Stump Feeders Are a Bird Buffet - 27 East

Residence

Residence / 2076076

Stump Feeders Are a Bird Buffet

Number of images 10 Photos
The remaining stump of the maple has an upper and lower feeding level. Just over a half pound of seed is left every morning. By the end of the day only the millet is left but when it was very cold even the millet was eaten. The seed that gets thrown off the stump falls on the ground or snow below where the ground feeders like the juncos clean it up. ANDREW MESSINGER

The remaining stump of the maple has an upper and lower feeding level. Just over a half pound of seed is left every morning. By the end of the day only the millet is left but when it was very cold even the millet was eaten. The seed that gets thrown off the stump falls on the ground or snow below where the ground feeders like the juncos clean it up. ANDREW MESSINGER

The original maple stump about a yard in diameter with the fallen trunk to the left.  The blue jays on the stump take to the air the second the crow heads their way. ANDREW MESSINGER

The original maple stump about a yard in diameter with the fallen trunk to the left. The blue jays on the stump take to the air the second the crow heads their way. ANDREW MESSINGER

European starlings displace the blue jays as they examine what’s left from breakfast.  The starlings are never first on the stump but always show up to clean up what’s left. ANDREW MESSINGER

European starlings displace the blue jays as they examine what’s left from breakfast. The starlings are never first on the stump but always show up to clean up what’s left. ANDREW MESSINGER

When the crows show up all the other birds step aside but are only feet away to descend the moment the crows take flight. ANDREW MESSINGER

When the crows show up all the other birds step aside but are only feet away to descend the moment the crows take flight. ANDREW MESSINGER

A red-bellied woodpecker takes a break from feeding on ash borer grubs and joins the blue jays at the stump to check out the offerings. ANDREW MESSINGER

A red-bellied woodpecker takes a break from feeding on ash borer grubs and joins the blue jays at the stump to check out the offerings. ANDREW MESSINGER

The small juncos are primarily ground feeders but in this case they are gleaning what’s left on the stump as well as what’s fallen to the snow (ground) below. They are usually the last birds of the day to visit and clean up. ANDREW MESSINGER

The small juncos are primarily ground feeders but in this case they are gleaning what’s left on the stump as well as what’s fallen to the snow (ground) below. They are usually the last birds of the day to visit and clean up. ANDREW MESSINGER

A dozen blue jays on top of the maple stump feeding on the days assortment of seeds, nuts and dried fruit. At times twice as many jays crowd the stump. ANDREW MESSINGER

A dozen blue jays on top of the maple stump feeding on the days assortment of seeds, nuts and dried fruit. At times twice as many jays crowd the stump. ANDREW MESSINGER

A black squirrel hunts for unshelled peanuts on the left while jays and starlings feed on and around the stump. ANDREW MESSINGER

A black squirrel hunts for unshelled peanuts on the left while jays and starlings feed on and around the stump. ANDREW MESSINGER

Even the local band of pigeons drop in from time to time. Scavengers, they will eat most of what the other birds have left behind. ANDREW MESSINGER

Even the local band of pigeons drop in from time to time. Scavengers, they will eat most of what the other birds have left behind. ANDREW MESSINGER

A blue jay waits impatiently a few feet from the stump while a grey squirrel sifts through the day's seed offerings for instant and longer-range gratification. ANDREW MESSINGER

A blue jay waits impatiently a few feet from the stump while a grey squirrel sifts through the day's seed offerings for instant and longer-range gratification. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

Several years ago my neighbor to the west and I decided that a large maple tree, maybe 100 years old or older, had to come down. We didn’t know exactly whose property it was on and the possibility that it was on the line resulted in a proposal. Butch had a friend who would take the tree down for $500. A deal. I would gladly come up with the $500.

In exchange, Butch would cut the logs so I could split them for firewood. What was left was a 36-inch diameter trunk about 3 feet tall. There was no way we could afford to have the stump ground down to the soil level, and I thought the stump could serve a purpose. Nope, not a pedestal for an expensive terra cotta pot.

