Thom Smith: Milder winter brings fewer birds to feeders


Q: Last winter, we had two feeders hanging on a double shepherd's crook pole. We loaded it with the cardinal mix from the Tractor Supply store. We had cardinals, blue jays, finches (house, purple, etc.) chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers. We also had squirrels, of course. We enjoyed the winter and the birds very much. Where are they this year?

I bought the safflower seeds to put in the feeder, as you suggested, and you are correct, of course. The squirrels are not interested.

We waited until later November to put the feeder and suet basket out as it was warm. At first, the birds came, then not so many. The food did not go down very fast.

I switched back to the cardinal mix a week or two ago. We only see a few birds and the food is not going down, just a tiny bit. What is going on?

I would appreciate any advice.

— Cathy, Coltsville (Pittsfield, Mass.)

A: My opinion is the winter, until the past couple weeks, has not been what we expect for December and January, and with food aplenty, the birds are not relying as much on our assistance. As wild foods dwindle and some become harder to get, our feeders may become havens for wintering birds once again.

You are not alone and your feeders are receiving the same attention being reported by many backyard birders. You mention you have two feeders, and understanding that you have both the cardinal mix and safflower seed, my thought is don't make it either/or, but rather offer each seed in different feeders.

Suet cakes, if that is what you also offer, are a combination of rendered suet (that does not easily spoil) and various seeds and peanuts. Warm, unseasonable weather shouldn't be a problem, except for maybe attracting bears. My suggestion is be patient and, from the conditions outside my window as I type this column, both winter weather and feeder bird visits will not be a problem much longer.

Snowshoe outings

Berkshire Natural Resources Council is staffed by positive-thinking people as evidenced by its free snowshoe clinics and outings:

• 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, Housatonic Flats in Great Barrington, Mass.

Bring your own snowshoes or try out a pair provided by Berkshire Bike & Board. This is a great chance for families to explore this winter sport. There will be a group each hour, Registration is requested; 24-hour advance reservation is required for snowshoes. Cross-country skiers are also invited to explore this in-town trail system that travels through field and forest and allows glimpses of the Housatonic River. To register or for information, email

• 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, Threemile Hill Trail in Great Barrington.

Guided snowshoe hike. Meet at Berkshire South for snowshoeing up to the half-way point and then returning along your own tracks. Folks can also explore the easier terrain of the open fields. Co-sponsored by Berkshire South, Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation. Hike leaders will be Mike Leavitt of BNRC and Christine Ward of Great Barrington Trails & Greenways. Registration is requested; 24-hour advance reservation required for snowshoes. For more information and to register, call 413-528-2810, ext. 31.

MassAudubon is also offering snowshoe outings this winter:

• 10:30 a.m. to noon Sunday, Jan. 10, at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Pittsfield, Mass.

Learn about equipment and safety, then head out for a ramble through wetlands and gentle slopes.

• 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 6, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, Mass.

Join in on a snowshoe hike along the sanctuary's more gentle trails, through woods and over open fields.

For both outings, warm up with hot cocoa at the end of the outing. Bring your own snowshoes; rentals are available. For more information and to register, call 413-637-0320. Members, $10; non-members, $15; children 5 to 12, free.

We gave our nearly 2-year-old and 5-year-old grandsons snowshoes for Christmas and are hoping they get the opportunity to use them this winter!

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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