BIRD WATCH: Here’s the scoop on feeder activity

THIS IS THE month when black-headed grosbeaks and Western tanagers add their neotropical color to neighborhoods throughout the Northwest.

If you can’t join in the boastful bragging that is going on, you suspect there is something wrong with your yard.

There isn’t. There are major migration corridors, and if you aren’t near such a path, you may wait a little longer to catch the spilloff from the main migration movement.

So far, my yard is receiving the occasional straggler, while the yard of a friend is bursting at its seams with these two species.

While we were discussing the arrival of the tanagers, I mentioned that another friend gets both black-headed grosbeaks and tanagers at her suet blocks.

This surprises most people, but it’s true. I’ve stood near Charlotte’s sliding glass door and watched both species feed at the block just outside the door.

I have yet to snare a tanager, but the grosbeaks succumbed to the temptation last summer, and I expect them to return.

There is more than feeder activity being discussed right now.

The robins and other nesting birds are getting a lot of attention. They are attacking windows, metal structures, car mirrors and other reflective surfaces.

When they see their reflection, they assume it is another of their species trespassing on their territory. A battle begins that the bird can’t win. The intruder not only never goes away but when attacked hits back.

An email from “north of the border” arrived this past week. Tom and Christine live in Victoria. They passed along a solution they discovered when a robin was making a mess of one of their windows.

Take a bar of soap and smear it over the window on the outside. They used this to discourage a strongly motivated male robin and it worked. As Tom said: “Simple, but it worked.”

No, you can’t see out the window very well, but light continues to filter through it. In a few weeks, the bird will be too busy with its new family to bother about its reflection.

Some hot water, a scrub brush and the window will once again sparkle.

Another reader’s simple solution for birds attacking windows involves color crayons.

Cheryl let her children use water-soluble color crayons on a window under attack.

As they were kindergarten age, their art work was on the freeform side.

There are only half a dozen colors that are water-soluble. As you would expect, they used all the colors to “decorate” the window.

Interesting to note was that they were coloring on the inside of the window instead of the outside.

It’s possible the colors dulled the reflection enough to confuse the bird and stop the attack.

Every year about this time, I get questions asking: “Where have the hummingbirds disappeared to?”

When the main flush of hummingbirds descends on the Pacific Northwest, the Anna’s are already in residence and nesting activity is underway.

Then, migrating rufous hummingbirds flood into this region. After a few weeks, some continue north to Southeast Alaska or into the mountains. Others remain in the lowlands but their numbers drop.

This happened in my yard in late April. Now, the solution in the syrup feeder is once again going down rapidly.

The hummers we have are what the yard will enjoy this year. The only difference will be the addition of some young rufous hummingbirds and some young Anna’s.

This has been a cold May, but the summer birds are back and more are arriving.

As the days grow warm and our yards are bathed in sunshine, activity will pick up. Everyone, including the birds, responds to sunshine.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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