Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Backyard birds

Goldfinches are one of the loveliest of our native birds. They are also one of the easiest to attract to your backyard.

In the late summer, goldfinches begin nesting and raising their young. One of the reasons they wait until so late in the season is because they use thistle down to line their nests and they feed their babies thistle seed. If you provide an easily accessible Nyjer thistle feeder sock, it will bring goldfinches into your garden. When the young are learning to fly, the parents will bring them to the thistle sock and teach them to eat on their own. This is one of the most rewarding times to sit back and enjoy wild birds outside your window.

Two weeks ago I had one thistle sock hanging outside my dining room window. The birds would empty it every two or three days. Now I have three socks and there are 4 or 5 finches on each sock all day long. Hungry finches are a rowdy, noisy crowd and their squabbling, and constant movement is an endless source of interest for both me and the house cats.

Most of the finch group is this season’s fledglings. At first they sit on a branch and loudly demand “Feedme me, feedme, feedme”. After a few minutes of watching the older birds they jump down onto a sock and get the hang of pulling the tiny seed thru the holes.

Nyjer seed is irradiated so it will not sprout in your yard and produce a crop of thistles. The seed that falls on the ground is quickly eaten by doves and other birds.Tips for buying, feeding and storing Nyjer thistle seed: Because it is expensive, you don’t want to waste the stuff, so here is what works best for me. I by a quality brand, usually Kaytee. It isn’t the most expensive but all Kaytee brand seed is excellent quality. Wild Birds Unltd also has good seed as do many independent stores. Nyjer is usually packaged in socks for easy feeding and in vacuumed sealed bags to save a little money. The birds seem to prefer eating from socks. (I used to fill thistle tube feeders and ended up throwing away a lot of uneaten seed. For whatever reason, goldfinches in my area just don’t like the thistle tubes.) I buy several socks pre-filled with seed and when they are empty it’s easy to wash the sock and refill from a 3- or 7- pound bag. Be sure to store the opened bag in a big airtight ziplock. Nyjer gets stale after opening and the finches will often refuse it once they decide it has been opened too long.

It may take the goldfinches several days to find your sock feeder. Don’t get too discouraged if they don’t show up right away. If the birds haven’t begun using the sock in a week or so, think about relocating it. There may be some reason the birds feel the location is unsafe. Consider hanging your sock from an ‘L’ bracket attached to your window frame. That brings the birds right up to your window for easy viewing and photographing. A shepherd's crook right outside the window works just as well. An interesting fact about birds and windows: A feeder located about 3 feet away from a window decreases the likelihood of a bird being injured or killed by hitting glass. Birds can't get up enough speed in 3 feet to do themselves much harm.
Many other bird varieties will also visit your sock to eat Nyjer including, purple finches, house finches, redpolls, indigo buntings, chickadees, and pine siskins.

And one other thing. A reminder to everyone who grows coneflowers, don’t be in a hurry to deadhead or tidy up the plants after bloom. Many native birds including finches, eat the seeds of this plant. Leave the dried stems standing until the birds have eaten the seed from the cones.

56 comments:

Mary said...

I love watching the goldfinches and agree that they are really easy to attract and make happy. They also seem less jumpy and easier to take pictures of.

Sweet Repose said...

Thistle is so hard to control once it gets started, but a joy to watch the finch on it as is the feeding frenzy on my coneflowers...ahhh...Nature!!!

sharon

tina said...

Your goldfinches are sweet! What a delight it must be to watch them all day. I learned something new, I am switching to the socks as my thistle feeders seem to waste alot of food too. Thanks!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Mary, yes they tolerate me watching them through the glass from about 3 feet away. If I don't make a quick movement they ignore me.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Sharon. The Nyjer thistle won't sprout in your yard. It must be irradiated before importation so it doesn't become the next Kudzu garlic mustard.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Tina. Yes, I agree the stuff is too expensive to throw away. They really seem to like the socks--I just wish the socks were a little more attractive or natural looking;)
Marnie

CIELO said...

Your blog is a joy! I love to come here! Every time I visit I leave refresh, and with a sense of freedom...the freedom that nature bestow upon the soul....thank you!

ps: the House in the Roses is having a Window Party this Friday, and wish you could participate.... only thing you need to do is show us your favorite window of your home.... it promises to be fun! come see!

cielo

beckie said...

