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Where Have All My Goldfinches Gone?

My Experience With Goldfinches Before 2015


Nearly every year since 2003, the first year I started feeding birds, I’ve had goldfinches in my back yard. Sure, there have been some years where they were heavier than others. I made a recording in May of 2011 where they were massing in the woods behind our property and the din was almost deafening. Have a listen.

Other than that year, the pattern was the same: they would become regular visitors during the winter, taper off a bit in the summer, disappear when plants got to seeding stages in late August and come back again for the fall/winter rush. This year that has not been the case at all.

american-goldfinchesThis year, due to some seed I purchased at Walmart which I believe had been stored improperly, I started out with very inconsistent results. I kept finding them on my sunflower seed feeders and not so much on their thistle feeders. I knew the feeders were clean and the seed was recently purchased so I just wrote it up to an anomaly of sorts.

Finally, I decided to see if there could be a problem with the seed. I asked my local Wild Birds Unlimited buddy what she’d been hearing. She said nothing struck her about the goldfinch reports she’d been getting from customers and gave me a small bag of thistle to try in my feeder. I could see her seed was shinier than mine which I knew meant oilier too. Do I have to tell you what happened?

Of course, within two days of putting out the new seed the feeders were covered up with goldfinches. I said my apologies to them for holding out on them and got ready to buy a new bag of thistle. Anybody that feeds birds will tell you how hard it is to throw away seed but I knew what I had to do. I threw some of it on my patio for the mourning doves but they didn’t go crazy about it and I knew it would take me way too long to get rid of it that way. So, I dumped it and moved on.

Still Not Here To Stay

After I replaced the old seed with the new the traffic picked up significantly for a while. Maybe a month or so. Then, I started noticing a tapering off when they should be settling in for the summer. I checked and cleaned my feeders one more time just to be sure. No effect on the traffic. So, pretty much from June or July of this year I’ve seen very spotty traffic back there and I can’t explain it. So, I’ve come to ask for your help.

What Has YOUR Goldfinch Traffic Been Like in 2015?

If you could leave me a comment below and tell me where you live and what your goldfinch experience has been like in 2015, I’d love to hear your feedback! I’m baffled. The only change that’s happened this year is we had a tree just behind our property get split and had to be severely pruned. I should mention this tree is not directly near the goldfinch thistle feeders but I did consider just the change in the backyard cover may have spooked them. The only problem with that idea is I think they started tapering off long before the tree was even damaged in the storm this summer. Anything you can share would be appreciated. Also, if you could like this post on Facebook or share it on twitter maybe we could get even more input.



When Survival Seems Unfair

The Intelligence At Work

Young CardinalSometimes, we birders have to witness things that break our hearts. Nestlings getting killed by birds competing for the space. Seeing the odd bird dead on the side of the road while walking our dogs. Seeing squirrels who’ve been hit in the road. The list goes on. What keeps us going is we know that these things are all part of the beauty we see and enjoy every day. We know the Universe has different plans than we can ever hope to know for the creatures we love and watch every day. We understand that there is give and take that we just won’t ever understand.

That is not to say that it still doesn’t make us sad!

A Familiar Sound

It was about ten o’clock in the morning this past Thursday. I was downstairs going about some daily activity I can’t recall. Then, I heard it. The familiar squawk of the blue jays in nearly perfect unison. And it wasn’t just one or two either. It sounded like the blue jay choral director was tuning them up for a performance. This went on for more than a couple minutes and then it stopped. From my experience, I knew this is generally NOT a good sign because I’ve heard blue jays go on like this until they’ve driven the offender out of their territory. A quick glance out the window showed there were not any birds to be seen on the feeders, in the bath or in the nearby tree branches.

Then, I saw him.

Standing Majestically

Standing not ten feet from the feeder station was a very large adult Cooper’s Hawk. Just standing there. At first, I thought he was just recovering from an unsuccessful attack near the feeder. However, he had something about him that seemed a little too proud and contented. Don’t ask me what it was. Maybe just his stance that gave it away. I tried not to let him see me and I think I was successful. I looked closer at him and I thought it looked like he was standing on something. I couldn’t tell for sure because leaves had fallen and our grass was a little overdue for mowing. He just stood there for a few minutes while I admired him.

If Wishes Were Horses

I wished very hard that I didn’t see anything under him but that was not to be.

Before another minute passed, he heaved his huge body up into flight and then I saw it. He was carrying an immature male cardinal in his talons. Lifeless it just hung from him as he flew into the woods behind our house to enjoy his mid morning snack. I felt a quick twinge of sorrow on seeing this because I had seen these guys kicking around in the grass beneath the feeder before this. I know it was because they don’t rank and are probably kept off the feeder by their elders. I remember thinking one time before as I watched on foraging a little distance from the feeder that it wasn’t a good idea. I’m so sorry to be right at times, you know?

