Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… this week, we weren’t wandering too far because there is so much to see and photograph right on our own property. We have already had two snow storms. The first left a foot of snow and the second, two days later, left another two feet of snow. November is usually unpredictable, and within four days, it was nearly all melted. The next storm began with extremely strong winds. My snow shovel, which I leave by the balcony door, blew the length of the balcony in a strong gust. After retrieving it, I brought it indoors, quite often, I need to shovel my way outside; making a path to bring seeds to the feeders and replenish water and suet. That wind storm was the cause of about five thousand people being without electricity for as long as six hours.

If you plan to feed the nonmigratory birds this winter, it is very important that you are consistent in what and when you supply their food. The wild birds have been preparing throughout most of the summer and fall, finding and harvesting food that they will need to survive the winter. Unfortunately, sometimes other birds or mammals may find these caches and deplete them. Many small seed eaters, such as Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Red-Nuthatches will retrieve seeds from feeders, like black-oiled sunflowers seeds, from hanging feeders, one at a time and store them individually behind lose tree bark. I learned recently that tufted titmice will retrieve a seed, shell it and then store it nearby, within about one hundred and thirty feet from the source feeder.

You are probably familiar with the mixed migratory flocks, which we can observe as early as late August and early September. Corn fields and meadows provide quantities of food for the flocks, which can consist of diverse species that are similar in color and size. A typical flock may contain Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Common Grackles (Quisacalus quiscula), and Brown-head Cowbirds (Molothrus ater). There is a sense of” safety in numbers,” and they consume the same type of food. The flocks may contain a large number of each species. They can be fun to watch as they fly in unison. A flock flying in union that seems to be performing an aerial display is known as a murmuration. The name comes from the sound which is made by all the wings moving in accord.

Another interesting thing about this kind of flock is that the Brown-headed Cowbird female does not build a nest for her eggs. She deposits her eggs singly in other birds’ nests. This is known as “Brood Parasitism.” She may deposit her eggs in the nest of finches, warblers, or vireos, and the unsuspecting female will raise the brown cowbird as her own. Unfortunately, the cowbird egg hatches earlier than the host bird’s eggs, and the larger cowbird grows more quickly and crowds out or reduces the food intake of the host’s young. This behavior is thought to have originated from the cowbirds following herds of buffalo. The cowbird sits on buffalo or cattle and eats the insects which feed on these animals. Another interesting thing is that even though the cowbird nestlings are reared by different hosts. They all find each other at migration time and flock together with the other blackbirds.

I have learned, over the past forty years, of feeding feathered friends a great amount by just observing their behavior and even more from a plethora of birding books. The chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers do not migrate, but they do flock together, especially in winter. This type of “Mixed Flock” also creates safety in numbers and the awareness of new uncached food sources. The food sources which we supply feed a diverse group of birds. Some winters when food is not going to be as plentiful, birds from further north will arrive at our feeders. They may include small Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) or big Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) and occasionally even larger local big birds such as an infrequent Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) or a frequent visiting local Raven (Corvus corax).

In addition to several Black-oil Sunflowers seed feeders, we have several cages that contain peanut butter suet and a “slinky-like” peanut holder for unsalted shelled peanuts. A feature that is also part of the feeder area is a heated bird bath. The first one lasted for twenty-five years and totally justified the cost. It is used by many species of birds, including seven Mourning Doves, which spent about twenty minutes using it as their personal spa. We also have several tray feeders on the balcony for those birds who prefer that type of feeding station. Throughout most of the winter, I can leave the feeders out both day and night. In spring, summer, and fall I remove them to keep the larger critters like raccoons and bears from devouring or destroying the feeders.

The feeding stations have provided entertainment and knowledge for our entire family. We have become three generations of birders. It is amazing to have nuthatches and chickadees feel no fear as they come to the refilled feeders for seed while I am in the process of rehanging them. I have been surprised several times after seed refilling to look out and see one or more Wild Turkeys on the balcony and always enjoy watching the Raven, which is about twenty-two inches tall, “stealing” a peanut or two. I have totally given up on trying to keep the red, gray, and black squirrels from the bird’s food and just try to make it a little more difficult, but they always try and succeed. So, if I can’t beat them I can at least photograph them.

Some of the other big birds that visit the feeding area have other intentions than the seed feeders. They are more interested in the birds that visit them. An assortment of raptors can be seen in spring, summer, and fall, and even more often in winter. We have had numerous species of owls and hawks that have found prey on our property. Some will even nest in the woods behind our home. These, too, become a close-by source for photo opportunities. Hopefully, you, too, will enjoy our winter birds, both big and small.

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, for about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP). In 2013 and 2014, and did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in cataloging all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016, she has been writing a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls newspaper. You may reach her at