Marnie, what a treat to see your pictures of these wonderful birds. I enjoyed them while they were devouring my sunflowers, but have not seen many lately. The souck out side a window is a great idea. I'm sure I can manage that. Wonderful about the coneflowers-now I have a great excuse not to clean them up right away!

PGL said...

I will have to try the socks too, thanks for the info. :) They do visit my tube feeders but I think I would have more visitors with the sock. They also are fond of Blackeyed Susans & Verbena Bonariensis.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Cielo, I will be sure to come Friday. Thanks for visiting and for our kind comments.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Beckie, your a girl after my own heart. Grab a golden opportunity to put off doing something we don't like to do;) But we always do it for the greater good, right;)
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi PGL, I've seen them occasionally on the black-eyed-susans but I didn't know they ate verbena seed. Good tip for everyone who grows either or both.
Marnie

André Lemay said...

I love these pictures. I never seen this many in my backyard, and I have to be careful because of the squirrels and black birds they clean everyting in minutes.

kd said...

Well, Marnie -- after reading your post I'm ready to overcome all my misgivings about sprouting seeds, squirrel acrobatics & the ability to keep the feeders full all winter and put up a bird feeder (or two, or three). We see occasional finches here, as well as cardinals, sparrows, etc... and, of course, the crows.

/krys

TC said...

I'm never been into birding quite like most other gardeners. My mother loves putting out seed, and my maternal grandmother had parakeets as pets. Finches and other colorful birds add interest for sure, but I don't do a lot to attract them.

You mentioned seed being irradiated, is it completely safe for birds to eat? I wonder if there's any long-term worries?

Meems said...

Really good photos of the goldfinches, Marnie. Great advice too. We get the goldfinches in spring and they leave by May... I wonder if it takes them this long to get to you? We use the tubes from Wild Birds and they seem to work quite well. We were refilling them every 2-3 days too ... those little guys have quite the appetite. They are so fun to watch.
Meems @Hoe&Shovel

Gail said...

I loved the photo of the birds who appear to be sharing a tasty bit of gossip over the thistle seed! Marnie, this was a great post, I wondered if the seed would go bad and now I am getting the sock feeder. Thank you! I love learning new things!

Gail

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie,
I so envy your abundance of great bird friends, but that's what we get for living smack in the middle of the city here and not in the country. So we do what we can given our limited space here ... As our coneflowers fade even more now, we are seeing at least one couple coming by to feast on the seeds. I hope to get pics or video of them soon, because they are visiting regularly.

I just love Goldfinches (they are our state bird) and when we had Canaries a few years back we got ones that looked a lot like Goldfinches and they loved the coneflower seeds and nasturtium blooms we gave them (the nasturtiums actually enhanced their color a bit).

We're going to have to look into getting some of those socks, ugly as they may be, but with Goldfinches clustered on them feasting, we could live with that. :-)

Kathleen said...

Hmmm, you always make me think Marnie! I didn't know they preferred the socks either and I agree with you about wishing they looked more "natural." I'll have to give it a try although I have been hesitating about feeding because I was drawing in field mice (seed falling on the ground). Maybe I need more cats?!!

Randy and Jamie said...

I really need to try to do more to attract birds to our garden. I'm so scatter brained I can't even seem to remeber to fill the feeders we have now. -Randy

Rose said...

Marnie, Beautiful photos! This is a great post--I nodded in agreement at some of what you wrote, and then learned something new from the rest.
This is the first year I have put out a goldfinch feeder--the plastic tube type, which I may now switch to the sock--and the goldfinches have entertained me all summer with their antics. The grandchildren love watching them feed upside down.