Reframing The Incident

Times like these it is very easy to just feel bad for the little one who just hadn’t learned THAT lesson yet. The more I thought about it, the more my mind was put at ease. Here are a few of my immediate takeaways:

  • We’ve had a bumper crop of cardinals this year and this was an unavoidable consequence that wasn’t anybody’s fault. If I had twenty more feeders up, he would still not have ranked to be up on it most likely.
  • He probably served as the example for cardinal parents to tell their children “Be careful where you feed. Remember what happened to little Billy.”
  • He was killed and eaten by a predator who had a real need for survival. He didn’t give his life to entertain some poor feral cat who had no intention of eating him.

I’m not saying that it makes easy for us. I’m just hopeful that I have any understanding of the grand scheme of life on this planet. I do believe everything happens for a reason whether we know that reason or not. It’s all about trust for me. I trust in a higher power and the Universe to keep all these forces working in a way that makes sense for them if not us. That we’ll be ok with how it all plays out.

Are you ok with this? Let me know if this story has struck a chord in you by leaving a comment below.


Start With A Bird Bath

resin bird bath

Water Is An Easy Start To Feeding

If you’re like me, you want to get the most enjoyment out of your back yard with the minimal amount of fuss. After all, when you’re not spending time in your back yard, you don’t want to be worrying about how you’re going to keep up with it all. That’s one of the reasons I like more permanent fixtures over portable ones. For instance, I love the new resin bird baths because they allow one person to buy the bath, pedestal and sand, put it wherever you want it and weigh it down to stay very easily. Just a little time with the level to make sure you’ve got it square and you’ve got a feature that will serve you for a LONG time. Plus, they allow you to easily remove the bath for dumping and cleaning which is HUGE! I can’t tell you how many of the cement or stone baths I’ve seen that are nothing more than mosquito breeding grounds because the owners dread having to clean them. I mean, let’s face it. There’s only so much you’re going to be able to do with a bucket and brush unless you want to mess with the hose. Being able to fully clean, dump, rinse and dump the bath without risking physical harm is no small gain.

I’ve had the same resin bath since I put it in over ten years ago. I got it at Home Depot and it has served me well ever since.

It’s very similar to this bird bath. The only difference can see with it is I can’t tell if the bowl unscrews or not from the descriptions. I think I must be behind the times for the search terms on this because I can’t believe there is any reason they would stop making them.

It has allowed me to clean it as often I need to and it’s even let me change completely frozen water with the help of a rubber mallet. If you’d seen me beating on this thing every winter, you would have bet money it wouldn’t last but it has.

Since providing water for birds is one of the easiest things you can do to start attracting birds to your back yard, why not start there? Then, you get a chance to observe what birds you have in your immediate area and can plan your feeding stations accordingly. I’ll have much more on that in future posts. For now, why don’t you make a small investment of time and money and set up a bird bath in your back yard today!

Quick Tip

If you have a patio or deck in your back yard, make sure to locate the water at least 25-30 feet from it. That way, you’ll be able to sit and watch the birds bathe without making them nervous. It will increase the overall enjoyment for both of you!

Do You Have Questions About Providing Water?

Leave me a comment below and tell me if you have a challenge or a victory you’ve experienced providing water for your bird friends.


Spring Nesting Tips For Back Yard Birders

Spring Nesting Tips For Back Yard Birders

nesting chickadeesIn most parts of the US, old man winter is starting to give way to at least small peeks of Spring. That means your back yard visitors are looking (or will soon be looking) for places to nest and raise their young. You can help them in ways you’ve maybe not thought of. Here are my spring nesting tips to help make your back yard a preferred spot for nesting birds.

In no particular order they are:

  • If you have nest boxes, make sure they are cleaned out from last year before you put them back up.
  • Put up at least two different kinds of boxes. I have a small box that only chickadees can get in and a bluebird box. This keeps the starlings or bluebirds from bullying the chickadees.
  • When you finish brushing your cat or dog, maybe you can put the hair out in the yard so it can be gathered for nest building.
  • I strongly recommend you use baffles on your nest box poles if you have squirrels or raccoons. In twelve years of birding, I’ve never had a squirrel be able to get into a nest box.
  • Take a good look at any trees you have that may have grown and allowed squirrels access from the air to your nest boxes and trim them back or relocate the box.
  • Be careful using any herbicides around any fencing you have. Especially if you have mossy rocks back there. Chickadees will use the moss to build their nests and you wouldn’t want to poison them, would you?
  • Take some time on a weekend to pay attention to what birds are in your back yard and do anything you can to discourage starlings or house sparrows. Both of these species will displace or kill bluebird nestlings. You may just have to take down the food they’re sneaking until they decide to move on. Don’t worry. The birds you want will forgive you and return when you put it back up. It’s been my experience sparrows and starlings are worst if they can consistently find something to eat in your back yard.
  • Think about planting some bright flowering perennials or shrubs to attract hummingbirds and give other birds a place to retreat if they feel threatened.
  • Consider offering bluebirds some mealworms before they need them for their young. The best approach for this before there are young is to put out a small quantity at the same time every day. This way, you’re not wasting money feeding larger birds and will allow the bluebirds to figure out where they can find help feeding their young.
  • Try not to over mow or spread noxious weed killer if you can avoid it too early.

I hope you found this spring nesting tips post helpful. I’m sure I’ve left plenty out but I wanted to at least give you a starting point for this nesting season. Let me know what you think of this post by leaving a comment below. Also, if you have any other tips that I’ve missed, leave them below as well so everybody can benefit from your knowledge!


Have Some Fun With Your Birds Now

This is going to be a very short post to give you a quick way to change your mood and liven up your life that costs very little and can reward you instantly.

bird dinner


Have Your Birds Over For Dinner

While this may work best if you have a patio or deck, you can pull this off with a feeder you can set up right outside your window. Platform feeders would be best but not necessary.

Depending on what time you get home for work or what time you eat dinner you want to do this just before sunset. That’s when they should be thinking about grabbing their last meal before bedtime. What you need to do is grab about 1/5 cup of sunflower chips and the same amount of hulled peanuts. Walk out your back door, scatter them on the ground (in at least a three foot strip to avoid crowding) and sit back and be entertained!  Depending on your feeder refill schedule, you may have to do this a couple times before they figure it out. In my case, I did this while I was taking a break from my full feeding schedule so interest was quite high. This is not required though.

I have squirrels so I know it’s important to figure out their schedule too. Still, I’ve been able to feed any bird that’s interested before the squirrel pack comes to descend on it. One thing I use that helps is whole peanuts. Most of the time the squirrels will grab one and go away to eat it in peace. Other times, they’re perfectly happy trying to vacuum up the sunflower chips. Don’t sweat it. Make it fun. Just change stuff up each time you do it.

The most important thing is that you create a new feeding source that gets their attention and allows you to view your beautiful birds closer up. That way, you get to see all the squabbling, sharing and general hijinks that go on every day at your other feeders at arm’s length.

I promise you that nothing will lift your spirits faster than watching a titmouse come down, steal away with a peanut piece as big as its head and make off like he’s just committed the perfect crime!

Do Me A Favor

Could you do me a favor? Could you use your smartphone or camera to take a 30 second video of this, upload it to dropbox or google drive and send me the link at help at birdoculars dot com so I can post them in a future post? If you prefer, I can download them and post them on the birdoculars server if space is an issue with you or your service. Either way, I’d love to see your birds taking you up on your dinner invitation. Remember that this is something you can do whenever you feel like it so it doesn’t become something you feel you “have” to do. We all have too many of those things, don’t we?

Give it a go, have fun and let me know how you make out! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! All I have to do is walk outside at around the time I usually feed them. I’ll see all the cardinals lining up in my trees and the titmice squawking and scolding me while flying from branch to branch. It’s a great feeling!

Please let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.

My Last Minutes With A House Finch

finch in my hands

Click to see full-sized image!

The Day Started Like Any Other

I was catching up on email and other early morning tasks. My wife was working from home and was out watering the new plants around the house. After a while, she came and and told me there was a little bird out front under the garage light that appeared to be sleeping but was standing up. From my previous experience with my back yard friends, I was pretty sure this was not going to turn out well. I finished what I was working on and went outside to take a look.

She Can’t Have Much Time Left

By the time I got to her she was already listing to one side, breathing was rapid but shallow. She was almost completely unaware of my approach. She protested a bit when I picked her up but not for long. I held her in my two cupped hands making sure not to impede her breathing or startle her in any way. I asked my wife to open some doors for me so I could take her out on the back steps so we could be where she spent most of her time with us.

I just wanted her to feel safe, familiar and loved!

Her End Is Near

I watched her as she continued her rapid breathing. She appeared to be in no distress so I just comforted her, talked to her and waited for her time to come. I told her how happy we were to have her choose our back yard to come for food, water, play and relaxation. I told her how much joy her and her friends and family have brought to our family. She listened without sound or movement. She seemed so glad not to be alone at this time and I was happy I could help her now.

Time For Prayers

The last thing I remember her doing is opening her eyes briefly and looking right at me. It was as if to tell me “Thank you for all we’ve shared. But mostly, thank you for holding me now as I begin a new journey.” She then gave a brief shiver, closed her eyes and was gone. I’m sure I felt her spirit leave her body. I couldn’t help just staring at her and marveling at what I was blessed to have experienced. I prayed God would receive her and find her another back yard to play in. It may be cliche’ but… I know she’s in a better place now. I hope we get to see each other again some day! Amen.

Am I Paying Attention?

It’s time like these that I take a look at my life and ask if I’m really paying attention. Or is life just flying by where I only catch glimpses from time to time. I’ve been a daily meditator for the last three years and I believe this has helped me cherish all the moments more. I still struggle with it but I’m making progress towards my goal of being more mindful. I know it made spending the last days with my mom last year a little easier on both of us. For that I’m grateful.

What About You?

Have you had the incredible experience of helping one of your back yard friends or pets move on to the next phase of their journey? How did it affect you? Leave me a comment below so we can talk about it.

About The Artist

Robin Hallett is an Intuitive Healer, writer and artist who helps people discover and manifest their dreams. You can find her at RobinHallett.com.

Robin Hallet