A few years later the emerald ash borer showed up, and everyone wanted to know what to do with their ash trees. No one wanted to hear this, but my first suggestion was to cut most, but not all, of the tree down. I thought this was even more important when the ash was near or in a wetland. Take down the portion of the dead or dying tree but leave about 15 to 20 feet of the trunk in place.

Not the most aesthetic sight (I’m reminded of Alfonso Osorio and his property at Georgica Pond in East Hampton where he’d adorn the tops of trees with large metal ornaments) but environmentally quite useful and helpful. One consideration, though, was that if the trunk, left behind to rot, was near a building or created a safety issue then it shouldn’t remain.

Many animals and insects need decaying tree trunks for a number of reasons. Owls will seek out soft spots and dig them out to make nesting cavities. I’ve even seen a raccoon further excavate one of these cavities where she gave birth and raised two kits. Woodpeckers constantly patrol the trunk for grubs left behind by the borers and other insects that may be dining or leaving behind egg masses. Then as the trunk decays more rapidly the organic material from all these nesting holes and natural decay falls to the ground, creating a fertile area for the development of humus and the microbes that develop in that process. In wetland areas, wood ducks have also been noted using the cavities in the trunk to lay eggs and raise a brood.

The maple stump has decayed very little over the years but gets a great deal of use. It’s become my main bird feeder, my stump feeder, but has also doubled as a squirrel feeder and chipmunk roost. Late in the fall as other food sources dwindle I begin to put bird seed on the stump. Since the stump is located in one of my border gardens I’m not worried about what random seed ends up in the garden and germinates. Weeds that develop from the dropped seed are easily taken care of, and the random sunflower that shows up in the summer is just a bonus for me and whoever gets the seeds and pollen.

So every morning around 7 I walk the 100 feet to the stump and cover it with a mix of seeds, nuts and some dried fruits as well as cracked corn, corn kernels and raw, unshelled peanuts. In less than a minute of my walking away I usually hear the blue jays flying into the tall branches above. Then they descend on the stump where they feed. Other birds feed there as well, and the pecking order is fascinating.

The jays are usually first and dominate the stump and the ground around it in a troop that ranges from 10 to probably 20 or more. No one else feeds at that point, but they do stay above in the branches or below on the ground just waiting for an opportunity. In this case, opportunity comes in the form of crows, ravens or squirrels. The jays are intimidated by all of them and they fly up into the branches nearby at the slightest provocation only to glide down from time to time to test the endurance of the other feeders. The jays are surprisingly intimidated by just one squirrel or one crow. Those two interlopers gone, the jays descend en masse. I’m inside, watching all this from the living room, dining room and the kitchen.

The jays have their period of interest then they head over to another property where the owner puts out his seed later in the morning. As the jays move to his feeding area the vacancy becomes obvious to other birds that move in on the stump for what’s left. Starlings will descend like a flock of vacuums. Once they’ve had their fill, smaller birds like juncos and chickadees will do some cleaning up.

The squirrels aren’t done yet, though. They disappear for a short while then reappear throughout the day for snacks. Common gray squirrels will feed one or two at a time, and several times during the day the less common black (but scientifically gray) squirrels will visit to feed. In the summer I can watch the garden and its associates for hours. In the winter it’s the birds and squirrels.

There are also some lessons here. The first is to understand that not all birds will feed on a flat surface or from a hanging feeder. These are the birds that like to hang on with their feet and prefer suet type feeders that are hung from branches or poles. The other lesson is on bird seed quality.

No matter what seed I seem to use there is always some seed, mostly millet, that most of the birds have no interest in. Millet seems to be one of the cheaper seeds that are in the mixes and the less expensive or “economy” blends seem to have the most. I did notice, however, that last week when it got bitterly cold, by the end of the day there were no seeds of any kind left. Bird seed packages are not required to list the percentage of each seed in the mix you buy.