I didn't know that a feeder 3 feet away from the window would keep them from injuring themselves--great idea. And now I know why I have so many doves under the goldfinch feeder!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Andre. I certainly understand your problem with squirrels. Since I have been keeping my cats indoor during the daylight hours, I am having serious squirrel/chipmunk problems too. In my yard, squirrels do not eat the nyjer seed. I have heard that they do in other places. It depends on just how hungry they are.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi KD, good luck if you try it. The squirrels in my area do not eat the nyjer seed--that is no guarantee if they are hungry enough they will not.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi TC, your question about irradiation safety is interesting. I hope I don't sound flip, but truthfully, I don't know what type of irradiation they use. I assumed ionizing radiation which is used to sterilize things including surgical instruments. Microwaving is also a form of irradiation, I think. Is it safe? Certainly safer than the pesticides they ingest in the wild everyday.

Of course that's just the opinion of an accountant and has no scientific basis what-so-ever. If anybody has more info, I would also like to read that.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Meems, I know many people have good luck with tube feeders. I don't know why they avoid mine.

We have goldfinches yearround here, but some do go south and return early in the spring.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi IVG. There are always trade offs no matter where you live, I guess. You may not have as many goldfinches but I bet your don't have 7-million Japanese beetles either. Anyway I hope you don't. The folks closer to town here don't have many JB's.

You could try a thistle sock and see what happens. Good luck.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Kathleen, yes, more cats! No one ever has enough cats;) Seriously, I know what you mean. Mice and rats are something you don't want to attract.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Randy. Well, the birds appreciate whatever you give them. Actually in nature they get used to food here today and gone tomorrow;) They adapt.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Gail, I don't know if it goes bad or just gets stale. Any leftovers will be eaten by doves so don't throw it out.

They do look like they are gossiping;) "Tweetie, did you hear Chirpy ran off with that wild finch from Wisconsin?"
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hey Rose, if you have good luck with the tube feeder, I would keep it. Or maybe keep it and add a sock.

You bring up a good point. I know whatever I write about is old news to so many of my blogging friends. I'm not qualified to tell anyone how to garden or feed birds. I sure hope I don't ever sound like I'm lecturing.
Marnie

flydragon said...

I am one of the many who used the tube feeders. I finally rigged up a tray on the bottom because half of the seeds fell out of the little slots. Drove me crazy. I do have a sock that I forgot about until I saw this post. I'm going to dig it out now, if I can find it. I always store things in special places so I will be sure to remember where they are. Uh huh. Wonder where I put it this time.

DP Nguyen said...

Gold finches are so beautiful. My dad used to raise gold finches. He loves them.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Wow Marnie, You get tons of Goldfinches at your feeders. We have a few but never as many as this. I have lots of wild flowers planted for them. They keep at the seeds until they are gone.

Balisha said...

Hi,
I just filled my sock and the drawstring had frayed. I laid ths sock on the patio table while I went to get something to hang it with. When I came out there were finches all over the table...on top of the sock and on the table cleaning up the mess.
So cute!

Sherri said...

Goldfinches along with Chickadees are two of my favorite birds. I love when they change in the Spring to the bright yellow (the males). Thanks for sharing your Goldfinches with us!

The Birdlady said...

Beautiful goldfinches, beautiful flowers - beautiful post!

Kim said...

Lovely photos as normal, Marnie :)

We had Goldfinches in our garden in Spring and it's the first time we actually saw them, it was a delight :)

Kim x

Frances, said...

HI Marnie, your finch photos are so crisp and clear, I applaud you. While we have many bird feeders I had quit the thistle tubes for the reasons you mentioned. As with the others, you have sold me on the socks. And I feel the squirrels will be less of a problem with them too. Do you use the sock all winter? The finches are going after the coneflowers right now and the rudbeckia lanciniatas too. Earlier in the summer they attack the red hot pokers. I would like to provide winter food too, socks it is!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Flydragon, I have the same problem finding stuff. I say to myself I'll just put this here where I can find it easily--and never see it again.
*************************************

Hi DP, they are so beautiful, I love them too.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hey Lisa, for some reason we have more this year than usual. Hope that is a good sign that their numbers are increasing instead of the reverse. For many years they have been on the decline.
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Balisha. I've noticed those socks don't last long. Mine are tearing and coming undone around the drawstring.

Do you notice more goldfinches this year than previously?
Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Sherri, their color is beautiful. I like both the finches and the chickadees and they both like the thistle socks.

************************************

Bird Lady, thank you for your comments. I'm a big fan of the photos on your web page.

Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Kim, it certainly is a joy to see them in the garden. Their color makes the flowers look pale by comparison.

************************************

Hi Frances, yes I use the sock most of the year (not in the spring when it stays wet too long). In the winter I had dozens of redpolls fighting for places on the socks.

I hope you have luck. I've heard some people complain squirrels will even eat thistle, but they don't bother mine or my Dad's.

The goldfinches are very busy emptying the sunflower seed, coneflower cones, and rudbeckias at my place too.

Phillip said...

Great post! This is my favorite bird and it took me a few years to learn that I could keep them year-round as long as I kept the thistle seed out. I tried the sock feeders in the beginning but they would eventually rot on me so I switched to the tube feeders. I also have one that is made of metal mesh and they really seem to like it. I buy big bags of the seed and store it in the plastic buckets that cat food comes in. It seems to keep it fresh.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Phillip. I think you are lucky that the finches like your tube and mesh feeders. Those feeders are a lot less hassle, last a long time, keep the seed drier, and look nicer. I have 4 tubes and 2 mesh feeders hanging in my garage because, for whatever reason, the goldfinches would not use them.

For me, it's back to the feed store tonight for another big bag of nyjer. Those little goldies are certainly hungry.

RainbowMom said...

Beautiful! I love your blog and found you after you left a comment on Sweet Repose. :)

Roses and Lilacs said...

RainbowMom, I'm so glad you found me and took the time to leave a comment. I love Sharon's blog too. She and Ihave a lot in common.

I hope you will come back and visit again.
Marnie

Walk in the Woods said...

Love the thistle socks! Though right now I don't ned them, for the gold finches are all over my many sunflowers. Oh, what a joy!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Good morning Walk in the Woods. Isn't it a sight to see those finches on the old sunflower blooms? Every time I walk out the back door it disturbs them and they fly up in a little cloud of gold.

I wish their song was a beautiful as their feathers. They have kind of an raspy peep peep. Or maybe that's just the voice they use to scold me.
Marnie

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

The Goldfinches around here don't even wait for the Coneflower seeds to ripen. I love seeing them, but they never want to pose for my camera. Your photos don't look like they were shot through a window. Wonderful!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi MMD. The secret to bird photography is using a blind. The house makes a good blind;) I use lots of windex.

The sunflowers don't seem to have ripe seed either but they are finding something there to eat.
Marnie

Cosmo said...

Hi, Marnie--I'm behind in my reading, as usual. This was a really useful posting--we see lots of goldfinches when the coneflowers go to seed, but I'm going to try a thistle sock. And I really apprecite your advice about putting the feeders near windows--I love the view from our windows, but a few birds have rung their chimes on them.

I hope this isn't a sensitive question--did you lose Ivan recently? I just noticed the "In Memory," so I'm sorry if I missed it earlier--but I know you posted on him early in the summer, so I guess the loss is recent. He was a beauty, and I know his life on your farm was wonderful.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Cosmo, I'm getting behind also. It took me about ten times as long to upload my blog this morning so that takes away from my visiting time.

Good luck with your thistle sock. Hope you get lots of birds.

Yes, I did lose Ivan. He has been suffering with sever arthritis for a long time and then his back became so painful he couldn't get up and down without hurting badly. It's still hard for me to talk about it. We have such a brief time with our beloved animals.
Marnie

The Garden Faerie said...

Love your photos of the goldfinches! They're so beautiful, and I love birds overall.
~ Monica

Rambling Woods said...

Great info. I use 2 caged feeders usually as the socks were torn by the squirrels. They don't eat it, they just trash it....GG..I will leave my coneflower too...

Kathiesbirds said...

Well, I learned something new from this post. I did not know nyger seed was irradiated! I used to see American goldfinches all the time in the north. Now they are a rarity where I live but we have lessers goldfinches all the time. They don't seem to mind the net-like tube feeders but they don't eat from the perch-like tube feeders as often. I agree with you, they seem to like the socks the best and the other birds can't cling to the socks as well. If I get too many house sparrows, or even house finches around they seem to scare away my tiny lesser goldfinches. Very helpful post! I cracked up when I saw all those socks hanging from the tree. They looked like crysalises or mummies at first!