For the birds: Feeders bring out variety of species for observation

Gayle Gondek is quick to point out she is not an expert on birds.

The Flinton resident merely enjoys watching the feathered friends that visit the feeders she has set up in her front yard filled with black oil sunflower seeds and a feeder cage out back filled with suet.

“My grandmother used to take the old pie plates when we got the pies at the store and she would break up bread and crumbs and feed them that way, so I would say I learned it mostly from her, and my mother always fed the birds, too, so they have a feeder at their house, too.”

Gondek’s feeders attract a variety of birds.

With help from a book on birds her mom gave her, Gondek has identified yellow finches, male and female cardinals and little brown wrens visiting the front-yard feeder, she said. She thought she spotted a nuthatch too.

Out back, pileated woodpeckers and little red-bellied woodpeckers have stopped by for a meal.

“They like the suet. My husband found suet that says especially for woodpeckers. I don’t know if he still finds it, but they really love that,” she said.

Gondek said she did not care what birds the feeders attracted.

“We just love seeing them. Now the little yellow ones sometimes, there’s up to 10 of them there. They’re just beautiful. And the cardinal, of course, always catches your eye,” she said.

She has also seen doves, she said.

“I love to go out and drink my coffee in the morning. I take my camera because I love to go out and take pictures of the birds,” she said.

Gondek is not alone in her love of bird watching.

“A lot of people enjoy just looking at birds, watching their antics, enjoying identifying the different species of birds, watching their behavior,” said Stan Kotala, conservation chair for the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, “and if you have a cat, an indoor cat, it provides entertainment for your indoor cat looking out the window.

“I have a cat that’s exclusively an indoor cat, and he loves looking out the window, watching the bird feeders.”

Mr. Whiskers and area bird lovers alike have much to watch.

In Blair, Bedford and Huntingdon counties, there are several dozens of species of birds to attract, Kotala said.

People can use various types of seeds and suet to attract different species.

“The most basic type of feeding would simply be scattering the seed on the ground, which would attract a fair variety of birds, mostly ground-feeding birds, but also birds that do feed in the trees. They’ll come down to grab the type of seed that they like,” he said.

What seed you use can determine what birds will visit.

“You’ll see different birds attracted to different seeds,” Kotala said. “For example, the thistle seed is pretty much just for gold finches. … They have specific thistle seed tube feeders even now that would attract exclusively gold finches. The sunflower seed would attract a wide variety of birds, including finches and cardinals and various sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches and then the millet would attract various sparrow species as well as mourning doves.”

Suet will attract tree-feeding birds, especially chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers, he said.

Different vessels used to hold the feed for birds are platform, hopper and tube feeders, which attract different birds by how they like to feed.

“And the final type of specialty feeder that would be very popular around here is, of course, the hummingbird feeder, which is used only in spring, summer and fall,” Kotala said. “That can be as simple as a glass jar, with some red painted on it, just filled with sugar water. It’s one part sugar to four parts water mixture that you would need to mix up. You don’t necessarily have to purchase a pre-made mix.”

Kotala said he only feeds birds in the winter because he lives in an area with a bear population.

“The vast majority of people feed birds only in the winter,” he said. “If you live in an area … by bears, I certainly wouldn’t feed after St. Patrick’s Day or before Thanksgiving.”

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society holds about eight public programs annually and often feature speakers on the subjects of bird feeding and birds in general.

Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030