There’s no “economy” in bird food that most birds won’t eat, and for that reason I tend to favor the more expensive “deluxe” blends. I add some cracked corn, corn kernels, raw shelled peanuts and unsalted, unroasted, unshelled peanuts. Birds that are known to be ground feeders will also do some feeding on the stump, but there’s all the seed that the other birds move around that falls to the ground for them. The juncos seem to be the most reliable ground feeders as are the mourning doves.

Avoid bird food sold in big box stores as it’s often inexpensive but filled with seed the birds just won’t eat. Look for brands like Valley Farms (located upstate) and Lyric (also located upstate). Kaytee is another quality bird seed supplier but located in Wisconsin. Store your seed where it’s dry and cool, and don’t hold seed over from year to year as it will tend to get moldy.

I’m always concerned about those who feed their birds on some days and not others or who just do it when they remember. I think the birds do much better when they can rely on you for some of their winter sustenance, but not all of it. All of the birds that I feed now will stick around for most of the year, and I want to encourage them. When there’s no ice or snow and the garden beds aren’t frozen the blue jays do a great job of turning leaves and exploring the mulches and fallen leaves for morsels of insects and insect eggs as well as nuts and seeds.

If squirrels are more of a problem for you there are seed mixes that are “hot” that squirrels and other rodents won’t touch. These mixes contain cayenne pepper, which the rodents can taste but does not seem to affect the birds.

Almost all of our bird species are in danger, and their numbers are in dramatic decline. If a stump is available, use it. The right feeders (there are different feeders for different seeds) can also do the trick. We can help by being mindful of what we plant, what we don’t remove (as in tree trunks and stumps) and leaving as much organic debris (leaves, mulch, etc.) in the garden instead of tidying up so much. Feeding the birds in the winter is part of this stewardship. It’s very much part of gardening. Keep growing.

GARDEN NOTES
 

You may have noticed during our brief but very cold spell that the leaves on your rhododendrons curled and cupped as if they were about to die and drop off. They didn’t and won’t. This is how these shrubs deal with cold and wind. The leaves curl to reduce the surface area exposed to the cold and drying wind. When the cold and dry winds are persistent there can be some leaf dieback or scorching, but it’s very rare for lasting damage unless the soil totally dries out and the shrub is completely desiccated.

There are materials that can be sprayed on the foliage of these shrubs that coat them with a waxy film. This film reduces the desiccation dramatically and can also protect a bit against salt spray, but there are questions about the need for these antidesiccants. If you do think there’s a problem, speak with an arborist about spraying a product like Wilt-Pruf or Vapor Guard. Both are tricky to work with but not when done by a professional, and no, they are not toxic. Some deer repellents can also provide similar protection, but ask.

AutorMore Posts from Andrew Messinger

Prepare Your Garden for a Hurricane

It’s been many years since the East End has had to deal with a substantial ... 19 Jun 2024 by Andrew Messinger

How To Attract and Support Butterflies

I’ve had a number of experiences with butterflies in my life, and each one has ... 12 Jun 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Light It Up And More Seed Starting Advice

The adventure started back on April 22 and was repeated on May 5. But in ... 10 Jun 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know About Growing in Containers

I’m getting reeducated with growing plants in containers this season, but it was an act ... 30 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The May Garden Ramble

It’s spring, it’s planting time and it’s crazy. Three boxes of plants arrived this afternoon, ... 23 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know About Growing Marigolds

This week’s column is the second and last part in a series on marigolds. As ... 15 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The History of Marigolds

Here’s a short gardening quiz: What plant is native to the New World, a sacred ... 9 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The Truth About Butterfly Bush

It was several decades ago when I was standing in front of a Meadow Lane ... 2 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Spring Is the Time To Pot Up Houseplants

In spring our gardening attention logically and naturally focuses on things going on outside. We ... 25 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The April Ramble

April got off to a typical start. For most of the first two weeks of ... 18 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger