Backyard Banquet

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

birds are monotonously common. Like starlings, they are not native and are usually unwelcome at feeders because of their messy, noisy habits. To discourage them, use a swinging feeder and discontinue putting out bread crumbs, other table scraps and standard bird seed mixes.

  • Purple finch - These finches prefer sunflower seeds. Flocks may be with us from mid-fall until May. Males seem misnamed because they are reddish, not purple. Females and immature birds are brown with heavily streaked breasts. Purple finch males are distinguishable from house finch males by the rose - rather than brown - streaking on their flanks. Female purple finches have a light line above the eye, while house finches are more uniformly finely streaked.
  • House finch - Though common, these birds were not documented in Missouri until 1980. In addition to the color differences mentioned, house finches have square-tipped tails. Purple finch tails are notched. Confusion diminishes in summer when purple finches vanish. House finches are with us year-round. They often nest in flower pots, decorative wreathes and spruce trees. Like purple finches, they favor sunflower seeds, especially if hulled.
  • Dark-eyed junco - Also called snowbirds, these lively, 5-inch winter residents are extremely common. They characteristically flash their white outer tail feathers as they flit about. They relish small seeds scattered on the ground.
  • Northern mockingbird - White wing patches help to identify this 9-inch, year-round resident. Severe winter weather often causes a decline in their numbers, so winter feeding can be a big help to individual birds. Berries are a large part of their natural diet in winter. You can attract them with raisins, suet and chopped fruit.
  • Northern cardinal - Everybody recognizes these beautiful birds. The bodies of females are yellowish gray, rather than the blazing red of the male. Cardinals will be one of the first species to discover your feeder. They relish sunflower seeds.
  • White-breasted nuthatch - These enchanting, 5-inch birds eat seeds and glean insects from the bark of trees by moving headfirst down the trunk. They are fond of suet and peanut butter, especially if it is smeared on the bark of trees or stuffed in holes in a small log suspended from a tree branch.
  • Red-breasted nuthatch - Unlike the white-breasted nuthatch, the red-breasted visits Missouri only in winter. They are slightly smaller than the white-breasted and have a dark line through the eye. Red-breasted nuthatches also relish suet.
  • Chickadee - Sunflower seeds, small seeds, suet and peanut butter are the favorite foods of these busy characters. They often cling upside-down on a branch or perch on the side of a tree, so you should suspend food from limbs or place it on tree trunks. Missouri has two species of nearly identical chickadees; the black-capped in the northwest region and the Carolina chickadee in the Ozarks. They are mainly distinguished by their distinctive songs.
  • Red-bellied woodpecker - Males of this 8-inch woodpecker have red over the crown, while females have red only on the back of the head. Contrary to their name, their belly is buff, not red. Red-bellied woodpeckers eat suet and seeds. They are permanent residents of our state and are one of the easiest woodpeckers to attract to a feeder.
  • Downy woodpecker - At only 5 inches long, the downy is Missouri’s smallest woodpecker species. Males have a red spot on the back of the head. Except for size, they are almost identical to hairy woodpeckers, which are 7 inches long and have no black cross barring in the outer white tail feathers.
  • Tufted titmouse - These 5-inch, crested birds eat seeds, suet and peanut butter. They are especially likely to visit stations near woods.
  • Pileated woodpecker - These gawky, crow-sized, "Woody Woodpecker" lookalikes cause more questions than any other bird at winter feeders. They are the largest woodpecker in Missouri. They sometimes visit suet feeders near extensive wooded areas.
  • Carolina Wren - At 4 inches in length, Carolina wrens are Missouri’s largest wrens and the only wren to visit bird feeders in winter. They are recognized by their rusty coloration, white eye-line, cocked tail and "tea-kettle..tea-kettle..tea-kettle" songs. They readily visit suet feeders and they occasionally eat seeds.
  • Red-headed woodpecker - The abundance of these familiar year-round residents fluctuates greatly from year to year and from area to area depending on natural food production. The solid red head and white wing patches distinguish them.
  • These are just some of the birds you’ll see at your feeders. An accurate field guide will help you identify some of the less common visitors that will surely arrive. Once you catch the bird-feeding "bug," you’ll find yourself looking forward to their daily visits

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