Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Winter activity around bird feeders abounds

Q: Just saw [at] 10 a.m. at my feeder a new bird — sparrow/junco-sized; light gray body, darker gray wings, a pink, not red cap and a straight pointy beak. I looked online and in my field guide, but no luck.

— Cheryl, Pittsfield

A: No bird comes to mind, so I require help and longtime Hoffmann Bird Club member Tom Collins is a good choice.

Q: I sometimes see large hawks along highways, but never as small and fast as one I saw catch a bird at our feeder. The other birds were frightened off for an hour maybe. We live in a wooded location near Pownal.

— Maria, Bennington, Vt.

A: At this season, it may have been a sharp-shined hawk. This hawk is in the group we call Accipiter, a hawk with a long tail and short wings, ideal for pursuing smaller birds through trees and thickets. Some have become regulars at bird feeders, requiring feeding to be stopped until it leaves.

Q: I had a chipmunk that, when I sat on my deck steps, would come and take sunflower seeds from my hand, sometimes pieces of apple and even dog bone treats if broken into pieces. Now that it needs food, it is gone. Is it because of the weather or do chipmunks hibernate? Might an owl or something catch it?

— Tim, West Stockbridge

A: I cannot testify that an owl, hawk, house cat, fox, coyote or another animal caught it. What I can tell you is that chipmunks do not hibernate, but have the sense to stay below ground during the winter months, for instance, where it is warm(er). Individuals will venture out on mild winter days though, but mostly sleep a lot and eat when hungry from stashes of acorns, seeds, nuts and other chipmunk delights it stored, including dog treats, during the summer and fall.

Q: My patience grows thin with gray squirrels raiding the bird feeder. Is there something less expensive that might encourage them to leave the feeder alone?

— Sandy, Pittsfield

A: My suggestion is two-fold. Get yourself squirrel-proof feeders and begin offering the squirrels dried corn on the cob at their own feeder. Squirrel and Critter food made by Kaytee Products is another thought, although it may be more expensive than a bag of corn on the cob that can be hung from a branch with sturdy wire, or make a shelf of two pieces of wood in the shape of an "L" out of scrap wood, drive a nail (pointing up) and force an ear onto the nail.

Fasten the shelf to a tree trunk, where they can sit on the shelf and eat corn until they are full. You can get dried ears of corn where bird seed is also offered. And I know, stores like Agway, Tractor Supply and most hardware stores offer bags of dried ears of squirrel corn. You can also put out squash seeds (and pieces of squash), along with a dog biscuit, from time to time, and of course, raw, shelled, unsalted peanuts, another favorite of theirs. I just don't like enticing more than a few, considering the damage they can do to one's home. And be careful; these are wild animals with sharp teeth.


As I now have readers in southern Vermont, I would appreciate having a few active birders that from time to time, email me reports of feeder birds, individual, group or club field trips, unusual sightings, and anything you may think exciting.

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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