be a soft wood with lots of natural perches for the birds. This seems to create the widest range and the largest number of birds.
More information on my various bird perches can be found in an earlier blog.
I haven’t been able to photograph my Pileated Woodpecker for a while. He’s been around but I haven’t had my cameras setup at the right time. One day he was at my Suet feeder when a Hairy Woodpecker also showed up. It was fun watching them chase one another. One would get on the feeder and the other would be sitting a short distance away. Then the other would take over the feeder. Unfortunately no camera was setup. On a snowy day I did have my camera setup when the Pileated turned up.